On Friday, as part of Somerset Arts Week, I went to Hestercombe House, nr Taunton to an artist talk by their current artist in residence, Jo Lathwood. Hestercombe is a country estate in Somerset whose history dates back to 1280, but more recently known for its formal landscape garden designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and planting schemes designed by Gertrude Jekyll. Its freehold has recently been acquired by the Hestercombe Garden Trust, who have included the opening of a contemporary art gallery as part of its plan.
Jo is an artist whose background is in sculpture. She spoke to us briefly with slides outlining previous work she had done, before taking us up to her studio space at Hestercombe House to speak about her current residency. It was immediately apparent that this was a busy space, which incidently had previously been the staff room for the Somerset Fire Brigade when Hestercombe had been it headquarters- another part of the houses history. Jo spoke about getting caught up in the processes and experimentation, and clearly has lots of ideas on the go. She has clearly been looking inside the house and its history- there were archive photos and rubbings of various wallpapers on the walls, and looking further into the wider landscape- there were pieces of bark, herbarium type drawings, samples of ‘weed’ in plaster. She is also considering ideas of casting in bronze from materials found at the site, but what has clearly caught her imagination is making oak gall ink from galls found on trees in the estate. It is a product that has a long history and was used in the making of early documents. She has been researching this and has found recipes that relate to the family that lived here. Her work here is still in the making, but will culminate in an exhibition at the end of the year. I was particularly interested in this oak gall ink in relation to what I have been doing with willow. I have been making ‘drawings’ with the willow stain, adding to them each day, then allowing to dry, but they are clearly not light fast and start to fade- it seems that this oak gall ink is light fast. I’m starting to wonder if there are willow galls!
This was a really interesting talk. It gave me a good insight into how an artist residency can unfold. There was evidence of a continuation of previous ideas in the Herbarium type drawings and bronze casting, but also the opening up of new areas of investigation, like the oak gall ink. I have looked on ‘google’- there are willow galls, now I just have to try and find some.