All steamed up

Last night Mr PP and I celebrated our silver Wedding Anniversary (OK, it is a year late, but it’s a long story) with an evening dinner aboard the world famous Flying Scotsman steam train.

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Locomotive 60103 The Flying Scotsman (displaying the Cathedrals Express charter plate)

OK, so the Flying Scotsman is actually a locomotive and the carriages are a train, but let’s not get too picky here.

We set off from London Victoria at about 7pm and toured around south west London and on through the Surrey Hills before returning to Victoria at almost midnight.  The queues at Victoria were huge and a “Photo Opp” system was put in place so that only passengers could snap the locomotive before boarding, and it was strictly a snap then move on.

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Queues waiting to board The Flying Scotsman

Once on board we settled in to Coach A (at the very front) Pullman Premier Dining carriage where throughout the journey we were served a 5 course meal.  Departure was marked with a glass of champagne.  Our fellow diners were a pleasant group and conversation was relaxed between enjoying the views.

Pullman Premier Dining Table setting and the dessert course

Almost every station we passed through had groups of members of the public filming or photographing the Scotsman as she passed through.  What I found particularly amusing were the number of people standing on platforms waiting for normal commuter trains who didn’t even look up from their phones while this snorting and steaming icon of British railway engineering reborn rumbled through.  Unbelievable!  Others however grabbed the opportunity to snap or film quickly before the moment was lost and at one point near Acton a man was spotted driving along the road holding his mobile phone out of the window filming the train while he drove alongside.  Once free of London the locomotive was allowed to ‘stretch it’s legs’ and we were hurtling through the countryside  on board the first steam locomotive to reach 100mph.

Flying Scotsman at Victoria Station

Flying Scotsman standing at platform 2 at Victoria Station

The whole evening was amazing and a fantastic way to celebrate our anniversary – definitely worth waiting a year for!

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A Big Impression

I am so glad I spotted a small article in the current issue of the Crafts Council “Crafts” magazine about the Big Steam Print, and even more pleased that an event was taking place on my doorstep today.

The Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft came up with the inspired idea of using an old steam powered road roller to create huge relief prints.  Printmaking is a particular interest of mine and as a student I did train in the ‘dark arts’ of printmaking, my own particular interest being in relief prints – lino or woodcuts.  Big Steam print brings all of this out into the open air and gives the general public an opportunity to get creative and join in at a number of events around the south east and London. Find out more at on the website at  http://www.ditchlingmuseumartcraft.org.uk/  The event today took place on a piece of public open space in Brighton called The Levels and was well attended, probably more people there by accident as they were enjoying an afternoon out in the park than by deliberate intention of visiting.  Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves with some ‘have-a-go’ tables set up for both adults and children.

The artists were busily inking up their plates ready to be printed by the huge iron beast which was breathing heavily beside the marquee.

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The Big Steam Print roller waits patiently

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Artists inside the marquee ink their massive lino ‘plate’ up ready to print

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Printing underway

big reveal

The end result

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A set of 3 ‘plates’ are laid out to print

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Paper is laid over the inked plates

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Rolling the Road Roller over the plates

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The printed triple print

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The Road Rollers Back End!

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Crowds enjoy activities at the Big Steam Print in Brighton

Unfortunately although I do have a video (filmed by Mr PP) this blog doesn’t accept video images.😦

Big Steam Print closes on 18 June 2016 at the Ditchling Fair, and all the prints made during the event tours can be seen in an exhibition at the Phoenix Gallery in Brighton  6-21 August 2016.

Now I need to seek out our old garden roller and get some more large pieces of lino, feeling inspired, so watch this space!

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One Mans Vision

Taking advantage of the recent nice weather, Mr PP and I visited Painshill Park landscape garden near  Cobham in Surrey.  The gardens are owned by Elmbridge Borough Council and managed by the Painshill Trust and have had quite a chequered history since the original gardens of 200 acres were owned and laid out by it’s creator Charles Hamilton in the 1800’s. Painshill was created in the naturalistic style between 1738 and 1773 by the Hon, Charles Hamilton (9th son and 14th child of the 6th Earl of Abercorn).  Brilliantly imaginative, Hamilton used contrasts in architectural styling and landforms to create a stunning romantic landscape to stimulate the senses and emotions of the visitor.  These were not private gardens, but were created with the intention that people should be able to visit and marvel at their beauty.  Today the gardens are comprised of 158 acres of the original gardens and have been steadily restored by the Trust to how they would most likely have looked when they were first created.

The visitor is able to walk freely around the gardens with suggested routes including 2 accessible routes, available on a leaflet.  The garden follows the route of the River Mole, with it’s own large lake, small vineyard, alpine valley, woodland areas and assorted exotic features.  It has been awarded full collection status for the John Bartram Heritage Collection of North American trees and shrubs, is Grade 1 Listed and has been awarded theEuropa Nostra medal for it’s exemplary restoration.  We spent about 4 hours walking round and taking in the stunning views of not only the garden, but also across the Surrey Hills and beyond.

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Entry to the gardens is over this footbridge across the River Mole.

bluebells

The bluebells were a bit past their best but still quite stunning

temple

Looking back (from the Turkish Tent) towards the Gothic Temple.  The narrow opening of the pillared arches frame a sort of living painting of some stunning views.  The actual building reminds me of Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill House at nearby  Twickenham.

lake

The lake stretches away from the Gothic temple , the restored Five Arch bridge visible in the distance.

water wheel

The Waterwheel was restored in 1987 and is one of the largest working waterwheels in the UK today.  It was originally built to feed the Cascade and Lake and to also provide enough water for all of the plants.

tower

A magical fairy tale tower hidden deep in woodland.  The Gothic Tower had 99 steps to the roof where on a clear day Windsor Castle and the City of London are visible.  Sadly it was a bit too hazy when we visited but the views were still quite far reaching.  There is a small cafe on the first floor, and we were the second customers ever to make use of it as it had only opened on the morning we visited.  “Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your golden hair…”

grotto

Looking like a set design from Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, this is the view from the lake of the Grotto.  The Grotto is a special feature built from Oolitic Limestone which gives it that somewhat crumbling appearance and has been covered inside with 100’s of 1000’s of crystals of calcite, gypsum, quartz and flourite.  It was built over several years by  professional Grotto builder, Joseph Lane and dates back to about 1760.

inside grotto

Looking out from the inside of the Grotto

Posted in Country Houses, education, Expeditions and adventures, Fairy tale Houses, gardens, gothic revival, gothic style, Horace Walpole, memorabilia, Museums and Galleries, national trust, ostentation, Quirky things, Twickenham, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Gathering of Flowers

For the past few months I have been working on putting together an art exhibition in partnership with the Royal Horticultural Society Wisley Garden herbarium (https://www.rhs.org.uk/science/conservation-biodiversity/conserving-garden-plants/rhs-herbarium/collections-in-the-rhs-herbarium).  The idea for this first came to me almost 2 years ago when purely by accident I stumbled across something called the Chelsea Floral Fringe (www.chelseafringe.com) which is an annual event of flower based art and activity that happens in the UK, Europe and now across the globe at the same time as the Chelsea Flower show.  Reading about the things people were doing gave me the idea that something could be done at Cranleigh Arts Centre at the same time as the annual village “In Bloom” event.  After several months of plotting and planning I finally installed (with the assistance of the delightful Marilyn) “Florilegium – a gathering of flowers” at Cranleigh Arts Centre in Surrey.

The ‘theme’ of the exhibition is the preservation of flowers and the centre piece is a 9-string set of images of specimens from the Herbarium at RHS Wisley who have generously loaned a beautiful set of scanned images.

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RHS Herbarium images at Cranleigh Arts Centre

To complement these scientific specimen images I was particularly fortunate that the renowned botanical artist Gaynor Dickeson (https://gaynorsflora.com) agreed to loan some of her incredibly detailed botanical illustrations; while photographer Celia Henderson (http://www.celiahenderson.co.uk) has also contributed a set of her stunning, dreamlike macro flower portraits.  As if this was not enough, I couldn’t believe my good fortune when Guildford-based textile artist Gill Denyer  (http://greengillydee.co.uk) also agreed to exhibit a set of her life-like textile plant sculptures.

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The incredibly detailed botanical illustrations of Gaynor Dickeson

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Dreamlike flower portraits by Celia Henderson

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Quirky, life-like textile flower sculptures by Gill Denyer

I now have 3 artists and the RHS images which by themselves would have made for an interesting exhibition, but I felt that I needed a little bit extra and couldn’t quite believe my luck when it turned out that a fellow volunteer at the Arts Centre was a horticulturist and had an herbarium of her own which she was happy to lend.  I selected a few specimens, framed them up and they complimented perfectly the RHS specimen images.  To finish off I added in a small static display of vintage gardening equipment and a ball gown which I have made a few years ago which is covered in dried pressed flowers.

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Dress with dried pressed flower detailing and Weed Herbarium specimen

As a fan of what is known as ‘Yarn Bombing’ it seemed like a good idea to ask the ladies of the Arts Centre Knit n’Natter group to knit and crochet flowers which could decorate the entrance to the  Centre.  They and some of the other volunteers at the Arts Centre rose to the challenge by creating over 200 flowers, leaves and creatures which I then stitched on to a banner over the recent Easter weekend.

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Floral display by members of the Knit n’Natter group at Cranleigh Arts Centre

The opening evening was a triumph!  I am so proud of this exhibition and grateful to everyone who has loaned work or objects.  Thank you to everyone who has helped to make this exhibition such a success.

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Nibbles and tipples await guests at the Private View Opening

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Cranleigh Arts Centre Manager, Ms K Backhouse stands beside the Herbarium specimen Galanthus (Snowdrop) Mrs Backhouse No. 12

Florilegium – a gathering of Flowers is at Cranleigh Arts Centre, 1 High Street, Cranleigh, Surrey, GU6 8AS until 11 June 2016.  Open Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 4.30pm, entry is free.   http://www.cranleighartscentre.org

 

 

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“The name’s Botticelli, Sandro Botticelli”

The title for this piece comes from the V&A magazine’s article about their new blockbuster show “Botticelli Reimagined”.  It is referencing James Bond and the scene in Dr No where Ursuala Andress emerges from the sea like a modern day Venus clutching her conch shells.

tunnel adPoster in the underground tunnel from Kensington South tube station to the V&A

This new show opened a couple of weeks ago and I have read a couple of reviews about it, mostly positive.  As a closet Renaissance Art fan I felt that it would be an interesting show to see, especially as there are Actual Botticelli’s on view.  I say ‘actual Botticelli’s’ because as I discovered today, many paintings which were thought to be by the Master are in fact now generally agreed to have been painted by followers or a combination of the two.  It seems hard to believe that mistakes like that could be made, but Botticelli fell from favour in his latter years after critical attacks about his work by the puritanical religious zealot Girolamo Savonarola.

I think one of the reasons I like Botticelli so much is his style of painting, which is quite stylized and very flat, it has I think, quite a modern aesthetic particularly when you remember that he died in 1510.  His subject matter of Madonnas and beautiful women as allegorical figures are pleasing to the eye while at the same time, his work tells important stories such as in my favourite painting – Primavera.  This is a tale from the 5th book of Ovid’s ‘Fasti’ in which the naked wood nymph Chloris attarcts the attention of the March wind, Zephyrus who kidnaps her.  As he ravishes her flowers spring from her mouth and she becomes transformed in to Flora, Goddess of Flowers and Spring, the eternal bearer of life.

primavera

Greetings card showing Botticelli’s “Primavera”

The painting reads from right to left with the Zephyr and Floris/Chloris activity seen to the right.  The central figure is Venus representing humanity and distinguishing material values on the right, from spiritual values on the left.  Above her is a small winged and blindfolded Cherub or ‘Putto’, most likely Cupid, his arrow ready to fire toward the 3 Graces.  Moving left are the 3 Graces (depicting charm, beauty and creativity) and at the far left stands Mercury his hand held aloft to dissipate (storm) clouds thus keeping the garden safe.  There are many interpretations of this painting and it’s origins, but whatever the real truth may be, it remains one of the most remarkable paintings ever. (Primavera is housed permanently in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.)

The V&A exhibition shows how Botticelli has influenced artists through the centuries and unusually starts with the modern day.  On entering the visitor is greeted by a large screen showing the scene from Dr No with Ursuala Andress (see above) followed by a scene from the film by Terry Gilliam “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” where a naked Uma Thurman appears from a shell as Venus.  A direct reference to Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus.  In fact, it is the painting (not at the exhibition) The Birth of Venus which forms the main inspiration for most artists through the years.  There are (seemingly) endless reworkings by artists such as Andy Warhol (see the advertising poster image above), Jeff Koons and a very odd reconstruction of the painting with Venus as a hermaphrodite that make this exhibitions title a little misleading.  It is more of an appropriation and reworking of Botticelli rather than a reimagining.  I must confess to being somewhat disappointed at the lack of originality from some very high profile artists when referencing Botticelli.  However, I did smile at the piece by Japanese artist Tomoko Nagao and his recreation of the Birth of Venus (with Baci, Esselungo, Barilla, PSP and Easy Jet) bringing it very much into the 21st century with it’s obvious references to popular culture and consumerism.

tomoko nagaoThe Birth of Venus with Baci, Esselungo, Barilla, PAP and Easy Jet by Tomoko Nagao (from V&A magazine – reproduced without permission, but hopefully OK as it is a great picture)

The middle of the show is dedicated mainly to the Pre Rapaelites and their associates and I don’t need to explain how Botticelli influenced them as it is obvious in almost every one of their paintings.

Finally the last rooms are the works of the Master himself, or at least some are by him, others are now thought to be by the School of…  There is nothing quite like getting up close and personal with an actual Botticelli, to see how the paint has retained much of it’s original vibrancy, the almost invisible brushstrokes and to study first hand the strange, stylized figures which seem so modern for paintings which are over 500 years old.

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Souvenir mirror depicting Venus by Sandro Botticelli and workshop about 1445 -1510

I am not sure that this exhibition will appeal to a huge audience despite the inclusion of and Andy Warhol print.  I enjoyed it because of Botticelli and also the Pre Raphaelite connection. There are a couple of more imaginative interpretations of Botticelli, one by Bill Viola where a film of people walking through a forest loops endlessly and some stills of the very peculiar French artist Orlan undergoing one of her plastic surgery performance pieces, but both these pieces were marred somewhat by the wailing of a Bob Dylan soundtrack that accompanies another piece, I forget who it was by because Bob was annoying me so much!

Botticelli Reimagined is on at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Kensington until 3rd July 2016.

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“The Pepys of the Artworld”

Today I spent the morning invigilating an exhibition at the Otter Gallery at the University of Chichester.  The exhibition is called “Circles of Influence: A Diarist’s Perspective” which has been brought together by Dr Gill Clarke, a visiting Professor at the university.  Dr Clarke is also the author of a book ‘Randolph Schwabe, a life in art’ around which this exhibition has been curated.

Schwabe was a prolific diarist and recorded his everyday life and thoughts for over 2 decades, including in his scripts many a unique and subtle comment about the people he met and worked with. In the exhibition introduction, Dr Clarke says “Schwabe’s diaries are candid and witty, providing rich and new material about the practice and spirit of twentieth century British Art, revealing the inter-relationships between familiar figures in the art community and the tensions within.”.  The thrust of the exhibition is taken from the diaries and features works from the permanent collection of the Otter Gallery together with work borrowed in from other institutions and private collections, which when seen as a whole provide an insight into how each of the featured artists were connected to one another through Schwabe in one way or another.

This morning I was fortunate enough to be ‘on duty’ while there was a Curator’s talk given for the Friends of Pallant House Gallery.  This talk, given by Dr Clarke and assisted by the Otter Gallery curator, Laura Kitchner was absolutely riveting.  For a little over an hour, Dr Clarke spoke knowledgeably and eloquently  about Schwabe, his family, working life and the various connections he had with the artists and artworks in the exhibition.  The exhibition opens with a drawing of Schwabe by Francis Dodd, a well known portrait painter and war artist from the early twentieth century, but one whose work fell out of fashion after the First World War and is followed by works from other artists from the period including Dora Carrington, Eric Ravilious, William Roberts, Mark Gertler and Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  The Mackintosh works are 3 designs for textiles on loan from the V&A  which have a diary extract alongside them to the effect that Schwabe had spent the morning looking through work by Mackintosh after his death and had managed to find some worth keeping, the rest he threw away!  Towards the end of the exhibition, which is hung in a loose timeline, is a work  by one of my favourite mid-twentieth century artists, Ivon Hitchens.  The work, titled “Autumn Stream” was painted in 1940, possibly after his move from London after being bombed out, to West Sussex where he remained for the rest of his life.  Hitchens said of his work “I have a horror of a meaningless smear, but I do try to say clearly and directly by tone and colour what I feel is the essence of the object and I see no point in building up with many little strokes when one will suffice and be more vital.”  A caption from Schwabe’s diary accompanying the work recalls a day in 1931 when Schwabe visited Hitchens studio in Adelaide Road, London. “Visited Ivon Hitchens in his studio in Adelaide Road, work very agreeable but without guts.  Some of his flower pieces would make admirable decoration for light modern rooms.  He (Hitchens) was at Bedales and has that slightly morbid character that all old Bedales men seen to get“.

The exhibition is supported by various books,  prints and personal ephemera from Schwabe and his circle, together with ceramics from Bernard Leach.  Over the MAC screen showing a series of Schwabe’s sketches on a loop are hung his top hat and malacca cane.

This is an interesting and unusual exhibition, which is brought to life by the diary extracts.  It is worth seeing and more so if there is the opportunity to be at a curators talk which last 1 hour.  The final talk will be on April 15th  from 12.30 to 1.30pm.  More information can be obtained by emailing the gallery on gallery@chi.ac.uk.

“Circles of Influence: A Diarist’s Perspective” is on until 19th April 2016 at the Otter Gallery, Chichester University Bishop Otter Campus, College Lane, Chichester, West Sussex (www.chi.ac.uk) . An excellent book by curator Gill Clarke, is also available to accompany the exhibition.

 

 

 

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Treasured Possessions

The other day I went with my good friend Sonia (Androulaskitchen.wordpress.com) to Goodwood House to hear a talk in aid of the Chichester Cathedral Festival of Flowers.  The subject of the talk was to be The Hidden Treasures of Goodwood House and the main speaker was Tim Wonnacott )of TV’s Bargain Hunt, Antiques Roadshow and Antiques Road Trip fame) ably assisted by the Curator of Goodwood House, James Piell.

A variety of small objects not generally on public display had been selected for discussion and it was through these that a picture of the various Duke’s of Richmond was painted.  The first items were a pair of tiny boxes, one containing a lock of hair and the other a shard of wood.  These items are said to be a lock of hair from the head of Charles 1 and a fragment from his coffin.  James Piell explained in great detail how these items had come into the possession of the family and how they could be certain that they were “the real thing”.  It all made for a fascinating story!  This was followed up with a  delightful portrait miniature by Ozias Humphry of the 3rd Duke, encased in a gold case which is engraved on the reverse with the name of the artist and the sitter, it measures some 4cms x 6cms and has the most incredible detail.  Personally I am not one for carrying images of my loved ones around with me, but if I had a portrait miniature of Mr PP as beautifully painted as that of the 3rd Duke, I would take it everywhere.

Various other equally interesting objects followed including ledgers, papers and paintings followed including a small ledger hand written by Charlotte, Duchess of Richmond, wife of the 4th Duke detailing the guest list and other instructions for a Ball.  Not just any old Ball however, this Ball has found its place in history. Held in Brussels on the 15th June 1815 – the date is a clue; virtually every high ranking officer of Wellington’s army was present including the Duke of Wellington himself.  This Ball, known as “the most famous Ball in history” took place two nights before the Battle of Waterloo.  Someway through the evening a message arrived for Wellington to advise that Napoleon had beaten the Prussians into retreat from Fleurus and had advanced further, crossing the river.  A second message arrived advising Wellington that the French advance had reached Quatre Bras at which point Wellington took action, with the Duchess alleged to have implored him that perhaps the officers could stay for one more dance?

A slightly odder object resembling a pile of mould was shown encased in a glass bell dome mounted on top of a gilded stem with an engraved plaque which reads “The Protestant Cheese”. The wedge shaped object inside was indeed a piece of cheese.  In 1825, the Duchess of Richmond was given a piece of the ‘Protestant Cheese’ by the Duchess of Ritland which had been cut from a large block of cheese that had been specially made by the burgesses of Chester to celebrate the quashing of the 1825 Emancipation Bill by the House of Lords. (This was one of a number of Bills introduced to relax the restrictions placed upon Roman Catholics during the English Reformation).  It was certainly one of the most bizarre objects I have ever seen, all grey-green and mouldy inside it’s vacuum protected glass dome.  Most odd.

The nicest story connected to an object was for me, the one about the Charlton Hunt and the “Greatest Chase that ever was”.  This was an account in the 2nd Duke of Richmond’s own hand of a day when the meet set off early one morning finding their quarry at 8.15am.  They then pursued it until finally capturing and killing it at 5.50pm having covered a distance of some 57 miles around the Sussex countryside.  At the end only the 2nd Duke and 2 others were present, but it had been such a momentous day that the Duke wrote an account of the proceedings and even sent servants out with a measuring wheel to follow the route taken to ascertain the exact distance -they returned with the measurements some 2 days later!  To celebrate the tradition of the old Charlton Hunt and the connection with Goodwood, there is to be an exhibition exploring its history at Goodwood House  1st to 31st August 2016. (See https://www.goodwood.com/goodwood-house/summer-exhibition).

It was a fascinating morning, the objects brought to life by Tim and James who are both excellent and engaging speakers.

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Goodwood House, Chichester, West Sussex

 

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