The Sculpture Park at the Sainsbury Centre

The other evening I was invited through an alternative Garden Gate, to a special tour of the Sculptures sited around the large campus of the University of East Anglia. Situated in a landscape of some 350 acres, a large lake and the river Yare, this is remarkably, an unknown delight, except maybe to those who are former students.

We met at the Sainsbury Centre, and for those who don’t know, this is not another supermarket but an amazing building designed by the then relatively unknown architect Norman Foster in 1974, which houses an extraordinary collection of art. Our tour began at the west end of the building where woodland curves round behind a grassy area. Four magnificent sculpture are sited here and you might be forgiven for thinking with such an acreage why are they not more spread out across the rest of the landscape. The simple answer is that it is only on this small site that no planning permission is required but because it is a public park, planning permission is needed anywhere else. It had never occurred to me before that you might need planning permission to erect a piece of art.

All the pieces are on loan and it is the bronze head created in 1997 by John Davies (b1946) and positioned just at the edge of the woodland that you first see. By the nature of its position you feel it must be looking towards the glass facade of the building,

however on closer inspection the eyes appear from this monumental head to be looking at nothing in particular.

Nearby is a Henry Moore; surely no sculpture park is complete without one and perhaps it was through Moore’s sculptures that so many of us were introduced to the abstract art world. ‘Draped reclining woman ‘ is cast in bronze and dated 1957-58.

So utterly different from Moore’s familiar form is ‘Sun’s roots II’ by Phillip King (b1934) who actually spent a year as an assistant to Moore. Over the course of his career he exhibited all over the world and worked in a variety of media;

this is painted steel and is influenced by his time spent in Japan. Sun meets earth and as you move round …

… the piece seems to flow, move a little and bend too.

There is also movement from this static couple, ‘Pair of Walking Figures – Jubilee’. They are the final sculpture in this space created in 1977 by Lynn Chadwick (1914 – 2003). Walking towards the Centre,

together they seem intent on visiting the exhibition, currently Art Noveau, and I know they will enjoy it, for it is a dazzling display. Their cloaks ruffle and flow behind,

abstract but expressive, their flat faces are expressionless whilst their bodies hold an air of elegance, perhaps best not to step in their way.

We walk along the south side of the exhibition centre. It is empty of people right now but during lockdown the park became a delightful escape for many Norwich residents. As a consequence the university is having a rethink about the park and its sculpture and an exciting new project is in the planning to increase the number of exhibits and ultimately create the best sculpture park in the country.

Tatlin’s tower stands prominently. After the Russian revolution Vladimir Tatlin (1885-19530) was charged by Lenin to implement his campaign to replace monuments reflecting the Tsarist period. Tatlin proposed an abstract design that would not only commemorate the revolution but also to serve as the headquarters of the Third International or Comintern. The monument was never realised and this is a reconstruction ‘Model of the Monument to the Third International’

We have arrived at the east end of the Sainsbury Centre where we find Lynn Chadwick’s three beasts captured in various states of action; on the left is ‘Crouching Beast II, in the middle ‘Beast Alerted I’ and on the right ‘Lion I’

They were made in 1990 from welded sheets of stainless steel. Chadwick is said to have delighted in the properties that steel afforded, feeling that no matter how dull the weather some facet of the sculptures would catch and reflect the light. As the sun fades the beasts certainly demonstrate that quality.

How fortunate these students are to be able to gaze upon these sculptures as they go about their studies on campus. Moore’s ‘Reclining Figure’ was acquired in 1962 and I am sure has enjoyed many an undergraduate’s prank.

Sir Denys Lasdun designed the Ziggurats which were completed in 1968. They are unique, pieces of art in their own right, and nestling into the landscape, they are in fact the students’ residential quarters. Placed in front of the Ziggurats is the large tubular metal structure painted in matt black and created in 2006 by Ian Tyson it is appropriately named ‘Proximity’.

I had never been down to the lake; it is a vast expanse set below the Ziggurats.

At the water’s edge are Dame Elizabeth Frink’s ‘Mirage I and II’ (1969). These extraordinary shapes were inspired by seeing the heat hazes and flamingoes in the south of France. No heat haze this evening but these part-bird and part-human structures still appear to shimmer.

Looking back towards the university buildings there on top of the central library is Sir Anthony Gormley’s figure ‘Another Time II’. Gormley might be considered as a local now that he lives in Norfolk.

There are actually three of these cast iron figures which were created in 2007, but before we ascend the stairs up to the library level in search of the remaining two, we encounter ‘ Extrapolation’ a structure of ascending steel plates which was originally created for Norwich Central Library in 1982 by the American born artist Liliane Lijn.

At the top of the winding concrete stairs we are met by a little surprise of ‘Another Time IV’.

and over up on the roof of the Biology Department is ‘Another Time II’. Using casts of his own body, Gormley personally selected the locations around the campus.

The pamphlet describes these figures as ‘thought-provoking and uncanny offering spectacle and surprise’, it is a description that could be afforded to all the sculptures in the park .

We end our tour, and close by the car we catch sight of the third Moore ‘Two Piece Reclining figure No 3’. Solid and familiar it is indeed thought-provoking.

The sculpture park is open to all and is free. It is a space to visit and watch with interest. The Sainsbury Centre is a spacious building and for this reason was the first gallery to re-open after lockdown. For further information https://sainsburycentre.ac.uk/

Towering above the landscape

On the edge of Castle Acre village in West Norfolk stands a rusty old water tower. Apparently a Braithwaite type (the name refers to the manufacturer), it was originally constructed for nearby RAF Massingham during WWII, and afterwards recycled and moved to Castle Acre where it was decommissioned in the early 90s. Left to stand and rust, it became a familiar landmark to us locals and in some people’s eyes it was considered a bit of a blot on the lovely landscape, well that is until recently.

Picture: Matthew Usher.

Bought in an auction by a professional photographer from London it has, in the last couple of years been given it a complete face lift. Driving by we have watched the transformation with curiosity.

So what joy it was back in September when the new owners kindly held an open day and invited us all in, and free of charge. We went in droves, proving that we all love a good snoop when the opportunity arises. The garden gates were open wide and with a glorious blue sky and a quirky house sign we were welcomed in.

The recently laid drive has on one side a mature mixed hedgerow and on the other newly planted Corsican pines.

At first sight the impressive structure appears almost menacing and I wondered for a brief moment if I might spy a German soldier peering from the slit windows.

The owners employed the clever team of architects tonkin liu https://tonkinliu.co.uk/architecture .

An awesome beast, it is a touch industrial but at the same elegant.The understated front door is pinned open…….

and you enter into a garden room.

The spiral stairs beckons you upwards

each step crafted into neat wooden sandwiches.

I am keen to get straight to the top just allowing my heavily pregnant daughter-in-law to stop a second to admire the windows,

and then the stairs morph into a metal ladder

and we clamber up out on to the roof. We thought it a still day but the wind blows up here.

My friend seems to be a very long way down,

But the views are stunning; stubble fields stretch northwards,

while to the east, the small village of Newton by Castle Acre is hidden by trees.

To the south is the village of Castle Acre, with Southacre beyond,

and to the west, the road winds towards Westacre. Much of these acres are owned by the Holkham estate situated some 18 miles away, the home of the Coke family. The story goes that when Coke was increasing his lands back in the 17th Century, King James 1 was not happy with the acquisition. Coke’s comment was that it was just three more acres he wanted to purchase and so proceeded to acquire Castle Acre, West Acre and South Acre.

It is time to descend, the way down through the hatch somehow does not seem as inviting as it did on the way up.

We go down into the floor below which is in fact the old water tank and now the kitchen,

with the large ballcocks cunningly recycled into ceiling lights,

and the windows cut out of the metal sides to reveal the landscape. It is pure art.

Below the kitchen, on different levels are the two bedrooms, a ladder reaches to the raised bed area. No curtains adorn the ceiling to floor windows but why would you want to block out that view.

The owner Denis and his wife haven’t quite moved in and have been residing in a double converted container situated by the tower. There is no garden as yet, and indeed surrounded by such landscape there is no need. Outside the container the patio area is decoratively paved with recycled manhole covers,

and from here you can look up and check the time. And for us we realise it is time to go.

Owner Denis is an acclaimed still-life photographer and his profile describes his ability ‘to create spectacular, dynamic imagery from all manner of raw material’, I think it could be said that he displays his talent in this extraordinary building.

Repton and his business

It is the bicentenary of the death of Humphry Repton, he of the Red Book fame. There are many events organised and gardens gates opening throughout the year. This piece was so interesting that I am reblogging.

The Gardens Trust

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  If you hadn’t already realised 2018 is Repton Year, when we’re commemorating the life and work of the last great landscape designer of the eighteenth century.  Unlike the Festival for his ‘predecessor’ Capability Brown there is no great central nationally funded organization. Instead Celebrating Humphry Repton  will be a collaborative effort, which, even though although it can’t match the funding of CB300,  looks certain to match the enthusiasm and spread of interest nationally.  County Gardens Trusts and other groups will be arranging events around the country throughout the year to celebrate Repton’s work. You can find a list – continually being updated – at this dedicated webpage on  The Gardens Trust website.  If you would like to get involved or receive updates email repton@thegardenstrust.org. The more people who join in, the better the celebration!

And of course the blog is going to play its small part.  Repton has…

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Lakeside House, a welcome and watery restoration. (87)

The calendar of garden visiting is on pause now, and with the skiing season fast approaching one of the gardens I look back at with fondness, is the extraordinary garden at Brundall, once known as ‘The Switzerland of Norfolk’.

The garden was created in 1880 by a Dr Beverley who, along with planting an arboretum, dug out a cascade of ponds as seen in the centre of the postcard below. An entrepreneur named Frederick Holmes-Cooper then purchased the grounds in 1917, built a new house for his family which he called ‘Redclyffe’ and set about making  ‘Brundall Gardens’ a visitor attraction with a fine hotel and restaurant.

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Postcard 1920

In 1922 it was reported that 60,000 people flocked to see the gardens. Visitors travelled by bicycle, foot, rail and river disembarking at the jetty just by the restaurant.

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Postcard advertising day trip to Brundall Gardens

Of course I arrived by car, and it was a cold day back in April. The garden, much reduced in size now is owned by Janet Muter. In the mid 1980s she and her husband bought a newly-built house on the site, just above the cascade  and set about restoring the garden. It had suffered much neglect since its closure in the 1930s and subsequent requisition during the war when the property was used as an enemy aircraft plotting station.

I was very touched when Janet presented me with the book, Rescue of a Garden that she has recently written about the fascinating history of her garden.

So I cannot resist starting our tour with a picture of the house taken from the book showing the building in 1986, which she describes amusingly as ”A house undressed”:

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Rescue of a garden by Jane Muter

No longer so naked, it is clothed in mahonia and clematis armandii,

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and an attractive little border softens the hard landscape by the front door.

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From the house we cross to the other side of the roadway which is in fact the drive to the neighbouring house. I have to confess I am a little confused; a rustic hut but where is the lake?

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Crossing back over towards the house I admire the mixed planting in the flower bed, and continue to wonder at the apparent lack of water.

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Then, walking through the trees towards the south side of the house, I realise that this has just been the warm up. The curtain raises and as I look down, the spectacle unfolds; a series of three delightful ponds descending to a lower lake.

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I am standing upon the patio where a collection of colourful acers grow in pots. You can see that the grassy slope falls away very steeply.

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We gently follow the path down on the right-hand side admiring the mixture of mature trees and shrubs, some in flower, that have been planted over the years.

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The large-handled pot points the way and its shape is complimented by the planting around it. Perhaps a gentle reminder that this was a site once inhabited by the Romans.

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The first pond is the smallest. There are no straight lines in this garden; pool, plants and pots smoothly flow in a curve. On occasions, a fountain plays in the centre.

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The path leads away from the water’s edge down through swathes of ground cover; vinca, pulmonarias, lamium and ivy dotted with white honesty.

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Bluebell flowers are just emerging and I catch glimpses of water  through the branches,

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and finally at the furthest point we venture out through the trees to arrive at the lily lake at the lowest level.

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Large and untamed, the lake was almost inaccessible in 1985.

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The Muters cleared fallen trees, excess reeds and rushes. Janet has always been mindful of the wildlife, the enjoyment of which is an important part of this garden. A beach was created and the gravel path seems to ebb and flow in harmony with the water’s edge.

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There are some lovely gems planted on this side; the exquisite aronia melonocarpa

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and pinky darmera peltata, its large leaves yet to grow.

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Popular primula japonica is very content here.

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Water lilies spread out in a Monet manner across the lake from the far side, where the sound of a railway can be heard as a train rattles by.

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After a while we ascend the side of the lower pond where sweet woodruff grows amongst the fresh green unfurling fronds of the ferns.

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At the top of the lower pond we cross over and look back. It is deep and requires dredging every year.

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The middle pond is in fact in the care of the neighbour. Annually it is drained to remove the leaves. These water gardens do not just flow timelessly, they need maintenance. There has not been much rainfall in recent months and so the water level is low.

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The top pond has a variety of plants emerging around its edge and it is the selection of euphorbias that catches my eye today,

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with the ajuga edging the carrstone wall. The stone would have originally been brought over from the western side of the Norfolk.

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An old tree trunk supporting a climbing rose combines with an ancient pot to provide a touch of antiquity.

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We are grateful to have steps to climb this last part but I worry that I have kept Janet outside for too long. A hardy type as she might be, she is an octogenarian and it is a chilly day.

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We pause on the top step to take in one last look over the haze of light blue periwinkle. I am in awe as to how someone can garden on such steep terrain.

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Watery and wonderful, this can have been no easy garden to restore and maintain. It is hard to believe that for half a century it was hidden away by undergrowth. With careful restoration and a lot of hard graft, the Muters brought it back to life and while enhancing the beauty with their love and knowledge of plants, they have encouraged not only the wildlife to return but also the visitors. I quote from Janet’s book:

‘And in 25 years of opening my garden I have never known anyone leave litter or steal so much as a cutting, well not when I was looking anyway. Whilst rescuing my garden it has helped to raise thousands of pounds for many charities, but mainly for the National Garden Scheme.’

Lakeside House opened for two days this year over the May Bank holiday and raised nearly £3,000 for the NGS.

We are of course very grateful to Janet who will be opening next year by arrangement only.  In the meantime you can enjoy this wintery scene and do read the book; it is an interesting story.

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