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