Transitions in Time at Peckover House

Cambridgeshire artists unveil a new contemporary art installation at Peckover House in Wisbech, 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.

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. 

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Meet the artists behind Transitions in Time

We interviewed artists Sarah Evans and David Kefford, who have spent the past year researching the story of Peckover House, taking inspiration from the families that once lived there and their links with the local community.

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’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 with the community served to unite the family through the generations.

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The making of Transitions in Time

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.

Taking inspiration from two families

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 and after Alexandrina’s death, the name of the property to Peckover House, in honour of the family that had lived there for 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. 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 picked up souvenirs, 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. 

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.

Expect the unexpected, as objects from the house jostle with new collages
A family exploring the new installation at Peckover House in Wisbech
Expect the unexpected, as objects from the house jostle with new collages

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.

Every time you look, you see something different
A hand in front of the art installation at Peckover House, Wisbech
Every time you look, you see something different
Today's artists

Cambridge based artists Sarah Evans and David Kefford, who are known as Aid and Abet have worked in Wisbech before on an Arts Council funded project. We were taken with their work and liked their community approach - something close to the Peckover’s faith.

Their work invites you to delve into the creative past lives of the people that once lived here and you can expect the unexpected, as objects from the house jostle with new collages. 

And the project continues to evolve
A man painting in the garden of Peckover House, Wisbech
And the project continues to evolve

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 Aid & Abet have been working with local groups in the community to create new artwork to add to the installation. 

This included an Art Day in June, which celebrated artistic practices and saw visitors, volunteers, artists and staff create watercolours, oil paintings, collage and cyanotype. 

Don't miss 'Transitions in Time', on until 18 November 2018.

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.​