Wednesday 20 May 2009

A way of life - Kettle's Yard

Kettle's Yard was described by one visitor as
'a beautiful house full of beautiful things.'

The house and its contents are the gift to Cambridge of Jim Ede, an inspired contemplative who found that if he put things together in the right place in a room, the visiting light daily revolving in that space would create a play of presences.

These stones were in a bowl, unappreciated and dusty. 
I was sorting them in a newly illuminated spot (the sun rarely strikes this shelf) and realised that I had done what Jim Ede did with the stones he collected from a Norfolk beach in 1958.

His friendships with the artists whom he was often the first to admire, and with other generous people, brought the steady growth of the collection; so that pictures, sculpture, pottery, glass, the furniture, the plates - even stones picked up on the beach - now stand as if entranced by each other.

David Jones's 'Flora in Calix Light', 1950. 
David Jones is, I suppose, not only the best water colourist working in Britain today [1940] but by far the best engraver, a poet and writer of genius, in all a most imaginative artist
The glass candlestick is almost part of the painting, an echo of the artist's vision.

This curling feather - how can it be touched and how can it not live forever! 
It flutters in my memory.

Glass and china play their part in Kettle's yard; there is hardly a room without, even cracked things, teacups into which light falls like sunshine into pools. All this makes a home where people feel at rest...

This Coalport cup and saucer are remnants of a set that my parents must have been given as a wedding present.

My fascination with details will I hope never cease. 
Each object is a miracle.

Fisherman's floats, those transparent glass balls for invisibly holding up nets. 
They were so enchanting to find on the beaches of the world, they were like jewels in the early morning sunlight; in Japan they were blue and got washed up sometimes on the shores of the Western Americas. Today these floats are made of plastic and do not shine at all. In Kettle's Yard the glass ones still shine and are harmonious objects... This is an interior which looks into the outer world and has for me a transparent stillness through which to find and hold a sense of peace amidst 'the manifold changes of this world'; peace which will, I hope, create a touchstone for life itself..

The forming of Kettle's Yard began I suppose, by my meeting with Ben and Winifred Nicholson in 1924 or thereabouts, while I was an Assistant at the Tate Gallery... 
Winfred Nicholson taught me much about the fusing of art and daily living.

I brought my hair brushes away with me when we left Kettle's Yard in 1973 - 
but all the time I kept thinking how beautiful these flat ovals of ivory looked on this chest of drawers, so I sent them back to relieve my mind.
 They had belonged to B.R. Haydon, Royal Academician and friend of Keats.

These are silver-backed and belonged to my father, given to him on the occasion of his 21st birthday.

There are many painting by Alfred Wallis scattered and propped around the house.
He was  self taught and only began painting when he was 75.

There is at least one Barbara Hepworth. This one I photographed at her studio.

Henry Moore gave Jim Ede sculptures.

A stone however carved, is first and foremost a stone; it belongs to things comparatively immobile, the rock from which it is separated, and must  retain this parental force and immobility, yet it must also convey that strange admixture which is man; mutability of flesh and eternity of spirit.
Sadly I do not own a Henry Moore, but for some reason have this signed photo of him.

There are several bowls by Lucie Rie, one holding his favourite 'pocket stones'.
I once got caught up in a wholly unrealistic bidding war for a Lucie Rie bowl on an internet auction site.
Thankfully I came to my senses just in time and did not 'win' it.

And finally a description of his bedroom:

It is really very small but looks large with the big bay window. Visitors used to say 'Do you really sleep here?' and to my 'Yes' would ask how I kept it so tidy; perhaps that is part of the way of life. I did spend nearly s third of my life in this bedroom. it never seemed to me that there was much in it except a bed and a table. it may have been 9 ft by 7 ft plus the window space; and actually it contained 7 Ben Nicholsons, a Henry Moore, two by Alfred Wallis, a John Blackburn, a Gaudier-Brzeska and David Jones's thrilling watercolour 'Vexilla Regis.' There was a cupboard full of lovely Georgian glass and china (an overflow from the kitchen not given to the University) and there were books of poetry and a little book of 'specials', things I had learnt by heart...

It led straight into the bathroom, a slot of a room but equally fully empty!

A way of life was put together by Jim Ede, in the hope of making, in book form, some kind of parallel, a shadow of reality, to that which is the reality of Kettle's Yard.

If you can't get to Cambridge there is a room of highlights from Kettle's Yard 
at Tate Britain until June 14th.

He would have liked to call this book 'A way of love' as someone suggested, for what is life without devotion? Spenser's words from the sixteenth century were thus his guide:

So let us love, dear Love, like as we ought
Love is the lesson that the Lord us taught.

1 comment:

  1. When I visit Kettles Yard I am torn between admiration of the artistic vision and annoyance at the way that even the cobwebs are treated with reverence.