“There’s an intensity to their round-the-clock work” – Patricia MacKinnon-Day on farm women.

Abbot Hall Art Gallery’s exhibition Tracing the Landscape: Cumbrian Farm Women looks at an often invisible workforce.

Women who make their mark in the male-dominated world of agriculture are the focus of the exhibition.

Artist Patricia MacKinnon-Day spent a year with five farm women, interviewing them about their experiences. The resulting exhibition is a multi-media art installation that explores their lives.

Here Patricia answers questions about the exhibition:

Women Farmers 7

What was the inspiration for the project? 

Tracing the Landscape evolved from a previous project in 2013, Rural Voices, working with 12 Cheshire women farmers. The inspiration evolved after discovering the strength and tenacity of women farmers and whose everyday lives were challenging. I was inspired by how they dealt with isolation, poor resources and economic hardship. Working closely with the Cumbrian farm women for a year gave me the opportunity to probe deeper and produce artworks that aimed to make visible their contribution to agriculture.

Why multimedia?

Tracing the Landscape at Abbot Hall Art Gallery consists of five sheds and a soundscape. Each shed shares a narrative, personal portrait that focuses on the infra-ordinary and the minutia of the farm womens’ everyday life (installed within the sheds are a range of ordinary agricultural and domestic materials, film clips with animation, interviews, photographic / print montages.)

I use the word ‘palimpsest’ to describe these sheds presenting an artistic process of excavating and investigating multiple layers of farm women and farms over a significant time-period. The element of time in Tracing the Landscape is crucial: as the materials examine the historical to the contemporary using a process of researching and embedding myself within their worlds.

How did you secure the trust of the women to let you spend time with them?

When I visited the women farmers I arrived without any pre-conceived ideas about the artwork I was going to make, spending hours, days or even months around the farm with the women simply trying to understand how they worked, and all the routine events going on around.

Making empathetic connections to women is central to my practice and helps develop an intimate knowledge and trust. Empathy is key to my research, as learning how it feels to be part of that community and becoming completely embedded as an artist on site is crucial to the success of the artwork. This process of developing understanding over time helps me to access complex meanings within a place, identify special codes, rules and the symbolic meanings of things: semiotic clues as to what is going on.

What was it that surprised you most about the time you spent with them?

As a city dweller I was previously ignorant of the intensity of their round-the-clock workload and of the everyday physical, emotional and economic demands. The biggest shock was to discover that their input has historically been largely unpaid and unrecorded. I was always humbled by their warmth and welcome even in the midst of crisis and during their relentless work schedule.

Hill farming in particular is a tough life and not financially that stable. Were the women committed to farming or was it the only way they felt they could make a living?

That despite the hardships and challenging lifestyle, they are passionate about their work but made clear to me that it wasn’t a job, but a way of life.

You’ve said the role of women in farming is overlooked but couldn’t you argue that, as women and children have always pitched in when there’s work to do, it’s actually one of the more egalitarian industries?

This exhibition offers a discourse to make visible the farmer’s wife who remains one of the most elusive figures in agrarian history. Women and children are always on hand to contribute to the workings of the farm but this labour has been largely unpaid and unrecorded. Although historians have acknowledged their role no attempt has yet been made to scrutinise in detail the whole range of tasks usually undertaken by them and the value attached to this work.

Does the rest of the country and particularly those who live in cities appreciate farmers’ contribution to our food security?

As a city dweller before beginning this research I envied the tranquil pace of rural life without any knowledge and understanding of the reality of farm production. This exhibition brings to the fore the historic, political, psychological, physical, social and personal endeavours of farm women who bring food to our table. The sheds offer to the viewer narratives that examine the diversity and complexity of their work which includes the battle with supermarket over quality and price.

Tracing the Landscape: Cumbrian Farm Women is on at Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, until 9 June 2018.


Magical Monet inspires visitors

“An unforgettable experience. I could look at it forever.”

Monet’s Haystacks: Snow Effect has wowed audiences in Kendal since January – but its last day on display is this Saturday (28 April 2018).

Monet blog

The painting, dated 1891, has been on loan from the National Gallery of Scotland. It will return north of the border at the end of the month.

Reaction from visitors to this painting has been remarkable. We’ve been delighted to bring such an important work to Cumbria and the feedback from audiences has been wonderful. 

Our visitors’ book has been full of emotional comments from people who have struck a bond with the painting.

Comments from visitors include: 

  • “My first Monet experience. I live in Kendal. It’s so good to have this on my doorstep.” 
  • “The most amazing experience to view this beautiful painting in my home town. Thank-you so much.”
  • “To be able to appreciate it in such calm surroundings is wonderful. Up close the brushstrokes and colours are so vivid.”
  • “I moved forward and viewed the work from just a few inches away. The painting had me spellbound. After hours sitting with this painting I seem to be even more aware of the shifting pattern of colour and light in the sky. Thank-you Monet.”
  • “Our students were able to view and sketch the Haystacks uninterrupted and value the artwork while assisting their GCSE coursework. Very privileged. Thank-you.”
  • “In the presence of a master. I was quite nervy. But in a good way.”
  • “What a treat to see Monet’s work in such a peaceful setting and with chairs from which you can enjoy the experience.”
  • “I absolutely love art and this experience has made me love art even more.”

More details about Haystacks: Snow Effect: https://www.abbothall.org.uk/exhibitions/claude-monet

Los Angeles, Paris, Kendal – the homes of Haystacks

Claude Monet, Haystacks: Snow Effect © National Galleries of Scotland

Twenty-five works from Monet’s Haystacks series are held at some of the world’s most prestigious art galleries.

In January 2018 Abbot Hall Art Gallery joined the likes of Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the Getty Center in Los Angeles to show off a Monet Haystacks painting.

Monet’s Haystacks: Snow Effect has been on loan to Abbot Hall from National Galleries of Scotland.

Thousands of visitors have enjoyed spending a moment with Monet in our gallery – but time is running out to see this masterpiece. The last day this painting will be on show in Kendal is Saturday 28 April 2018.

The Haystacks series is among Monet’s most notable work. The arrival of Haystacks: Snow Effect in Kendal was a major coup for the region and the very first time a Monet has gone on show in Cumbria.

Monet, the founder of French Impressionism, is the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement’s philosophy.

He worked at different times of day and season to capture the affect changing light had on their form.

The largest Haystacks collections are held at the Musée d’Orsay and Musée Marmottan Monet in Paris. The Art Institute of Chicago has six.

Other museums that hold Haystacks paintings include the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the Hill-Stead Museum in Connecticut, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Kunsthaus Zürich, and the Shelburne Museum, Vermont.

The remaining Haystacks paintings are in private collections around the globe.

Monet’s Haystacks: Snow Effect, is on show at Abbot Hall, Kendal until April 28th.

What is haystack exactly? Farmer Maria Benjamin explains.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/264476805″>Farmer Maria marvels about Monet’s Haystacks Snow Effect painting – on display at Abbot Hall until 28 April.</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/lakelandarts”>Lakeland Arts</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Blackwell: “While away hours in this magical place” – Katie Spragg

I first visited Blackwell on a beautiful sunny late-summer evening, having been approached and asked if I’d like to exhibit my work there.

It was only my second trip to the Lake District and a fleeting visit between installing a show in Stoke-on-Trent and an artist residency at Cove Park in Scotland.


On my tour of the house I was enchanted by the dark wood of the hall contrasted with the beautiful, light, airiness of the White Drawing Room – with the sun pouring in the windows and the view over Lake Windermere.

As I was shown round, Shannon, one of the learning team, shared a story with me; when the house was being renovated years ago, they had found a tree sapling growing in one of the cupboards in this room. I’m always on the look out for a good story and have an ongoing fascination with the way plants behave when left to their own devices; reclaiming and moving into man-made spaces.

From this tale, I had the idea for the first of my new works for Blackwell – Rowan Tree Sapling, which appears to grow inside a cupboard in the White Drawing Room and I’ve heard is many visitor’s favourite piece. 

On this first visit, the house seemed like a magical place; where you could while away hours with a book or the views in one of the inglenooks or play an excellent game of hide and seek (this was further inspired by the Swallows and Amazons exhibition on at the time).

There was just a short turnaround before the exhibition would open in January, but I felt that Blackwell was too special a place not to make some new work inspired by the house and surrounding landscape.

So in November I returned for a four-day research trip. The summer was now gone, but I was lucky that there was still sunshine coming in the drawing room windows. During my reseach trip, I would arrive at the house early before it opened to the public so I could have the place to myself, savouring the serenity and calm – the house is a great place to think as well as observe.

As the visitors begun to trickle in, I would move from the White Drawing Drawing Room up to the Minstrel’s Gallery, above the Great Hall. I liked to think of this as my hideout, like a child in a den. I could listen in on conversations below and fantasise about being a Romanian princess in her treehouse (there is a sketch displayed in the Minstrel’s Gallery of a treehouse designed by Bailie Scott for the Crown Princess of Romania).

This part of the house directly inspired my new piece The Treehouse. Balanced on trunk-like legs, an oak box references the joinery and details of a cabinet in the White Drawing Room and houses a landscape. The box was designed and created in collaboration with my partner Geoffrey Hagger who is a woodworker.

Instead of peering into The Treehouse and seeing a cosy interior, you find a vista reminiscent of both the local Cumbrian landscape and one of fairy tales. Coloured glass (which will be changed intermittently throughout the exhibition) is inspired by the Victorian observation tower directly opposite Blackwell, on the other side of  Windermere. Depending on when you see the piece the landscape will appear at different times of day or in different seasons.

During my exploration of the house I studied the colours, particularly those of the stained glass, the light, shapes used in openings of windows, inglenooks and doorways, the views and framing of the landscape through the windows and the carved architectural details inspired by nature.

These all came together to inspire The Treehouse. As well as spending time inside the house, I also explored the surrounding area; photographing and sketching the hundreds of plants that grow from the boundary wall around the house – this inspired two new Stone pieces.

An employee at Blackwell recommended a local walk, and following her instructions I navigated a circular walk from the nearby village of Troutbeck. Climbing up the hill, the vista opened up onto beautiful views of the lake. As I walked I was on the lookout for grasses to inspire some new small sculptures – the grasses I found were drying in golden shades and curling as they dried. Traversing a boggy area of the path I found tufts with many different seed heads and thin grass growing from the verge. Back in the studio I translated the photographs I took into four new Turf pieces, working with a spectrum of clays to try and capture the golden, sepia shades of the grasses. 

The opportunity to show my work at Blackwell is such a pleasure. It has allowed me to bring together pieces made over the past two years – from my MA degree show at the Royal College of Art to the new pieces made especially for the exhibition. One of my animations and a digital installation are also on display at Abbot Hall Gallery (until 28. April).

I have responded to the moods and features of the house in the display of the work – placing pieces with coloured glass in the stained glass windows, hiding a small Turf sculpture on a high window in the great hall and cleaning up The Glasshouse, originally designed to be displayed in a large, industrial old ceramics factory, to fit perfectly in The White Drawing room – the proportions of the windows are coincidentally almost exactly the same as the paneling on the walls and the rowan tree frieze is visible through the top windows and porcelain buddleia.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Lakeland Arts for inviting me to exhibit my work in such a special place, in particularly Kerri Offord, Head of Curatorial who spotted and advocated my work. 

Katie Spragg’s Ceramics exhibition runs at Blackwell until 10 May 2018.

Her digital animations at Abbot Hall Kendal are on show until 28 April 2018.

Learn more Katie Spragg and her amazing work.