'The Years of Magical Thinking'

A lady looking at a stack of cups and saucers

Experience 'The Years of Magical Thinking', a new scent-rich installation at Acorn Bank from Friday 11 August – Sunday 29 October.

Created by Cumbrian-based artist, Karen Guthrie, ‘The Years of Magical Thinking’ is inspired by Acorn Bank’s fascinating past, which has seen it evolve from a private family home to most recently – before the building was taken over by the National Trust - a Sue Ryder Foundation nursing home.

Karen spent two months as the artist in residence at Acorn Bank throughout the summer, having been selected as the 2017 Dorothy Una Ratcliffe Artist Fellow.  During her time there, she took inspiration from the building’s time as a nursing home, along with the extensive gardens surrounding it, renowned for their herbs and fruit orchards, to create this unique piece.

Bringing the outside in

Part sculpture, part fountain, the installation is made up of between 700 and 1,000 pieces of ‘Beryl’ crockery – the well-known, pale green cups and plates often seen in institutions including hospitals and church halls since the 1930s - stacked in the drawing room

This ‘pile’ of crockery hides a secret fountain, trickling with a specially-made hydrosol - a distilled liquid created by Karen from the plants in the gardens in Acorn Bank – which will give off the scent of the gardens, effectively bringing the outside in. 

" With this work, I am suggesting we remember a very significant but largely invisible period of Acorn Bank’s life. When I contacted Sue Ryder, there were no available records of this time - it was pre-digital - and so the ‘gap’ in what visitors could grasp about Acorn Bank became more poignant for me."
- Karen Guthrie

Making hydrosols 

During her residency, Karen set up a still in the dovecote in the garden and spent much of her time sampling plants to create hydrosols.  These scented waters are created by distilling the plants, boiling the plant material then cooling the resulting steam so it condenses back into water, while retaining something of the smell of the plant.  

Karen found that some aromatic plants are predictable as hydrosols, such as lavender and sage, but many of the plants from Acorn Bank’s garden are less so, more enigmatic: "They emerge indistinct but very ‘green’ smelling - giving the sense of the whole garden not the individual scents."


How to make a hydrosol

Artist in residence, Karen Guthrie, explains how she's making hydrosols, or scented waters, from the plants in Acorn Bank's extensive gardens to create a sensory portrait of the plant collection that grows there.

Karen Guthrie

Karen Guthrie is an artist and film-maker who was raised on the West coast of Scotland and now lives on a smallholding in the Lake District. Karen works primarily in the fields of public and socially-engaged art and in film-making. 

Find out more at www.somewhere.org.uk

The 2017 Dorothy Una Ratcliffe Fellowship is delivered by the National Trust through Trust New Art, in partnership with Cumbria University, Eden Arts and supported using public funding by Arts Council England.

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Art and exhibitions in the North of England  

Discover new art across the North of England this year through Trust New Art, a programme of contemporary arts inspired by our places.