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The long read
An article on dreaming wisdom,
the I Ching and African Dream
Root, first published in Caduceus
I’ve just finished curating the last Animus ~ Art for the World Soul exhibition, Shambhala at Shambellie’, at Shambellie House.
Formerly the National Museum of Costume, this lies South of Dumfries near Sweetheart Abbey by the Solway; I worked out that for me to get to and fro each day has been a journey of a thousand miles altogether!
Participating artists along with myself were:
Ben Fosker (ceramics),
Cathy Van Hoppe (watercolour),
Fergus Hall (gouache),
Jennie Ashmore (leaf)
Martin Wilson (slate)
and Trevor Leat (willow)
Hein Braat also provided the potent mantas which were playing for the duration of the show.
It’s easy to get the impression from many stately homes is that life there must have been a bit staid, an impression confounded by a poem by the Scottish painter Francis Cadell which John Stewart, whose grandfather lived at Shambellie, showed me in ‘Cadell - A Scottish Colourist’ by Tom Hewlett. The house was one of Cadell’s favourite places to stay, where he was known as ‘Uncle Bunty’ by the youngsters there. He wrote a poem for them in the 1920’s, which begins:
Beware! Beware the kitchen stair,
For there the goblins make their lair
The ghosts you meet will raise your hair.
After much gruesome imagery (which I can’t help thinking must have secretly terrified some of the children it was meant to delight) the poem ends:
Moral. Avoid this mansion strange
However much you need a change
It’s full of pestilence and mange
A Bloated Grange.
I’ve also done my part to terrify small people at Shambellie during my time there; ‘my’ room was dark apart from illuminated glass, and resonant with the deep and sonorous sounds of mantras sung by Hein Braat...and two cheerful village lads from the village who turned up on their bikes asked me to go in with them as it was so scary :)
Inside were some illuminated cast glass Buddhas...
...Journey Through the Holy Mountains; a small cast glass figure in a boat dwarfed by a range of towering wooden-slab peaks:
(Here getting prepared at Rennaldburn)
...and a series of ‘ice tormas’: throughout each day, visitors got a view of a different stage of an illuminated frozen shell melting back into a liquid state:
Melting ice torma
A water torma ready for overnight freezing
The Shambellie House of Cadell's poem ~ gently mouldering at the edges as it is after some time of not being lived in ~ is far from pestilential.
It manages to be grand in an utterly pretentious way, its fairytale towers and turrets, crow-stepped gables and wind-vane half submerged by the surrounding abundant vegetation giving it a homely and intimate feel.
I have the same affection for it as I might for an eccentric but endearing relative, and it felt a privilege to make my home here, in the daytime at least, for the last two weeks ~ to see the changing view of the gardens out of the permanently shaded windows (UV filters still remain on all the windows after its museum days), run down the imposing stairs...and, as a little offering the the spirit of the house, paint back on the patches of finely detailed William Morris-style wallpaper ripped off by signs for a previous exhibition in the Red Room. (John explained that this room could be identified as the Mens room due to its black fireplace. The neighbouring cream room was the Ladies room...and the dark green room, with its grey fireplace, was where they came together.)
Although the footfall was not vast, those intrepid visitors who managed to find Shambellie in its overgrown hideaway were hearteningly appreciative of the collective fusion of artists and mediums ~ and the soulful synthesis which comes about when they’re combined: the ‘ability to take you to another world’ guest put it.
Here’s a five-minute video to give you a sense of that otherworldly synthesis...
...which also takes you on a lightning-fast tour of Shambellie’s outer environs, slowing down to enjoy how nature has reclaimed a previous monumental sculpture of Trevor Leat’s, which used to look like this...
(Whirling Dervish: photo © Trevor Leat)
...and now looks like this:
...then travels through a Trevor-made willow spiral and peers briefly into the lovely, dark and deep wilderlands surrounding the garden.
And here’s a two-minute video to give you a feel of the popular Leafworkshop Jennie Ashmore ran as part of Shambhala at Shambellie:
So many guests commented that visiting the exhibition left them feeling personally inspired to create some artwork themselves, that I set up a table with art materials in the top gallery. I enjoyed going up there each day and seeing new sketches (and origami :) begin to appear, left as a gift to the space. Here's my favourite ~ inverted, as I like doing that with images to reveal their hidden side :)
In a broad sense, ‘a gift to the space’ could encapsulate the intent of Animus ~ Art for the World Soul as a whole.
A tapping in to the ancient understanding of art as offering to, and revealer of, those invisible sacred realms which underpin existence...with the understanding that this spaciousness permeates, as well as enfolds us.
For more unfoldings of an Animesque kind...watch this space.