Kevis House Gallery in Petworth currently has a lovely exhibition, which has been inspired by West Dean. It features Frances Hatch, who was one of my tutors on a Foundation in Arts and Design course at West Dean College, and botanical artist Mariella Baldwin, who also tutors at West Dean.
I was lucky enough to catch the recording of a conversation between Frances Hatch and Jackie Herrington on the opening day of the exhibition. Jackie was a secretary and administrator on the West Dean Estate for over 40 years and is now working as a volunteer on the history of the Edward James Foundation.
It was such an enriching experience to hear a completely different perspective on a place I thought I knew quite well. I now realise that I have only seen a small part of the West Dean estate. I never really explored what was beyond the walls of the college.
I was intrigued to find out that the topiarised trees at West Dean are yew trees - they have such a different energy from the yew tree forest in nearby Kingley Vale. It was fascinating to see how Frances captured the mystery and energy of the trees in some of her paintings.
Now that faraway places begin to beckon again, it is helpful to be reminded how the immersion in one place can provide endless inspiration. Frances's paintings show how a place completely changes, depending on the season, time of day and viewpoint.
Frances works in watercolours, but is not tied to one medium. She also uses pigments, pastels, gouache, acrylics, acrylic inks and materials found on location.
I also enjoyed looking at some of Frances's sketchbooks - one of the advantages when you can visit a gallery in person... Seeing the earth pigments is some of the pages was a trip down memory lane.
I had never considered incorporating nature and found objects in my work, until Frances sent us out on the first day of my foundation course with a pot of ink and an A1 sheet of paper to draw a tree...
Kevis House Gallery originally was the photographic studio of Walter John Kevis, and it is worthwhile to explore the two stories above the main exhibition. There is a 3 bedroom penthouse you can stay in. Each bedroom has further works of art. You can also see the former Victorian skylight studio space.
The West Dean exhibition finishes at the end of June. If you cannot make the exhibition, there is a useful page on the Kevis House Gallery website which shows works of the artists who are exhibiting at the gallery.