Art in the Aftermath

On 11th November 1918, fighting on land, sea and air in World War I between the Allies and their opponent, Germany, finally came to an end. One hundred years later, television, magazines and museums throughout Britain are paying tribute to the events of the Great War with reflective thoughts, facts and stories, revealing truths and experiences of those who fought or were affected by the conflict. Tate Britain jumped on the bandwagon with a major exhibition throughout the summer: Aftermath: Art in the Wake of World War One. Bringing together over 150 artworks from 1916 – 1932 by British, French and German artists, the exhibition explored the artistic responses to the physical and psychological scars left by the war. With over 10 million soldiers dead and 20 million wounded, the fighting may have ceased but the after effects of the devastation continued to plague the hearts and minds of those left behind to pick up the pieces.

 

 

 

The exhibition, which closed on 23rd September 2018, began with a selection of paintings produced by artists who had either fought or witnessed the battle first hand. Since the majority of civilians had not seen the fighting in the trenches, they were sheltered from the brutality of the experience. Artists struggled to express the horrors of war, the battlefields and the loss of human life; instead, they painted the scene after the guns had fallen silent, indicating the violence by revealing the destruction of the landscape.

Paul Nash (1889-1946) used his surrealist style to produce a ruined field full of shell craters and broken trees. Although no human remains can be seen, it is easy to imagine the significant death toll caused by heavy artillery and automatic weapons. Other artists included abandoned helmets as a piercing symbol of the death of a soldier. An example of British, French and German helmets, which had originally been collected as war souvenirs, was displayed in a glass case in the first room of the exhibition. The rusted state of the British and German helmet was a strong reminder of the damp, inhospitable environment soldiers were subjected to.

Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson (1889-1946), one of the greatest British war artists, included a couple of corpses in his painting Paths of Glory (1917). Lying face down in the mud surrounded by barbed wire, the soldiers are stripped of their dignity and identity, becoming a small percentage of the war losses. When the painting was first displayed in London, the Department of Information threatened to censor it, however, Nevinson got there first, pasting pieces of brown paper over the dead bodies with the word “censored” written over the top. Rather than protecting the viewers from the truth as the Department had wished, Nevinson caused people to demand to know the realities of the war.

William Orpen (1878-1931) was another artist who was determined to reveal the traumas of war. Drawing on his own experiences, Orpen produced Blown Up (1917), a painting of a soldier he had witnessed wandering around in a corpse-ridden landscape.

“Practically every shred of uniform had been torn from his body … [he] was wandering crazed and naked, still clinging to his rifle.”

It was impossible for soldiers to forget the sights they had seen and Orpen was particularly outraged that the people who had “gone through Hell” were quickly being forgotten by the people in charge. Soldiers were expected to return to their daily lives as though the war had never happened. Mental illness was not an accepted concept at the time and illnesses such as PTSD were not mentioned. Instead, the dazed, emotionally broken man depicted by Orpen was deemed to be “shell-shocked”, a term coined during the war by Charles Meyers (1873-1946), a physician, who believed the behaviour of these men was a result of shockwaves caused from a nearby exploding bomb, severing men’s nerves.

 

 

Of course, the Great War itself was remembered, and continues to be, by the countries involved. Britain and France quickly erected memorials to the people who lost their lives and Germany eventually followed suit in 1931. In Hyde Park Corner, London, stands a stone monument dedicated to the First World War casualties of the Royal Artillery. Included in this statue are four bronze figures of artillerymen designed by Charles Sargeant Jagger (1885-1934), one of which featured in the Tate exhibition.

In Britain, the Tomb of The Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, which contains the remains of an unidentified British soldier killed during the First World War, is still respected at memorial services today. Similarly, in France, a French unknown soldier is buried at the Arc de Triomphe. The coffins were marched through the capitals on 11th November 1920, as shown by Frank Owen Salisbury (1874-1962) in his painting The Passing of an Unknown Warrior. Salisbury captured the procession as it passed Lutyens’ Cenotaph in Whitehall where hundreds of people had gathered to pay their respects. The highly recognisable George V walks alone behind the gun carriage carrying the coffin, playing the role of Chief Mourner.

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Original version

Salisbury’s painting was not the only one at the exhibition to feature the coffin of the unknown soldier. William Orpen painted a tribute to the soldier, placing the coffin in the Hall of Peace at the Palace of Versailles, however, the story behind the artwork gives it an entirely different meaning. As the Tate pointed out, the original painting once featured two putti hovering above the flag-clad coffin, whilst two emaciated soldiers stood to either side. Five years after it had been produced, Orpen painted over the putti and soldiers, leaving the lone coffin in the middle.

What the Tate failed to mention was the painting, To the Unknown Soldier in France (1921-8) was never the original intention of the artist or the commissioners. Orpen was commissioned to paint the politicians, generals and admirals who had “won the war” in a group portrait within the walls of the Hall of Peace. Whilst Orpen worked diligently on this for nine months, his experience of the realities of the battlefield prevented him from continuing until completion. With those that had “given up their all” forgotten about by these “frocks” who had very little to do with the physical warfare, Orpen rebelled by removing the statesmen from the painting and replacing them with the coffin of an unknown soldier. He aimed to express the fate of millions of soldiers to the public back home and the war-induced trauma the survivors were suffering.

“… it must have been the experience of many men, when the war was over and they came back with minds seared with the things they has seen, to find a civilian public weary and indifferent, and positively unwilling to listen.”
– Herbert Read (1893-1968)

 

 

Although some photographs were produced during the war years, the medium was an expensive way of documenting the travesties, therefore, it was left to the artists to show the true events and after-effects. Nevertheless, a painting of a war-strewn landscape does not express the emotional, mental and physical effects upon the combatants. Soon after the war, art movements such as Dada and Surrealism became a way of communicating the damage inflicted upon bodies and minds. Warped images of half flesh, half machine figures were frequently used to represent the use of prosthetic limbs by war veterans.

The French painter Marcel Gromaire (1892-1971), whilst not associated with Dadaism and Surrealism, produced a painting of robot-like soldiers sitting in a trench. The individuals look as though they are made of steel, thus dehumanising the act of war. The German painter Otto Dix (1891-1969), on the other hand, chose a cartoon-style to express his experience of war, for instance, the violent-looking, gasmask-wearing stormtroopers in his print series, The War (1924).

Dix also tried to draw attention to the way post-war German society mistreated disabled veterans as well as exposing the lives of ex-soldiers and their female relatives. In a caricature entitled Prostitute and Disabled War Veteran. Two Victims of Capitalism (1923) Dix aimed to make society aware of the men who were refused work on account of their facial disfigurement and the women who had no choice but to go into prostitution due to economic necessity.

 

 

As well as exploring the catastrophic impact of the war, many artists’ styles and genres began to radically change in the following years. Before 1914, many avant-garde movements were developing, changing the way art was perceived and executed in the western world, however, the war years brought these artistic advancements to a lull. With the world suffering physical and psychological damages, the heart temporarily went out of modern art and many returned to realism and traditional genres.

This revival has been given the art term Retour à l’ordre or Return to Order, which is thought to stem from Jean Cocteau’s (1889-1963) book of essays Le rappel a l’ordre, published in 1926. Although the style may be reminiscent of old approaches, the subject matter alluded to the current economic and political climate. Dorothy Brett (1883-1977), for example, portrayed a group of pregnant war widows dressed in black supporting each other through such a distressing time. War Widows (1916) emphasises the death toll of the war and the number of women left without husbands and children who will never meet their fathers.

Rudolf Schlichter (1890-1955) also alluded to the effects war had on women. In his portrait Jenny (1923), Schlichter gave great attention to the sitter’s facial expression, exposing the inner turmoil of her mind. Jenny appears to be deep in thought, distant and detached from the world. The war did not only affect the men who fought but also the women who lost husbands, sons, fathers and brothers. Another artist, Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945), produced a narrative print portfolio that focused on the war from the perspective of mothers and children. It was one of the strongest and most powerful anti-war statements made at the time.

Other artists subliminally referenced the war by returning to classical themes, such as religion, combining them with modern settings. Winifred Knights (1899–1947), for instance, combined the Biblical story of the flood in the book of Genesis with frenzied figures wearing typical clothing of the 1910s fleeing from the rising waters. The Deluge (1920) was displayed at the Royal Academy in February 1921 and received positive feedback from critics. “The ark suggests the modern concrete buildings, and the figures are those of present-day men and women. Critics declare the painter a genius.” (The Daily Graphic, 8 February 1921)

The most surprising artist to feature in the Return to Order section of the Tate Britain exhibition was Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). Known for cubism, surrealism, expressionism, post-impressionism and more, it is easy to forget that Picasso was also an exceptionally good realist painter. Although he quickly returned to his iconic modern style, for a short time after the war, Picasso entertained ideas of classical and Biblical art. In Family by the Seaside (1922), Picasso paints what appears to be a family of three relaxing on the beach, however, a closer inspection reveals the unnerving nudity of the father and child. The similarities between this painting and the Pietà are evident in the position of the father lying unmoving on the ground whilst the mother and child watch over him.

 

 

Although war art is typically focused upon the actual combat and after effects, artists began to think about the future of a post-war society. In Britain, France and Germany, social and political unrest was plaguing the cities, particularly in the latter in which the percentage of unemployed skyrocketed. In the 1920s, Germany saw the rise of a new art movement, Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), which encompassed the artists who rejected the pre-war expressionist movement. Between 1925 until the fall of the Weimar Republic in 1933, German painting began to characterise the attitude of public life.

Otto Griebel (1895-1972) painted Die International (The International) in 1929 to express the working class’ antagonism against Capitalism. Griebel paints an unending crowd of workers marching together whilst singing the Communist anthem. The individuals are dressed in all manner of work clothes but despite their different positions, they are determined to support each other.

Otto Dix also focused on the working class with his portrait of a street urchin in Working-Class Boy (1920). The young German boy would not look out of place in a Charles Dicken’s (1812-1870) novel such as Oliver Twist (1838) and other stories set in 1800 cities. This suggests that a century on, nothing has been achieved in helping the poor or that the war has reverted the world back to a previous era.

Disabled veterans who fought for their country were often ignored rather than receiving the thanks and praise they deserved. In George Grosz’s (1893-1959) recognisable Grey Day (1921), the cover image of the Aftermath exhibition, a social worker deliberately turns away from a struggling veteran. The public was led to believe everyone was treated equally, whereas, in reality, society had been split into social types similar to the old class system. Grosz and other members of Neue Sachlichkeit aimed to unveil the inequalities through their artwork.

“…I considered any art pointless if it did not put itself at the disposal of political struggle….my art was to be a gun and a sword.”
-George Grosz

There were, of course, positive changes in society after the war. As most people will by now be aware, this year is also the hundredth anniversary of British women receiving the right to vote. It was a time when women were finally getting greater freedom and independence, particularly in the workforce. Cities and economies were adapting in order to fit women into their entitled positions. Europe was also looking to America and following their example of technical progress and modernity.

Some artists produced paintings of ambitious modern cities, full of hope and recovery from war. Nevinson, on the other hand, began to feel disheartened. Bearing in mind the prospect of a Second World War was not yet on the cards, Nevinson was already having doubts about the rapid changes occurring both sides of the ocean. The Soul of the Soulless City (1920) was originally meant to show the modern architecture of New York City with an imagined elevated railway; whilst the picture has not been altered, the meaning changed after a critic described it as “hard, metallic, unhuman”. What initially looked like a city of hope became a city in which buildings and technology replace human life.

As Aftermath: Art in the Wake of World War One proved, the First World War left lasting effects upon citizens regardless as to whether they experienced warfare first hand. One hundred years on, it is not only important to remember the people who fought but also the people left emotionally scarred by the conflict. The artworks shown at the Tate Britain exhibition show how complex the aftermath of the war was; just because the fighting had stopped did not mean life could return to its former state.

It was refreshing to see a handful of female artists who, until more recent years, were often omitted from art history. Their contribution helped to show another side to war that, again, is often forgotten about. The year 1918 has been recorded as a celebratory time for women, which, unfortunately, overshadows the emotional pain of war that they, their children and the soldiers were subjected to.

Tate Britain did an excellent job curating the Aftermath exhibition. Rather than acting as a First World War centenary memorial, it revealed the harsh truths about the impact of war, which, after all, was the original intention of the majority of the exhibits. Although the doors closed a month ago, Aftermath has opened visitors’ eyes and minds to the physical and psychological scars left by WWI. It also reveals the power a work of art can contain, speaking volumes at a time when the public had no voice of its own. Most importantly, it has changed the way the Great War is remembered and has given everyone something to think about.

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Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures

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Simeon gears up for the trail with a cup of tea at Leon

Earlier this year, Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) went on an adventure to Amsterdam. Ever since Simeon has had a strong urge to travel but never the opportunity. So, it was with great excitement and enthusiasm when Simeon was invited to take part in a Treasure Trail around the area of Bloomsbury in Greater London. The intrepid explorer spent the day traipsing around gardens and squares as well as admiring the statues and blue plaques of people associated with the area. Napping on the way home thoroughly exhausted, Simeon smiled in his sleep, looking forward to telling everyone he meets about the things he learnt in Bloomsbury.

Bloomsbury is an area within the London Borough of Camden and stretches from Euston Road to Holborn. Associated with art, education and medicine, Bloomsbury is home to many hospitals, including Great Ormond Street, as well as museums and educational establishments, such as the British Museum and the Senate House Library. It is also a fashionable residential area with many parks, squares and quiet places, which makes a change from the rest of the bustling city.

As Simeon discovered, many notable people have lived in Bloomsbury over the past few centuries, however, its origin dates back as far as the 13th century. In 1210, William de Blemond, a Norman landowner purchased the land, building himself a manor house on the property. The name Bloomsbury is derived from Blemondisberi, which means “manor of Blemond”.

For a long time, Bloomsbury remained a rural area, which was acquired by Edward III (1312-77) in the late 14th-century and passed on to the London Charterhouse Carthusian Monks. However, after the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th-century, Henry VIII (1491-1547) granted it to Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton (1505-50). The land was passed down the Wriothesley line until it reached the 4th Earl of Southampton (1607-67), who is responsible for the development of Bloomsbury Square. The majority of the urban district, however, was laid out by the property developer James Burton (1761-1837), who also lived in the area. He has been recorded as possibly the most significant builder of Georgian London and it is with thanks to him that Bloomsbury has become the place it is today.

Bloomsbury is particularly known for its magnificent green squares of which there are at least ten. Simeon, being only a little gibbon, did not have the time nor energy to explore them all, however, the ones he did visit left a favourable impression in his stuffed head.

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Russell Square Gardens

To begin the trail, Simeon started at Russell Square Underground Station where, a short walk to the left, lies Russell Square Gardens. This is one of the largest gardens in Bloomsbury and is named after the surname of the Dukes of Bedford who helped to develop the area. Initially laid out in 1804, the gardens are surrounded by large terraced houses, which were originally aimed at upper-middle-class families. Today, the gardens contain a fountain, which was installed in 2002 during a re-landscaping project to make the square look more like the original plans drawn out by the 18th-century landscaper, Humphry Repton (1752–1818).

Of course, Simeon could not go to Bloomsbury and not visit Bloomsbury Square, one of the earliest squares developed in London. Built in the 1660s and originally named Southampton Square after the 4th Earl of Southampton, the square now contains a small playground for young children, which includes a multicoloured roundabout that Simeon just had to try out.

Since 2011, Bloomsbury Square has become a physic garden with the help of 30 children from the Eleanor Palmer Primary School. In honour of Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753), an Irish physician and naturalist, who lived in the area for half a century, the pupils planted a number of plants and flowers with medicinal properties that doctors used during the 17th-century. These include lavender, rosemary, milk thistle and sage.

Other well-known people also lived in the vicinity of Bloomsbury Square, including Isaac D’Israeli (1766-1848), a writer and scholar most famous for being the father of the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81). Another author who lived nearby, although only for a year (1902) was the American Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) whose best-known work is most probably The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933).

A smaller garden, surrounded by the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery,  the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine and Great Ormond Street Hospital, is titled Queen’s Square on account of the large statue of a queen standing at one end of the gardens. Mistakenly believed to be Queen Anne (1665-1714), the area was known as Queen Anne’s Square until the statue was identified as Queen Charlotte (1744-1818), the wife of George III (1738-1820). The king of Great Britain and Ireland was treated for mental illness in one of the buildings around Queen’s Square towards the end of his reign.

Like most squares built in the 18th-century, Queen’s Square was originally a fashionable area, popular with people such as Frances Reynolds (1729-1807), the sister of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92) of the Royal Academy of Art, however, a hundred years later, the place was mostly inhabited by refugees, diverse booksellers and charity organisations. With occupiers unable to afford the running costs of the mansions, the buildings were gradually converted into hospitals.

zeppelin-plaque-queens-squareOn the lawn towards the centre of the square is a concrete circle indicating where a Zeppelin bomb landed during the First World War. A plaque states that on the night of 8th September 1915, a bomb exploded on that very spot, whilst residents slept, unaware of the danger. Fortunately, no one was injured.

The British Museum is not the only notable museum in Bloomsbury; on the north side of Brunswick Square is the Foundling Museum, which tells the story of the Foundling Hospital set up by Thomas Coram (1668-1751) in 1741. The museum was established in 1998 and contains over 100 paintings, including those by  William Hogarth (1697-1764), Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88), Joshua Reynolds and Louis-Francois Roubiliac (1702-62). These artists, as well as many others, donated their work to the Hospital as a way of raising funds for the home for parentless children. Members of the public were allowed to view the artworks for a small fee, thus effectively becoming Britain’s first art gallery.

A grand statue of Thomas Coram sits outside the entrance to the museum, between the building and Brunswick Square, which was once land belonging to the hospital. The Square is a public garden approximately 3 acres in size and is popular with the wildlife, particularly birds. The three plane trees – one is predicted to be over 200 years old – contain bird boxes to encourage the feathered-friends to nest. Frequently seen are magpies, great tits, wrens, jays and a whole host of other birds.

Brunswick Square is named after, Caroline of Brunswick (1768-1821), the wife of George IV (1762-1830). She was the queen consort at the time the square was completed by James Burton in 1802, although she most likely did not have any personal association with the area.

Jane Austen (1775-1817) used Brunswick Square as the setting of Mr and Mrs John Knightley’s residence in her novel Emma (1815). This, of course, was a work of fiction, however, a number of famous faces have lived around the square since its conception. John Ruskin (1819-1900) the Victorian critic, for example, was born at 54 Hunter Street, Brunswick Square and E.M. Forster (1879-1970), famous for short stories such as A Room with a View (1908) and A Passage to India (1924) lived at number 26 during the 1930s.

On the north side, a few houses down from the Foundling Museum lived three members of the Bloomsbury Group: Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), Leonard Woolf (1880-1969) and Duncan Grant (1885-1978) during 1911-12. The Bloomsbury Group, named after the area the majority of members lived, was a group of English writers, artists and intellectuals who regularly met up during the early 20th-century. “The Bloomsberries promoted one another’s work and careers …”

Other artists and writers who lived around the square include John Leech (1817-64), the illustrator of several Charles Dickens novels, and J.M. Barrie (1860-1937), the author famous for creating Peter Pan. Charles Dickens (1812-70) lived nearby at 48 Doughty Street in a Georgian terraced house with his family from 1837 until 1839. although he only stayed here for a brief period of time, number 48 is open to the public in the form of the Charles Dickens Museum.

Further down the road from Brunswick Square is a large open space for children, which covers 7 acres of land that once belonged to the Foundling Hospital. This was the original site of the Hospital until the 1920s when it was relocated. The site was due to be developed to match the rest of the urban area, however, Harold Harmsworth, 1st

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Simeon stuck in the railings at Coram’s Field. Serves him right for trespassing!

Viscount Rothermere (1868-1940) had a vision of the area being converted into a safe place for children to play and donated a generous amount of money to the project. Appropriately titled Coram’s Field after the founder of the Foundling Hospital who made many children’s lives better, the park is still very popular with youngsters today.

Inside the iron gates are a large children’s playground, sand pits, and a duck pond. There are also places for parents to sit, such as a cafe, whilst they are accompanying their children. No person over the age of 16 may enter the premises without a child, thus making it a safe place for children to be children. Simeon was disappointed that he could not enter for, although he is only young, he did not count as a child!

Simeon’s tour of Bloomsbury went from one square to the next, however, in-between each one, the wide-eyed gibbon noticed many statues and blue plaques on houses belonging to some very famous names. Already mentioned are the statues of Thomas Coram and Queen Charlotte, but there are a few others worthy of note. Situated near Charlotte in Queen’s Square is a bust of Lord Wolfson of Marylebone (1927-2010). This was erected shortly after his death to mark his success as a businessman and philanthropist. Leonard Wolfson, who was knighted in 1977, was the chairman of the Wolfson Foundation established by his father. The charity awards grants to support the fields of science and medicine, health, education and the arts and humanities. It is only appropriate, therefore, that he be remembered in the presence of a few of the establishments he helped.

Simeon was intrigued to discover a statue of a cat in the Alf Barrett Playground hidden away on Old Gloucester Street. The cat, named Humphry, sits facing a bench dedicated to his maker, Marcia Stolway (1958-92). Humphry was the name of the cat that frequented the Mary Ward Centre in Queen’s Square where Marcia studied sculpture. Originally, the statue of Humphry the ginger cat was placed in Queen’s Square but it felt more appropriate for him to be by the children’s playground around people more likely to appreciate him. Sadly, Marcia died in 1992 at the age of 34 after suffering for a while from epilepsy. Humphry died the very same year, therefore, the statue and bench honour two remarkable characters from the area.

It is difficult to note all of the famous people who have ever lived in Bloomsbury because there have been and continue to be so many. English Heritage blue plaques appear on almost every street, revealing who lived there. Charles Dickens had a plaque outside his house, now a museum, and further down the road, a plaque exposed the former residence of Charlotte Mew (1869-1928), a Victorian poet. Also in Doughty Street, Vera Brittain (1883-1970) an English Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse and Winifred Holtby (1898-1935), a feminist writer both lived at 52. Around the corner, another plaque marks the house in which Hilda Doolittle (1886-1961), an American poet, once stayed.

Other notable names from the area include Vanessa Bell (1879-1961), Virginia Woolf’s sister; Randolph Caldecott (1846-88), illustrator; Charles Darwin (1809-82); Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), novelist; and William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), poet. Some people only stayed for a fleeting visit to Bloomsbury, such as Bob Marley (1945-81), who stayed 6 months, and Vladimir Ilych Lenin (1870-1924), who lived there in 1908. Of course, there have been celebrities in more recent years, including Ricky Gervais (b1961) and Catherine Tate (b1968).

40025974_2186415471615923_6074413791951454208_nIf Simeon were to have a favourite of all the blue plaques, it would be the one revealing the residence of “The White Rabbit”. Whether or not Simeon realises this is not a real rabbit still remains unconfirmed but the codename belonged to the secret agent Wing Commander Forest Frederick Edward Yeo-Thomas (1902-64) who was a British Special Operations Executive agent in the Second World War. After his successful war work, Yeo-Thomas was invited to be one of the important witnesses at the Nuremberg War Trials and Buchenwald Trial. Following a successful career and being awarded the George Cross amongst several other medals, Yeo-Thomas, unfortunately, succumbed to a brain haemorrhage at the age of 62. It was not until 2010 that his London flat was recognised by an English Heritage blue plaque but, from now on, everyone who passes will know of “The White Rabbit” and his importance in the war.

Simeon came to the end of his trail satisfied that he had discovered the Bloomsbury Treasures. It is amazing to discover how much history can be contained in one area. The trail was created by Treasure Trails who provide a series of clues and directions that take you around Bloomsbury and make people look more closely at their surroundings. Providing a fun and educational day out, Treasure Trails have over 1000 trails for places all over Britain. Like Simeon, prepare to be amazed by interesting knowledge and details that usually get overlooked. Treasure Trails can be purchased online from their website for £6.99 and are suitable for children and adults.

“Where will my next adventure take me?” Simeon wonders. Hopefully, he will find out in the not so distant future.

Bloomsbury Treasures

 

The Voyages of James Cook

On the 26th August 1768, James Cook and 93 others set sail from England aboard HMS Endeavour on the first of three voyages that would change the world. This year marks the 250th anniversary of the merchant ship leaving Plymouth on a 1051 day trip in which numerous discoveries were made that helped to shape the world as we know it. In honour of this anniversary, the British Library recently put on a detailed exhibition about all three of Cook’s important voyages, featuring original documents such as maps, artworks and handwritten journals.

 

 

James Cook, born in Yorkshire in 1728, was the second of eight children of a Scottish farm labourer. Despite having been raised to work on a farm, Cook was lured by the sea, becoming an apprentice to John Walker, a shipowner in the nearby port of Whitby. His first assignment was aboard the cargo ship Freelove in 1748, however, it was not only a case of learning how to sail a ship. As part of his studies, Cook had to become proficient in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, navigation and astronomy, the latter which would put him on his path to fame.

By 1755, Cook had enlisted in the Royal Navy and was fighting in the Seven Years War. Although he had to begin at the bottom as an able-bodied seaman, his hard work during the global conflict soon saw him climbing the ranks. Cook returned to England in 1762, where he married Elizabeth Batts (1742–1835) on 21st December 1762 at St Margaret’s Church, Barking, Essex. Little is known about Cook’s home life because, after his death, Elizabeth destroyed many of his personal papers.

Whilst fighting during the war, Cook was stationed on the seas near North America where he took the opportunity to produce the first large-scale and accurate maps of Newfoundland. This, as well as his mastery of practical surveying, brought him to the attention of the Admiralty and Royal Society, which would result in his first overseas discovery voyage.

“Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go.” – James Cook

During the 18th-century, Europe was advancing with scientific discovery and technological development, seeking rational explanations for the existence of everything on Earth. Now referred to as the Enlightenment, this was a time when religion and traditions began to be challenged. The British Library included evidence of the ideas British people believed before the embarkation of HMS Endeavour, including incorrectly drawn maps featuring non-existent continents.

 

 

The first voyage took place between 1768 and 1771 with the purpose of observing and recording the transit of Venus across the Sun, which would help to determine the distance of the Earth from the Sun. This phenomenon is not common, therefore, it was crucial that this expedition was undertaken at this moment. Since 1769, the Transit has only occurred four times, the next being December 2117. Unbeknownst to the public, Cook, a lieutenant at the time, and the rest of the crew were also tasked with searching out new lands and trading opportunities, including the locating of the hypothesised southern continent, Terra Australis.

In order to view the Transit of Venus, Cook needed to be in Tahiti by June 1769, however, he visited many places before he reached the island. The first landfall was Madeira, off the northwest coast of Africa on 12th September 1768. This was followed by Brazil a few months later and Tierra del Fuego at the beginning of the following year. The group of islands was the southernmost inhabited place that Cook came across and lies off the tip of South America. The British Library had examples of weapons and jewellery belonging to the Haush people who inhabited the islands.

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Sir Joseph Banks by Joshua Reynolds

Whilst James Cook receives all the glory for the voyage upon HMS Endeavour and the later voyages aboard HMS Resolution, there were many other people with vital roles amongst the crew. At each destination, examples of plants and animals were collected, drawn and preserved to be taken back to England and studied by naturalists and biologists. The man in charge of this task was the young naturalist Joseph Banks (1743-1829), who paid for himself and his team to join the Endeavour voyage. His team was made up of a Swedish botanist, Dr Daniel Solander (1733-82); a secretary, Herman Diedrich Sporing (1733-71); two artists, Sydney Parkinson (1745-71) and Alexander Buchan (d1769); and four servants.

Joseph Banks came from a rich London family and became enchanted with nature and natural history from a very young age. After studying Botany at Oxford University, Banks was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, where he became aware of the planned expedition to observe the Transit of Venus. Knowing this would be a grand opportunity to study the wildlife of foreign lands, Banks quickly established a place for himself and his companions on board HMS Endeavour.

During the voyage, Banks and his team collected an estimated 1000 zoological specimens and 30,000 plants, 1400 of which species had never been seen before in the west. One of these plants was the now common bougainvillaea, named after a friend of James Cook, Louis Antoine de Bougainville. Descriptions and drawings were included as part of the British Library’s exhibition, including journals written in Banks’ hand.

The Library displayed a couple of specimens preserved from the original voyage, including a pencil sea urchin found in the Pacific ocean. Many of Bank’s other finds are currently kept at the Natural History Museum in London.

 

Amongst the drawings displayed throughout the exhibition were a handful of child-like impressions of the scenes James Cook and the other crew members saw on their journey. These were drawn by Tupaia, a high priest of Oro – the god of war – who Cook and Banks befriended in Tahiti. Tupaia’s intelligent knowledge of the area helped Cook to draw a detailed map complete with island names. Tupaia also acted as a tour guide to the crew, introducing them to new traditions and culture.

Drawings by Tupaia included a typical Tahitian scene, complete with traditional longhouse and canoes, a dancer and Chief Mourner at a funeral, and a depiction of a Māori trading a crayfish with Joseph Banks. The latter was drawn in New Zealand where Tupaia had accompanied Cook to act as an interpreter and help establish good relationships between the British and the natives. Tupaia’s ultimate aim was to return to England with Cook, however, he died after suffering from a fever in Batavia (modern-day Jakarta) in 1770.

Cook spent six months circumnavigating New Zealand, producing a detailed map of its coastline, thus disproving the theory that the Great Southern Continent existed in that area. From New Zealand, the ship sailed to eastern Australia, or New Holland as it was then known, landing at the Kurnell Peninsula, or as Cook named it, Botany Bay.

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‘Kanguru’

As with the other areas they visited, whilst Cook attempted to make relations with the natives, Banks and his companions took stock of the plants and animal species growing in the area. Shortly after disembarking, the team saw an animal ‘as large as a greyhound, of a mouse colour and very swift’. This, it turned out, was the native kangaroo, an animal that was alien to Europeans. Sydney Parkinson, the naturalist draughtsman, produced the first sketch of what they called a “Kanguru”.

Parkinson was offered a place on HMS Endeavour by Banks who was impressed with his talent for drawing flowers. As well as drawing the specimens Banks collected, Parkinson also kept a detailed journal of the things he saw, including the journey, weather, customs and languages. This was particularly valuable for the scientists back home who were unable to view the countries first-hand. Unfortunately, Parkinson never made it back to England, dying of dysentery, which he contracted in Indonesia.

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The Resolution and Adventure among the icebergs

Despite everything discovered on the first voyage, the Admiralty was determined to locate the Great Southern Continent and sent Cook, now a commander, on another expedition to find it. Aboard HMS Resolution, with Captain Tobias Furneaux (1735-81) following on its convoy ship, HMS Adventure, Cook set sail for Africa in 1772. From here, the aim was to keep going south, searching for this fictional piece of land. Although Cook disproved the existence of Terra Australis, he went so far south that he unintentionally lead the first expedition to cross the Antarctic Circle.

Similarly to the first voyage, Cook sailed with a number of other companions, including the naturalist Johann Reinhold Forster (1729-98) and his son Georg (1754-94), who produced a handful of paintings shown at the British Library. In total, 112 people sailed on HMS Resolution, many of whom produced written or visual accounts of the journey and findings. The exhibition displayed journals from the astronomer William Wales (1734-98) and sketches by William Hodges (1744-97), both of whom contributed to the development of scientific knowledge.

As well as Antarctica, Cook revisited Australia and New Zealand followed by the Friendly Islands (Tonga), Easter Island and Vanuatu. In 1775, HMS Resolution turned homeward, landing in Portsmouth on 30th July, bringing the news that the Great Southern Continent did not exist. Nonetheless, the Admiralty and Royal Society were pleased with Cook’s accomplishments and promoted him to the rank of Captain.

 

Having now accepted that the Great Southern Continent did not exist, James Cook was sent back to sea in 1776 from Plymouth to New Zealand and the Hawaiian Islands to attempt to discover the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, which would help to shorten the trade route. The Library displayed weapons constructed from reindeer skin and wooden armour worn by people met during the journey.

As with both the previous voyages, HMS Resolution was filled with people of a number of different roles, most importantly a botanist and the official artist, John Webber (1751-93).  Whilst Cook searched for the Northwest Passage, which turned out to be impassable, Webber produced numerous detailed drawings and paintings of the lands they visited.

Whereas HMS Resolution had sailed as far south as Antarctica on her previous voyage, she now went as far north as the Arctic. Journals by Cook and other crew members suggest that Cook struggled more with this journey, often losing his temper, forcing the crew to eat inedible walrus (or what he mistakenly called “sea horse”) flesh.

After leaving the Arctic, HMS Resolution sailed on, eventually landing at Kealakekua Bay, Hawai’i in January 1779. Their arrival coincided with the Makahiki, a Hawaiian harvest festival of worship for the Polynesian deity, Lono. As a result, Cook was forced to join in a peculiar ceremony, which was documented by the ship’s artist. Unfortunately, many of the crew thought Cook had shown himself as weak by joining in, rather than the composed captain as he was supposed to be seen.

The crew stayed in Hawai’i for approximately one month before setting off to explore the rest of the North Pacific. Regrettably, the foremast of the Resolution broke shortly after departing, forcing the ship to turn around and sail back to land – a decision that proved to be fatal. Before Cook could set back out to sea, some of the natives stole one of the small boats belonging to the ship. Cook was used to thefts and usually took people hostage until his possessions were returned. Unfortunately, in an attempt to kidnap the King of Hawaiʻi, Kalaniʻōpuʻu, Cook was attacked by angry Hawai’ians resulting in a blow to the head followed by repeated stabbing until he was dead. Four other Marines were also killed and HMS Resolution returned to England on 4th October 1780 to a rather subdued welcome.

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The first voyage is shown in red, second voyage in green, and the third voyage in blue. The route of Cook’s crew following his death is shown as a dashed blue line.

Although James Cook’s three voyages shaped Europe’s knowledge of the world, the results of his expeditions are still open to controversy. In documentary videos around the British Library featuring people from some of the countries Cook visited, the famous broadcaster Sir David Attenborough (b1926) looked into the negative impacts of the three voyages.

Controversial aspects include violence and unnecessary death in New Zealand and eventual imperialism in Australia. Other countries and islands were now of interest to people in Europe and were soon to be colonised, virtually eradicating native societies, traditions and countries.

The British Library attempted to show both the good and bad results of James Cook’s three voyages, however, by doing so, did not go into all that much detail about the trips and discoveries. Everything revolved around the items they had collected, such as drawings, journals and a few specimens; anything not visually documented was forgotten about, leading those who did not previously know much about James Cook wondering why it is mainly him and not other crew members that are remembered for the voyages.

In terms of science and geography, the voyages have shaped the way we view the world, including evidence of lives and religions pre-western colonisation. From the specimens collected, botanists, naturalists and scientists have been able to discover so much more about the properties of plants and animals from different locations. Although it is much easier to accomplish what Cook did today, with faster means of travel and scientific equipment, without Cook and the others to show Europe what was out there, the determination to learn more may not have flourished quite as strongly.

James Cook: The Voyages closed on 28th August 2018 to make way for the Anglo-Saxon exhibition opening on 19th October. However, those interested in Cook’s discoveries can view various documents and drawings at the Natural History Museum throughout the remainder of this 250th anniversary year.

Capel Manor Gardens

With over 60 gardens spread over 30 acres, Capel Manor Gardens is home to London’s specialist teaching establishment for those who wish to learn about plants, animals, flowers, trees and the environment. With a history that dates back to the 13th century, Capel Manor, Enfield, is open daily throughout the summer for adults and children to enjoy the colourful themed gardens that surround the Georgian Manor house and its Victorian stables. The estate is also home to a handful of exotic creatures, a great attraction for animal lovers and children.

The history of Capel Manor begins in 1275 when the land was known as the Manor of Honeylands and Pentriches, alias Capels and owned by a man now referred to as Ellis of Honeyland. Little is known about the use of the land and its buildings during the 13th and 14th century, however, from the late 1400s, there are better records about the ownership of the estate.

Sir William Capel (1428-1515), twice Lord Mayor for the City of London, became the owner of the land in 1486. Again, nothing much is known about Capel’s use of the land, nor that of his son, Sir Giles Capel (1486-1556), who became the owner after his father’s death. It can be ascertained, however, that the family had an accumulation of wealth, thus Sir Giles was raised at and around the royal court. As an adult, he was a good friend and attendant of Henry VIII (1491-1547).

Despite Sir Giles’ favour with the king, the family was forced to surrender their estate to the crown during the 16th century. From here on, the land passed through a number of hands, beginning with a William Thorne in 1562, who was given the manor house by Elizabeth I (1533-1603). By 1642, the Capel Estate was in possession of Samuel and Mariabella Avery. Their granddaughter, Susanna Avery, became semi-famous after 1688, when she wrote a book about how to manage a country estate. Historians liken this publication to that of Mrs Beaton’s Victorian writings on cooking. It included recipes for various pies and cakes and a number of remedies for various ailments.

The house that the Capel’s and Avery’s inhabited is no longer standing thanks to Robert Jacomb, who demolished the original building when he took ownership in 1745. The following decade, another house was built adjacent to where the original building stood, which is the Capel Manor everyone knows today.

In 1793, Robert Jacomb dispatched the entire estate to the Boddam family, who retained it until the death of Rawson Hart Boddam (1734-1812), a former Governor of the Bombay Presidency during the rule of the East India Company in British India. For the following century, the estate was owned by a succession of owners until 1840.

Although the existing Capel Manor was built in the 1750s, its decor is the result of extensive refurbishment in the late 1800s by the Warren family. The first Warren, James, took ownership in 1840, and the last Warren, also called James owned the house until 1932. It was during his residence that the gardens were first, on occasion, open to the public.

The final owner of the estate, Lieutenant Colonel Sydney Medcalf, who had a passion for horticulture and horses, began breeding Clydesdale horses during the 1940s. Despite his love of agriculture, Medcalf decided to pass the estate on to the Incorporated Society of Accountants. Fortunately, Frances Perry (1907-93), a local horticulturist, suggested to the district council that it would be worth leasing the area to apprentice gardeners.

From 1968, buildings on the estate were used to educate its first group of students in what would become the famous Capel Manor College. The following year, dedicated work began on the 30-acre land to produce the stunning gardens that are kept and maintained today. Now with over 3500 students and celebrating its 50th anniversary, Capel Manor College provides hands-on experience and study in horticulture, arboriculture, floristry, animal care, and conservation.

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Capel Manor Gardens

Whilst having over 60 individual gardens, Capel Manor Gardens is split into eight main sections, which includes the old manor house garden and a woodland walk. After passing through reception and the restaurant, visitors have a choice of direction; they may either go via the National Gardening Centre or opt for a tour of Capel’s Creatures. Depending on the weather and time of day, the latter is often the first or the last section people go to on their visit.

Capel’s Creatures contains animals from various locations around the world and can be viewed in their individual enclosures or at special weekend talks, which can involve anything from joining a ring-tailed lemur for a mid-morning snack to finding out the secrets of barn owls.

All the way from South America are common marmosets, Azara agouti, Patagonia Maras and Huacaya Alpacas, and in the Australian Aviary are Rock Pebblers, an Eastern Rosella called Ruby and Clara and Ozzy, the king parrots. Say hello to lizards such as an African bosc monitor and a common green iguana named Barry, and watch terrapins cooling off in their small pond.

New to Capel Manor is a “tiger of the Highlands” in the Scottish Wildcat Conservation, which are currently in danger of extinction. A talk about the Manor’s conservation effort is also available at weekends.

Other projects at Capel Manor Gardens are taking place in the Which? Gardening Trial Gardens sponsored by the well-known review and advice magazine. Currently, several experiments are taking place, including, getting tulips to reflower, growing onions from seeds and testing for how long alliums flower. Regular visitors will be able to see the progress of these investigations and the results will be written about in the Which? Gardening magazine over the next couple of years.

The Woodland Walk can be accessed from the Which? Gardens via a path that travels past three totem polls and a monument on the hill. The woods provide shelter from the sun on hot days, and, in the shadows of the forest, it is rumoured that fairies dwell.

Although Capel Creatures may be the highlight of some people’s visits, the Historical Gardens contains something else that children and adults will enjoy. Made from holly bushes is an Italianate maze created by Adrian Fisher (b.1951), a man who has designed over 700 mazes around the world, including the mirror maze at the London Dungeon and the Leeds Castle Hedge Maze in Kent. After eventually finding the centre of the maze, a viewing platform provides beautiful bird-view sights of the rest of the Historical Garden and the Georgian manor house and clock tower.

After finding the way out of the maze, the rest of the maze-like gardens are still to be explored. The historical section includes a sensory garden, a koi pond and Japanese rock garden, as well as a walled garden that provides the Manor House with fruit and vegetables.

In the 17th-century garden are four statues that represent the classical elements: earth, water, air and fire. These were produced by Haddonstone Ltd, a British manufacturer of cast stone garden ornaments, however, they look as though they belong to the distant past.

Across the “equator line” is the Australian Garden, which won the 2011 Chelsea Flower Show Gold Medal. Another winning garden is Le Jardin De Vincent inspired by the Dutch impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-90). This won the Chelsea Flower Show Silver Gilt Medal in 2007.

Many of the gardens have been put together by different people or organisations, for instance, the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies. The most thought out of these creations, however, is, by no contest, the Growing Together in Faith Garden. Winner of the Silver-Gilt Lindley at the 2007 Chelsea Flower Show, this faith garden combines four of the main religions: Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism; and their appreciation of the natural world. Each faith tradition has a connection with or a use for the rose, which is also a universal symbol of perfection and beauty. In Christianity, the red rose symbolises Christ’s blood during the crucifixion. Also, the Virgin Mary is sometimes referred to as La Rosa Mystica, the pure one, which is a thornless rose. In Hinduism, it is believed the goddess Lakshmi was born from a rose, whereas, in Islam, roses grew where sweat dropped from Mohammed’s brow. Finally, in Judaism, legend says that each righteous man in heaven will have a tent and 800 roses.

Despite the differences in the four religions, it is refreshing to see something that they have worked on together. Putting aside their separate beliefs, members of these religions have found a connection within the natural world.

In the Temple Lake section of Capel Manor Gardens is, unsurprisingly, a large lake containing a water fountain. The area is reminiscent of ancient Greece with a reconstructed temple and amphitheatre. It is within the latter that many open-air theatre events take place during the summer months.

The temple and amphitheatre are, of course, modern constructions built to look like old buildings, and, over in the Old Manor House Garden, there is an ongoing project to add to remnants of the cloister and bell tower belonging to the old manor house church. Phase one was completed and opened in 2010 by the Queen.

These follies show the remains of St Ethelburga’s Bell Tower and Cloister which was named after the abbess of Barking who died in AD 675. St Ethelburga or Æthelburh is attributed to several miraculous events and was the founder of the double monastery of Barking. In Saint Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (AD 731), Ethelburga is described as “upright in life and constantly planning for the needs of her community”. She was also the founder of All Hallows Berkyngechirche, which is now known as All Hallows by the Tower in the city of London.

Having come full circle, visitors return to the National Gardening Centre (NGC) before reaching the gift shop and exit. Here, the NGC exhibits a variety of gardens to inspire keen gardeners and landscapers, as well as encourage the less green-fingered. On Sunflower Street, with several false facades of houses, are a handful of gardens designed by former students of Capel Manor College. The purpose of these is to show what can be achieved in a variety of locations or to match particular style houses. Examples include Victorian, cottage, Mediterranean, modern, family and minimalist gardens.

The NGC has also constructed memorial gardens for past members of the royal family, such as the Queen Mother. In 1997, work began on the Princess Diana Legacy Garden, which contains a variety of roses with meaningful names, i.e. Princess of Wales, The Prince and New Dawn. There are also other flowers that bloom in different seasons so that the garden has colour all year round.

Finally, gardens such as Secured by Design and the Low Allergen Garden reveal how nature and beauty can be enjoyed by everybody whilst keeping vulnerable and delicate people safe. The security of these gardens may encourage and inspire parents of young children to create safe areas at home for their family to play and work in, and also give hope and a piece of happiness to those who do not often get a chance to enjoy nature.

Capel Manor Gardens is a wonderful location suitable for all the family. Staff, volunteers and students work hard to maintain the gardens whilst also working on conservation projects and experiments to improve gardening and animal care. Visitors can purchase many of the plants and garden-related products in the gift shop and ask for advice from the visitor’s centre.

Throughout the year are a variety of special events and activities, details of which can be found on their website. Alternatively, guided walks can be arranged ahead of the visit and Capel Manor also caters for private functions including weddings and children’s birthday parties.

The user-friendly grounds allow everyone to enjoy the gardens throughout the year. Between March and October, the gardens are open daily from 10am until 5:30pm, however, in the winter they are only open on weekdays. Prices are a reasonable £6 for adults (£5 concession) and £3 for children, however, prices for special events may vary.

From a 13th century private estate to a public friendly garden and college, Capel Manor Gardens is a phenomenal work of cultivated and natural art. The dedicated hard work is evident from the moment of passing through the entrance right up until home time. Nothing is out of place or neglected; everyone involved should be proud of the creations they have designed and maintain. Capel Manor Gardens is a highly recommended place to visit for an enjoyable and/or relaxing day out.

Capel Manor Gardens, Bullsmoor Lane, Enfield, Middlesex EN1 4RQ

 

Hope to Nope

Graphics and Politics 2008-18

The past ten years have been a turbulent decade with a strong increase in the public’s engagement with politics. The Design Museum aimed to explore how graphic design and technology has influenced the major political movements in the 21st century with their recent exhibition Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-18Incorporating a whole range of artwork from posters and placards to protest badges and memes, the museum delved deep into the public’s reaction to the 2008 financial crisis, global protests and the election campaigns of divisive leaders to produce a diverse and provocative exhibition. Hope to Nope was split into three sections, which focused on power, protest and personality.

DISCLAIMER: The views displayed in the exhibition are those of the individuals and organisations that created them – some of which may cause offence. The Design Museum does not necessarily agree with such views, nor does it consider them to be necessarily justified, truthful or accurate.

 

Unfortunately, the final two weeks of the exhibition were disrupted after a selection of exhibits were removed by the lender in protest of a private event held at the museum by an aerospace and defence company. Nevertheless, there were enough exhibits remaining to make the trip to the museum worthwhile. Purportedly, the first artwork in the exhibition was the street artist and graphic designer Shepard Fairey’s (b1970) Hope poster for Barrack Obama’s (b1961) presidential campaign in 2008, which went on to win the Design Museum’s Design of the Year in 2009. This distinctive style has been imitated by hundreds of amateur designers to produce satirical, anti-politician posters, for instance, an image of Donald Trump (b1946) with the word “nope”.

The red, white and blue colour combination that Fairey used, distracted people from Obama’s race, which is what many American’s fixated on, and portrayed him as a patriotic citizen instead. Being simple and easy to reproduce, the artwork spread rapidly throughout the states and online, quickly becoming recognised and adopted by Obama supporters. Fairey is happy to see his work being parodied for various means of activism, especially because the Hope poster has no political power, yet is used by people to make a powerful statement.

“Design is always political.”
– Mike Monteiro

Other political campaigns shown included Hillary Clinton’s (b1947) election posters, North Korean posters, North Korean stamps, which mock the United States, and various responses to “Brexit”.

 

Graphic design targetted at “Brexit” began as soon as David Cameron (b1966) announced a British Referendum on 23rd June 2016.  Two years later, campaigners are still producing new posters or digital graphics. Examples shown at the Design Museum included the Britain Stronger in Europe Campaign which produced many materials to persuade voters to opt to remain part of the EU. Playing on the word “in” with visual reference to the flag of the United Kingdom, posters and flags stating “Vote Remain” were prominent throughout the months leading up to the referendum. The designers also produced t-shirts for protestors to wear with the short phrase “I’M IN” boldly written across the chest.

Earlier this year, with the fate of “Brexit” not yet fully realised, The Sun created a spoof timeline of events based on the Bayeux Tapestry. Humorously titled Bye-EU Tapestry, this was the newspaper’s response to the president of France’s decision to lend the original 950-year-old tapestry to the UK. Using the similar style of figures that were embroidered to show the victory of the Normans in 1066, this version shows the “historic Brexit victory” over the EU. The captions mock medieval spellings with words such as “announceth” and “emergeth”, whilst the Queen is shown to be declaring the UK is “better orf out.”

“You have the technology to affect history.”

 

In the past century or two, more inventions than the rest of history combined have been invented, culminating in the current digital age. With the opening of the internet for public use in 1991, online graphics and social media have rapidly grown to a point where almost everyone is influenced by it in some way or form. Within the exhibition was a detailed, wall-length infographic showing the timeline of social media and its crucial role in politics.

A decade after the internet became available, the leading information website Wikipedia was born. This allowed people to search for answers to absolutely anything they desired. With pages about well-known celebrities to the most obscure form of fungi, Wikipedia quickly became a popular website by internet users, particularly school students who no longer needed to read books to complete their coursework. Regrettably, the accuracy of the information on Wikipedia is far from one-hundred per cent; anyone with an account can log in and change information, purposely misleading readers – not so good for homework after all!

The first major social media platform arrived in 2003, allowing individuals to connect with friends and strangers all over the world. On Myspace, people could personalise their pages, upload photographs, share their favourite music and even list their top ten friends. in 2008, Myspace became the stage for Obama’s presidential candidate campaign.

In 2006, Myspace was usurped by Mark Zuckerberg’s (b1984) Facebook, which currently has approximately 2.23 billion monthly active users, and Jack Dorsey’s (b1976) Twitter, a popular news and social networking service with 335 million active users. The latter was President Trump’s preferred means of spreading his policies and encouraging people to vote for him.

In 2007, the way people could access the internet changed completely with the invention of the most popular brand of smartphone, the iPhone. As well as being able to make phone calls, the iPhone functioned as a pocket-sized computer with easy internet access even when away from home. Soon, applications were developed to perform in this new format, including the free secure messaging platform Whatsapp in 2009 and the photo and video-sharing social network Instagram in 2010.

No matter the brand, all forms of social media allow individuals to explore beyond their friendship circles, discovering people and ideas from across the planet in only a matter of seconds. This allows people of power to voice their opinions and influence billions of people all over the globe. Whilst this may have huge benefits, particularly in awareness campaigns, it can also have a tremendous negative effect.

Digital technology has allowed for the invention of GIFs and memes that are “liked”, “posted” and “retweeted” by thousands of people every day. GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format which is essentially a moving image. The majority of these are split-second clips of videos, which, when posted on social media, are removed from their original context and often gain new meaning. A GIF of someone laughing, for instance, may be tagged onto a “post” that someone finds funny.

meme can be defined as “an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.” The word was coined by Richard Dawkins (b1941) in an attempt to explain the way information spreads. A particular meme that the Hope to Nope exhibition focused on was Pepe the Frog.

200px-feels_good_manPepe the Frog was a cartoon amphibian with a humanoid-like body created by Matt Furie (b1979) in 2005 for a comic called Boy’s Club. It quickly became an internet sensation with people sharing Pepe with various facial expressions as a way of displaying opinions about certain ideas. Variants include “sad frog”, “smug frog” and “feels frog”.

Whilst the Pepe meme was initially harmless, Furie was dismayed when the innocent green frog became a “hate symbol” used by white-supremacists. In 2016, Pepe became associated with Donald Trump who “tweeted” a version of the frog drawn to look like himself with the tagline “you can’t stump the trump.” Later, Pepe was used as a means of attacking Hillary Clinton’s election campaign in a supposedly humorous manner.

Social media has provided plenty of opportunities for anyone to create memes and parodies of well-known ideas. This has been particularly beneficial for campaign groups, such as Greenpeace. In 2017, Greenpeace launched their Don’t Let Coke Choke Our Oceans campaign in order to raise awareness of plastic pollution, the greatest threat to marine life. Appropriating Coke’s branding, the environmental organisation launched an attack on one of the biggest sellers of plastic bottled beverages. As well as spreading their message online, Greenpeace campaigners went into shops, placing cleverly crafted labels over Coke bottles to make the product look like an empty, ocean-weathered piece of plastic.

More often than not, memes and parodies are deliberately comical, spreading ideas through light-heartedness rather than going for the shock factor. The clothing company Diesel, parodied the 1960’s anti-war slogan “make love not war” to advertise what they believe in, not just as a merchandiser, but as a global brand as well. By altering the phrase to “make love not walls”, Diesel is making a stand against hate, stating that their products are for everyone and they wish all could live in harmony.

The advertisements for “make love, not walls” uses symbolic imagery such as a rainbow coloured tank and happy people dressed in a “hippy” style holding flowers to represent freedom and love.

“At Diesel, we have a strong position against hate and more than ever we want the world to know that, to use our voice for good, love and togetherness is crucial in creating a society we all want to live in, and the future we all deserve.”
Nicola Formichetti – Diesel Artistic Director

Although the company declares their motives were to emphasise their position against hate, it is so soon after President Trump’s notion of building a wall between the USA and Mexico that many may wonder if there is a subliminal political agenda hidden within their advertisements.

Whilst social media has been used for spreading radical ideas and campaigns, for instance, in 2015 the hashtag “#JeSuisCharlie” was tweeted 6500 times a minute the day after the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, physical protests and demonstrations have been the go-to method for campaigners for hundreds of years. Graphic design plays a vital role offline as much as it does online. Posters, badges and placards need to be carefully designed to attract attention and provoke debate. Even the suffragettes developed their own branding at the beginning of the 20th century.

38419793_10214474022035772_7029360020294729728_nThe Hope to Nope exhibition focused on a handful of demonstrations from the past decade, including video footage of marches and loud protests. A great deal of effort was focused on the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which occurred on 14th June 2017 and is still close to many Londoners’ hearts. A year on from the worst residential fire since the Second World War, hundreds of green-clad activists took part in a Justice for Grenfell Solidarity March demanding justice for the victims who lost their homes and loved ones. Investigations revealed that the incident was an accident waiting to happen and people are still angry about the way the situation was handled.

Designers with links to the Grenfell Tower designed badges for protesters to wear. The Green for Grenfell and the Unity Heart pins are a symbol of hope, unity and love to be worn in memory of the 72 lives lost. British politicians, including the current Prime Minister, were seen to support the appeal.

The Grenfell disaster also inspired an art project titled 24Hearts which was begun by a local artist, Sophie Lodge. The initial plan was to produce 24 handmade hearts to represent each floor of the tower, however, with help from school children and residents in the area, over 100 hearts have been made. Many of these were used as placards during silent protest marches.

Hanging from the ceiling at the exhibition was an enormous blowup rubber duck sporting the Spanish phrase “Chega de Pagar o Pato”, which translates into English as “I Will Not Pay the Duck”. In Brazil, the phrase “pay the duck” refers to taking the blame for something that is not your fault and was adopted by the São Paulo State Federation of Industries in protest against rising taxes. Although a rubber duck may look childish or make people laugh, it definitely catches people’s attention.

Another protest the Design Museum focused on was the ongoing Women’s March, which began on the first day of Donald Trump’s presidency. Since then, around 914 women-led marches have occurred all over the globe with over 4.5 million voices protesting against Trump’s attitude towards women and people of minority. Rather than branding their campaign with a specific design, the majority of placards have been handmade with angry or witty slogans that reflect Trump’s behaviour.

President Trump got more than his fair share of attention during the Hope to Nope exhibition. The final section focused on personality and identity, which is something Trump has been strongly aware of throughout his career as a politician. In the lead up to the presidential election, Trump and his supporters were recognised by their red caps with the slogan “Make America Great Again.” Powerful leaders are often obsessed with their image and this was only the beginning of Trump’s attempt to create a memorable identity for himself. Unfortunately, it has also lead to numerous satirical cartoons in magazines and newspapers.

The opinions about Donald Trump are divided into love and hate, nearly all of the museum’s examples stemming from the latter. The most controversial exhibit, by a long shot, was the All-Seeing Trump machine which was launched in 2016, a month before the presidential election. Resembling a fortune teller machine that could usually be found in early 20th-century penny arcades, the Trump-dummy gives users a greeting followed by a promise for the future. These promises are based on what anti-Trump campaigners believed would happen with him in power, for instance, “a terrific nuclear war” and changing Obamacare to “I don’t care”.

Many other politicians have been the target of ridicule in recent years, particularly members of the current British parliament. The final pieces in the exhibition drew attention to a few opinions about Prime Minister Theresa May (b1956) and other Tory MPs. In 2017, illustrator Chris Riddell (b1962) produced a series of political cartoons of May wearing her trademark leopard-print kitten heels in savagely humorous situations. The artist has been portraying the PM in this manner since 2002 when she was the Home Secretary, as well as other important figures.

Theresa May has also been depicted many times on the cover of Private Eye, a current affairs magazine currently edited by Ian Hislop (b1960). Although the magazine aims to tell the truth about world affairs, it illustrates articles with high-brow humour and cartoons. Usually, the cover page includes a photograph of prominent individuals overlayed with comical speech bubbles and topical captions. Despite its satirical nature, Private Eye does not try to influence people’s opinions or political preferences.

The aim of Hope to Nope was to express the importance of graphic design in politics. Whilst there were many opinions, some which may have caused insult, the focus was on the way graphic design was used to get these views across. Often, graphic designers are forgotten about, their hard work unappreciated, whereas, in reality, their contributions are frequently the key to success. This exhibition helped to open people’s minds to the presence of the people who help to make a political campaign or protest visible and memorable.

The Design Museum’s exhibition Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-18 closed on 12th August 2018, however, leftover merchandise from the gift shop may still be available online or from the museum.

DISCLAIMER: Similarly to the Design Museum, I do not necessarily agree with everything I have discussed in this blog, nor do I consider them to be necessarily justified, truthful or accurate. 

Michael Jackson: On the Wall

“I’m a great fan of art. I love Michelangelo. If I had a chance to talk to him, I would want to know what inspired him to become who he is, not about who he went out with last night or why he decided to sit out in the sun for so long.”
– Michael Jackson, 1993

Coinciding with what would have been his 60th birthday, the National Portrait Gallery presents their exhibition of the year, Michael Jackson: On the Wall. With number one hits from age 11, Jackson is known not just for his music but his choreography, dancing ability, fashion and humanitarian efforts, too. Despite his death in 2009, Jackson continues to be a major influence on contemporary art.

Before anyone gets excited about a Michael Jackson exhibition, it needs to be noted that this is not a biographical display of the life of the “King of Pop”, nor are there any memorabilia or personal artefacts. On the Wall is about artwork and Jackson’s influence on 48 different artists from different generations and areas of the world.

 

 

On entering the exhibition, a gallant prince on horseback almost jumps off the wall taking the attention away from Keith Haring’s (1958-90) untitled abstract portrait of Michael Jackson hanging on the left of the entrance. On closer inspection, the figure turns out to be Jackson, imitating the Spanish king in Peter Paul Rubens‘ (1577-1640) The Restoration of Philip II on Horseback (c1630). The artist, Kehinde Wiley (b1977), is known for his paintings of African-Americans, which attracted Jackson’s attention in the early 2000s. Becoming his final commissioned portrait, Jackson asked Wiley to paint him in the typical style of European art history in order to challenge the stereotypes surrounding black people in the United States. This was an issue, as the exhibition highlights, which Jackson felt strongly about.

Although it is almost a decade since Michael Jackson’s death on 25th June 2009, artists are still enamoured with his compassion for those treated unfairly and the way [he] makes [them] feel. The year after his death, the diverse artist Lyle Ashton Harris (b1965) produced Black Ebony II (2010), which hangs close by the regal portrait of the “King of Pop”. “I remained intrigued by the vulnerability, the genius that was Michael Jackson and how his global presence still haunts the contemporary phantom scene.”

 

Some of the works have been purposely created by artists for this exhibition, for example, Graham Dolphin’s (b.1972) walls of record sleeves. Dolphin is well-known for his text art in which he hand writes minuscule words on top of pre-existing materials. In this instance, he has collaged together multiple sleeve issues of Michael Jackson’s albums Thriller and Off the Wall – of which the exhibition’s title is a parody. These are part of an ongoing series of work in which the artist explores the themes of fandom and idolatry. Across the sleeves, Dolphin has painstakingly written the complete lyrics of Jackson’s songbook.

After an introduction to a few examples of artwork inspired by Michael Jackson, the exhibition begins to follow Jackson’s timeline from his emergence into the world of fame through to his final years. Although the focus is mostly on the art, details about the singer are included in written descriptions, which help to explain the purpose and intention of each artist.

Michael Jackson was born on 29th August 1958 in Gary, Indiana, the eighth child of a working-class African-American family. His father, Joseph Walter Jackson (1928-2018), formed a band with his eldest sons, Jackie (b1951), Tito (b1953) and Jermaine (b1954), which Michael and another brother, Marlon (b1957) joined in 1964 as backing musicians on congas and tambourines. Michael was only 6 years old when he joined what would become known as the Jackson 5. The next year he was promoted to lead singer, a position he shared with Jermaine. By the tender age of 11, Michael and his brothers were already at the top of the charts with singles such as ABC and I’ll Be There.

 

During the 1970s, Michael Jackson grew from a child performer to a teen idol. Breaking away from his brothers as a solo artist, becoming the first black musician to receive worldwide fame. With studio albums and singles being released at great speed, Jackson was quickly becoming one of the most idolised musicians, winning award after award with barely a break in between, after all, you don’t stop ’til you get enough.

The National Portrait Gallery displays a handful of drawings the British painter Dawn Mellor (b1970) drew during her teenage years. These are what today’s youth call “fanart”, in which they copy pictures of their favourite stars or create imaginary scenarios derived from works in which the celebrity has been involved. Mellor also doodled portraits of the athlete Carl Lewis (b1961) and comedian Richard Pryor (1940-2005) who, like Jackson, were transcending barriers that usually limited African Americans.

Michael Jackson’s face became an iconic image after Andy Warhol (1928-87) created a series of silkscreen prints in 1984 to accompany an article in Time Magazine titled “Why He’s A Thriller”. Warhol was an avid Jackson fan and collected many of his records; commodities, such as look-a-like dolls; and newspaper clippings about the star.

As well as his physical appearance, fashion preferences and song lyrics, Jackson was also known for being a dancing machine. Some of these moves are difficult to replicate, although, many have now conquered the “moonwalk”. A more challenging dance move introduced by Jackson is “the freeze” in which he balanced on the very tip of his toes. Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom (b1984), who recently graduated from the Royal Acadamy Schools, produced a tribute to the “King of Pop” by replicating the famous “freeze” with latex balloons, ribbons and penny loafer shoes. A version of this sculpture is situated in the centre of one of the rooms in the exhibition, the shoes standing on their toes, held up by the balloons. Not only does this sculpture honour the late singer, it has metaphorical connotations too.

“… the replacement of the balloons as they individually deflate plays on the continuous work and effort in upholding an admired public image.”
– Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom

 

Living in the limelight has its positive and negative aspects. Being one of the most famous black men in the world, Michael Jackson was in a position to be to heard and listened to by millions of people. He advocated for equal rights, insisting that it did not matter if you were black or whiteJackson visited sick children around the world, giving them gifts and a moment to remember on Michael’s Heal The World Campaign in the 1990s. He turned his 3000-acre estate, Neverland Valley, into an amusement park with two zoos containing animals such as llamas, tigers, giraffes and elephants, and invited disadvantaged children to enjoy themselves.

Faith Ringgold (b1930), known for her narrative quilts, has been an activist in various feminist and anti-racism groups since the 1970s. One of her “story quilts”, which features in this exhibition, contains a figure of Michael Jackson in its centre. Her aim was to denounce racism and discrimination through her artwork.

“Some things in life they just don’t wanna see
But if Martin Luther was livin’
He wouldn’t let this be.”
– They Don’t Care About Us, Michael Jackson

Jackson wrote songs such as They Don’t Care About Us and Earth Song as a means of getting the message across about the inequalities in the world. Some people loved him for this, however, others began to despise him. This, unfortunately, kept Jackson under critical scrutiny, which anyone would find difficult to bear.

Michael Jackson could be recognised everywhere he went, his face was easy to remember. His features were so unique that he could be identified by his eyes only, as emphasised in Mark Ryden’s (1963) cover work for the album Dangerous (1991). Jackson’s eyes can be seen peeking through a mask-like shape at the top of the composition. Ryden was inspired by various pre-existing ideas including The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch (1450-1516), Napoleon I on His Imperial Throne by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), and the photograph Cecil Beaton (1904-80) took of Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation.

Ryden’s purpose for including so many elements in his composition, for instance, a fairground ride and a host of dressed-up animals, was to convey a cluttered mind. From talking to Jackson, Ryden determined that the singer’s mind was a jumble of memories or a fun house, the latter also being an allusion to Neverland Valley. This also suggests Jackson’s frustration and loss of childhood due to becoming famous at such a young age. Instead of running around with other six and seven-year-olds, he was already having to keep up his demeanour for his adoring fans.

As befalls many a celebrity, Michael Jackson began having issues with his physical appearance, particularly his nose. His dissatisfaction also stemmed from his childhood and the way he was treated by his father. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Jackson admitted to “his tendency to remain hyper-compliant” in order to avoid a tirade or abuse. Allegedly, Joseph Jackson would whip his son and tell him that he had a fat nose. This, ultimately, led to several nose jobs that drastically altered Michael Jackson’s appearance. A thinner nose noticeably altered the overall shape of Jackson’s face, as shown in a posthumous painting by a French street artist, alias Mr Brainwash (1966).

 

Unfortunately, the National Portrait Gallery almost glosses over Michael Jackson’s final years, particularly his deteriorating appearance. Whether or not people believe the claim that he had only had a couple of nose jobs, it is clear that Jackson no longer looked like the young African American boy he was back in the day. The Gallery also fails to comment on the skin disease with which Jackson supposedly suffered. Vitiligo is a disease in which the melanocytes or pigment cells of the skin are destroyed in certain areas, thus causing the skin to appear white. This can affect people of all skin colours, however, the darker the skin, the more noticeable it becomes. It is unlikely to cause the entire skin to become white, which is why many people did not accept Jackson’s claims.

Maggi Hambling’s (b1945) portrait of Michael Jackson is one of the very few visual references to his change in skin tone. The pop star was reportedly diagnosed with vitiligo in 1984, however, there were also rumours he had been skin bleaching. Jackson’s biographer, J. Randy Taraborrelli, also states that he suffered from lupus, which made his skin extremely sensitive to light. Despite these statements, many people refused to believe that Jackson was ill, however, vitiligo was diagnosed in his autopsy report.

With all the negative press, it is no wonder Michael Jackson began to hate the sight of the man in the mirror, however, he still had many loyal fans throughout the world. In 2017, Chinese artist Yan Pei-Ming (1960) painted a portrait in memory of Michael Jackson. It is interesting to discover how wide a fanbase Jackson had, reaching as far as Asia where the Western world has less of an impact.

 

Some fans revered Michael Jackson to the point that he became more than human in their eyes. One fan was the American commercial photographer David LaChapelle (b1963) who believed Jackson’s life reached almost Biblical proportions. This is a controversial subject that many may not agree with or even be offended by, however, LaChappelle saw many similarities between Jackson and Jesus Christ.

The photographer believes “we persecuted him”, listening to malicious gossip and rumours. Whilst Jackson was trying to do good, helping disadvantaged children and improving opportunities for African Americans, the world painted him as bad or even a smooth criminal, accusing him of child abuse, vanity and so forth.

LaChappelle created a series of manipulated photographs in homage to Michael Jackson, positioning him in in front of different backgrounds, adding wings and other figures to make him look like an angel that had defeated the devil or a man who had been crucified.

Although these ideas are rather extreme, they emphasise the serious allegations inflicted upon Jackson compared with the way LaChappelle wishes the musician could be remembered. As Jackson once said, “Don’t judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.” LaChappelle is trying to preserve Michael Jackson’s dignity for his fans and his family.

At Michael Jackson’s memorial service, the Reverend Al Sharpton (b1954) also tried to preserve Jackson’s memory. He wanted Jackson’s children, Michael Joseph Jr (b1997), Paris-Michael (b1998), and Prince Michael II “Blanket” (b2002), to know that “there was nothing strange about your daddy, it was strange what your daddy had to deal with.”

 

Other artworks in Michael Jackson: On the Wall included videos, music clips, sculpture and painting. A particularly amusing exhibit was Michael Lee Bush’s “dinner jacket”, which was purposely made to look similar to clothing Jackson often wore. Bush was Jackson’s costume designer for 26 years, but when he was asked to replicate Jackson’s dinner jacket, he played with the word “dinner” by adding lots of cutlery over the chest and back.

The exhibition culminated in Candice Breitz’s (b1978) video installation of a number of German-speaking Michael Jackson fans singing Thriller a capella. The purpose of this project is not entirely clear and is quite frankly a disappointing end to the overall exhibition. Michael Jackson: On the Wall started off promising but lost strength towards the end. It almost felt as though the curator was struggling to fill the final rooms.

Nonetheless, On the Wall is primarily an art exhibition and, therefore, achieves what it set out to do: reveal how Michael Jackson influenced art. Jackson fans, however, may be disappointed with the lack of information about his life as his career grew and the disregard for his final struggles.

 

Viewing a life through works of art is an interesting idea but a more appropriate approach for a singer would be to hear their life through music. Since 2009, fans have had the opportunity to learn a little about Michael Jackson by listening to his music at the Lyric Theatre on Shafestbury Avenue in a 2-hour plus production of Thriller Live. Named after Jackson’s best selling album of all time, the show is currently the 15th longest running show in the West End as well as the longest running at the Lyric Theatre, which opened in 1888.

The non-stop hit songs include titles by the Jackson 5, such as Rockin’ Robin and Blame it on the Boogie, as well as all of the Michael Jackson favourites from all decades of his career. Dancers and singers perform the songs dressed to look like Michael Jackson and his backing group whilst the audience cheers and joins in, encouraged to stand up by the lead vocalist.

Although too loud for some people, Thriller Live is perfect for Michael Jackson fans, especially those who never got a chance to see him live in concert. The vocals and dance moves mimic the “King of Pop”, providing a perfect example of what Jackson usually provided for his audience.

Whilst Thriller Live is targetted at Michael Jackson fans, the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition is supposed to attract anyone interested in art, however, it has a greater appeal for those who loved his music. To fully appreciate both the exhibition and the stage production, the audience needs to be familiar with the “King of Pop”, his music history, and the causes he felt strongly about.

The National Portrait Gallery will be hosting Michael Jackson: On the Wall until 21st October 2018. Tickets range from £15.50 to £22 and advanced booking is advised for those who are not members of the gallery. Tickets for Thriller Live start at £32 and can be purchased online.

Note: phrases in bold allude to song titles 

The Beth Chatto Gardens

One of the most influential plantswomen in Britain, Beth Chatto OBE VMH transformed an overgrown wasteland into an extensive, beautiful garden. Continuing to oversee the developments well into her 90s, Beth created a pleasant place to visit, attracting people from all over the world. Whether visitors intend to have a peaceful walk followed by relaxing in the tearoom or arrive with the intention of purchasing from a wide range of plants, the Beth Chatto Gardens are a place that can be enjoyed by all. Since Beth’s death on 13th May 2018, her family and 50 plus workers are determined to keep the gardens alive and continue to develop and build on Beth’s aims and visions. The Beth Chatto Gardens are a legacy and a memorial of the fantastic, green-fingered gardener.

Situated near Elmstead Market, Colchester, the Beth Chatto Gardens are home to over 2000 varieties of plants. Split into several smaller gardens, habitats suitable for all types of plants have been developed, allowing native and exotic flowers and shrubs to blossom. From drought-tolerant plants to those that live near water, Beth Chatto has them all, however, the state of the land when Beth first purchased it was a completely contrasting, sorry sight.

 

 

Betty Diana Little was born in Good Easter, Essex in 1923 to Bessie (née Styles) and William Little, who were both keen gardeners. In her 20s, Betty began using the name Beth, by which she is now recognised throughout the world. Initially, Beth trained to be a teacher and worked at Hockerill College, Bishop’s Stortford from 1940 until 1943, when she married her husband Andrew Chatto.

Like Beth, Andrew was passionate about plants and worked as a fruit farmer until 1960. To begin with, the Chattos and their two daughters lived in Braiswick, Colchester, however, Beth was disappointed that she was unable to have a proper garden on account of the quality of the soil. The Chatto family fruit farm in Elmstead Market, however, had far more potential for a garden, so Beth convinced her husband to build a new home on the land.

Unlike other fruit farms in the area, the Chatto’s farm was less successful owing to the dryness of the soil in some parts and wetness in others. As a result, only plants such as wild blackthorn, willow and brambles had been able to grow naturally. Nevertheless, Beth was determined for her garden to be a success, and today, only the ancient oaks along the boundary survive from the original farmland.

Instead of being discouraged by the mix of gravelly soil and boggy ditches, Beth sought out plants that would thrive in these areas, rather than fight a losing battle trying to get anything else to grow. Today, the Beth Chatto Gardens span five acres of land with a variety of plant environments, including sun-baked gravel, water, woodland, heavy clay and alpine planting.

 

 

On arrival, visitors enter the newly developed Gravel Garden, which was once used as the car park. It was originally formed as an experiment by Beth Chatto and her team of workers. Famous for never needing to be watered, the free-draining soil is perfect for the Gardens’ selection of drought-tolerant plants, including ornamental grass and a tall eucalyptus tree, a plant native to Australia. Of the whole Beth Chatto Gardens, it is these plants that coped best during Britain’s July-August 2018 heatwave.

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Mount Etna Broom

Another species of plant in the Gravel Garden is the genista aetnensis or Mount Etna Broom, which is endemic to the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia. This Mediterranean shrubby vegetation typically needs stony soil to thrive and a sunny climate, i.e. little rain. Although Colchester is not the driest of places (heatwave notwithstanding), the light gravelly soil prevents the rain from having a disastrous effect on these dry-thriving plants.

Once past the main entrance to the gardens, where only those who have paid can enter, the path leads to the Water Garden which surrounds four cloud-shaped ponds in which many water plants are growing. All the plants in this garden need moisture in order to survive and, although they can be watered by hand, the roots can get what they need directly from the ponds.

 

 

Unfortunately, the plants and foliage in the Water Garden have been hit heavily by the recent heatwave. Although the water source is always available, in July the sun had scorched the petals and leaves, drying them up to make it look like autumn had come early. This garden is better suited to cooler springtime temperatures.

Following on from the Water Gardens is a long shady walk under tall ancient oak trees. The plants that are seen here grow well in the shade, out of the direct sunlight. These include ferns and various carpeting plants, which brighten up the surroundings. The Beth Chatto Gardens’ leaflet tells visitors to look out for strands of Solomon’s Seal, whose roots bear depressions which resemble royal seals.

Other interesting roots to look out for are the “knobbly knees” or pneumatophores of the swamp cypress. These can be seen above ground in areas near the newly developed area of clay soil near the reservoir. These plants are prevalent in places such as the Everglades in Florida and are not native to England, however, the damp soil in this area of the Beth Chatto Gardens is a great place for them to thrive.

 

 

On the far side of the Gardens is the Woodland Garden, which, as can be inferred from its name, is full of trees. Most of these are the remaining oaks from the original fruit farm but beneath them are shade-loving flowers, perennials and shrubs that provide a number of different colours. In the summer months, whilst there may be less blossom and flowers, there are numerous shades of green ranging from light to dark depending on the plant.

The Woodland Garden is the most peaceful section of the Beth Chatto Gardens. Out of the way of the entrance, it is easy to imagine you are in a country park or forest rather than a cultivated garden. It is also a great place for wildlife, particularly insects, who can live in the bug houses made of dead wood.

Other areas to investigate are the New Planting and Scree Garden. The former contains recently planted shrubs that had been started in the Nursery until strong enough to survive outside. The Scree Garden is made up of a series of raised beds where easy-to-grow alpine plants can prosper despite the stony growing conditions.

Some parts of the Gardens are restricted to staff either because they are developing new areas or because the ground is used as stock beds. Over 60,000 plants are grown on site every year, which are either placed in the Gardens or sold. Most of the plants in the garden can be found for sale in the nursery, which has been running successfully since 1967. Many of these are offcuts or seedlings and may not look like the full-grown versions in the Gardens, however, staff working in the nursery are very good at identifying plants from photographs visitors have taken and can help people make the correct purchase.

Staff are also keen to help gardeners find plants that will thrive in the particular type of soil they have at home. There is a selection of plants that have been carefully selected to suit dry, shady, or damp gardens, therefore, rarely does anyone go away empty handed.

 

Beth Chatto is not just known for her lovely gardens, she is known throughout the horticultural community for her amazing knowledge of plants. Throughout her career as a gardener, Beth won many awards, the first being as early as 1977. After the hard work focused on the Gardens was beginning to pay off, Beth was able to concentrate on entering flower competitions, such as those at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Flower arranging was something that Beth became interested in during the 1950s when a neighbour encouraged her to become involved with the art. Soon, she became one of the founder members of the Colchester Flower Club, which was only the second flower club established in Britain. Combining her love of flower arranging with her ever-growing garden, Beth was persuaded to produce a display for the Royal Horticultural Society Show in 1975 for which she was awarded the RHS Flora Silver Medal.

The silver medal was only the beginning of Beth’s success; the following year, she entered the RHS’s Chelsea Flower Show and won another Flora Silver Gilt medal, however, in 1977, she did even better. For ten consecutive years, Beth Chatto was awarded Chelsea Gold Medals for her display of unique plants for dry and damp areas, which at the time were remarkably different to any other exhibit.

A decade after her first award at the Chelsea Flower Show, Beth had another victorious year in which she was awarded the Lawrence Memorial Medal, the Victoria Medal of Honour, and an Honorary Degree by the University of Essex. By this point, Beth’s fame had spread even further through the publication of several books: The Dry Garden (1978), The Damp Garden (1982) and Plant Portraits (1985). Later, Beth penned more popular gardening books, which can still be purchased in the Gardens’ gift shop. Her final book Beth Chatto’s Woodland Garden was published in 2002.

As she became known throughout the world, Beth began going on tours, giving lectures about gardening. The first tour she participated in was in America during 1983, which was followed by British Columbia, Canada and the North West States of America the following year. In 1986, Beth went back to America to give more lectures, however, in 1987 she stayed closer to home, touring Holland and Germany. Eventually, Beth travelled as far as Australia for her lectures, before giving her final one in Paris in 1990.

Although her lecturing days were over, Beth was still being recognised for all her hard work. In 1995, Beth was elected to the International Professional and Business Women’s Hall of Fame for outstanding achievements in introducing plant ecology to garden design. This studies the effects of environmental factors upon the abundance of plants, for which the Beth Chatto Gardens are famous.

In 1998, Beth was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Garden Writer’s Guild for her numerous books, but her most prestigious award was given in 2002: an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. In 2009, she was awarded another honorary doctorate, this time from Anglia Ruskin University, then in 2011, was named a Paul Harris Fellow by Colchester Trinity Rotary Club. Her final award was presented in 2014:  the Society of Garden Design’s John Brookes Lifetime Achievement Award.

“I wish to set up an Education Trust in my name to carry forward my passion for
plants and ecological approach to all age groups.”
– Beth Chatto

By now, Beth was already into her 90s and was no longer doing any physical gardening, although she was often seen driving around on a mobility scooter to check out the hard work of her devoted staff and volunteers. Knowing she would not live forever, Beth was determined for the garden to live on without her and wished to ignite the passion for gardening within the younger generation. She also believed that gardening was the key to a healthy planet.

In 2015, Beth set up an Education Trust in her own name to encourage people of all ages to become interested in ecological approaches. The charity offers courses, workshops and events for school parties, individuals and families throughout the year, including RHS qualifications. Many of these courses take place in the Willow Room situated near to the garden entrance. The building can also be hired out for special celebrations, wedding receptions and wakes.

Although her death is still fresh in the minds of many people, there is no risk of Beth Chatto being forgotten. The Gardens will continue to open to the public, courses will still run, and staff will always be hard at work. Apart from at Christmas and New Year, the Beth Chatto Gardens are open every day and can be accessed for a fee ranging between  £4.50 and £8.45 depending on the season.

Visitors do not need to wander the gardens every time they visit, some people, who just want to purchase plants from the Gardens’ impressive stock, can enter the Plant Nursery and Gravel Garden for free. Also worth visiting is the Tearoom and Gravel Garden Restaurant, which specialises in freshly baked home-made scones, sausage rolls, homemade cakes and afternoon teas. Coffee lovers can enjoy a cup of the unique Beth Chatto Gardens coffee, which has been specially blended by the team.

Whilst it is sad to lose a life, Beth Chatto will live on through her garden, inspiring new gardeners, young and old, throughout the world. Whether you have green fingers or not, the Beth Chatto Gardens are worth a visit just to see the hard work that Beth and her workers have put in for almost 60 years.

More information about opening times, ticket prices and upcoming events can be found on the website: www.bethchatto.co.uk 

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