Christmas wrapping is on many minds at the moment. As I wielded ribbon and paper this weekend, I contemplated some of the wonderful and moving things we’ve packed and unpacked at the Windermere Steamboat Museum this year.
Recently we inspected parts from a logboat found in Kentmere. What a feeling to be (carefully…) handling objects from around 1300- 1320! Better still, we know that the unknown person who made this was at the absolute cutting edge of boat design; while just hollowing out a log to create a floating vessel was already tried and tested, this builder was pursuing innovation by inserting ribs and building up the sides to give greater freeboard and stability. It’s a first- hand insight into the very beginning of a design process lasting for centuries and reaching a pinnacle in the elegant perfection of our nineteenth century Windermere steam launches.
This beautiful gilded plaque commemorates the Windermere involvement in the adoption of Fleet Destroyer, HMS Undine in 1942. The Windermere passenger steamer, Tern, was also renamed Undine during the Second World War, when she was put to a new use as a cadet training vessel. It’s a poignant reminder of how leisure activity on Windermere was transformed by war and ordinary family lives disrupted.
Here’s further evidence of that change; this little model of a Sunderland flying boat was made by a worker at the Short Sunderland factory at White Cross Bay, where many local people were employed during the war. The full size Sunderland flying boats that they produced would have momentarily dwarfed all other Windermere vessels, before taking off for military service around the world. This tiny chap is about 200 times smaller than the real thing.
For those with seasonal amounts of food and drink on the mind, what about these? I can’t decide whether I’d rather unwrap Colonel Ridehalgh’s chunky, personalised dinner service from his 1879 steam yacht Britannia, or this stylish Palissy ‘blue regatta’ tea set from some 70 years later. Which would you rather find under the tree on Christmas morning?
This year’s Venice Biennale has been packed away, the pavilions have been emptied of their wonderfully creative works of art, the panini stands dismantled and the mammoth ticket queues have subsided and so I’d like to reflect on what was a brilliant biennale. Venice Biennale is a magical event split over two main venues, the Arsenale and the Giardini, with other satellite venues which often drag you in off the street full of intrigue. During my four days there I was introduced to an array of artists and enthralled by their artwork so there is so much I could say but here are just a few of my favourites…
Coming from Lakeland Arts and being privileged enough to live in such a beautiful part of the world, I often look out for artists who tackle what is one of the most familiar subject matters, landscape. To give the theme of landscape a fresh twist can be difficult but the fantastical drawings with an astounding level of detail by Chinese artist Lin Xue captivated me.
One of the most poignant installations was in the Republic of Serbia’s exhibition, Nothing Between Us, which featured the work of artists Vladimir Perić and Milos Tomic, and was a 3D wallpaper called Mickey Mouse Pattern, 2013. From a distance its ordered layout makes it seem as though you are looking at 2D wallpaper however on closer inspection it becomes evident the items are individual, owned by individuals but telling a collective story. The artist collected these toys over 20 years from flea markets and their collection and presentation is almost monument-like to the people who owned these toys in the 1960s who most likely died in civil war, fled to another country or died in poverty. What was at first childlike and innocent, through a consideration of history, becomes moving and melancholy.
Finally, one of the most memorable experiences of the Biennale was boarding the bright orange boat, which was the Portuguese pavilion, and discovering the breath-taking working of Joana Vasconcelos. Bearing in mind this was after 6 or 7 hours of looking around the Giardini, with a little bit of art-fatigue, Vasoncelos’ fantastic crocheted and knitted creations both unnerved and excited. Exploring her installation was a perfect finish to the day.
The funding for this visit was provided through the Jonathan Ruffer curatorial grants administered by the Art Fund. I would like to thank all those at the Art Fund for supporting my application and for colleagues at the British Council for their help and advice.