Art and Tapas

National Sculpture Prize 2016

On this day last year, I was proudly attending my daughter’s graduation ceremony in scorching Stoke-on-Trent. This year she and her significant other were with me again, this time at Broomhill Sculpture Park in cool for July North Devon, one of my favourite haunts, and only a few miles up the road. The tapas was (were?) excellent as always; even bigger and better if that’s possible.

Here is the work of the ten finalists in this year’s competition. The winner will be announced in October.

Artists’ statements and general information about the sculpture park and hotel are all available on the Broomhill website. Elsewhere in the grounds ………




How Victorian bathers came to take the health-giving waters at Ilfracombe

Today my old friend, Wools, and I visited Tunnels Beaches in Ilfracombe; a shameful first for both of us – it must be said, more so for him, as he has lived in this area for far longer than have I. It was an unseasonably warm day, the temperature reaching 19°C in mid-afternoon, and schools are closed for the week, so there were plenty of families enjoying themselves on the sand and rocks. The rock pools here are purported to be amongst the best in the UK.

The beach is accessed by around 200m of tunnels which were carved through the rock in the early 1820s by a huge team of Welsh miners, then a Bath House was built at the entrance which provided hot and cold saltwater pools for the use of the public. Tidal pools were also constructed on the beach itself, one for ladies and one for gentlemen; the ladies pool still survives, but the men’s pool has been destroyed by storms over the years. Bathing machines (movable beach huts) would be pulled down to the sands in the summer so that ladies could discreetly change into their bathing attire before taking to the waters, and swimming instruction was available. Of course privacy was guaranteed by sentries who stood guard around the pool perimeter and sounded a bugle if any errant male was seen attempting to peep. In 1905, after 82 years of segregation, the owners relaxed their straight laces, and mixed bathing was introduced. I expect the relatively recently deceased Queen Victoria was turning in her grave.   …click on pic to enlarge…

Today there is a fee charged to enter the tunnels (£2.50 for adults) and a snack bar, beach shop and toilet facilities are available. The men’s beach, with it’s function room and terrace, is sometimes closed to the public in the event of a wedding (as it was today), but there is plenty of fun to be had on the ladies’ side. The beach is a mixture of coarse black sand and flat pebbles, which proved ideal for skimming across the surface of the pool, and the atmosphere is quite enchanting; the high cliffs all around hide any sight or sound of modern life, and it was easy to imagine oneself living in another era entirely.

Victorian ladies and gents enjoying the beach at Ilfracombe
The Ladies’ Pool post-integration

While we were in the town, we also visited St. Nicholas’s Chapel, which was built in 1321 on a mound overlooking the harbour. It was originally intended as a place of worship for harbour folk, but has also served as a family home, a reading room and laundry, as well as a lighthouse. It is still a working lighthouse today, and is believed to be the oldest in the country. Ilfracombe has acquired a bit of a reputation over the years; the once glorious seaside resort of the Victorians has suffered somewhat from neglect and the rise of the continental package holiday, but there are some hidden gems to explore and lots more reasons to visit. A regeneration project has seen an injection of cash into the municipal funds and there are lots of improvements evident such as the harbour area (which is always buzzing with visitors), art galleries, installations and top-notch eateries.


Woolley Wood and Arlington Court

DSC_0023Today I visited Arlington in North Devon, a 3,000 acre estate once owned by the Chichester family and now in the hands of the National Trust. Chichester is a well-known name in these parts; John Chichester was a long-standing MP for Barnstaple in the early 19th century and his name lives on in the names of streets and pubs in the area. Francis Chichester was the nephew of the last owner of Arlington, Miss Rosalie, who bequeathed the estate to the nation on her death in 1949. Francis is probably best known for being the first person to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe by sailing boat; I remember him being talked about a lot in 1967 when he returned, and he was subsequently knighted by the Queen for his endeavours. At the time I was unaware that he also laid the foundation stone for the Barnstaple Civic Centre in the same year. Knowing the disdain with which most local residents view that controversial example of 1960s brutalism, perhaps the latter event carried less importance to Sir F, especially as the sword with which the queen touched his shoulders was the very same one which Elizabeth 1 had used to knight Francis Drake after he became the first Englishman to sail around the world, albeit with a crew. Anyway, I digress.

Arlington comprises a manor house, stables housing the National Trust’s carriage collection, church, walled vegetable garden, ornamental garden, tea rooms, parkland, woodland, a lake, and farmland grazed by Jacob sheep and Red Devon cattle. For me the highlight is the woodland, and there are 20 miles of footpaths to explore. I chose a circular route of just over 2 miles which took in the lake and passed by two fabulous kids’ adventure areas where rope bridges and log forts abound. An avenue of Monkey puzzle trees was quite unusual but spectacular, although oaks and beeches probably make up the largest part of the woods, with some evergreens, ash, chestnut and sycamore. I saw one huge sequoia with a trunk wider than a car at the base. I don’t know the number of bird species found here, but there is a hide in the woods, so I imagine it’s a haven. I saw a tree creeper, chaffinches and a robin without even trying.

Monkey Puzzle

The lake was formed by damming the River Yeo and is home to many water birds including the heron which is the symbol of the Chichester family, adorning various pillars and buildings. The house itself, or what the public gets to see of it, is suitably grand, though most of the rooms I saw were not as large as I expected. It is home to the many collections that Rosalie gathered on her travels; such items as hair adornments, fans, sea shells, pewterware and model ships are here in their dozens along with the usual porcelain, paintings (one by William Blake) and books that one would expect to see in the home of a baron. On the upstairs landing I counted 88 bound volumes of The London Illustrated News spanning more than 50 years across the 19th and 20th centuries. Downstairs I was particularly taken with a large Swiss cylinder music box which played ten tunes with perfect clarity.

I am told that 50,000 daffodil bulbs have been planted over the last three years, so plan to visit again in the spring.


No man’s land

Jeff Piggott’s poignant sculpture, “No man’s land” is one of 10 finalists in the 2014 National Sculpture Prize. This is the artist’s statement.

No man’s land is intended as a meditation on war and conflict. The theme comes from the anniversary of the commencement of the First World War and each of the 101 cylinders represents a year up to 2014. As objects they could be seen as artillery shells stacked behind the lines, or the rigid anonymity of fallen soldiers and civilians. They are also intended to symbolise the repetitive industrial process of slaughter in the Great War and the many conflicts that have occurred since. Violence terminates lives prematurely and scars, traumatises and dehumanises those that suffer as a  consequence. A sculpture carries no answers, no resolutions and acts merely as a visual statement. Over time this work will take on the colours and textures of its surroundings as it is absorbed by nature just as the remnants of numerous wars are taken back by the land.

Broomhill 2014 NSP 202

No Man's Land by Jeff Piggott
No Man’s Land by Jeff Piggott

I felt this communication to be relevant and comprehensive with none of the nonsensical jargon that kept cropping up in many of the other artists’ statements in the NSP brochure. As today is the 100th anniversary of Britain’s declaration of war on Germany, I thought I’d share Jeff Piggott’s words. He has a blog which has lots more interesting information about what he discovered when researching for this piece, and how he made it and finally assembled it at Broomhill. I wish him the best of luck when the judges come to decide on the winner of the 2014 National Sculpture Prize.

Peaceful Broomhill

I’m lucky to live just three miles from Broomhill Art Hotel and Sculpture Garden near Barnstaple in North Devon; hundreds of acres of beautiful wooded valley are home to a delightful collection of around 300 sculptures by the likes of Ronald A. Westerhuis, Carol Peace, Laury Dizengremel and many others. Today I’ve been there with my sister, Jo, for lunch and a tour of the gardens including the ten finalists in the National Sculpture Prize 2014.

Broomhill 2014 NSP 175
Red Shoe (detail) by Greta Berlin

Some of the many beautiful sculptures by Carol Peace:-

Finalists in the 2014 National Sculpture Prize:-

Broomhill 2014 NSP 197
While you slept I was alone in my own eternity
Broomhill 2014 NSP 189
The Gateway is a distorting mirror as well as a window

In Verdigris

Last time I visited Verity was in October 2012. Today’s warm sunshine enticed me out to Ilfracombe where I found her with a fine veneer of verdigris and looking every inch a warrior for justice.

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It turned out to be a bit of a Damien Hirst day. We had a cuppa in his restaurant and then walked around his gallery space, both situated alongside the harbour.   …click on image to view large…

Calm after the storm

After weeks of strong winds and waves battering the North Devon coast, this weekend was sunny and dry. It seemed that almost the whole village was out and about and making the most of the fair weather. I went down to Crow Point, a spit of sand marking the point where the rivers Taw and Torridge meet the Atlantic.crow point after 044

This is the southern tip of Braunton Burrows , a massive sand dune system and Britain’s first  Unesco Biosphere Reserve. Crow Point has always been vulnerable to storms, but in the mid 50s tons of huge boulders were brought in to help form a strong defence. Over the years these have formed the base of an unbroken line of grass-topped dunes; that is until this month.

Over the past decade I have witnessed some erosion of a section of the dunes, but today I saw for myself the devastating damage caused by a series of storms which the whole country has endured in the first few weeks of 2014. One section of the dunes, maybe 300m long, has completely disappeared exposing a row of boulders. I have no idea of the probability of a new dune forming; I suspect it is a no-hoper. The dunes are populated by a tough grass called marram, and without that  any man-made construct will not last; it will be washed and blown away. So now the very end of the sand dune spit, home to Trinity solar-powered lighthouse, is an island at hightide.  click on pic to view large

This guillemot became a casualty of our severe February storms
This guillemot became a casualty of our severe February storms

NSP winners

The winners of the National Sculpture Prize were announced on November 1st. All entries are exhibited at Broomhill Sculpture Gardens in North Devon.

The Judge’s Winner is “Myriad” by Sam Zealey



Public Speaks Winner is “Familiar” by Dorcas Casey


A Special Commendation was awarded to Sungfeel Yun for “Energy P-04”