Heritage meets an exhibition
Helping a friend set up her exhibition at A la Ronde made me think about the role of art in heritage. How should art fit in? Should it relate to the spirit of the place or simply be an experience in its own right?
I think a relationship between the heritage and the art benefits both. For example AbeySmallcombe’s cobelisk at A la Ronde used a material used in the property and the two female artists echoed the the two Parminters.
My friend Lesley’s exhibition is a good fit with A la Ronde too. Her use of found and natural materials is similar to the Parminters’ use of feathers, shells and other items in the property.
Contemporary or same again please?
One question raised about art across the heritage sector is whether to go traditional or contemporary. Even established venues with traditional collections are now venturing into contemporary art exhibitions.
Both the examples above are contemporary but using older techniques and methods. Could something dissonant have a positive impact? Quite possibly but I think the exhibition would have to strike a chord with the audience in some way. Either reflecting a universal aspect of the human condition, like Gina Czarnecki‘s touring exhibition Wasted; or through creating a connection with the venue like Nicky Hurst’s work at RAMM with its local crowd sourced element.
Throughout this post I have only referred to art although many people may wonder why I do not mention crafts. It is because in this context I see them as one but accept in other contexts they are better separated.
Go and enjoy Neptune’s Bounty over the bank holiday weekend and mull over how art and heritage relate.
PS please buy something, artists needed to eat too!
A farm a monument?
Well yes, most farms have significant heritage attached to them unless completely redeveloped. How obvious that heritage is does depend of course! The farm building itself is one of the earliest brick buildings in Exmouth and has a range of outbuildings also of brick.
The main house is built on a stone foundation and finished with brick which is covered with a lime wash one two sides. The thatch has a very distinctive roofline neither I nor an informed friend have seen elsewhere and after looking the only similar building was one outside Lympestone that is now demolished. By coincidence it too suffered a severe fire
A brief history
Mentioning fire means time to go into the history of the farm a bit. Nearby Exmouth had a thriving brick industry so probably supplied the bricks. As a friend pointed the bricks used in the farm are the wrong size and shape to be Dutch bricks used as ballast and dropped at Topsham. A walk round Topsham will reveal the difference.
The is no formal history of the farm but recent years are well remembered in Exmouth. Stanley Long was the last owner of the farm and a well known local character. He added to the farm by securing land from the Courtlands Estate next door. He was known for his love of animals and had gates raised so pigs could run under to eat the acorns to prevent his horses from eating the acorns (horses and acorns do not mix). His fowls included peacocks!
Stanley Long generously left the farm to the National Trust in 1996 with the intention of halting development from creeping up the estuary. Looking at the Ordnance Survey map will show Upper and Lower Halsdon Lane no longer are linked by a green lane due to building work over it. While this donation stopped development the farm was attacked by an arsonist and then rebuilt by the National Trust . Since then it has been run as a working farm again by the redoubtable Peter Renouf.
A disclaimer and the future
I should admit I have a keen interest in the farm from having lived at the farm for the last four years. Hopefully I have contributed a little by attacking the garden and creating a rockery and pond. Recently the National Trust held a consultation over the future of the farm. Various thoughts were put forward by the National Trust, and my favourite is to link the estuary cycle path to Exeter Road thus creating a link to A la Ronde. Nothing has changed on the website nor on the poster outside the farm since November 2011. Well, apart from the possibility of turning part of the farm into allotments being mentioned at a talk to volunteers by a National Trust manager.
Farming is not an easy nor profitable venture on the scale of small farms like Lower Halsdon Farm. Given that 90% of us live in towns now it is a real asset for Exmouth having such a working farm where people can see it as they walk and cycle past at evenings and weekends.
I am very sorry to leave Lower Halsdon Farm but would be even sadder if the National Trust changes it from a traditional working farm into a visitor experience in pursuit of profit and membership targets. I suspect the neighbours wouldn’t like the extra traffic either!
A round house with many angles
A la Ronde is one of those National Trust properties that really feels like a discovery when you first see it. It has a great charm and more atmosphere than many of the Trust’s grander houses. It is also one of the odder properties being an elaborate cottage ornee with Victorian additions.
There is a story that it was inspired by a church in Venice but I feel it is more in the tradition of similar 18th Century buildings that drew inspiration as widely as possible. It is a great shame that the cottage ornee at Prior Park in Bath is ruined as it would make an interesting comparison.
A house of two stories
The property was created by two spinster cousins (the third was sent home from their grand tour) and intended to descend in the female line of the family. The ground floor of the house is still very much concerned with the Parminter cousins and the many souvenirs from their grand tour. Not to mention lots of handiwork with shells and feathers! The National Trust have restored the central octagon to give the feel of the original and it is a fine space. As a friend says, you can imagine their parrot flying up to the top of the shell gallery there.
The shell gallery is still astounding as it is a decorative work created from shells, feathers and other media embedded and stuck to plaster. It has windows all around with amazing views across the estuary. I find it very impressive that the cousins created this without a safety rail given the dress size to walkway ratio!
However, despite their best efforts a man inherited in the form of a Victorian vicar called Oswald Reichel. He was something of a character whose activities included suing his bishop! He became a reformed character in later life and contributed many articles to local historical journals.
He also converted the first floor into accommodation, put in a bathroom, a dumb waiter and gloriously steam punk central heating! He also tiled the roof and made other changes but kept the shell gallery.
I feel the National Trust is missing a trick in not telling his story as well as the Parminters. Not least because they each shaped one story of the building in both senses of the word story!
I have volunteered at A la Ronde form some years now. Working in the garden was fun as it needed rescuing a bit and over time it’s been good to see it progress. I did my first work on collections at A la Ronde and was trained in object photography there too. I didn’t manage to photograph all the objects but got a good thousand done before a new job in the heritage world meant learning more new skills and less time for volunteering.
Volunteering is always a great way to get to know a place and it can be a lot of fun at A la Ronde. They have a website but why not drop in and see for yourself?