Friday, 20 June 2014

Fabric of the Nation

I was at Heelis this week for a meeting with a group of people in the National Trust who are embarking on a project to renovate and restore the huge collection of tapestries, textiles and clothing that the Trust has - over 100,000 items in fact. There's a lot of conservation work to be done, and the project would be a five-year one. It sounds like the sort of thing which could get a lot of attention, and of course it sits nicely with our tapestry project. Although, of course, we intend to have new tapestries made.

If there's so much work to be done conserving textiles, it does beg the question whether we should be making something new, but it's the best way to draw attention to the craft of tapestry-making. In terms of the story of textiles within the Trust's collection, it arguably gives a contemporary relevancy to all the pieces already in existence.

There are a number of large tapestry panels at Heelis and although I didn't remember to take a photo of them, I did pass a shop in the shopping place next door which was selling creme eggs in bags of ten for £2.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014


I've just written a blog post about my recent trip to the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh, and whilst editing my photo, I came across ones I took in Birmingham a month ago when I went to see Grayson Perry's tapestries, The Vanity of Small Differences at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

I was very impressed with the museum itself, but nothing could prepare me for the tapestries. They are very engaging works, with multiple artistic and cultural references, and striking use of text and narrative. Having them at Croome is going to be quite something.

Dovecot Studios

It’s been a while since I blogged as things have been extremely busy, and blogging has felt like a luxury I couldn’t afford.

I visited Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh on Friday morning, meeting with director David Weir, general manager Sandra Crow, master weaver Naomi Roberson and other weavers working on different pieces. It was a fascinating morning.

As well as having beautiful interior spaces, the Studios have an ethos very akin to our approach at Croome – one of developing work through collaborations and conversations. They also have a chequered history, much like Croome, and had a radical overhaul in the late 1990s.

We talked at length about how we might collaborate on a tapestry programme at Croome, and there are a number of possibilities of what we might do and how we might go about it. Needless to say, it would be a big project (as the Croome tapestry room deserves), with the tangible outcome of a Croome tapestry in one form or another. Details will follow as things unfold…

Tuesday, 1 April 2014


Spent the day at Kelmarsh Hall today. It’s where a large part of what remains of the Croome collection is housed, a good deal of it on display on the first floor. As it is closed to the public at this time of year, we had the house to ourselves, giving us plenty of time and space to have a good look at everything.

On the ground floor of the house there is a room with some fantastic Chinese wallpaper, presumably much like that which 
used to be in the Chinese bedroom at Croome: hand-painted in China, it looked like it had been cut into pieces then reassembled at Kelmarsh. One or two things were evidently painted on in-situ. Jane also mentioned a young designer called Lucy Hutchinson who has produced some Chinese wallpaper, to be shown at the New Art West Midlands 2014 exhibition.

From wallpapers to the large oil paintings of the Coventry family, there is so much to decode – especially with portraits. When confronted with a portrait I always wonder who (if anyone) has the upper hand: the artist or the subject?

A lot of the furniture is exquisite, although there are some larger pieces that I didn’t find terribly exciting. Of course, this style of furniture was very new and unusual when new, 
but Adam’s style has been so much copied and reproduced that in the more ordinary pieces there was little of real interest for me. It was also early in his career when he was designing these pieces.

I enjoyed the recurrence of the claws on the feet of chairs and small tables. I suppose this has allusions to Greek and Roman emperors, and adventure in Africa. And the French furniture and ceramics were rather nice too. All the designs and shapes are organic and pre-industrial in inspiration, as are the materials, of course.
It strikes me how there is a fetishisation (verging on worship) of historical/antique objects and works of art, often with a value (not only monetary) assigned to them that is way beyond what might seem reasonable. 
The same can be seen with contemporary objects, like Apple products, or shoes, and it also applies to any work by an individual designer/artist.
I imagine this has always been the case: since humans first fashioned objects from raw materials – initially for a particular purpose (be it functional and/or decorative) but then affording their owners a status (be it self-reflexive and/or by third-parties) that is purely subjective.
But it was a beautifully sunny day, and I'm sure we'll have plenty more to do with Kelmarsh.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Grand Union Studios

Last week Ashleigh and I visited the Grand Union Studios in Birmingham with the NT Midlands Contemporary Art Futures Group. We had a brief intro into the background of the studios, and then met some of the artists there. First was Elizabeth Rowe who, amongst other things has done a very interesting community art project in Balsall Heath which led to establishing a biennale in this deprived part of Birmingham. She also had a residency at Dudmaston Hall in 2013.

Next was David Rowan, a photographer who photographs the collections at BMAG and does his own work on the (mostly underground) rivers of Birmingham. This is a really interesting mix of different types of very fine photography.

Another photographer we met was Stuart
Whipps, one of the photographers involved in the Reference Works project at the Library of Birmingham which I mentioned in my first blog post, last October. His work is compelling in its focus on the form and texture of everyday objects and places.

The work of Juneau Projects is extremely diverse and a lot of fun. Their work is truly multimedia, with robots, audio, print, animation, painting, laser-cut perspex - all very appealing to wide audiences. They've also worked with the Trust before, at Tatton Park, at the last biennal.

The last person we saw was Tom Bloor, who works with his twin brother, Simon, on architectural and sculptural projects. One of the things they are working on is playground designs, inspired by Isamu Noguchi.

In the afternoon, we had a talk from Deirdre Figueiredo, director of Craftspace about what she called the craft ecology of an area or county. We finished with an update from Nicola Shipley of Grain, and an intern, Clare Reece. This led to a discussion about potential for photography work at NT properties and having a shared, one-year programme at four different properties.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

First marks

We recently made the first marks on Croome Court for which I have been directly responsible. In many respects it seems fairly insignificant, but in others it seems very significant: for me, at least. Seven of us spent the morning with paint rollers and brushes, covering the pink paint on the ceiling of the shoe-rack room with a dark green paint to match the walls. Although just putting a coat of paint on the ceiling, to match that of the walls, it nevertheless felt like the first brush strokes of the next layer of Croome’s colourful history.

Of course, the paint didn’t quite match so Ashleigh and I had to go back and paint the walls one afternoon last week. The room is now ready for the installation of the Soul to Sole project, with the first sound, light and shoes going in this week.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Soft Estate

A month has whizzed by since I last blogged, with the result that I have numerous photos and things to write about.

Just after I started at Croome, we had a visit by an artist called Edward Chell who wanted to do some work at Croome, and I recently went to see his exhibition at The Bluecoat in Liverpool. The exhibition is called 'Soft Estate', and Edward's work explores the juxtaposition of the beauty of wild flowers with 
motorways and other busy roads. He links this with C18th ideas of the Picturesque and the beginnings of a tourist and national commerce industry which required a vast network of roads. The exhibition is accompanied by a book.

What struck me most of all was the very restful impression the work gave - very fitting for the wild flowers, but less so for their environments.

With the M5 so close to Croome and plants being so important to the place, it will be interesting to see whether we can work with Edward.