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.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Stories: from Wolverhampton to Eden

Just over a week ago I spent a couple of hours with Jack at the Wolverhampton Council offices to discuss Jack's proposed Arts Council application for the photography project with teens in Heath Town. It is a very strong idea and the idea is that the group he would work with for a year would be taught photography (including darkroom techniques), document their own lives and familiar places, then come to Croome and do the same here.
There is a lot of support for this project, including from Wolverhampton Youth Service, Hope Family Centre, Heathfield Park LNP, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Re-Entry and Wolverhampton Homes. I think this is one of the most interesting projects we'll be involved with and connecting Croome with such a different environment could provide all sorts of opportunities that we can't yet imagine.
In an area smaller than the Court and the Park there are so many people and so many stories. This is clear from the work already done by Jack, and everyone at the council in Wolverhampton seem very keen to see this project happen.

And then the following day I went to the Eden Project. Not on my own, but with a group of staff and volunteers from Croome. It was very good to be part of a mixed group like this, and to all meet Di Mullis from Eden together.
Di a storyteller and is running a series of workshops at Croome for all staff and volunteers to help us think about how we tell our stories. Storytelling is something we all do all the time to make sense of our world as we communicate with each other. It was clear from the visit that there are so many ways of telling a story, illustrated by the story of wine - factual, mythical (Dionysus) and through an artist's response (sculpture).

All the verbal storytelling was kept short - the audience didn't get bored and it left room for questions.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Drawing on the archives

Last week we had two groups of primary school children come for a drawing workshop with David Birtwistle and Fran Prince. Rachel (who leads on Community and Outreach) organised this with Number 8 in Pershore. As well as drawing what they see at Croome now, they will also be drawing their ideas of how Croome might look in the future. There are a number of schools taking part in this, and the best 5 will be deposited as a formal deposit at The Hive in Worcester.

This is not the only drawing that will be taking place at Croome, however. The plan is to introduce some tables into the long gallery which are inspired by Robert Adam's tables (other examples are here and here - scroll down a bit). They will have glass tops and copies of archive material, such as the Adam's designs for the long gallery under the glass. There will also be pencils and paper available for people to draw what they see in the room or through the windows, or to create designs for the room itself.

Friday, 17 January 2014


Because of all the different people involved with Croome, there are, inevitably, a wide range of perspectives. This number of people is increasing all the time, adding more, new perspectives to the perspective pot. And that's not to mention the visitors. This photo was my view as I left the building yesterday at about 4pm, and it struck me that although others use this entrance, that exact view, with that lighting and dampness, and those bins and board, was unique to me. It'll be familiar to many others, but never quite the same. It is so important that we keep reminding ourselves that everybody has a different view, and nobody has a monopoly on the 'right' one.