Residency at the National Trust
Leith Hill Place
A few months ago I proposed the creation of an interactive art installation, with well-being and mental health at its core, to the National Trust. I will be resident at Leith Hill Place, linked to the Wedgwood family, Darwin and Ralph Vaughan Williams, in Spring 2019. This is a journal of my research and my experience at Leith Hill Place.
11th December 2018
The proposal is two fold: to create sculptures that imagine Caroline Wedgwood and her Rhododendron Wood and to create a temporary clay sculpture along with the members of the public who visit the property.
Today was day one: kicked off with a meeting with the property team to discuss logistics and expectations. It is very exciting!
25th January 2019
Meetings for this residency take place in the most beautiful places. Julie Hoyle (my partner in this endeavour) and I met up with Sophie Parker, National Trust's Area Ranger at Leith Hill, who was working in the wood with the team of volunteers who join her every Friday to help conserve and manage the Rhododendron Wood. The team have been busy planting 4000 bulbs to add colour and interest throughout the year. This is part of a body of work to research the history of the garden and put together a conservation management plan to inform future management.
I needed to source wood for one of my projects and thought to forage for it in the area’s woodland but Sophie explained how important it was to leave fallen wood on the ground, "standing dead wood along with fallen debris provide a wonderful array of microhabitats for our wildlife. Some of the large and old oaks throughout the woods on Leith Hill support the oak jewel beetle (Agrilus pannonicus), a nationally scarce species which requires exposed, dead standing trunks and large fallen boughs for larval development. It is crucial that we retain dead wood, as not only does it provide habitat for various invertebrates, but these invertebrates in turn provide food for other wildlife within the woodland. Not only this, but the wood decays and is fed back into to the soil where the nutrients are taken in by the roots of plants and trees, and the cycle starts again.” I need to find fallen wood that is not destined for the beetles!
20th February 2019
Julie Hoyle has been researching the Wedgwood family. Caroline Wedgwood was born Caroline Sarah Darwin in 1799 or 1800, in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England. Her parents were Dr Robert Waring Darwin and Susanna (Sukey) Wedgwood. She married Josiah Wedgwood III on Aug 2, 1837 and gave birth to Sophy Marianne, Lucy Caroline and Margaret Susan. Her brother Charles Robert Darwin is the famous naturalist. She had four other siblings. She died in 1888 at Leith Hill Place, Surrey, England.
Caroline was a prodigious correspondent. Her letters to Charles Darwin dated between 1826 and the year of her marriage (1837) confirm her as a family orientated and caring woman. She writes about children, animals, horse-riding, books (often recommending books and authors) and has a strong sense of humour. She often promotes others over herself and was anti-slavery and was also involved in establishing a new infant school in Shrewsbury 1833.
Caroline suffered mental health issues in 1854 at the age of 54 and saw a local specialist doctor – Benjamin Brodie – who wrote a book “Psychological Inquiries” (1854).
Caroline took the place of her own mother to her younger brother and sister. Charles says just after her marriage “I am very glad of the marriage for Caroline’s sake, as I think she will be a very happy person, especially if she has children, for I never saw a human being so fond of little crying wretches, as she is. But I am an ungrateful dog to speak this way, for she was a mother to me, during all the early part of my life."
Caroline's parents were gardeners and she seems to have inherited a strong interest in botany. She writes in 1826 that “We have all been taking to gardening very vigorously, and shall expect some very elegant compliments from you on its beauty; and I assure you it is very gay, and much admired"
29th March 2019
Today is the official start to this residency. I spent the day at the property and set up my studio and ensured that The Cave Garden was ready for use.
Visitors were surprised and delighted by the transformation of the cellar into The Cave Garden and a number of people created flowers (and fungi!) to display on the plinth.
I have started work on sculptures responding to research on Caroline Wedgwood in the Dairy Studio (pictured right, below) and visitors popped in to ask me about my work.
14th April 2019
The visitors to the house are engaging in The Cave Garden and flowers are numbering in their hundreds after only 3 weeks. I am delighted that visitors are feeling comfortable enough to make flowers and to place the flowers on the wood pile. I have had to decide to remove items that are not flowers however since visitors are also making anything from T-rex miniatures to musical notes. I am removing items unrelated to gardens entirely and placing non-flower items that might be found in a garden in the lower levels of the wood-pile. It is difficult to change a contributor’s addition, but the rules are clear, and The Cave Garden should remain a garden. I am delighted to find that both adults and children are participating. Comments today include: “My sister came here last week and said I had to come and see”, “this is a wonderful idea and really rather random”, “I don’t know how to make a flower”, “this is a terrific idea”, “this is real clay”, “wow, there are some really creative people who come here”, “I am astonished at how many flowers there are”, “this is calming and theraputic”. I am finding that some people are observers and enjoy just looking at the creations of others. Some people are hesitant and tentative but are keen to contribute. Others just dive in and get making. What is interesting is that there are members of all three types in both adult and children groups. Very few people come down into The Cave Garden and just leave again.
10th May 2019
Julie and I arrived early on the 9th to hang the exhibition. Although we had talked regularly this was the first time we had seen each other’s work. It was really interesting to find so many synergies between our ideas, shapes and colours. We had even named a piece each similarly, using the word “angel”.
Issues with lighting and creating an exhibition that could work with the house’s extensive events programme were overcome and we both found we were very happy with the eventual shape of the show.
We had created a A1 poster to introduce the work to the visiting public as well as a Map to provide more detail.
Comments on the 10th from visitors regularly included the words “elegant” and “sensitive”. The Angel of Leith Hill Place, pictured opposite, was a firm favourite.
30th May 2019
Julie and I are planning on a close-of-show Private View with Pimms, strawberries and cream on the 30th. Invitations will be going out soon.
The exhibition is going well although our “map” guide isn’t a hit with the visitors to the house. We are beginning to understand that it asks too much of the visitor. We are going to make it all a little easier by putting up labels for each piece and hanging an overview at the reception to the house.
The Cave Garden is going through a life cycle, older clay is drying out and breaking, falling between the cracks in the wood pile plinth. New flowers are being made to fill the gaps. The Cave Garden has a life cycle just like flowers in a real garden.
15th June 2019
My students come to the end of their 5 week Sculpting and Casting workshop, working out of the old diary at Leith Hill Place. I designed the workshop around the history of sculpture. Session one, for example asked the students to create their own ancient fertility goddess that we then cast in jesmonite.
I am taking booking for further courses over the summer and in September.
30th June 2019
The weather was very kind to us on the evening of our Private View that celebrated the end of the residency, the end of The Cave Garden and the end of the exhibition Minding the Women. Many came and connections were made and ideas flowed.