It’s been a strange week with our back fence torn out for repair and the neighbour needing help shifting wood, and our contractor coming by to put in a temporary downspout and measure windows. We got a tremendous amount done one day as I finished my studio organization, hung six pictures, patched some walls, washed a bunch of fabric, and bought the final acrylic paints and medium for my abstract diptych that I’m painting for the living room.
It went on and on. I cleaned the kitchen several times and cleaned all three bathrooms and made a rhubarb/strawberry/cherry crumble. It didn’t leave much time for cards, but amid the unknowable result of negotiations between the Union and Canada Post, I received a parcel from across the pond.
Ah, the magic of postcards from National Trust properties. A heartfelt thank you to my friend Steve Bright, who knows how to choose just the right postcards and art for me.
Winston Churchill’s studio at Chartwell, and the library off the writing room in the tower at Sissinghurst. Up Vita and Harold!
These are people that had some grief in life. I remember reading about Churchill building the garden wall at Chartwell during the time he was in political limbo in the 1930s. It must have been hard for him, but he wrote books and painted and built this incredible wall during those awful years. I imagined it as a three-foot wall, nothing special, but in a garden documentary I was amazed to see the height of it.
Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson lived at Sissinghurst. It is actually a medieval castle and must have been rather gloomy and needed constant repairs but they liked it and built a garden that influenced many others and still does today. I’m not sure that I like Vita’s poetry, it’s of its time and seems a bit stagey today, particularly if you hear recordings of her reading it. Still, she forged on writing poetry, essays, biographies and I’ve always been fascinated by the tower at Sissinghurst which was her writing room, her private eyrie. The tower is Elizabethan, and looks damp and cold, but what a place to create. When the mind tires of ideas, you can look afar, bring yourself out again with your eyes on the land.
A reflection today on how to surround yourself with pleasurable things and yet get things done, create, regardless of what the world thinks of you, their lack of respect, or your isolation, or poor health, or your house needing repairs.
It’s about doing and challenging yourself amid the turmoil of life, and the fundamental ambiguity that plagues the mind. Regardless, there is THIS, these rooms, this art, these books.
I close with a favourite quote by another hero of mine, Kenneth Clark. I was struck by this sequence in Civilisation, Episode 7: Clark is discussing the Baroque and exploitation by relatives of the popes, clothed in nepotism and housed in palaces of greed. He ends by saying this as the camera pans out and shows him walking down an enormous arched corridor that is thick with ornamentation and carving, and a sense of huge, whistling coldness and emptiness that goes on and on.
“I wonder if a single thought that has helped forward the human spirit, has ever been conceived or written in an enormous room.”