Trust New Art project at Peckover

Contemporary art at Peckover House

Cambridgeshire artists unveil new installation at Peckover House to mark 70th anniversary

2018 marks the 70th anniversary of Peckover House coming into the care of the National Trust and to celebrate, artists Sarah Evans and David Kefford, known as Aid & Abet, were commissioned to create an experience that celebrated old and new, tradition and innovation.

Visitors to the house this year will see the transformation of the Drawing Room into an immersive art installation. ‘Transitions in Time’ is the result of the artists spending a year researching elements of the Peckover story, taking inspiration from the family’s values, traditions and their links with the local community.

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Meet the artists behind Transitions in Time

We interviewed artists Sarah Evans and David Kefford, from Aid & Abet, who have spent the past year researching the story of Peckover House, taking inspiration from the families that once lived there. Find out about their latest installation.

Ben Rickett, the National Trust’s House Manager at Peckover House said:

“In 1948, the contents of Peckover House were sold at auction. It signified the end of one era and the beginning of another. This is an opportunity for us to re-imagine the extensive collection that once filled the house, focussing on different elements of Peckover’s history and the family’s legacy.”

The Peckover family’s strict Quaker beliefs seem at first to be a stark contrast with the love of surrealist art by Lord Peckover’s grandson, Roland Penrose. However, their shared love of art, collecting and working for the local community served to unite the family through the generations.

Aid & Abet have drawn inspiration from the many interests of the family, such as Lord Peckover’s collections of artefacts and books, even ordinary domestic items found in the house. These things have been used alongside collected treasures, to create collages and sculptural artworks.

 Artist, Sarah Evans, one half of Aid & Abet explains:

“The work invites visitors to delve into the creative past lives of the people that once lived at Peckover House. They can expect the unexpected, as objects from the house jostle with new collages. The Peckover and Penrose families shared a passion for education and work in the community. We wanted to capture the spirit of that generosity, so that visitors can take fresh inspiration from this wonderful Georgian house and its long, fascinating story.”

The project is part of Trust New Art, a contemporary arts programme inspired by National Trust places and supported by a partnership with Arts Council England, with a further grant coming from the East Anglia Art Fund.

‘Transitions in Time’ will open on Saturday 24 February and run to Sunday 18 November, during normal opening hours. However, work on the project won’t stop there. It will continue to develop with the changing seasons as Aid & Abet work with local groups in the community to create new artwork to add to the installation.

Project Overview:

“The awe-inspiring wonders of Victorian collections of curios made an unforgettable impact”  Roland Penrose

Transitions in Time

In 1948, the contents of the house were sold at auction. It signified the end of one era and the beginning of another. This project looks at the common ground between two families the Peckover’s and Penrose’s and their artistic and non-conformist lives and legacies.

The Peckover family

It was Alexandrina Peckover, with the help of her nephews who secured Bank House (as it was known) and its 50 acre estate for the nation in March 1944. 

It came to the National Trust in 1948. After Alexandrina’s death, the National Trust changed the name of the property to Peckover House, in honour of the family that had lived there for just over 150 years.

The crowds at her funeral at the Quaker Meeting House were testament to her and her family’s reputation and their contribution to Wisbech. A contemporary newspaper article described the ceremony as having all ‘the simplicity associated with Quaker custom. There were no hymns and no music. Apart from brief tributes…it was a service of silent tribute to one who had passed on’.

The end of an era

Six months later, under the instruction of her nephews, most of the contents of Bank House were sold during a two day sale in a marquee on the lawn.

The sale of over 1,000 items marked the end of this family’s era and drew enormous interest from all over the country. Locals came to get a souvenir, whilst antique dealers and collectors purchased the finest lots.

A fascinating art collection

The Peckover archives hold a fascinating collection of art – from amateur Victorian to professional modern. There are sketch books and watercolours produced during the mid 19th to early 20th century by the family – Alexandrina, Elizabeth Josephine, Anna Jane and Algernon Peckover. 

For their social status this was not unusual, but for so many sketches and watercolours to have survived is. Each artist had a style of their own, which evolved, particularly in the case of Alexandrina.

Most of the watercolours show scenes from their travels throughout Europe as well as Scotland and the Lake District, offering a wonderful glimpse into an often changed landscape.

The Penrose family

Through the marriage of Elizabeth Josephine Peckover to James Doyle Penrose, another artistic connection came into the family - he was a skilful painter of portraits, historical and religious subjects and exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy from the 1890s until 1927.

Their son was Sir Roland Penrose, the modern artist and advocate of Surrealist art, whose writing and exhibitions were hugely influential, introducing British artists and public to the new ideas of abstraction and surrealism from Europe.

The world of surrealism

His father’s strict Quaker beliefs and commitment to traditional subject matter gave Roland Penrose cause to rebel against these conventions and he befriended modern artists such as Miro, Braque, Picasso, Man Ray, and Max Ernst.

He became a prominent art historian, biographer and established the influential Elephant Trust to financially support and encourage experimental artists and writers in their artistic endeavours.

The project  

This is a fantastic opportunity to rethink and readdress how we display the rooms in the house and the stories we tell of the family and the history of the house - we hope you will come and see the project in 2018.

Taking inspiration from two families

From the travel holiday watercolours through to the advocacy of the Surrealist movement, from Quakerism to revolutionary, the legacy of the Peckover and Penrose families is remarkable and still visible today.

Both branches of the family, although different in their approach to artist work and the way their lives were led, were non-conformists, and passionate in their cause – left us these stories. 

Today’s artists

We have chosen to work with Cambridge based artists Sarah Evans and David Kefford, who are known as Aid and Abet - read their blog on the project here: http://www.aidandabet.co.uk/project/trust-new-art-commission 

Sarah and David have worked in Wisbech before on an Arts Council funded community project called The Frontier Zone. We were taken with their work and liked their community approach - something close to the Peckover’s Quaker faith.

On Saturday 30th June, we held an Art Day, which celebrated artistic practices and saw visitors, volunteers, artists and staff create watercolours, oil paintings, collage and cyanotype art pieces. Photos of the day can be seen above.

The project is supported by the Arts Council England and Trust New Art.