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Another artistic response to an historic building….

I travelled to the north-east during the middle of August to catch up with family and friends.  I was encouraged by some of my artist friends living and working in the north-east to pay a visit to Wallington Hall to see the exhibition Unfinished Business. It was also a good reason to see where some of my ancestors may have lived as I am beginning to research my family tree. This will form the basis of some new work as an artist I am about to start. Set in 100 acres of rolling parkland, the estate includes a wooded dene (valley), ornamental lakes, lawns, and a recently refurbished walled garden. Alongside the beautifully furnished interior, attractions inside the house include the desk where Thomas Babington Macaulay, brother-in-law of Charles Edward Trevelyan, wrote his History of England, a large collection of antique dollshouses and eight murals in the central hall depicting the history of Northumberland, painted by William Bell Scott.
Unfinished Business is an exciting new contemporary art exhibition to celebrate the 200th anniversary of William Bell Scott, the 19th century poet, writer, artist and teacher, who painted the scenes of Northumbrian history and beautiful decoration in the Central Hall. The exhibition includes a wide range of imaginative and modern-day pieces produced by over 20 contemporary artists from across the region, which appear in both the house and grounds. The artists’ work is a response to Scott’s paintings in the Central Hall, as well as the man himself, his writing and Wallington as a place of artistic inspiration. Some pieces may stay all season, others just for a few weeks to be replaced by other artist’s work – the exhibition will never be “complete”. This corresponds to the incompleteness of William Bell Scott’s work in the Central Hall as his original design was never actually completed either. Under the direction of the artist-curator Chris Dorsett, Reader in Art School Practices at Northumbria University, and the project management of Gillian Mason, Visitor Experience Manager at Wallington, a wide range of imaginative and modern-day artistic responses to Scott will take inspiration from his famous paintings in Wallington’s Central Hall. The works in the exhibition I found of most interest and ones that conveyed the spirit of place were by the following artists: Sian Bowen, (who says of her work: My new group of works, “Homage,” takes as its starting point an oak tree that fell into the Garden Pond earlier this year. The planting and uprooting of this two hundred year old tree coincides with the birth and bi-centenary of William Scott Bell, respectively. ) Claudia Sacher, whose poetic artwork involving text, objects and images inspired by William Bell Scott’s mural ‘The Descent of the Danes’ in the Hall are on show; Sue Spark, who says of the show: The work I am currently showing in the library combines references to 17th century Italian drawings, Rococo decoration, and abstraction. The image, frozen in a web of white paint on an abstract ground, is taken from appropriated and altered Baroque drawings and like Patel’s painting, refers to a displaced romantic and mythical ideal. . Finally the work of two others is striking: Carol Sommer and Chris Dorset.
I found the juxtaposition of contemporary art in a historic building set against the backdrop of an area of England so rich in history very interesting. I felt the artists work complimented the Hall inside and outside very well. It gives the viewer many more elements to think about and capture the imagination. Do we need more contemporary artists to make work in response to our heritage?  If we do what could they bring to other historic buildings that are not very well known outside of their immediate area and location? Given the history of Wallington Hall is it possible that the artists have been able to redeem some of its past connections to various people who lived there and played a large role such as the Border Reivers engendering a kind of catharsis and the healing of the ancestors?   
To view the exhibition and to see more of the other artists interventions click here. (If this blog post interests you and you missed the post about the installations at the Workshouse in Southwell, click here to view it.)

Posted by author: Rhonda
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3 thoughts on “Another artistic response to an historic building….

  • What a marvellous place, house and exhib. and great to see the house brought to life with so much imagination and young life going on. specially loved Steve collins, conservatory and the cabinet of curiosities. Saw one on an old antiques roadshow on Yesterday, from 20s 30s and delightful .Great traditions brought up to date. Too far away from me so thanks for showing it.

  • Good to know you found the exhibition so interesting and were able to relate to the work of the artists in such a historic setting. Their work being so imaginative and sympathetic to the surroundings and stories of the house, grounds and the people whose lives were all bound up in its history.

  • Thanks for posting this, Rhonda. I found the Claudia Sacher image arresting and went to her page to read the account of how she came to develop the work and that was interesting. However just seeing it without knowing anything of the background it remains a powerful image. I plan to try some collage based on her approach, as part of preparation for the portrait projects I am about to start.

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