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. 

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Talking Vessels

Curatorial assistant Guy showed me and three artists around Kettles Yard. Guy was charming and helpful and opened lots of drawers that had been left uncleared since Helen and Jim Ede departed in 1966. [redacted by request]

The drawers were filled with bags of 'different sized bags', candle stubs, a tiny Union Jack, a paper bag from Zurich airport, Christmas cards, letters, hooks and lots of instructions from Jim Ede, in his beautiful laconic handwriting. The notes were about things not to be put up unless next to a specific thing, mostly instructions, it seemed to how things would look best, I'm not sure if their instructions to himself or to others.

My father's omnivorous tastes and peccadilloes have left me receptive to ideas of hidden family intrigues and, as with every family house, Kettle's Yard holds information in its objects that hint at these.

There is a  hatch in Helen Ede's bedroom at floorboard level which she would open to talk to Jim, I guess while they were in bed, he in the bed in the room below. Her voice went into the vent and out through his alcove shelves with porcelain on. A female talking cubbyhole.

This reminded me of my relationship with my great companion Jamie. Pretty sexless in the end I slept in my bed covered in crap with a mouse nesting in my grandmothers kid gloves. He had a single bed directly above me on the upper floor and we used to communicate by Jamie dropping pieces of paper down the gap in the floorboards. He'd also dangle love/sorry/shall we do this? Notes down on reels of string, especially if other people were in the studio (we lived in an unconverted Victorian school house that was also a studio). At night we would talk to one another up through the radiator vent.

Helen Ede's bedroom was perhaps the only place (with the kitchen? Which is now used by staff and not on show) where she could have her things, domestic objects and possibly even mess. Apparently she may have locked her door at night and when visitors came over. She stayed in her bedroom and didn't often come out.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The Perfect Lemon

I've heard that the lemon at Kettle's Yard has to be a certain type of lemon. Like Sarah Lucas' kebab there are strict instructions on Jim Ede's preferred lemon dimensions. I wonder if it's an irritating job, like the person who has to take a bite out of the pear and leave it on the plate with a fruit knife, in Dennis Severs house.

My mother for a short while had a job cleaning in the clock museum in Bury St. Edmunds for Captain Merrick. In a corner of Angel Hill slumped Georgian house which
 was home to a mechanical turtle that 'swam' the time across a soup tureen filled with water. There were enamel carriage clocks, miniature fob watches studded with sapphires, tall clocks standing sentry like by the doors, malachite and gold leaf angel clocks. Marble block clocks, sugar almond chatelaine watches
and mesmerising pocket watches with looped, filigree chains and gold lattice fobs.

One day a woman visited the museum and sat on one of the wicker chair by the turtle and closed her eyes. She had grown up in this house, that was now a museum. She looked for the tiny pencil signature she wrote under the hearthrug the day that her family moved out and cried with relief that it was still there. I suppose she was trying to slip into a memory hole when she was sitting on the chair.

In the upstairs of the museum lived Captain Merrick's French wife.  I sat with her once and she let me choose a record to put on the player, I chose Handel's Water Music because we had been studying it at school. She was disappointed because she wanted something more lively. She never went out. I think like my granny she had had a lot of ECT. She had a sad mournful face and wore red lipstick, that looked exotic with her shiny black bob. Captain Merrick asked my mother to copy a fish take dress he had designed for his fashion model first wife before she had died and to use the roll of shot iridescent silk she'd bought from Hong Kong. She stood patiently as she was fitted for the dress that looked so bad on her. My mother held pins in her mouth and talked to her in schoolgirl french. Many heroines remind me of Captain Merrick's wife two of them nameless: Bertha Mason, the heroine of Rebecca and Charlotte Perkin's Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper and Madeleine in Vertigo.

After Captain Merrick died it was revealed he wasn't a captain, he had never even been in the army.

Captain Merrick's wife moved back to Paris.

 The museum is closed now and the Gershom Parkington memorial collection of clocks are packed away in boxes.

 Helen Ede in her final home in Edinburgh.
 Madeleine and her former self.
 Unnamed heroine of Rebecca and Mrs Danvers.
 Dennis Severs House, Folgate Street, Spitalfields.
The painting of Carlotta Valdes.
 Dennis Severs and Isabelle Barker.
 The Kettle's Yard lemon.
Charlotte Perkin's Gilman and the house she grew up in.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Shingle Street

Aid & Abet have very kindly asked me to be Artist in Residence at Kettle's Yard, Cambridge every Wednesday until the end of February. I start this Wednesday 16th January.

I am yet to do proper research on Kettle's Yard. Here are some notes and pondering...

One time Assistant Curator of the Tate, previously painter with the Newlyn School and student at the Slade, Jim Ede lived with his wife Helen Ede (née Schlapp) in Kettle's Yard, a house he converted from four cottages in 1956.

Harold Stanley Ede, Jim Ede's real name, is a name I like. My grandfather was called Stanley Eade and it sounds to me a Thomas Hardy-like reliable name, like Gabriel Oak, or the less reliable Angel Clare.

Whilst living at Kettle's Yard, Jim Ede became obsessed with T. E. Lawrence, writing to him several times a day. T. E. Lawrence was meanwhile stationed at Bawdsey Manor, Suffolk, requisitioned from Sir William Cuthbert Quilter's family during the war it had become the first radar station.

I used to teach art  at Bawdsey Manor a long time ago, in the decontamination shower unit. The manor has a magnificent room with a padded, red and gold leather  interior. T.E.  Lawrence used to drive his boyfriends up and down the shore at nearby Shingle Street on the back of his motorbike. Burnt bodies were found during WWII on the beach at Shingle Street and more recently a fin whale, the cause of death for both remain a mystery.