Lessons in Art

PUBLISHED: 17:19 14 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:09 20 February 2013

Lessons in Art

Lessons in Art

Two gardens, one near Marlow and the other at Bledlow, are staging unique exhibitions within their grounds this month. Naomi Slade was given a sneak preview

Since the earliest days of civilization, sculpture and gardens have gone together. In classical times, sculptures of deities were placed in gardens, a practice that was revived in renaissance times when creating collections of art became something of a competitive sport. Latterly, in the 1930s, a new generation of sculptors and garden designers came to the fore. Influenced by the Modern Movement in art and design, they hoped to create a startlingly new abstract art.
Whether representing the natural world or its brightly coloured and geometric antithesis, it is this rich tradition of classical, contemporary and experimental garden art that influences the wide spectrum of sculpture generated today. The gardens of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire in particular lend themselves to sculpture and, this June, two of the finest open their doors with unique exhibitions.
Built in the Arts and Crafts style in 1899 for the eccentric mural painter and ardent suffragette, Mary Sargant-Florence, Lords Wood, near Marlow, has long been a haven for artists and sculptors. Now the family home of Messums, the art dealers, there are two opportunities to see some of the best in contemporary sculpture displayed in the beautifully landscaped garden. Artists include the contemporary sculptors Bridget McCrum and Dominic Welch, whose conceptual designs are rendered in limestone or marble. Alongside these are figures by Laurence Edwards, who is known for his experimentation, technical innovation and the timeless quality of is bronze castings.
David and Millie Messum have been developing the garden since 1974 and although there is a studio, the art has increasingly crept outdoors.
"Some pieces are quite abstract while others are more figurative," explains Millie. "To a certain degree it is down to personal taste, but David often likes to spot artists with potential who may be new on the scene and give them a platform.
Two of the artists in this year's exhibition were apprenticed to Peter Randall-Page, whose work can be seen at The Manor House at Bledlow another beautiful setting for art. The family home of Lord Carrington, his collection of contemporary sculpture also includes Michael Cooper's 'Gorilla' and John Robinson's 'Immortality', but the current display is different and altogether more ephemeral.


Inspired by nature
Land Art or environmental art takes its inspiration from natural patterns and shapes, or geographical features, and uses natural materials that are left to change or erode with weather and time. Land Art luminaries include Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Long and at Bledlow it is the turn of the Berks, Bucks and Oxon branch of the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies.
"Often the structure and shape of the material is what inspires," says Jane Rowton-Lee, one of the floral designers. A garden is a fluid, ever-changing background for something as solid as sculpture, but despite its static nature, art often has a carefully considered and meaningful relationship with its location, enhancing and being informed by it.
As a focal point or as an alternative to planting, sculpture adds interest, atmosphere or humour to a garden and with contrasting styles and techniques, the art in these two gardens opens a window on a whole range of ideas and possibilities to take home.


A haven for artists
Described by Frances Partridge as "An outpost of Old Bloomsbury in the Marlow woods", Lords Wood has a long history as a haven for artists, writers and sculptors. Built in the Arts and Crafts style in 1899 for the eccentric mural painter and ardent suffragette, Mary Sargant-Florence, guests have included Lytton Strachey, Maynard Keynes, Virginia Woolf and Dora Carrington, whom Mary taught fresco technique at the Slade along with Stanley Spencer and a whole generation of younger artists. Later, Mary's androgynous daughter Alix married James Strachey, the critic and biographer Lytton Strachey's younger brother. Both James and Alix underwent psychoanalysis with Freud in Vienna, thus qualifying as psychoanalysts and pursuing their lives' work - the translation of Freud into English-at Lord's Wood during the War years and beyond.
As the family home of the Messums, the family of renowned art dealers on Cork Street, Lords Wood is now the focus of another artistic enterprise. Set in the grounds of the house, The Studio is a showplace for their collections and a stunning selection of British Impressionist paintings is always on display, strictly by appointment. The annual Studio Open Weekend has become a firm fixture for collectors and enthusiasts alike. As well as the paintings, it is a great opportunity to view work by the contemporary sculptors, Bridget McCrum, Anthony Turner, Andrea Schulewitz and Laurence Edwards situated within the beautifully landscaped gardens of Lords Wood.
Work by Suffolk-based sculptor Laurence Edwards will feature heavily in this year's exhibition. Edwards began his training at Canterbury College of Art and in 1988 he moved to London to study bronze casting and sculpture at the Royal College of Art. Combining the resulting knowledge with state of the art casting techniques, he has produced an army of monumental figures that feel simultaneously mythological and modern.


A wealth of interest
What a splendid setting for an exhibition of Land Art. The Manor House at Bledlow is the family home of Lord Carrington. In 1969 Lord Carrington and his late wife, with the help of Robert Adam, began the restoration and redesign of the gardens, which surround the mid 17th manor house. After years of careful development, today there is a wealth of interest to be seen. It is a large, beautifully maintained but tranquil garden, enclosed by many wonderful mature trees. The first to greet you is the magnificent Cedrus atlantica on the main lawn in front of the house.
To the right of the front lawn is the walled garden providing vegetables all year round and at the centre of this garden is a gazebo supporting trellised posts planted with rambling roses. Apple trees are trained on spheres.
The rest of the garden is divided by hedges of Fagus sylvatica, Carpinus betulus and Taxus baccata.The north side of the house is dominated by four ornamental ponds and herbaceous border. Through the wrought iron gate leads to the Church Close garden, an undulating garden of mature shrubs and trees including various mahonia, hebes, viburnum and cornus with fairly new additions of Caragana arborescens 'Lorbergii' (the Siberian pea tree) and Cercis siliquastrum. Within this 2 acres are most of Lord Carrington's contemporary sculptures including Michael Cooper's 'Gorilla', John Robinson's 'Immortality' and Peter Randall Page's '3 Fruits'. Sculptures breathe new life into an area where sometimes plants struggle; they make you stop and think and they are something we easily remember after leaving the garden.
Yet gardens are always evolving, and there are continually new additions to the Manor. When I arrived Lord Carrington had just taken delivery of a rare epaulette tree, Pterostyrax hispida it is a deciduous spreading tree with aromatic grey bark, bearing large panicles of bell shaped, white flowers in early summer. Unfortunately the delivery driver also dismantled the two entrance pillars and toppled the round stone balls to the ground.
Robert Adam has returned to Bledlow to help Lord Carrington create a new garden in memory of his wife, Lady Iona. The garden will contain many new roses climbing on ropes and a snail local sculptor Michael Cooper has been commissioned to carve a snail out of Kilkenny limestone from Ireland, to be placed under the Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip tree).
In various corners of the garden on Sunday, 17 June, 2pm 6pm, members of the Berks, Bucks and Oxon area of NAFAS will be displaying pieces of Land Art. It was during the late 60's that a new art movement emerged by using materials which are left to change and erode under natural conditions. This land art has been described as earth art, earthworks or environmental art and takes many shapes and forms. The artist Richard Long used stones and sticks arranged in circles and lines to create walks on roads and paths while Andy Goldsworthy worked with nature to produce sculptural work in the landscape. Many of his designs took merely a day to create but were soon washed or blown away. They were of a transitory nature, for example, his midsummer snowballs which were left to melt on a London street in 2000.
When the flower arranger creates a land art exhibit this is created using 'found items' in their natural environment. Lines, patterns shapes and forms already existing in nature are taken as an inspiration, although there may not be an overall theme. Solid structures such as a lake, a sculpture or a tree with a hollow base may inspire too. One of the most important considerations when creating these sorts of designs is to ask if it will withstand the elements rain, wind and sun. Two leading floral artists, Irene Manson and Jane Rowton Lee have been appointed to design the exhibits to complement the vast array of Lord Carrington's contemporary sculptures within the garden.

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