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Art at Waterperry Gardens

Art in Action takes place at Waterperry Gardens from 16-19 July! watch Robert Strange and scores of other artists at work

Tools hot with employment...

Waterperry Gardens are a magical place of beautiful trees and flowers, classical borders, secret corners and long vistas. Once home to a renowned School of Horticulture for Ladies these eight acres now house spectacular rose, alpine and formal knot gardens, orchards and a water-lily canal with a small arboretum in the meadow beyond.

The House is a 17th-century mansion with balustraded parapet, Greco-porch and part-dates back to Tudor times. Archaeologists have even found ancient Roman pottery nearby, fragments of which are housed alongside ancient tools in the Museum of Rural Life alongside an art gallery in an 18th century barn that includes today’s contemporary ceramics.


Inside Waterperry House itself, there are new frescoes (images painted directly into wet plaster with earth and mineral pigments) created by more than 20 artists which took six years to paint and are the largest in the UK for over 500 years.

The dimensions of the space they occupy are based on musical harmonies, while the decoration reflects the philosophy of a Hindu sacred text and traditional tales: stand on the glass bridge and you’re in the branches of a tree rich with glorious life alongside a figure deep in meditation.

And this month, art isn’t confined to the house; nor is it only flowers blooming in the garden: Waterperry Gardens hosts the giant event Art-in-Action during which thousands of visitors flock to watch artists and artisans at work, their furnaces fired, their tools hot with employment, and to enjoy art and craft courses, music and performances (admission and other charges applies).

Meet professional wood turner Richard Shock who makes a wide range of high quality functional products including salad bowls and fruit platters, each different and many with his signature multi-line inlays, his attention to design enhancing the inherent beauty of the figure and grain. A chemical engineer by training with an interest in the environmental and climate change, Richard inherited a lathe and set about learning to make furniture, before discovering a passion and talent for wood-turning.

‘Wood is an exciting material to work with, providing a huge range of colours and forms. I mainly use British native woods, increasingly from local sources, but also some exotic woods too from sustainably managed forests,’ he explains; ‘and as I don't like wasting wood, I also make bottle stoppers, tea-light holders and napkin rings out of wood which would otherwise be wasted.’

Normally found in the Ranger’s Lodge at Cornbury Park, meet Sarah Pulvertaft, a contemporary jeweller working with traditional techniques to create silver and gold pieces as worn by Deborah Meaden of the Dragon’s Den & J. K. Rowling: her inspiration is drawn from many sources, including the visual art world with repeated and kinetic elements as recurrent themes and, from her immediate Cotswold surroundings, undulating surfaces which move with the wearer.

Patricia Freeman, is another professional silversmith from the Cotswolds who enjoys creating pieces which are both sculptural and organic, and intended for daily use. She specialises in tableware and small domestic objects and once, on commission, made guitar buckles for Sir Paul McCartney! Recently she has also been working on making a collection of rings with different combinations of stones from all over the world including amber trading beads from Keny and turquoise from South America; tourmalines, sapphires, aquamarines, and amethyst from Nepal and India, and Burmese Jade and rubies. Using a technique from Korea called Keum Boo, examples of which are thought to have been observed as early as 500BC, gold is fused onto silver, a process possible because pure precious metals have a very similar atomic structures to one another. By heating these metals to a temperature between 250-375°C, the movement of the atoms in the surface of each element increases so that when pressure is added, a permanent bond is created, far below the soldering temperature for either metal.

Also melting and fusing, glass artist Wendy Newhofer created a range of kiln-formed glass pieces, wall panels and decorative bowls for Art-in-Action in her Jericho garden studio – her ‘walk to work’ provides the natural form imagery on which her work is based. Using sheets of clear float glass (window glass) Wendy cuts pieces to size then layers them with a mixture of precious metal leaf, wire and metal foils including silver, copper, aluminium, palladium and pewter. This glass 'sandwich' is then placed into the kiln where it is fired to 820 degrees centigrade: the metals react with the glass and the glass fuses together to create the art piece. To form a bowl, a circular fused piece is fired a second time atop of a ceramic mould so that the glass ‘slumps’ into shape.

‘It's a magical alchemy where shiny metallic elements transform to beautiful colour with the effect of the heat,’ explains Wendy and surprisingly copper turns into restful blues and silver changes to a vibrant yellow or golden colour. Wendy still experiments with combinations to see how one metal will react with another. “However you expect or plan a piece to turn out,” she laughs, “there’ll often be a surprise.”

Ruth Lynne is best known for her glass and silver jewellery inspired by the coast. She loved beach combing on holiday as a child, creating collections of tiny treasures, and by combining tiny pieces of handmade transparent and opal glass with dichroic and iridescent layers, Ruth creates jewels that catch the light and shimmer with every movement so that her jewellery evokes similar memories of finding that perfect pebble glistening in the sunshine.

Also inspired by collections, Robert Strange will be found drawing, a representative of the UK Colour Pencil Society. Recording an obsession with keeping colourful, discarded things in boxes, whether soft toys, crackers or confectionery wrappers, each of Robert’s 'Squashed' series takes between 80-120 hours to draw.

To watch Robert and scores of other artists at work, you can buy tickets for Art-in-Action (16-19 July) on the door at £16 each or online. I’m told that although Fresco Tours are given several times a day during Art in Action and tickets can be purchased on the day, you should arrive early to avoid disappointment.

For more information on visiting Waterperry Gardens and gallery all year round visit waterperrygardens.co.uk.


- Esther Lafferty, Festival Director of Oxfordshire Artweeks


Top Image - Inside Waterperry House itself, there are new frescoes (images painted directly into wet plaster with earth and mineral pigments) created by more than 20 artists which took six years to paint and are the largest in the UK for over 500 years.

Middle Image - Sarah Pulvertaft

Bottom Image - Ruth Lynne Shoal Pendant


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