See craft, inspired by Mannington, exhibited in the gorgeous grounds and gardens of the Norfolk mansion
- Credit: Charles Sharpe
An garden, rich in plants, wildlife and history, is the venue and inspiration for a new flowering of traditional crafts, writes Rowan Mantell
A small lace swing drifts in the breeze; a crow knitted from black and white wire hovers, wings outstretched, beneath a dark-spread tree; glass fish gleam from the moat.
The grounds and gardens of Mannington Hall, already lush with midsummer flowers and foliage, are alive with art, overflowing from an exhibition room into the parkland, rose garden, ruined chapel and moat of this fairytale-like estate.
The tapestries, figurines, plaques, bowls, sculpture and jewellery, are the creations of members of the Norfolk Contemporary Crafts Society, and unlike in a standard exhibition, have evolved from the landscape they inhabit.
Chunks of wood, clay and flint defy gravity to point to the sky, echoing the arches of the chapel ruins they stand beside. A birdbath fashioned from recycled oil drums is a response to the water lilies which float on the nearby moat and the birds which swoop down from the mid Norfolk sky. A woven tapestry in shades of green and brown and blue, hangs half-camouflaged against the gardens and flint work and water which inspired it.
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The president of Norfolk Contemporary Craft Society is Lady Walpole, who lives in the idyllic 15th-century moated manor house at Mannington, near Aylsham, and wondered whether a new kind of exhibition could emerge from the romance of her castle-like home and rose-filled gardens.
So some of Norfolk's most talented weavers, potters, woodcarvers, silver and goldsmiths, visited Mannington and went away enthused by the gorgeous gardens, the gem-like hall, the landscape of water and woodland and meadow to hand-make their exhibition submissions.
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Paul Jackson saw the rich curtains on the stairway of the hall, sewn with flowers in blue and gold, and from it created a story of a queen trapped in a garden made of embroidery and tapestry. He then made an exquisite porcelain figure of the queen, both showing off and shut in by the exotic needlework garden.
Marian Eve Williams' silk and velvet tabard maps the patterns of the waterways of Mannington, its lakes, moat and streams, into a semi-abstract design, fringed with marsh flowers.
A great flight of swifts soars above the patterned chimneys of Mannington Hall in a paper sculpture by bookbinder Judith Ellis, and jewellers Vivienne Head and Alison Varley were inspired by Mannington's famous roses. Delicate, miniature gold and silver flowers shimmer in the indoor section of the exhibition, just metres from the real roses.
In the heritage rose gardens, hundreds of historic roses are grouped into themed areas, showcasing the plants of periods ranging from medieval to 21st century. Rare roses bloom in blowsy opulence, scenting the air and colouring the walled garden every shade of pink and peach, crimson and gold. In the centre, tree branches are reflected in a pond, and recreated as mosaics of china and glass by Sally Bishop.
There is an orchard area too, and here Beth Walsh has made a swing out of linen thread. Suspended from an apple tree it is inspired both by the rose gardens and a painting Beth loves. She is a lace-maker, and visited Mannington with the rest of the exhibitors last summer, returning in the winter to choose a tree to hold the lace swing she created as her response to the experience.
'I enjoyed the challenge of making a piece of lace which would be outside all summer,' said Beth, of Sheringham, who began making lace 26 years ago. 'I had three young boys and went with them to the library and there was a lady sitting there looking extremely peaceful and self-contained and she was making lace.' Her calmness so appealed to Beth that she learned how to make lace herself and now divides her time between making lace hangings, and researching the painting and sculpture of lace.
Her swing drifts in the breeze, among the flowers and foliage of Mannington's roses, smaller than real life, fashioned for fairies.
Mannington Hall itself sits, like a fairytale castle, surrounded by water. Submerged just beneath the surface of the moat, surrounded by lily pads, nine glass fish glint. They were made by Sheila Gates, of Burlingham, near Acle, who said: 'I saw the moat and it was such a wonderful place that I just wanted to put some fish in it! I saw a couple of children sitting on the bank, chatting, and thought it would be nice to give them something to look at.'
On the lawns leading to the house stand majestic old trees, and in their branches Nic Gibson has hidden robins made from knitted wire, while a magpie is suspended in the darkness beneath an old cedar. She studied the wild birds which gather at Mannington before making her own.
Across a lane a grove of trees hides the ruins of Mannington's medieval church.
Clay boxes, carefully placed on stones, hold tiny leaves. Antje Ernestus said: 'The arboretum at Mannington was planted in 1986 to see whether it would be possible to grow the near 35 species of tree considered to be native to Britain, in one group. Only box was unable to cope with the site conditions. That box tree didn't leave me alone.'
The interior of the church is open to the skies and in the sheltering woodland all around are arches of flint and stone. Here Kate Vogler, of Foulsham, near Fakenham, has made a wood, clay and flint sculpture, titled Soar. 'Medieval visitors, escaping drudgery, must have known peace in this chapel glade as they worshipped here,' she said, 'I loved recalling the quiet of the old chapel, whilst trying to create a piece of sculpture which helped viewers to share the uplift that I experienced amongst the ruined arches and trees.'
In her soaring, tapering tower, rooted in a tree trunk, she and fellow members of the Norfolk Contemporary Craft Society absorb the loveliness of their surroundings and celebrate it in hand-made art.
Inspired by Mannington includes work by Ray Auker, Sally Bishop, June Croll, Judith Ellis, Antje Ernestus, Sheila Gates, June Gentle, Nic Gibson, Dennis Hales, Vivienne Head, Paul Jackson, Anna Martin, Jill Sharpe, Ruthanne Tudball, Alison Varley, Kate Vogler, Beth Walsh and Marian Eve Williams.
Inspired by Mannington runs until Sunday, August 28. Entrance to the exhibition is included in the garden entrance fee
of £6 for adults, £5 for concessions and free for accompanied under-16s. The gardens are open Wednesdays
to Fridays 11am-5pm, and 12-5pm on Sunday.