Discover art in the garden with folly! 2020

Coming to Studley Royal water garden

The National Trust are working with artist Steve Messam to bring art to the water garden for the fourth year of folly! Visit World Heritage Site water garden Studley Royal between May to October to learn more about the history of the site through art.


“A building designed to satisfy a fancy or conceit, usually of an eccentric kind”

What's going on for folly! 2020?

For the fourth year of folly! we are working with artist Steve Messam. He's drawn inspiration from a mystery folly: a 16m high funerary pyramid. It was commissioned by William Aislabie and although we have records of this pyramid being designed. We don't know whether it was built and if it was its location is a complete mystery.

The funary pyramid, commisioned by William Aislabie, is a mystery
A scan of the funerary pyramid from the archives
The funary pyramid, commisioned by William Aislabie, is a mystery

folly! is fantastical and bold, uncovering the story of the water garden, and revealing new perspective. When the first follies were built visitors either loved of hated them. It's a debate that's still running up to 250 years later. Do you like art? How does it make you feel? Make sure to let us know on your visit.

What is the folly! art programme?

Studley Royal, the large Georgian water garden, is what makes visiting Fountains Abbey stand out from the crowd; it's the main reason behind the site being granted World Heritage Site status. To celebrate this classic example of an English water garden with its many follies we've been running art programme folly! since 2015.

'Scavenger' with the artist Gary McCann, folly! 2015
'Scavenger' with the artist Gary McCann
'Scavenger' with the artist Gary McCann, folly! 2015

The original Georgian follies were designed as ‘eye-catchers’ – ornate, eccentric installations in the landscape, designed to draw the eye and convey a sense of exoticism and playfulness.

When John and William Aislabie created the garden, their designs deliberately included curious, fanciful objects and alternative viewpoints of the landscape.  The idea behind folly! is to develop and re-imagine these concepts through art for our visiotrs today.

Meet the artist

Steve Messam is an artist based in the North of England. He likes to embrace the history and culture behind a place when creating his work, working within the natural assets of a landscape.

 He has a particular interest in the cultural reference points inherent in the work of artists living in rural communities and exploiting the assets of landscape, agriculture and community for challenging the preconceptions of contemporary rural arts practice.

folly! artist Steve Messam in Studley Royal water garden
Artist Steve Messam in Studley Royal water garden in North Yorkshire
folly! artist Steve Messam in Studley Royal water garden

What's going on throughout this year?

This year is about embracing art, playing with new views and encouraging creativity. Not only will there be two permanent artworks and one pop-up surprise in the water garden but lots of opportunity to take inspiration from folly! yourself with our events programme. 

Get stuck into art workshops with local artists Ian Scott Massie and Lesley Seeger or have a look what's on in the workshop at medieval farm building Swanley Grange.

See past years of folly!

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