Hestercombe house, a grand 90-something room building, has an odd and intriguing past. The first known residents were the Warres family in 1391 and over years the house has gone though many changes and adaptions. The last person to live in the house was Lady Portman in the 1950‘s. The house is now transforming into a contemporary art gallery and I am the artist in residence for 2014.


As my residency draws to an end, I feel slightly sad to realise that this will the last time I spend so much time in Hestercombe house.  The smell and layout of the building has become a familiar dwelling and my casual joke of “my giant mansion in the country” has actually become quite an intimate space.  I have spent most of my time in the studio and my room, and tend to block out the vastness of the architecture.   But during the install I begin to reminisce of my initial feelings towards the space, as my work now traverses the stairs and the different galleries.

After just de-installing a large installation in Bristol earlier in January my normal urge to build a large scale structure out of wood has been satisfied (please view www.jolathwood.co.uk/artwork/you-move-me/ or www.antlersgallery.com/project/you-move-me for documentation).  The work in this exhibition, entitled ‘Second Site’, relates more to process and history and my work takes the form of sculptures and drawings.  The residency has culminated in 6 new works, some of which are so specific to the building I doubt they will exist after the exhibition.  Along with 4 other artists (Laura Ellen Bacon, Megan Calver, Simon Hitchens and Patrick Lowry) this will be Hestercombe gallery’s first exhibition where the work has been commissioned to response to the house and gardens.  The house is now bubbling with artworks and interventions that are filling, or highlighting, the gaps that we have found curious.

After a recent discussion with fellow artist, Patrick Lowry, I realise it is common place for artists to find themselves in the situation of making things that use techniques that they have never used before.  These new territories encourage a sense of excitement and panic.  I have never made bronze before, but in this exhibition is some homemade bronze.  I have never made my own ink, but in this exhibition there is a lot of homemade ink!

For once the house is not open to the public as we install so, unlike my recent stays, it is very quiet.  The gardens are in their winter state, a more subtle aesthetic, which again reminds me of my first visits back in February 2014.  The funding for the first year will end with this exhibition and associated events (details below).  Tim Martin (Artist / Curator / producer) will find out if the next funding bid is successful in March.  I really hope for the future of this unique place as an arts’ hub for the South West.  It has so much potential and I feel privileged to be part of the gallery’s debut.

Event details:

Preview: 30th January 2015. 5pm – 7.30pm
Please contact: [email protected] if you wish to come to the opening.
Open: 31 January – 12 April 2015
Location: Hestercombe Gallery, Cheddon Fitzpaine, Taunton, Somerset, TA2 8LG

Thursday 12th February, 2015. 1pm – 4.30pm.
Tickets £10.
Location: Hestercombe Gallery, Cheddon Fitzpaine, Taunton, Somerset, TA2 8LG
Guest speakers British artist Alex Chinneck and ‘Second site’ exhibiting artists.

Thursday 12th March 2015, 1pm  – 4pm.
Tickets £10
Location: Hestercombe Gallery, Cheddon Fitzpaine, Taunton, Somerset, TA2 8LG
Learn how to make a traditional light-fast ink from natural materials.  This workshop includes
– free admission to Hestercombe
– a basic background to Oak Gall Ink
– a walk around the grounds to find and identify different galls
– hands-on experience of how to make the ink
– a free publication (with recipe)
– a sample of ink to take home.

For Tickets please contact. Tel: 01823 413923


I panicked and packed 4 pairs of shoes.  This isn’t a fashion statement, more an attempt to cover all bases as I plan to stay in Hestercombe for my longest stint.  It is Somerset Arts’ weeks, which means I am here from the 18th of September to the 5th of October. (www.somersetartworks.org.uk/artweeks14).

First job was to rearrange the studio.  The logistics of making work in a new space without all my tools has caused complications in the past.  So this time I have tried to bring enough materials and equipment to cope with any outcome.

Hestercombe is still beautiful and although it’s the first day of Autumn, apart from the lack of evening light, there are little signs of a season shift.  After my last stay I can no longer face stripping wire and first take to experimenting with Oak Iron Ink. An old friend and excellent painter, Anna Illsely (http://www.annailsley.co.uk), suggested that it could be an interesting material to work with on some of my herbarium drawings (www.jolathwood.co.uk/artwork/university-of-kolophon).  The ink has a fascinating past and is a good tool to traverse traditional craft with contemporary practice, for me and for the audience that come and visit Hestercombe.  Dating back as far as the 5th century AD Oak Iron Ink has been used throughout Europe for various different tasks, including writing bank notes back when paper money was simply an IOU.  The ingredients for the ink vary, as do the recipes, not to mention the 30-odd different species of oak gall!  My first batch was a moderate success.  I think I could make a better darker ink but it was good for a first try.  As is the nature of artists, I became far more interested in the ink going wrong.  After adding a thickening agent I discover an effect that causes the ink to separate into tiny veins across the page.  The history, biology and chemistry of ink has lead me to want to share my findings.  I hope to run some workshops at Hestercombe over the next couple months and maybe even produce a small art book explaining this amazing parasite.


I have literally spent the last 3 days continuously stripping copper wire – a job that is hard to romanticise and makes me feel like I might be some scrap metal merchant hell-bent on labour intensive tasks.  Luckily, to easy the monotony, an old friend and fellow artist Alice Cunningham (http://www.alicecunningham.co.uk) has come to visit.  Cunningham’s practice has similar aspects to mine and we have known each other since University days.  She has an exhibition in London, which she needs to make work for, and currently being between studios and houses it makes sense for her to accompany me in Hestercombe’s mansion.  She is making a piece for a show that is based at a paper manufacturer and she needs to make vast qualities of papier mache. We giggle to ourselves as we quickly realise how we have changed the studio to look more like a recycling centre than any kind of arts’ space.

Surrounded by plastic cabling, satisfying bundles of copper and shredded paper, I reminisce of the first residency that I part took in, in Valenciennes, France.  At L’H du Siege I realised that I am so motivated by process – how things are made, what their elements are, and how they evolve. It always draws me in to learn niche facts.

Many visitors poke their heads around the door with surprised and curious expressions.  I explain who I am and what I am doing and by the end of my day I wish I had a tape recorder that spiels out the important information.   I don’t want to sound negative about talking to people but doing repetitive tasks and repeating yourself daily leads to a very tired artist!  Needless to say, on Saturday evening, Alice and I decided to check out the local pub.  After a recommendation from a local, I found myself eating a crocodile burger, something that I really didn’t expect to be doing in rural Somerset.


To sound quintessentially English – Summer is a delight at Hestercombe.  The gardens are in full bloom and the landscape is bursting with vibrant foliage and healthy flora.  My recent stay was different to my previous experiences merely because now the house is officially open to the public.  This means that as I work in the studio, or the grounds, anyone can walk into the studio and, if I am there, talk to me.  I find this quite an amazing experience because of the potential for discourse with an audience, and at the same time terrifying!  I am always willing to talk to people about what I am doing but as I promised myself to play around with materials it sometimes can be difficult to engage in articulate conversation.  A varied section of people popped their heads around the door – some curious to know what I was doing and others unsure if they were allowed to be in the room!

The start of my visit was punctuated by – a conference hosted by Hestercombe and Visual Arts South West (vasw.org.uk).  A room of arts professionals from the region spoke about the difficulties of hosting contemporary art in rural settings.  The conversation made me realise that aside from making interesting artwork I should also really be focusing on bringing as many artists and arts professionals to see Hestercombe. It is an intriguing space and the newly painted galleries have an air similar to that of the grand houses at the Venice biennale.   With the recent opening of Hauser and Wirth’s new space in Bruton Somerset, the contemporary art scene in the South West seems to be vibrating.  Hestercombe has huge potential and has an active arts audience nearby but navigating this new arts program into a success story is a giant task.  I feel Hestercombe needs to not replicate other institutions but instead find its own unique outlook and then expand.

Aside from plotting on how to get fellow artists to visit, most of my time was spent playing around with casting wax.  I learnt to bronze cast 3 years ago and it has had a big impact on my practice to the point that I am the co-director of an artist-led foundry called Ore + Ingot (www.oreandingot.com).  The alchemy of melting metal is fascinating and, since my first introduction to Hestercombe house was adorned with wiring, I inadvertently decided to use the copper to make some work.  The details of this sculpture are still being tossed around inside my mind but first I must endeavour to strip as much cabling as I can!  In the warm summer heat playing with wax forms was ideal and even though my initial plan of making horns has now been slightly altered, it was great to just think about the material and its possibilities.

On the last day of this last brief stay I had a tour of the garden with the head gardener Claire Reid.  It was great to get another layer of understanding to the landscape.  I was particularly interested to learn that the gardeners have old maps of the gardens that plot the different viewpoints across the valley. It will be good to reflect on this history as I think further about my first sculpture here.



The Van is packed with a bed, a desk, the essential studio chair and various art materials as I pull up to the long gracious driveway at Hestercombe. The large house in the centre of my view will be my home and work space for the next 4 days. The residency is programmed over the course of the year but I shall only reside here in brackets of time.

After meeting Tim Martin (Curator) and getting the keys to this beautiful estate I unpack my furniture into the studio. The view from the window is odd, yet suitable, as it overlooks the rooftops of buildings that have been added to over the years, producing this interesting, and slightly scrawling, labyrinth of architecture. The studio has an oven, sink and beautifully high ceilings – it actually used to be the staff room when Hestercombe housed the Somerset Fire Brigade in the late 1980‘s. The functionality of the room is perfect for a studio and I ponder on how this room will transform over my time on the residency.

Hestercombe is situated on the southern slopes of the Quantock Hills near Taunton in Somerset. It is famed for having period gardens that stretch over three centuries. There is a visitors’ center, a café, and beautifully restored gardens worked by a dedicated team of gardeners and volunteers who preen the landscape. The house is more of an anomaly – its multipurpose history means the building is full of a mish-mash of eccentricity, where Renaissance plaster work collides with 1980’s phone cabling.

After meeting the 20-something team of people who work onsite, I happily act as any normal visitor and engage with the beautiful surroundings. The house is currently not open to the public and there is no furniture or text explaining its history. Instead it is going through another transformation to host an exhibition entitled “leaping the fence” (more information at the end of the this post)

At the end of the day the visitors’ car park empties out and I am left to explore this new environment on my own. The most common question of the day was: “Are you really going to stay in the house?” And each time I answered yes, I felt a surge of excitement as the reality of this residency kicked in. The night time was quiet but not as eerie as I feared. I woke early and felt ready to start making work. Overwhelmed by new thoughts, my sketchbook quickly changed into of a list of things I should research further, and instant ideas that take 5 minutes to form but several days to make. I promised myself to use this residency as a space to really play with materials and develop ideas and not worry about finalizing pieces until later in the year. After scribbling somewhat schizophrenic thoughts I decide I just need to start making. I find a small sample of Lebanese Cedar and start to make an herbarium chart for Hestercombe’s fallen giant. The drawing will continue a series that I started 3 years ago, which documents trees and their surroundings in a pseudo-scientific manner. The Lebanese Cedar fell early this year during a thunderstorm and crashed through parts of the Victorian shrubbery. I often find that giving yourself a practical task like this can be the catalyst for finding new ideas.

By the end of my stay, I feel like time is running out and I cannot wait to return with more tools and more time.

Leaping the fence – 24/05/14 – 14/09/14
Hestercombe Gallery, CheddonFitzpaine, Taunton, Somerset, TA2 8LG