I am interrupting my ever continuing Milan posts (long term readers know how obsessive I am about posting everything worthwhile about a place) with my recent visit to Cambridge’s Kettle’s Yard.
I had an incredibly rare child and husband free morning a few days ago, so whilst in town I popped along to to see what all the fuss was about…
Kettle’s Yard reopened in February of this year after a two year renovation hiatus… In that time not only did they manage to fully excavate a Roman wall and explore the contents of two newly discovered Roman wells on the original site, but having completed that, they built a state of the art four storey education wing, added a rejuvenated gallery space, and made space for a lovely cafe/restaurant block at the back…
My visit began with a trip to the front desk to book a spot on the tour of the house before exploring the galleries. Tours take place every ten minutes, and it’s best to reserve as soon as you arrive (or online beforehand) or you could find yourself shopping back in Cambridge again before a space turns up. Actually, that could be a really good excuse for a lot of last minute purchases (*makes mental note for explaining accidental shopping to husband*)….
Having checked my bag in (no large bags, or handbags or the likes. You are allowed to take cameras in though – just no flash!) I had a quick browse of the lovely shop (steer clear if you have a weakness for beautiful children’s art books and Danish designer hanging mobiles!) before a visit to the main gallery space. In fact I had a big old nose around a lot of the spaces here. I wouldn’t recommend bringing really young children to the house or gallery, but for slightly older children there’s a great activity sheet you can download. I would recommend keeping an eye on the amazing sounding workshops they run for kids too – the studios are incredible. I might have to make a couple of mine take part in a workshop before we leave just so I can get my hands on some of the stuff!!
Anyway, back to the contents of the galleries. The year before we left Munich, we began to witness the arrival of many refugees. One of my closest friends worked tirelessly alongside the Red Cross to greet masses of families, and help provide them with donated clothes and shoes, food and a bit of dignity at a pretty petrifying time in their lives. It was this friend I thought of when I walked amongst Caroline Walker’s striking paintings, and how she in particular would appreciate the content of them. I know my friend has wondered what happened to the families she helped, and often thinks about what they might be doing now… Caroline’s paintings depict refugee women in their temporary new lives in London, in what look like pretty ordinary surroundings to us, but not to them obviously. And this is always my argument with art with the people I know who don’t “get it”. You might not like the subject matter in front of you, and when it comes to modern art, you might think “I could do better than that”, but if it just makes you think, then it’s definitely art. And if it makes you think about topical matters on a day that could otherwise just be full of shopping perhaps (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), then to me that’s a successful artist right there…
After my thought provoking wander of the gallery, I took my space on the tour of the house. To those of you not familiar with Kettle’s Yard (as I wasn’t before we moved here!) it started life as the home of Jim & Helen Ede back in late fifties. Jim was a curator at the Tate in his early career, and managed to amass his own vast private collection of art. As this collection grew, the house developed into a kind of personal gallery and, eager to give something back to the community, they would open their doors every afternoon of term, guiding visitors around this beautiful space. In 1966 they gave the house and its entire contents to Cambridge University, and moved to Scotland a couple of years later. Personally I think that as nearly every wall is filled with art and sculptures, and every shelf and table top covered with objects (such as stones, shells, twigs, feathers, and flowers that they found as beautiful as the art itself) I suspect they had no choice but to move because quite possibly they ran out of space!
Many of the objects and paintings here are exactly how they were placed by the couple too, and it’s obvious what a good eye they had for such things – everything just “works” together. Mind you, as soon as a “what an effective thing to do with the pebbles” thought crossed my mind, a “that wouldn’t last two seconds in my house” thought crossed my mind milliseconds afterwards! You just get the impression that the Ede’s took inspiration from every day objects and lived in awe at the beauty in everything. I think I would have liked them!
Kettle’s Yard is worth a visit in any weather, but if you can time a visit to the house to coincide on a sunny day when the light pouring in shows it off at its very best, you won’t regret it.
Any visit starts with the smaller downstairs rooms packed full of nature, art, books and one giant twisty screw from a cider press, before taking the spiral staircase upwards where the building suddenly opens out (it was originally four old cottages knocked together!). After exploring a further upstairs bedroom here, and investigating the piano room (there’s even oil paintings in the bathroom for goodness sake!), you walk across one plant covered landing before descending down into another vast gallery, all bathed in the loveliest natural light. Whilst the Ede’s were mostly considered art experts, they were definitely natural light experts too!
I loved the feel to this place, and how trusting the curators of the house are today. Whilst they ask you not to touch or pick up anything, nothing is roped off or placed under glass, and it feels like you are a guest in someone’s house. You are welcome to sit in any of the chairs you can see (- no thistles in this house. Has anyone actually ever accidentally sat on one of those thistle’s the National Trust love? I always wonder that!), and just enjoy the peace and tranquillity of such a calm environment. Whilst the tours are timed, you will find most people are here for a quick look before dashing out, but that invitation to stay as long as you like exists, and that has to be a rare thing nowadays don’t you think?
The funniest moment of the morning for me was accidentally getting in the way of a lady (who reminded me of one of the main characters of Simon and the Witch, a UK children’s TV series from the 80’s) as I was floating around enjoying the art and taking photos. I bumped in to her again later when collecting our bags, where she gave me the side eye whilst saying to her husband that she felt “people were stupid for taking pictures, and all cameras should be banned”. As quick as a flash he said “but I have taken loads myself this morning Margaret! I don’t care what people do in these places as long as they enjoy it, that’s how they stay open”… Quite Witches good husband, quite!
Definitely something to put on your “visit Cambridge” list, just check out the workshops they have for children to be on the safe side first if you don’t have one of those rare days off like I did! A valuable re-addition to the Cambridge culture and arts scene…
PS. An Antony Gormley exhibition opens on the 22nd May… It sounds brilliant!
Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 11-5pm (house from 12pm) but I would check the website first in case it’s closed for a new exhibition installation or something… There’s no set entrance fee, but donations are welcome…
Can’t believe I missed this blog on Kettles Yard. Loved our visit this week and also the Gormley exhibition. Definitely an oasis away from the hustle and bustle on the street. x
Lovely isn’t it? Lovely to spend the time with you! :) x
Catherine's Cultural Wednesdays says
Kettles Yard has been on my list for so long ….l note to self stop off in Cambridge the next time we head to Norwich #CulturedKids
Oh you must! Thanks Catherine! (:
Scarlett Roitman says
Sounds wonderful. I love the fact that you can lounge around like you’re at home (and thank goodness there isn’t a thistle in sight!) #culturedkids
Thanks Scarlett! (: x
Nell (Pigeon Pair and Me) says
This looks amazing. I like the sound of the refugees images in particular. So much meaning in them. I’d never heard of Kettle’s Yard, so thanks for the introduction. Sounds like some extraordinary art in a beautiful setting. #CulturedKids
Thanks Nell. It’s a lovely place for a quiet contemplative morning! :) x
What a really interesting place to visit – it looks fab.
Thank you Colette! (:
Eva Katona says
Oh I have to put this in my list for my next Cambridge visit. A very inspiring place.
Thanks Eva! (:
Rebecca | AAUBlog says
Do you know what, I have never been to Cambridge! Need to get on it as soon as possible… :)
It’s definitely worth a visit! :) x
Rock on to the husband! People should be able to enjoy a place as they want and your photos allow others to enjoy it too! I like that nothing is fenced off and you can walk around it like you are a guest in their house! Lovely post :)
Thanks Olivia! (: x
Ali - We Made This Life says
This looks like a wonderful place, the perfect way to while away some child free hours!
A very rare luxury! :D Thanks Ali! :)
Kettle’s Yard looks like a fascinating place to visit. What a beautiful spot
It’s really lovely. Thanks Kara!
Leigh Travers says
I’ve never heard of Kettle’s Yard before but it seems like a perfect place to spend an afternoon. I particularly love those markings on the window and the way they shadow the paper!
Thanks Leigh. I think they just painted that on, but it’s so effective isn’t it?
Sarah | Boo Roo and Tigger Too says
Adding this to the list of things to do in Cambridge. So much to take in and explore that I fear one visit would be enough
There is stacks to do for a place that isn’t all that massive! :D Thanks Sarah. x
Alex Gladwin says
I had no idea about this place, it sounds so so interesting! x
Thanks Alex! (:
I’d love to have a look round here it sounds brilliant! I’d also like a look in their gift shop by the sounds of it!!xx
I KNOW you would like the gift shop! :) xxxx