Art in a sublime Salthouse setting

IAN COLLINS A congregation of artists has again gathered for a seasonal celebration in a hallowed setting on the North Norfolk coast.


Churches were our original art galleries and now, for a fifth summer, the great beacon at Salthouse is being lit up by the glories (and the mysteries) of contemporary creation.

Salthouse 05 shows a return to form as 60 Norfolk-linked artists - twice last year's assembly - focus on the sublime setting and its devout and devastating history.

First impressions are promising, as the churchyard is festively edged with 45 environmental prayer flags - grouped with the words Water, Marsh, Flint, Heath and Air - by Aldborough's Heather Tamplin.

In one corner, Nick Ball of Salhouse has sited a set of steel and plastic organ pipes which sound in the breeze (and possibly boom like ships' foghorns in the gales that often blow in these exposed parts).

Elongated people-shaped “shadows” in fluorescent yellow material stretch through the grass like zapped giants, thanks to Harpley's Martin Baldock and Patricia Stewart.

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And over in an overgrown and ruined chapel, the grape floor laid by artist and ornithologist Linda Theophilus, in memory of medieval Mass and holy Communion, is being steadily eaten by blackbirds.

In the porch, Karen Whiterod of Norwich has suspended a mobile made from shreds of plastic bottles which curve and contort like netted sealife.

As with so much of this dazzlingly diverse display, there's a powerful environmental message here: trawled up in our seas and washed on our coasts nowadays is a toxic tide of plastic.

Inside the church, there is an explosion of art in almost every imaginable medium. I can guarantee that some of it will baffle or irritate (I was driven to distraction by a tape involving a tuneless whistle and the story of a toy stone lion).

But as well as a rich visual feast - in a layered portrait painting of Salthouse by Norwich's David Jones; a lovely abstract acrylic by Hingham's Nicola Maule; an embroidered triptych by Holt's Sally Lawford recalling the fragments of a Rajasthani wedding dress - there is much here to feed the mind and the imagination.

I loved an Un/touchable construction by Andrew Schumann, of King's Lynn, in which two curved black carbonfibre poles, echoing the arch of the east window, were hung with a gold ball and a string of sparkling glass beads - symbolising the work of puritan vandals on this early Tudor treasurehouse.

Arrayed like ghosts behind no-longer-stained glass windows are digitally manipulated portrait photos of 40 late residents of Salthouse, now resting in the churchyard.

Ancestors - the name of this piece by Dersingham's Helen Roll - is brilliantly evocative.

Thorpe St Andrew's Dominique Rey has produced a glass tower etched with images of the erased faces on Salthouse's roodscreen and the sailing ships cut into the stall backs by bored Tudor choirboys.

Inspired by Psalm 39:12 (“Thou makest his beauty to consume away like as it were a moth fretting a garment”), Louise Richardson has made a fragile dress from the pages of a hymnbook, whose papery fabric is being constructed or unravelled by silkmoths.

And Susan Gunn, of Framingham Pigot, has created an iconic collage meditating on the Madonna and child, angels and air.

This is a great artist in the making.

Salthouse 05's curator is Liz Falconbridge - best-known for her work over the past 15 years as visual arts and education manager for West Norfolk Council.

She says that all selected artists were asked to “conceive new works whose origins can be traced to an anecdote, a whisper, a fact or a trace that emanates from this location and its environs”.

And she adds: “I imagined a family on holiday in Norfolk, happening upon the event and making their way up towards the church.

“I imagined an easy encounter in open air with the flags, windsocks, organ pipes, shadow piece, grape floor and other works placed outside as an enticement to enter the church.

“And then, upon entering, a panoply of experiences, as many as the works within - some small interventions, modest and low-key, almost missed in passing, some grand and demanding, puzzling or challenging, some uncomfortable and poignant, but all thoughtful and considered.

“I imagined the eye wandering everywhere and wondering everything.”

And that is exactly what she has achieved.

One final credit: each work is accompanied by a brief artist's statement which is blessedly free of mumbo jumbo art-speak.

t Salthouse 05 is open 10am-5.30pm daily until August 7. Admission free. Works can be bought or commissioned.