Barcelona is the city of Antoni Gaudi and a place packed with wonderful Art Noveau architecture. The architectural gem we visited that really sticks in my mind, however, was not one designed by Gaudi.
The Barcelona Sant Pau Site is the largest collection of Art Noveau buildings in the world. Originally the Hospital of the Holy Cross and Saint Paul, it was designed by the architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner and is one of Barcelona’s renowned architectural treasures.
The hospital architecture does not feature the same brand of unique eccentricity as seen in Gaudi’s astonishing masterpieces but the scale and the wealth of carefully considered detail makes the place very special.
Building work commenced in 1902 and the hospital opened in 1916, though completion and formal opening did not take place until 1930.
Use of the Art Noveau buildings as a working hospital finally ended in 2009. By that time the tiled walls and ceilings were in desperate need of restoration.
I was wandering around my garden today trying to capture the flavour of a frosty winter morning. I took a photo of ice in one of Alex’ ceramic bowls that now functions as a bird bath. I was fascinated by the patterns in the ice – and the more I looked, the more patterns I found!
The city of Barcelona is full of beautiful and inspiring art and architecture. You can spend many days exploring all the big sights mentioned in the guide books and there will still be visual surprises waiting to be discovered. One of my favourite discoveries was the way that the metal shutters on all the little lock-up shops are painted. I had a fun time one day wandering the little back streets finding lots of fun examples.
Many of the shops just feature text graffiti which can be very beautiful but is often just dull, obvious and scruffy. The solution shopkeepers seem to have chosen is to paint the shutters for themselves. For the most part, graffiti painters seem reluctant to paint over existing art.
These photographs were all taken in just one small area. There must be many hundreds of such doors scattered throughout the city.
When you travel it is always exciting to visit the most famous, “must see” destinations that are the highlights of any tourist itinerary. Looking back though, I sometimes feel a very special affection for the places that were not at the top of the list; the ones that turned out to be much better than the guidebooks and reviews suggested. A day trip to the rural town of Tsuyama stands out as one of those special experiences.
Our day trip to the rural town of Tsuyama was meant to be a quiet break from several days of intense tourism. Take a slow trip on the little train from Okayama, wander around the town and the park with it’s castle ruins and then back again in time for our evening meal. Tsuyama is pretty much the middle of nowhere nowadays, right in the centre of western Honshu, yet back at the beginning of the 17th century it was a major crossroads. In 1603 a new Daimyo chose to construct his castle there.
Tsuyama was never rated among the grandest or most beautiful of castles but it did have a reputation as being perhaps the most heavily fortified ever built in Japan with over 70 towers and other defensive structures. Sadly, everything ended for Tsuyama castle when the formation of the Meji government led to the abolition of the clans. The castle was sold off by the ministry of finance in 1873 and all the buildings, including the great tower were demolished soon after. It was only when some of the surviving stonework began to collapse in 1890 that efforts began to conserve what remained.
The castle eventually became the property of the town council and was made into a public park. This involved the planting of some 5000 cherry trees. Today these cherry trees are Tsuyama’s main claim to fame, as it is now rated as one of the best cherry blossom sites in western Japan.
In 2005 a defensive tower known as the Bitchu Yagura was rebuilt as part of celebrations for the castle’s 400th anniversary. The Bitchu Yagura tower was originally part of the Daimyo’s palace buildings. This work has been beautifully done, though it does look disturbingly new when compared with it’s surroundings.
The space and scale of the this place cannot really be conveyed in photographs. Nor can you really appreciate how peaceful it was on the day we visited. The park did have a constant trickle of visitors but they were so spread out on this huge site that you could always find another area where you were completely alone. It was perhaps the ability to experience this vast and awe inspiring place with effectively no one else around you that made the experience so memorable. Yes this site lacks much that makes a place like the great castle of Himeji such an impressive window on Japanese history but then it also misses out on the seething crowds, the queueing and being herded round like cattle.
Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum is the largest museum in Canada and one of the largest in North America. It first opened in 1914 and for much of its life was under the control of the University of Toronto, before becoming a fully independent body in 1968. Today it is Canada’s largest institution for scientific field research and is particularly renowned for its world class fossil collection.
The museum buildings grew in stages with the original 1914 west wing being in a neo-Romanesque style and the 1933 east wing showing Art Nouveau influences including rather grand mosaic ceilings.
The museum undertook another major phase of renovation and expansion in the early 2000’s with The Crystal, an extension designed by Daniel Libeskind opening in 2007.
This extension seems to be loved and hated in equal measure. We found it an interesting bit of architecture but it is hard to deny that its primary purpose was to make a grand statement rather than provide a well planned space to display exhibits.
The museum has many galleries covering many aspects of science, history and culture but it is probably the dinosaur galleries that make the biggest impact. The layout is rather old fashioned, with many, often unrelated dinosaurs packed side by side. Here there is none of the blind stumbling through darkened rooms that is now fashionable in Europe and the impact of the exhibits is not diluted by vast walls of educational reading. It does have its modern quirks for the kids (get an instant photo of you being chased by a T-rex!) but the dinosaurs themselves are fabulous and really show off the fossil riches of Canada.
A notable feature of the dinosaur galleries is the number of creatures suspended from the ceilings. These include various Pterosaurs and prehistoric sea creatures.
The ROM has many other interesting displays covering various aspects of the natural world and world culture. There is a good exhibit on biodiversity and a fine collection of minerals and gemstones. The European history exhibits are fairly small but with many fine specimens including nice Cycladic and Etruscan pieces.
The museum has large galleries dedicated to Canadian First Peoples but other world cultures are mainly represented by quite limited displays. The exception being Chinese displays, which have a large and prominent set of galleries with many fine artefacts, particularly the early ceramics. Sadly, many of the Chinese displays are in cases with glass all round and this combined with harsh lighting from a multitude of sources can make viewing difficult and photography near impossible.
If you have enjoyed this bit of virtual lockdown travel, we plan to go somewhere else very soon. Maybe to Japan next!
As we approach the end of a very strange year, Alex and I have been talking a lot about both the things we have achieved (lots of work on the garden and house) and all the things we have missed out on in this time of lock-downs, shielding and distancing. For instance, we have realised that for the first time in many decades we will have gone a whole year without setting foot in a gallery or a museum, which has always been one of our great loves. Nor have we visited any gardens or seen any beautiful landscapes beyond what can be seen close to our home.
One thing we have recently begun to work on has been trying to put our ridiculously large collection of digital photographs into some sort of order. This turns out to be a very slow process because you soon get caught up in looking at the pictures and reliving the memories rather than doing the filing!
We have done a lot of travelling over the last decade or so and looking back through our photos have now decided to post a series of photos of places we enjoyed visiting but which did not make it into earlier posts.
Our first virtual travel experience will be a journey to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
Hello everyone! It’s been a long while since I last posted but I’m planning on blogging a bit more regularly, as I’ve accumulated a lot of things to share and I think we could all do with some colour now the flowers are starting to pass.
We spent most of lockdown in the garden, and we’ve been rewarded with some lovely flowers and lots of vegetables. Alex has had a vision for our garden for years but we have always had other things that needed our attention. Not this year!
We now have a lovely pond filled with goldfish and the occasional frog, along with a granite bench made from a huge stone that used to lean against the back of our house. The next project is a summerhouse to give us somewhere to sit when it’s raining (which is quite often, given we’re in Cornwall!).
With the demands of the garden beginning to die down, I’m looking forward to returning to my studio and starting on some new projects. It will be a welcome change to get back to jewellery after making so many face masks!
I hope you and your family are keeping well and safe, and hope you enjoy this snippet of life in Cornwall.
England’s South-West Coast Path is one of the world’s great walking routes, stretching from Somerset in the North, around the tip of Cornwall to the Jurassic Coast of Dorset.. We are lucky to have some 300 miles of that route here within Cornwall.
Recently, Alex and I took advantage of the glorious weather to take a walk along part of the Cornwall Coastal Path that was new to us. The stretch of the Path between Tintagel and Trebarwith Strand is typical of North Cornwall with it’s rugged rocky cliffs. That ruggedness is made even more dramatic here due to the scars of old slate quarrying. This is such a feature that the area is known as the “Slate Coast”. In fact, the coast path here is largely created from the old paths that the quarry-men used to access the mining sites.
We started our walk just to the west of Tintagel. Looking back to the east we could see the island part of Tintagel Castle, while a little further on we passed the fabulously situated Tintagel Youth Hostel.
If you live in Cornwall you are used to seeing seas in shades of dark brooding greys. With summers we are having now however, there are more and more days when you can see the waters in clear, almost mediterranean blues and greens.
As Trebarwith Strand comes into view along the walk, one can see the huge scars that historical slate mining has left in the cliffs.
A feature of the quarry sites are the great rock pillars left undisturbed where the miners hit unsuitable rock. These now tower over the old quarry beds.
All the waste rock from the quarries has led to many variations of dry stone walling.
Alex and I made the most of the sunny weather by visiting The Garden House, a ten acre garden near Yelverton, in Devon.
The original house was built for the vicars of the parish, including the former Abbot of Buckland Abbey, who became vicar after the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1500s. A modern vicarage was built in the 1920s and The Garden House was sold as a private dwelling.
When the house and gardens came on to the market again in the 1940s, they were purchased by Lionel and Katharine Fortescue, who created the gardens whilst running a thriving market garden business. After their deaths, the Garden House was bequeathed to a charity to maintain their legacy.
The Garden House features both naturalistic planting and more traditional arrangements, making it a beautifully varied place to visit.
Here’s a sample of what was on offer (click to enlarge):
Hello everyone, it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted but I’m looking forward to blogging more frequently from now on.
Since I last posted, I’ve been enjoying retirement – lots more time for creativity, gardening, friends and family!
My daughter, Isla, has been dealing with a difficult health condition and has started her own blog where she talks about her experiences and posts her own artwork, you can find her at Medically Unexplained.
I spent a week staying with my son a few weeks back, and visited Hillier Gardens in Hampshire. The seasonal planting displays are stunning and I’m feeling very inspired by all the colours and patterns.
I have not got around to posting anything for a while but I thought I should share a photo of the cake my husband Alex decorated for our daughter’s birthday last month. She planned to have friends old and new come to her flat for tea and cakes.
When I mentioned making a cake, Isla said that her real favourite was gingerbread so I made an iced gingerbread cake for her.
Then Alex got in on the act. Isla is a great Studio Ghibli fan and has some Totoro cushions. So Alex painted the cake with an image based on the film “My Neighbour Totoro”.
The cake was a surprise and went down well with all her friends. So much so that it very quickly disappeared!
A few nights ago I watched a wonderful documentary on Hokusai. Since then I have been working on pieces inspired by Mount Fuji, not only the Fuji from Hokusai’s prints but my own memories of the mountain from when we visited there a couple of years ago.
Here are a couple of brooches with a Mount Fuji inspiration.
Last week I delivered a new batch of work to The Devon Guild of Craftsmen gallery in Bovey Tracey, South Devon. I have been a member of the Guild for many years and always have work on sale there. Through June I will be a featured artist in the Guild shop and my work will be on offer at 10% off. I will be doing a day of demonstrations on my work there on June 24th.
Here are a few of the new pieces featured this month.
If anyone can make it to Riverside Mill in Bovey Tracey on June 24th I would love to meet you and give an insight into how I make my work.