Trust New Art project at Peckover

September, 2017 Update on the project

September Update from the artists Aid & Abet

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

Roland Penrose describes in some detail the inspiration he found on visits to Peckover House as a young boy. Our project seeks to re-imagine the extensive collection that once filled Peckover House at the turn of the 20th Century, the importance this collection had to the Quaker family, with their interest in enlightenment through a greater understanding of the world, and how the objects and books inspired Roland Penrose’s interest in art and later surrealism. For us this idea of a collection is key to the ‘spirit’ of Peckover House.

The sale catalogue from 1948 and inventory from 18>>> point towards the many everyday domestic objects and ornaments that also used to fill the rooms at Peckover House. With only a handful of these original, authentic objects remaining there is a need for a constructed narrative created through the furniture and objects chosen to stage the rooms. As artists we are fascinated by the associations and narratives that can be built through the use of ‘found objects’ in artworks - this artistic interest in the object has a direct legacy from surrealism.

Inspired by these themes Aid & Abet are making an immersive installation artwork for the Drawing Room at Peckover House; an expanded cabinet of curiosity or museum room filled with both collectable curios and ordinary domestic objects that reflects three themes; victorian collecting, modern surrealist art and contemporary visual art. Through collage and photography the objects will be transformed into a series of new artworks that will be layered amongst objects and housed in a bespoke display structure that will weave through the room and allow the work to be viewed from multiple directions.

The Peckover and Penrose generations shared a passion for inspiring others through education, whether through philanthropic involvement in Wisbech or through curating of major international exhibitions there is a familial trait of sharing and investing in the enlightenment of their wider communities.

The new artwork we are making will be a springboard for a series of workshops and events that invites the wider community to contribute and add to the artwork and explore how Peckover House and its histories can inspire individual creativity.

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: 

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.

They’ll be working with staff, volunteers and community groups in Wisbech throughout 2017, ready to unveil their art installations in February 2018. 

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