Residency at the National Trust Bucks Mills Artists Cabin

The eastern limekiln dating from 1769.

The eastern limekiln dating from 1769. The Cabin is upper right.

Two weeks of intense heat (>30oC on some days - which was marvellous) and intensive focus on Art at this majestic venue has now finished leaving me tired but with a body of work which ultimately feels worthwhile. "Majestic"? This is the location, not the actual cabin, which is anything but majestic: dilapidated inside with little of the spirit of those two lady artists, Mary Stella Edwards and Judith Ackland, remaining despite their artefacts being everywhere. Nevertheless, I feel very privileged to have been given this chance of residency at what the National Trust calls an "Artists Retreat". I should have liked it to have been both a residency and a retreat. It was neither really, one couldn't reside there (sleeping was not allowed) and the footfall of visitors past the door made "retreat" impossible, at least for me.

But let me quickly qualify that criticism by acknowledging the difficult position NT must find itself in with regard to this unique place. The outside fabric of the building has been kept in very good order. On the other hand, deciding how to preserve or conserve perishable textiles inside is very difficult but it has to be said that there is little inside the Cabin which could not be resolved by a good clean and refreshing some of the furnishings: the floor coverings and curtains in particular. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a pernickety person (ask my wife) and well used to roughing it, but I was upset about the disonance between the spirit of Edwards and Ackland and the state of the interior now. They were sophisticated, educated and well-to-do ladies who would not, I'm sure, have tolerated such decay.

There is a vast difference between that and a simple frugal lifestyle. I was told that the dirt was "original" and that the cabin was as it was left by the lady artists but that cannot be true: a lot of the grot has been left by subsequent users - not, I'm sure, by previous artists, who would have all treated the cabin with great respect. [I hear the cabin was used for parties etc between 1971 and ownership by the Trust in 2008.]

Fabrics decay. Should they be allowed to disappear completely in honour of their provenance or be replaced by facsimiles the better to convey the original style? Is it necessary, by virtue of dust, dirt and decay, to convey the impression of a 'time capsule'? I think the Trust should address this question as a matter of urgency. The beauty of Bucks Mills is its inspiring location and the spirit of Ackland and Edwards. It is wonderful to have their belongings as left by them and there is enough documentary evidence to keep it very much the same. But it really does need some sensitive TLC. It was the spirit I tried to tap into.

Although a good part of my working life has been on western UK cliffs and coastlands, my natural inclination is always towards woodland, and there are superb tracts of ancient woodland east and west from Bucks Mills. It was here I first gravitated, spending time in the company of what appeared to be an epidemic of ticks before coming to my senses and realising that the main point about being at the Cabin was the coastline. And so thereafter it was here I mainly concentrated, becoming intrigued by the endless jumble of rocks and pebbles played upon by the light, weather and tides which made each day very different from the preceding one. 

The coastline looking west.

I hope to be posting some other examples of work here and the entire body on my website in the near future. Below are a few examples from the Pebble series. My main medium was oil pastels on high gloss silk paper in self-made 'sketchbooks'. I also use chinagraph pencils. These media allow me a lot of flexibility. The more I worked, the more I became aware of the magnificence of Jackson Pollock's intuition - some kind of instinctive painting and mark-making.

Some of the studies will lend themselves to larger oil paintings, and I'm looking forward to that.



Pebble series #15, Oil pastel on silk paper 23 x 32cm


Pebble series #20, Oil pastel on silk paper 32 x 45cm


Pebble series #13, Watercolour 23 x 33cm


Pebble series #6, Oil pastel on silk paper 23 x 32cm


Pebble series #1, Oil pastel on silk paper 11.5 x 16cm (the first small study).


Pebble series #4, Oil pastel on silk paper 23 x 32.3cm


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