Monday, 25 February 2013

Edward James

I've just come back from teaching at West Dean, former home to Surrealist and Surrealist art collector Edward James. It made me think about Jim Ede and his love for artists and the way that he lived his life surrounded by their work. Edward James lifespan: 1907-1984 was similar to Jim's 1895-1990 and they are listed on Wikipedia together on a Wikipedia page on English philanthropists. Ede's life seems to be ascetic and James' is Dionysian as he makes clear with his numerous anecdotes on the fantastic fuzzy VHS that plays in the basement of West Dean.

Edward with one of his favourite parrots

Monkton, designed by Lutyens, James felt it to be too 'cottagey' and changed it with the help of Syrie Maugham

The sun and moon lights in the alabaster bathroom at Monkton

Edward James by Magritte

Edward James by Magritte

Jim Ede

Edward James at his home in Mexico in parakeet coloured Aran jumper

Edward James in bed at Monkton
His cold, whale-boned mother, he described as always wearing disparate things piled on top of one another in the Edwardian style: a huge bulbous jewel-encrusted brooch on a sprig of violets, nestled onto a sable stole, sounded like a perfect description of a Surrealist representation of woman to me.

Whilst at Oxford he swagged his rooms in Purple velvet and gilded in gold leaf, flew his own aeroplane and drove a Rolls Royce Phantom. His career in the diplomatic service in Rome ended abruptly and he dedicated himself to the dancer, Tilly Losch, whom he fell instantly in love with when he saw her dance in a Noel Coward revue.
 It wasn't until their honeymoon in Hawaii that she discovered to her horror that he was not gay and had married her for love. She left him in a flash.James funded an entire season of ballet in Paris to to entice Tilly back to him. When this plan failed bitter divorce ensued and James' family disapproved of this very non-U prosecution. He (rightfully) accused Tilly of adultery with Prince Serge Oblensky (he didn't come to such a glamorous end: he is buried in a cemetery in Ipswich).

Edward had Tilley's wet post-bath footprints sewn into the carpet at West Dean and later at his Lutyens designed house, Monkton he had his favourite long dead Irish Wolfhound's sewn in instead. He had the walls of Monkton padded and buttoned with the help of an interior designer known at the time for her all-white interiors: Syrie Maugham (b. 1879-d.1955 daughter of John Barnado of the children's charity, married Henry Wellcome whom she met in Khartoum, they had a child with learning difficulties and who they disassociated themselves from. She had affairs with Harry Gordon Selfridge (Selfridges) and Somerset Maugham although he was predominantly gay).

James thought dreams to be more vivid than life and sometimes I agree with him. I find life very vivid and beautiful, but sometimes the feelings of a dream reside heavily within with me while my waking life drifts over me like a daydream.

James recounts Nancy Cunard telling him off for telling the truth and warning him that society is built on a lie.

Poignant to me is having too much stuff  oscillating  between wanting nothing and everything.
Stuck at the back of a train to his new home in Mexico, he had two and a half minutes to get all of his suitcases and his many crates of orchids and parrots off the luggage car. This is a much more exciting variation on one of my own recurring dreams where I am on a beautiful wooden train to Paris, I see the Gare du Nord sign and feel the train slowing down so I go to pick up my bag. The guard tells me to remember my other bags and I turn around to see the whole compartment is full of not only bags, but a bed, tea crates and a piano. The short of it is I end up in Kings Lynn and this is where I must disembark. James had more luck. He rescues his briefcases full of writing and poems and runs to the front of the train where the orchids and parrots reside (each with their own passport as Mexican bureaucracy insisted). He runs along with the train and pleads with the driver, his long, straggly hair flying and his sweaty beard bobbing. The driver says its nearly midnight and that he cannot stop the train. Suddenly a bolt of lightning strikes the field where James is running and the driver thinking James to be a witch slows down and hands him his orchids and parrots, some of which are by now hanging upside-down with dehydration.

James starts his life thinking he will be a hermit and live only with the animals.One day whilst shampooing his hair in the waterfall near his shack he hears wind in the bamboo which he then considers might be a rustle of fabric. He sees twelve large penguins on opening his eyes and after wiping his eyes again sees they are nuns and they are asking him something. Will he build a clinic for the poor? Yes he says.

Later James adopts a Mexican family who he lives with. He continues to travel and collects plants and animals which he fills a suite with at the Hotel Francés in Mexico City whenever he is en route to his house in rural Mexico. Pigeons, doves a kinkajou, an ocelot, a monkey and a forest of trees surround him, boa constrictors have their own suite.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Trifle in Bed


Rembrandt's bed

David Allan Origin of Painting 1775

Proust's bed

'Proust's Bed' Richard Pettibone 1966

Tolstoy's silhouette traced onto the wallpaper after death.

Rembrandt's 'The Bed' 1646

This morning I horrified the octogenarian ladies in the 'gym' (ladies only, very gentle, mostly cycling and yoga gymnasium where people regularly wear kilt-skirts, slippers, twinset and pearls) by saying I would rather be at home in bed eating trifle. In fact this silent vow got me through the hideous gung-ho activities such as scaling alpine mountains in espadrilles when I taught alongside ex Gordonstoun staff in an International School in Switzerland. Leo Castelli I hear operated entirely from his bed, as did of course Proust (poor Marcel he is buried in a kingsize tomb in Pére Lachaise next to his extremely sporty brother and father). Aristocrats, regularly used to receive visitors while they lay propped up in their nice warm bed, people sitting around chatting, drinking tea and knitting.

Some people however are fantastic dynamos and find bed boring, a trap a coffin and a drag.
My mother in law for example has fantastic energy and hates being in bed for too long, her husband, more of a sleepy Leo, like me, could lounge there all day.

Bed is an intimate space and our Tracey capitalised on this with her bed sculpture. Times I have been in bed for a long time: having measles aged five during Charles and Diana's wedding, being depressed in my teens and hiding from school. (I was reminded of this the other day as two of my friends have children who feel the same at the moment). Living on a boat as I did for some years is really like living in a floating coffin/bed and while it can be soothing to be suspended in an amniotic river (The Deben & The Seine) it is like living in a chrysalis and I would not recommend it to anyone who has a less than robust mental health (mine is certainly less than robust).

Frida Kahlo of course spent many years in bed and probably longed to be able to escape it. Helen Ede spent much of her time at Kettle's Yard in her bed.

Above is a rather amazing trace of Tolstoy's profile drawn after his death. It seems to perfectly mimic the Butades of Corinth story of the maid tracing her lovers silhouette so that she can remember his when he is gone.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Ruskin's Fern

There are some lovely books in Jim Ede and in Helen Ede's library. I have taken photographs and am making watercolours of some of the illustrations.  A book on Eric Gill lists his likes as being:
"Persian Rugs, Bricks and Iron Girders, Tools, Steam engines, Folk Song, Caligraphy [sic], Toys (not some few modern ones tho.), Animals, Men and Women physically regarded, Hair, Lines, String, Plaited Straw, Beer & so on."

I wondered which of these Jim Ede also liked, there are a lot of persian rugs at Kettle's Yard, some of them came from the Fitzwilliam and were too tatty to display at the museum.  My friend, the artist Hayley Lock slept in Ruskin's bed last year and found it a very unsettling experience. Perhaps because her friend Lucinda Hawksley (Dickens' great, great, great granddaughter) has researched Ruskin thoroughly and it seems that Ruskin, like Gill may have loved little girls a little too much. I enjoyed making a cyanotype of the fern that Hayley brought back from Ruskin's garden, as Freud compares them to pubic hair it seemed very apt.

I would love to know what Helen Ede loved. Nature, food and her children so far I hear, collecting mushrooms in a wood and picking flowers in a field, lying down in a copse.
Ruskin, lover of nature but most certainly not of pubic hair on ladies.

Here are some of my likes:

Monday, 4 February 2013

38 Burrell Road

The house next door is up for auction. Allison, a lovely lady, my mother would describe as 'County'  was showing people around today with a terrified look on her face. Last August Tony Corke died in his chair leaving the house he rented exactly as he had always had it. Tony had left the back door open and two of my friends and I looked around the house aghast, and in my case, screaming. We found shillings in the purse upstairs and the clothes of Tony's mother who had died in the 1960s. Tony's cat came to live on our doorstep.

Denis Sever's amazing Huguenot house, 18 Folgate Street, Spitalfields, described as a 'still life drama', was created by Severs with the intention of looking as though the mythical Jervis family have just 'stepped out'. Quince half eaten, a warm pipe and pisspot lie un-emptied as visitors absorb Sever's incredible fantasy world, where he requested his neighbour turn down the TV so that visitors could not hear the Eastenders theme tune. Denis died of AIDs in 1999 and his loyal friends continue to look after the house, smoke the pipes, light the fires, eat the boiled eggs and drink the port in the cut glass goblets. Madge the cat remains and Madge's puss-cat predecessor resides in a mahogany box in the Victorian parlour.

Keats' house too has a descendant of Keats' cat, a plump ginger tom who nestles into a dip in Keats' counterpane.

In Wordworth's garden hundreds of new daffodils have to be planted each year as visitors sneakily take a living relic form his meadow.

Jim and Helen Ede had a very small garden at the back of the house and I have been taking one or two bits of weed and snippets of plant to create some cyanotypes, which along with Helen's childhood and final Edinburgh garden and Otto, her father's german home (this last plant hustle has been achieved through Craigslist).

Monday, 28 January 2013

Bucolic Bliss

I discovered that Helen Ede was bedridden most of the time she lived at Kettle’s Yard so this may explain why she didn’t really want to come out of her room when visitors came to the house. She had cancer (I don’t know of what) and a heart condition. Jim lived to a fantastic old age but Helen died in Edinburgh just two years after they left Kettle’s Yard. Jim had a weak stomach caused by imbibing nerve gas in the first world war. Vegetarian, they ate very frugally, mostly pureed vegetables. I have heard that Helen was a fantastic cook and another recollection is of a huge piece of beef being put directly on the dining room table, presumably for guests.

I looked at Helen’s bedroom, Helen’s books, her view onto the churchyard, which Jim maintained and the books in the library. The books reflected Jim’s love of Alfred Wallis, with a large collection of titles such as: English Popular Traditional Art, British Craftsmen, British Botanists, British Handicrafts, reminding me of the beautiful book I have just taken out of my local library The Unsophisticated Arts by Barbara Jones.

I really want to create something that brings nature into Helen’s bedroom as that was one of her passions and something she couldn’t indulge in as much as maybe she would have liked. The sound of sirens and the sight of taxis and the flow of traffic is still perceptible in the otherwise calm and tranquil Kettle’s Yard and more than one account suggests that Helen would have preferred to have lived in the country.

Photograph in one of Jim's books

Selection of Jim's books

Some of the house plants that spill over shelves laden with pebbles, shells, glass baubles and rocks.

A page in one of Jim & Helen's books

Jim's bed

Helen's bed

A photo in one of Jim's books

Helen's bedside table

The library at Kettle's Yard

Page from one of Jim's books

Chair in Helen's bedroom

Page from one of Jim's books

View from Helen's window

Pages from Jim's books

Helen's bathroom

Ideas of things: a moth mobile-there are a lot of mobiles in the shop, a nature, erotica quilt-something else I might like to give to Helen, a Victorian water garden full of wild flowers. Something hidden in her cupboard or drawers…I was reminded too of the moth chrysalides, which I had in my space at Aid& Abet. They didn’t emerge until several months later after a visit to the cinema Alex and I came back to find a pool of brown liquid by the chrysalis shell and a huge furry Eucalyptus moth pumping its wings up under our coffee table. Ants might be nice too but probably too dangerous to introduce to the house.

Monday, 21 January 2013


I've been looking at the transcripts of audio recordings about Helen Ede

I loved the artist Anne Eggebert's description of staying in Helen's bedroom and of Helen's invisibility in the house. She mentioned, that a lot of people that came to the house, didn't realise Jim was married.

The other transcripts talk of Helen and Jim's great companionship, his focus and her support. Helen loved nature, collecting mushrooms and picking blossom and would have loved to have lived in the countryside.

Her daughters also describe her grinding coffee and making mayonnaise on the stairs. Maybe it was more comfortable than the narrow kitchen.

Claire the archivist has told me that Helen's father Otto, was born in Erfurt, Thuringia, Germany in 1854.
(The year that Anna Atkins made her beautiful album: Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Ferns disassembled pages of which are held by various museums and collectors.)

 I will try and find the Edinburgh address of the house Helen grew up in and of the house she stayed in with her family in Tangiers. My dream is to find people who can procure me some plants from each of these locations. I've already emailed lots of people and await to see what happens.

Once I have these specimens I'd love to make a quilt of some sort for Helen's bed, so that she can dream of plants she has known.

In 1792 Phillip Otto Runge learnt paper craft from his mother. At the age of 33 he got tuberculosis and unable to paint, made paper cut outs from his sick bed, as Matisse and Cartier-Bresson later did.

I have also been looking at the esteemed artists who have been resident at Kettle's Yard before me: Richard Wentworth piled back the domestic with plates on the table in the sitting room. Where they those left in the kitchen or did he find them elsewhere I wonder-and hope to find out. Judith Godard locked Helen Ede's room again, as it had been when the Ede's had been in residence. She had a CCTV of the interior of the bedroom screened into another room of the house that was 'on show'. Julian Walker and Anne Eggebert too used CCTV cameras but this time to film themselves and their two year old boy trying to live a normal life for a week while they stayed in the house. 

C. 1910 pillow made with cyanotyped cloth

Paper cut-outs by Phillip Otto Runge C. 1792

Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Ferns Anna Atkins 1854

 Phillip Otto Runge's paper cut-outs C. 1792

Richard Wentworth Brac 1995, Kettle's Yard, Cambridge

Helen Ede emerging from her bedroom

Judith Godard's Helen's Room 1995 and 2009

Ian Hamilton-Finlay wrote of the ghost of Jim Ede and the reactions to the objects in the house after Jim's death:

 'I used to come here when Jim was here and we did this, that and the other', and you'd pick that up. Of course you then had the people who one gradually felt to be the guardians of the true flame who would come in and say, 'Op, I see that's moved three inches to the right', or whatever.'

PS I have called this post antimacassar because not only is it a lovely word but it's a domestic item my mother despised. When my paternal grandfather came to stay with us after he had a stroke, she spent the next five years trying to steal and burn his antimacassar which she saw as working class and therefore as repellent to her as Woolworths.