Conceptual craft show draws inspiration from the Messel family's time at Nymans

By Mark Sheerin | 08 May 2012
Colour photo of a silver tray with scattered remains of birdlife in blue and white china
Guy Holder, Field of Vision (2012)© Guy Holder
Exhibition: Unravelling the National Trust, Nymans House and Garden, Handcross, until October 31 2012

A childhood spent in Nymans House in West Sussex must have been a charmed existence. War had not yet broken out and young Oliver and Anne Messels enjoyed nothing more than dressing up and performing in the 600-acre property.

80 years later, family flair for costume design and a sprawling Gothic ruin have inspired a dozen contemporary artists to create work for the house and garden as part of the National Trust Unravelled programme. Scrapbooks, clippings and photographs have all been put at their disposal.

Key moments from the history of Nymans have become starting points for the art. Alec Stevens has referred to the evacuees who stayed at the home during World War II. David Cheeseman was inspired by a fire at the property in 1947. And Caitlin Heffernan's fantastical and playful creations refer to young Oliver Messel’s eventual career as a costume designer.

The artists share a craft-based approach, and even manage to weave in subtle references to gender, class and the politics of stately home ownership. But on first glance the work here is celebratory or at worst oblique.

"Working with contemporary craft is very important to Trust New Art as it shows how our fantastic places and collections can inspire creative people now,” said Tom Freshwater, Contemporary Arts Programme Manager at the National Trust.

“Not knowing what these talented makers will produce is exciting. We know that Unravelled will help them create something new to intrigue and delight our visitors.”

The results are, by all accounts, a success. And Unravelled returns in 2013 and 2014 with visits to The Vyne in Hampshire and Uppark House and Garden, also in West Sussex.

  • House open 11am-3pm (but see property website for seasonal times). Admission £10/£5.

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