Parham House and Gardens’ Annual Garden Weekend

Parham House and Garden
Gardener and patron, Peta Ashton and Lady Emma Barnard, in conversation in the Tudor herb garden at Parham House and Gardens

This week I am visiting the walled gardens in the lead up to one of the highlights of the Sussex summer calendar: Parham House and Gardens’ famous ‘Garden Weekend’. This year’s celebration of gardening at Parham will be opened on Saturday by the BBC Gardeners’ World presenter Joe Swift.

I love the stillness that gathers you in the walled gardens at Parham. It transports you, separating you from the business of life. To create a garden of this subtlety, depth and beauty requires a sensitivity to place, light, the elements and the seasons.

Tom Brown, Head Gardener at Parham, leads a team of gifted people, whose creativity allows this sublime garden to honour the past while remaining forward-looking. I am excited to be meeting Peta Ashton, a gardener and member of this team, whose individuality and talent is apparent in her work in the Parham gardens.

Lady Emma Barnard and I walk from her wonderful house to the gardens and she leaves me in the path between the long borders as she goes off to find Peta. If you have ever dared to still yourself and stand in a landscape, you will know that out of the silence your senses become heightened. You become more alive. Sounds, colours and movement reveal themselves to you. As I stand between these borders with the warmth of the sun upon my face, the wind and shadows cause the soft planting to dance. I become aware of the swathes of colour and their relationships to one another, which, together with the textures of flowers and foliage, form complex compositions. The gentle breeze plays upon the leaves. There is a rhythm and wholeness, born out of this rich canvas. Lady Emma appears with Peta, the sound of their voices and feet on the gravel paths marking their approach.

Borders at Parham House and Gardens
Peta Ashton’s sublime borders at Parham

The borders which have just captured my imagination and gathered me are the work and inspiration of Peta Ashton. I remark on my experience of this particular part of the garden. She listens thoughtfully. Her face breaks into a gentle smile beneath her broad-brimmed hat, evidently pleased by my unexpected response to her work. I ask her what has influenced the garden layout. She replies, “The gardens are laid out in the ‘Old Parham Way’ with secret and open spaces.” There is much talk today of garden rooms but it would seem that this is nothing new at Parham.

Together the three of us walk towards another of Peta’s creations, the restored herb garden, which is bordered by a tall yew hedge of dark green hue. Entering through an arch cut into the hedge, we find ourselves in a secret, sunny garden. A circular stone pond with a lead putto is framed by tall herbs. Excitedly Peta leads Emma and me around the herb garden, delighting in the names, the foliage and the characters of each individual plant. It is apparent that we are in the company of a generous and passionate plantswoman, who expresses her hopes and fears for each of them in turn.

In Tudor times, when Parham was built, herbs were used for their culinary, medicinal and strewing properties. Herbs would be strewn on the floors and surfaces of homes to deter insects and to disinfect, as well as for their fragrant qualities. In this enclosed garden, I am reminded that herbs were associated with the monastic tradition in medicine. It is these influences which are expressed in the disciplined, balanced planting. Peta explains that this would be defeated if it was too ornamental. There is a sense of working with nature and history.

The Gardens at Parham House
A view from the gardens looking towards the house and Sussex Downs

I ask Peta how she comes to imagine and create these remarkable borders and gardens. She pauses for a moment, considering her reply, and then says, “The borders come out of being in this space in silence. It is the combination of this inner criterion and influences from outside which I try to work with.” Being attentive to nature, colour, form and movement requires a particular quality of engagement and a generous discipline – a combination of relationship with our environment and an attempt to shut out the white noise of our lives and be truly present, undistracted in the given moment. It is a form of meditation, of prayer. Peta clearly understands this and it gifts her creativity and remarkable vision with depth and subtlety. She is both artist and gardener.

Calling and vocation can be expressed in infinite ways. Peta Ashton’s sense of vocation towards her work, like her gardens, is inspiring. It is bound up with her very personhood. Like so much at Parham House and Gardens, Peta’s tremendously personal expression of creativity is possible thanks to the patronage and involvement of Lady Emma.

Sheltered by the warm hues of the old brick garden walls covered in lichen, these gardens have a remarkable ability to gather and engage people. Families find a gentle place to wander in conversation, their time in the garden informed by the beauty around them. Keen horticulturists will pause to explore the subtleties and effects of the planting and compositions before them. Whatever your approach, though, you cannot fail to wander in this beautiful place without being moved by it.

I am looking forward to the Parham House and Gardens’ ‘Garden Weekend’ this Saturday and Sunday, 12th and 13th July 2014, 10.30am to 5.00pm. For more information go to www.parhaminsussex.co.uk or telephone 01903 742021. Tickets include the wonderful gardens and entry to the house and its superb collections. There are Parham plants for sale too – wonderful stock – so don’t forget to treat yourselves!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 9th July 2014 in the West Sussex Gazette.

Fund-raising for Pallant House Gallery

Pallant House Gallery Chichester
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester

Toovey’s are holding a fund-raising valuations afternoon for Fine Art and Oriental Antiques on Monday 12th May 2014 at Pallant House Gallery, 9 North Pallant, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 1TJ.

Toovey’s specialists will be at the gallery between 1pm and 5pm to offer free valuations of your paintings, sculptures and Asian and Islamic ceramics and works of art. A third of the seller’s commission for any items valued at the event and subsequently sold through auction at Toovey’s will be donated to the gallery.

Rupert Toovey comments: “The jewel-like collections of art at Pallant House Gallery affirm our county’s central place in the history of 20th Century Modern British. The vision of its directors, Simon Martin and Marc Steene, have established a reputation for exhibitions which are the subject of national acclaim. They have also pioneered the remarkable ‘Outside In’ program, which provides a platform for artists who find it difficult to access the art world, either because of mental health issues, disability, health and social circumstance or because their work does not conform to what is normally considered as art.”

Jonathan Chiswell Jones at Horsham Museum & Art Gallery

'Fox and Hare' by Jonathan Chiswell Jones

In 1954, a young art teacher called Lewis Creed at Ashfold School, Handcross, wanted to introduce his pupils to the joys of making pottery. He had little equipment at the school, but obtained clay from Keymer tiles and was encouraged by the head of Horsham Art School to fire the children’s pots in the art school kiln. In due course, the school itself got hold of a wheel and a kiln, and was able to do everything on site. 60 years later, the fruit of that teaching can be seen in Horsham Museum and Art Gallery’s new exhibition ‘The Alchemy of Lustre’ – an exhibition of lustreware by ceramic artist Jonathan Chiswell Jones.

'Homage to Islam' by Jonathan Chiswell Jones

Born in Calcutta in 1944, Jonathan Chiswell Jones first saw pottery being made on the banks of the Hoogly river where potters were making disposable teacups from river clay. He was one of Lewis Creed’s pupils and, inspired by that early contact with clay, he has worked as a professional potter for the past 40 years. In 1998, Chiswell Jones was given an award by Arts Training South, which encouraged him to go on a course about ceramic lustre. He began to experiment with the thousand year old technique used by Middle Eastern potters to fuse a thin layer of silver or copper onto the surface of a glaze. This layer, protected by the glaze, then reflects light. Hence the term ‘lustre.’ The lustreware on show at Horsham Museum and Art Gallery demonstrates this almost magical transformation, whereby clay and glaze, metal and fire combine to produce pots which reflect light and colour, a process in which base metal seems to be turned to gold. Of this process Jonathan Chiswell Jones notes:

“I am proud to stand in this lustreware tradition, with its roots in the Islamic empire of the tenth century, its appearance in Spain and Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, its revival in the nineteenth century by Theodore Dec in France and by Zolnay in Hungary, and in this country by William De Morgan, and more recently by Alan Caiger Smith.”

50 pieces of Jonathan Chiswell Jones’s creation will be on display in ‘The Alchemy of Lustre,’ which opens at Horsham District Council’s Horsham Museum & Art Gallery on 20 March and closes 30 April 2014. All of the artworks will be available for purchase, including the option to buy via Own Art.

Eric Ravilious, Exhibition of Prints at Pallant House Gallery

Eric Ravilious, Newhaven Harbour, 1937, Lithograph, Private Collection.
Eric Ravilious, Newhaven Harbour, 1937, Lithograph, Private Collection.

An intimate exhibition of prints by the artist Eric Ravilious, who lived and worked in Sussex, is on show at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester until 8th December. The exhibition highlights prints and book illustrations from Ravilious’ oeuvre. His work is rooted in the landscape and life of pre-war and early wartime England, especially the South Downs where he grew up.

Eric Ravilious was born in 1903. As a very young boy he moved with his parents from Acton to Eastbourne in Sussex. There his father ran an antique shop. Ravilious was educated at Eastbourne Grammar School. In 1919 he won a scholarship to Eastbourne School of Art and in 1922 to the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London, where he met his lifelong friend and fellow artist Edward Bawden. Both men studied under the artist Paul Nash at the RCA. Nash was generous in encouraging and promoting their work and he helped Ravilious to acquire some of his first commissions for prints and book illustrations. Ravilious subsequently taught part-time at both art schools.

Eric Ravilious, Commander of a Submarine, Pallant House Gallery
Eric Ravilious, Commander of a Submarine looking through a Periscope from the Submarine Series, 1940-41, Lithograph, Pallant House Gallery, The Dennis Andrews and Christopher Whelan Gift (2008).
Eric Ravilious, Manor Gardens, 1927, Wood Engraving, Towner, Eastbourne
Eric Ravilious, Manor Gardens, 1927, Wood Engraving, Towner, Eastbourne
Eric Ravilious, Amusement Arcade, 1938, Lithograph, Private Collection
Eric Ravilious, Amusement Arcade, 1938, Lithograph, Private Collection

Alan Powers, in his excellent and beautifully illustrated new monograph Eric Ravilious, Artist and Designer, maintains that “Ravilious was a printmaker and illustrator first and a painter afterwards”. Ravilious was to excel in both mediums. Certainly, the exceptional textural quality he gives to the play of light upon surfaces is given life through his characteristic use of line and colour.

The print Newhaven Harbour perfectly illustrates Ravilious’ strong connection with Sussex. Here the westerly wind causes the clouds to move across the sky and the light dances on the gentle incoming tide, which brings an ocean liner safely to harbour. Texture, light and movement connect the artist’s work to the English Romantic tradition but with a particular and fresh voice. It is at once figurative and yet highly stylized. The life in this print is made possible by the process of autolithography, which was being promoted by the Curwen Press and others in the 1930s. This process allowed the artist to draw directly on to stone or printing plates, rather than relying upon an intermediary to transfer the image from a drawing. It is evident that Ravilious was trying to recapture his watercolour. The small brush strokes demanded by the viscous lithographic ink are combined with the effects of sponging in the treatment of the sky. There is a hopeful, joyous air to the scene depicted in this large poster-size print.

The mood of the pre-war Newhaven Harbour contrasts with the lithograph Commander of a Submarine looking through a Periscope from 1941. Here, the view from the periscope is abstracted into the shadows of the submarine, the flash of blue connecting this vignette to the commander’s eyes.

Wood engraving was Eric Ravilious’ first medium for print. It allowed for fine lines to be drawn against the black ground. The revival of wood engraving in the early 20th century provides a connection to 18th century artists like Thomas Berwick and William Blake, and to 19th century artists of the Arts and Crafts Movement, who worked in the same medium. By 1927, the date of the wood engraving Manor Gardens, Ravilious displays the line, flecking and crisp edging which define his woodblocks.

Illustrations by many artists are often viewed as being secondary to other aspects of their output. With Ravilious, however, his consistent and particular voice always shines through. Take, for example, the illustration Amusement Arcade from the book High Street, published by Country Life in 1938. Once again the luminosity of light is created by line and tone, creating an image of an arcade at night which is alive with movement and texture.

Entrance to this jewel-like exhibition is free and it is on show until 8th December 2013 at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester. Further details of this and the gallery’s other current exhibitions (which are really worth the ticket price) can be found at www.pallant.org.uk. The Pallant House Bookshop has copies of Eric Ravilious Artist & Designer at a special price to visitors of £30 – the perfect start to your Christmas shopping!

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 27th November 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

The Dalek is coming…

2D Adventures Daleks
Dalek artwork circa 1960 from the exhibition

Excitement is building amongst Whovians as the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who approaches. Fans of Doctor Who will know that in the stories it was the evil Davros who created the deadly Dalek race. However, it was in fact the writer, Terry Nation, who dreamt up the Daleks. But few will be aware that the man who gave the Daleks form was prop-designer and artist Raymond Cusick. Raymond Cusick lived in Horsham securing the town a place in the Doctor Who story. This important connection is being marked by an exhibition at the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery of Doctor Who memorabilia including a Dalek! The exhibition, ‘2D Adventures in Time and Space: An Unofficial Doctor Who Exhibition’, is the perfect half-term treat, entry is free and it runs until 1st January 2014.

We all know what a Dalek is but what sort of Doctor Who creature is a Whovian? In recent years a teenage generation have grouped themselves into fandoms. So if you can’t resist Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes you are a Sherlockian. But if the debate in your household is whether you are most looking forward to seeing Matt Smith, David Tennant or John Hurt as the Doctor, in the 50th Anniversary Special to be screened on 23rd November, then you are Whovians.

The exhibition is the inspiration of Horsham Museum Curator Jason Semmens who has been a fan of the show since he was three years old. “Doctor Who was the hero of a range of cartoon strips published in various comics and annuals from the mid-1960s onwards” Jason explains, “The artwork for the comics are much larger than the comic books and have real visual impact.” I ask him what his particular favourites are, he responds “The TV21 magazine Dalek cartoon strip from the 1960s is vibrant and fun and the weekly cartoon strips from 1980 with Tom Baker in them are also really good.”

For me the highlight of the exhibition is the Dalek shown here with Horsham District Council’s Head of Museums and Heritage, Jeremy Knight and Whovian, Emma Toovey. I still find them menacing. An episode of Doctor Who is guaranteed to make me jump out of my skin in fright. Laughing Emma says “You’re as frightening as the Doctor Who monsters when you do that Dad!” She has a point.

Jason Semmens’ favourite Doctors are Tom Baker and the earlier Patrick Troughton. Each generation will have their favourite Doctor but what unites us is our delight in the stories and our shared experience of hiding behind the sofa. For me the latest batch of Doctors have been exceptional with the alien quality of Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant’s emotion, passion and energy and Matt Smith’s compassion, courage, determination and humour, not to mention his Harris Tweed jacket and catch phrase “bowties are cool”, I could not agree with him more.

You don’t need a Tardis to travel back in time just a trip to the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery as witnessed by Emma Toovey and K9 transported back to late Victorian Horsham’s P. Williams & Co pharmacy from West Street.

Many of us now come from generations where our shared memories are often caught up with TV and Film. The ‘2D Adventures in Time and Space: An Unofficial Doctor Who Exhibition’ captures something of our own childhood stories brilliantly. Toys also reflect childhood memories. For example, model railways speak to a generation whose childhoods were defined by a passion for steam engines and an ambition to drive them. For the TV and Film generation toys as iconic as a James Bond 007 Corgi Aston Martin DB5, or a Corgi Batmobile, capture their imaginations in a similar way. Indeed Toovey’s toy sales are a boom market!

The Horsham Museum & Art Gallery, according to published information, is the third most visited heritage attraction in Sussex. This is an extraordinary achievement which speaks of the importance all of us place on our common history and heritage. The economic impact of these visitors is profoundly important to Horsham and the broader Horsham District’s businesses and economy. Councillors like Jonathan Chowen understand this. Thanks to them The Horsham District Council continues its important involvement in supporting the museum, the hard work and dedication of its Curator, Jason Semmens and Head of Museums and Heritage, Jeremy Knight. All involved deserve to be applauded.

Be transported back in time this half term at the Horsham Museum & Art Gallery and delight in ‘2D Adventures in Time and Space: An Unofficial Doctor Who Exhibition’. Don’t miss that marvellous Dalek – entry is free! For more information go to www.horshammuseum.org or telephone the museum on 01403 254959.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 23rd October 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.