Allan Bank
Saturday, May 27, 2023
Sunday, October 29, 2023
Allan Bank, Grasmere, Ambleside, Cumbria, LA22 9QB
North West England
Allan Bank, National Trust

Situated in the quiet woodland in the Grasmere valley, overlooking the serene village with rich history traced back to the Medieval time, against the Lake Grasmere surrounded by the ancient fells, Allan Bank stands as a key artefact in the heart of the Lake District owned by the National Trust. The house was built in 1805 by the Liverpool solicitor Gregory Crump and housed notable tenants such as the Romantic Poet Laureate William Wordsworth and his family, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one of the Lake Poets, and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, one of the founders of the National Trust, with his wife Eleanor. It was a hub of creativity and reform. Wordsworth wrote the first edition of “A Guide through the District of the Lakes” at this place. In the later editions, the poet developed his criticism of the destruction of the natural environment through indiscreet human agencies. Sir Jonathan Bate, a biographer, critic, broadcaster and scholar, stressed the importance of how Wordsworth’s critical view as an environmentalist influenced others subsequently: John Ruskin, the Victorian art critic and social reformer, John Muir, naturalist and advocate of establishing Yosemite National Park, Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley as mentioned above, and Beatrix Potter, the children’s book author and conservationist, to name a few. Their collective voice and legacy resound ever louder in the current ecological crisis.

In this art project, I explored the themes mentioned above, focusing on Beatrix Potter as an icon of inspiration on many levels. Artist, researcher, celebrated illustrated book author, farmer, entrepreneur, conservationist, and enactor of the ambitions of Canon Rawnsley in the conservation of the Lake District. This was manifested in her financial and organisational agency in acquiring and then bequeathing large estates to the National Trust in its early days, forming the core of its 25% ownership of the present National Park. At the same time, Potter maintained and supported farming traditions, notably the Herdwick sheep breed, which is now a mainstay of the Lake District Cultural Landscape World Heritage Site.

The project comprises a large mural portrait of Beatrix and a two-storey mural of an old ash tree, transforming the internal walls of Allan Bank. The presence of a large mural portrait of Beatrix in Rawnsley’s home signifies a line of continuity between Ruskin, Wordsworth, Potter and Rawnsley in the development of the earliest landscape conservation movement. I aimed to portray Beatrix in her early to mid-twenties, before she reached her full potential in her later years, in quest to immortalise her like a Muse so that her voice echoes in our contemporary society and beyond. Young Beatrix, depicted in a manner no artist has ever portrayed, is also designed to be relatable to young audiences, her burgeoning environmental awareness similarly relatable to the youthful leadership of the modern environmental movement. At the same time, my large-scale mural of an old ash tree symbolises Beatrix’s passion inherited by the National Trust, which will launch a conservation campaign for European ash which is dying. As for the style, I referenced the Japanese traditional paintings, particularly those produced in the Edo Rinpa (School of Kōrin) style by Sakai Hōitsu and Suzuki Kiitsu. The style recalls the Japonisme of the cultural elite in which Potter grew up (a key artefact in the major Beatrix Potter exhibition at V&A is Beatrix’s late 19th-century Japanese tansu cabinet, once part of her Kensington home and transplanted to Hill Top, her house in the Lake District.) The distinctly Japanese treatment – at once architectural and at the same time intensely graphic – will allude to the international nature of wealth, empire and aesthetics that underpinned what on the surface appears to be a deeply local, native and internalised culture of the Lake District villa. This old ash tree is based on the one standing at the Cartmel Priory, which William Wordsworth once visited to mourn his teacher and mentor, who died prematurely and was buried at this church graveyard. At Allan Bank, Wordsworth wrote his first edition of ‘The Guide to the District of the Lakes’, and its later edition catalysed the conservation movement not only in the Lake District but also in America. His passion was succeeded by Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, who inspired Beatrix Potter about the importance of conservation. This old ash tree symbolises the unbroken chain of ecological movement up to this day. Alongside the mural paintings, I produced a series of small works inspired by Beatrix’s creativity culminating in a solo exhibition in a dedicated room at the hard opening in September. This exhibition consists of these small works alongside an original drawing and wooden panel painting of Beatrix Potter, portrait drawings of William Wordsworth and Hardwicke Rawnsley.

The series of small works is partly a homage to the great body of work that Beatrix Potter amassed, as well as an attempt to place a spotlight on her creativity. As is well known, the name “Beatrix Potter” is synonymous with her “Little Books”, namely the Peter Rabbit series. I wondered what the secret to this enduring popularity is. I believe it is the vitality with which Beatrix imbued each character, allowing the reader to feel that they are about to leap from the page at any moment. Take, for example, Jeremy Fisher. Although toads in real life are slimy and squat, in Beatrix’s hands he becomes magically endearing. I am certain that this ability to express so much through drawing is based on abilities acquired by Beatrix in her childhood. We know that she kept rabbits, house mice, hedgehogs, lizards, tortoises and bats as pets, and drew them. I am fascinated above all by the huge quantity of fungi that she painted. These works are not simply a collection of drawings, but original research materials that took her to the forefront of fungus research. Based on these studies she compiled a paper entitled “On the germination of the spores of Agaricineae” and submitted it to the Linnean Society, the authority on taxonomy and natural history, in London. At the time, the society was not open to women; Potter abandoned her attempt to have the paper published, and eventually stopped drawing fungi. I have been lucky enough to view some of the 400 drawings of natural subjects that Beatrix bequeathed to the Armitt Library in Ambleside, and was astonished by their accuracy, both in artistic and scientific terms. The drawings were produced several years before she wrote the illustrated letter to her governess Annie Moore’s son, Noel, which would go on to become “The Tale of Peter Rabbit”. The characters that she created were all based on similar acute levels of observation. As a Japanese artist living and working in the Lake District today, I have tried to reinterpret the stories and characters to which she gave birth as a result of her day-to-day observations. The result is a series of portraits of small animals (including my own pets) that I meet in my own day-to-day life.