Heavy Water

Welbeck Estate

53.259282,-1.170231

Joanna Whittle

Materials & Methods

In 2019 I was invit­ed to work with the Port­land Col­lec­tion based in the Wel­beck Estate in Not­ting­hamshire. This project was sup­port­ed by the Arts Coun­cil Eng­land through a DYCP grant. The research explored the rela­tion­ship between cre­at­ing his­to­ries and nar­ra­tives through the selec­tive dis­play of col­lec­tions. The project also explores the desire both to acquire arte­facts and to exhib­it them and the deci­sions which start at the point of acqui­si­tion and end in the final pre­sen­ta­tion. At this time I had also begun to cre­ate my own arte­facts in response to col­lec­tions, land­scapes and my own man­u­fac­tured nar­ra­tives. This project and a final exhi­bi­tion at the Harley Gallery, which sits adja­cent to the Port­land col­lec­tion, was a per­fect ground for test­ing this mul­ti­fac­eted con­ver­sa­tion between arte­facts, dis­play and the inter­pre­tive con­trol the cura­tor of such col­lec­tions holds. In addi­tion the his­to­ry of the estate and land­scape pro­vid­ed a sub­strate in which to analyse these themes, with the paint­ings unearthing palimpsest lay­ers of his­to­ry with­in the landscape. 

Welbeck Estate

Wel­beck is an estate with­in Sher­wood For­est in Not­ting­hamshire which encom­pass­es the Port­land Col­lec­tion and the Harley Gallery. The Port­land Col­lec­tion dis­plays a selec­tion of fine art and dec­o­ra­tive design col­lect­ed over a peri­od of 400 years by the inhab­i­tants of the estate from 1755 – 1977.

The grounds of the estate con­tain hid­den tun­nels and over­grown gate­ways, con­struct­ed dur­ing John Bentick, 5th Duke of Portland’s time at the estate. The col­lec­tion includes paint­ings by Antho­ny van Dyck and John Singer Sar­gent along­side Sèvres ceram­ics pro­duced from the 1760’s onwards as well as a large col­lec­tion of miniatures.

Lion Gate
The Lion Gate, vin­tage post­card of one of the gates bor­der­ing the estate 
The estate is set in park­land on the edge of Sher­wood For­est. It was found­ed as a monastery in 1153 before it became a Cav­a­lier res­i­dence and then went on to become a coun­try seat to a suc­ces­sion of Dukes of Port­land. Dur­ing the First World War the estate formed a base for an army hos­pi­tal and then it became an army train­ing col­lege from the 1950s through to 2005 and is the cur­rent res­i­dence of the descen­dants of the Cavendish fam­i­ly.

In 1607 it was pur­chased by Sir Charles Cavendish, the youngest son of Bess of Hard­wick. Since then, the estate has been hand­ed down through the gen­er­a­tions with fam­i­ly mem­bers, includ­ing the 3rd Duke of Port­land, who was twice Prime Min­is­ter, and Sir Edward Harley, whose exten­sive col­lec­tion was the foun­da­tion for The British Library. The under­ground tun­nels are a lega­cy of the 5th Duke of Port­land or the bur­row­ing duke’ who com­mis­sioned the tun­nels in order to move about the estate unseen.
This miniature painting reflects the many depictions of the Hollow Tree through which one could pass. The ancient tree, though still alive, was supported with stays which were adorned during rituals or annual celebrations.

Miniature painting of the Hollow Tree with ceremonial stays and swathes, 10 x 10 cm 

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Welbeck Abbey, I was fortunate to join one of the abbey tours. These only occur once a year a descendants of the Cavendishes still  reside in the abbey.

Welbeck Abbey on an abbey tour. 

Research and Collaboration

The DYCP fund­ing allowed for a num­ber of col­lab­o­ra­tive engage­ments through­out the project. I worked with col­lage artist and art han­dler David Orme to con­sid­er ideas of cura­tion and dis­play, and we dis­cussed this in a fea­ture for the Con­tem­po­rary British Paint­ing Soci­ety. The PDF of this dis­cus­sion is added at the bot­tom of this page. I was also able to under­take men­tor­ing with Dun­can Hoo­son, lec­tur­er at UAL and Co Direc­tor of Clay­ground Col­lec­tive. This brought about many changes in my ceram­ic prac­tice, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the use f glazes and con­sid­er­ing the cul­tur­al sig­ni­fiers implied in these. I also had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to meet with Han­nah Maples (His­tor­i­cal Cos­tume Inter­preter at the Port­land) who was an expert in the fab­rics depict­ed in the 17th cen­tu­ry por­trai­ture dis­played in the col­lec­tion, unfurl­ing nar­ra­tives, pol­i­tics and ide­olo­gies set with linen, lace, cloth of gold, shot silk and kid leather. These insights were held with­in the folds of many aspects of the project, encas­ing ceram­ics and unrav­el­ling in the folds of paintings.

Han­nah Marples dis­cussing fab­rics in the paint­ings of the Port­land Collection 

Weald Arch and Shelter, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 cm 

This ornate iron work rings the estate, often bearing the Cavendish emblem of a disembodied arm holding a feather aloft.
This photograph was taken on an ice cold February morning. The derelict tunnel entrance is boarded up and is covered with scrambling brambles. Smoke drifts across from a home adjacent to the tunnel, part of the original outbuildings of the estate. A yellow sunflower windmill turned in an almost still wind and chickens chattered quietly.

Postcards, Drawings and Pulhamite

I explored much of the land­scape and his­to­ry of the estate through vin­tage post­cards and cre­at­ed new post­card sized works and draw­ings to begin to cre­ate and authen­ti­cate new topogra­phies. The post­card has long been employed in my prac­tice as both source mate­r­i­al and paint­ing ground. Vin­tage post­cards are pre­pared and primed and sit heavy with paint, along­side, and in con­ver­sa­tion with, their soft and papyrus thin ances­tors. In this project these post­cards were inter­spersed with frag­ile draw­ings and sketched imag­in­ings to tun­nel mouths and trees with­in which one could crouch. Some of these draw­ings were made with clay, pool­ing and motile and ready to become invis­i­ble; pul­hamite draw­ings swim­ming between per­cep­tion and material.

The Major Oak, Sherwood Forest  

 Sorrowing Purse, ceramic artefact developed from this small rosette depicted in this portrait of Marie de Medici (Queen Consort of France 1573-1642) who died in penury. 

Pap Boat  on shot silk, 

Pastijware was a ware mainly used for souvenir  ware and ephemera. The ware is distinguished by its decorative style combined with rustic crimping. Its most ubiquitous form was found in souvenir pastijs distributed from Arcadia. The Pastijs contained charms and internal designs, requiring the owner  to destroy them to discover the charm or motto inside. As a result, few intact examples survive.  Latterly more ornate pastijware and pastijs were created, for decoration only and many fine examples exist in the collection.

Broken Pastijware on gold lining fabric 

Shuttle depicting the Hidden Dusk Gardens

These ornate shuttles were used to hold the satin cords used to make intricate knotwork including Sorrowing Knots and gnarlements. 

Attachments

Platform 20: Heavy Water

Site Gallery

exhibition

27 Jul 2021 – 22 Aug 2022

Sorrowing Purse

artwork

1 Aug 2020

Hollow Tree with Stays

artwork

1 Aug 2020

Hollow Tower

artwork

1 Aug 2020

Pastijware depicting Island (Arcadia)

artwork

1 Aug 2020

Ornate Gilded Pastijware depicting Black Arch

artwork

1 Aug 2020

Fountain, Meeting Place (Statuary)

artwork

1 Aug 2020

Statuary Urn

artwork

1 Aug 2020

Gnarlment Shuttle

artwork

1 Aug 2020

Solemn Rock

artwork

1 Aug 2020

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