Writing / Grizedale Arts Blog

Coniston plus Tate

Last week we hosted the directors of the Plus Tate group  - a network of the UK’s 18 most dynamic art organisations that includes Tate, the Hepworth Wakefield, Turner Contemporary, Ikon Gallery Birmingham, Whitworth Art Gallery, Baltic and Grizedale Arts itself.

The annual seminar organised by Tate was hosted by Grizedale Arts throughout Coniston using the Coniston Institute, St Andrews Church, Brantwood, the Waterhead Hotel, Coniston launch and our headquarters at Lawson Park farm.

On the Wednesday evening the main hall of the Coniston Institute provided the backdrop for a grand dinner of 34 people comprising the directors of the Plus Tate group and the local “villager elders” who have been consistently volunteering over the last year towards the restoration of the historic Institute.

The dispersed nature of the seminar, was used to demonstrate the concept of the Village as Institution using what might be termed the Civic Framework, people and all, as the site for the conference. This is turn works to build a collective, social resource rather than a simple venue hire or site visit – using the village like one might use a work of art.

Throughout the three days the delegates ate menus that were made entirely from local produce and artists projects including local venison, Lawson Park pork, St James’ and Ruskin Blue cheese, wild grouse, Kathrin Bohm’s sauerkraut and Lawson Park grown vegetables and so on. Particularly popular were the dessert contributions of trifle, chocolate cake and lemon meringue pie created especially for the Tate by the village.

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 23/01/12 at 16:34

New Green Woodwork


This project is about bringing coppice workers and contemporary designers together to develop a series of new products for local production and distribution.

The workshop programme offers coppice workers the opportunity to works with contemporary designers to develop affordable and locally produced furniture.

If you are a coppice worker or designer, please get in touch for more information on taking part in the 5 day design workshops. They run from Friday 17th – Tuesday 21st February 2012.

SATURDAY 18th February

Join us for a full day of  demonstrations, discussions and a conference on craft, design and the Utility Scheme.

10am – 2.30pm

A morning of demonstrations and talks at Witherslack Studios, led by Charlie Whinney.  You will meet the coppice workers and designers working collaboratively on New Green Wood Work designs.

3pm – 7pm

Conference at Blackwell, Arts and Crafts house in Windermere.

With talks from:

Dr Kathy Haslam (Blackwell’s Curator) - The philosophy and politics of the Arts & Crafts Movement and its contemporary relevance.

Ray Leigh (chairman of the Gordon Russell Trust, and former Design Director and Managing Director of Gordon Russell Ltd) – Gordon Russell and the Utility Scheme.

Keynote speech by product designer, Michael Marriott.

Questions and panel led open forum


Saturday 25th – Sunday 26th February

Green Wood Working Weekend - follow up production workshops

10am – 5pm

Weekend workshop in collaboration with Brantwood Estate where we will be making from scratch, items designed in the Witherslack workshops.

For more information of to book a place, please email maria@grizedale.org or call 015394 41050


Posted by Maria Benjamin on 12/01/12 at 15:58

'Child's Play'


Ray Davies managed to make it to the Coniston Institute for the performance of his 'Child's Play' last night!

Posted by Adam Sutherland on 17/12/11 at 11:37

Farmer's Market and Art Fair


A great weekend in Coniston Institute highlighting much of the art, craft and local produce from the village and surrounding area. Overall, the weekend made £4,000 and raised over £400 for the Conistion Institute redevelopment fund. The Grizedale Arts handmade ceramic Christmas decorations sold very well this year, though we got a slapped wrist for the hand grenade. Weirdly, no one complained about the Marcus Coates animal turd decorations! The best sellers were the things that looked most homemade and it seemed there was a preference for the handwritten sticker as opposed to the properly printed and designed label. Bringing so much local production together highlighted just how much is missing from the shops in this area. It's crazy to see shops selling honey from China when there is some amazingly tasty honey produced locally which flew off the shelves at the Fair. 

Posted by Maria Benjamin on 13/12/11 at 18:40

Wish I could be like David Watt


David Watt who ran one of the few useful shops in the village, just recently passed away. He ran the hardware shop and though he seemed to specialise in dog leads, he always had some magical item that you never knew you needed until you entered his shop. One of the last thing we bought from him was a cable peanut! Everyone seemed to warm to him and even just catching a glimpse of him walking his dog would put you in a nicer mood. He will be greatly missed by the village and by all of us.

Posted by Maria Benjamin on 23/11/11 at 12:28

...And there was light.


The Christmas lights are all up an on in Coniston now and look fantastic (if a little creepy!) A surprising number of people came along to the switch on, nearly 200, which was well above my pessimistic guesstimate of 20.   Richard Ryan, Manager of the Blackpool Illuminations was due to switch on the lights but as he was stuck in traffic, and with people getting bored of mulled wine very quickly, we had one of our favourite local ladies, Margaret Proctor, switch on the lights for us and pose for press photos. We were handed the job of organising the Christmas Lights from a committee of local women who have done this for 11 years. We have been quite anxious about their response to all the changes we have made but fortunately for us, they are very happy with them! Richard arrived just before everyone disappeared into the pub or to dominos night (one of the biggest club nights in Coniston!) so he was able to give his talk on Christmas Lights and the Blackpool Illuminations. We had bought a couple of lights from him and the big Peace on Earth sign, he told us, was originally made for a Robson Green Christmas pop video! 

Posted by Maria Benjamin on 21/11/11 at 16:05

An Update of the Kitchen Update


Seventeen volunteers showed up on Tuesday to get stuck into more revamping of Coniston Institute. The kitchen was the priority. Since the new units were put in a few weeks ago, we hadn't had a chance to add the finishing touches like putting up shelves and deciding which cupboard for cups and which for plates and where we should keep the tea towels. It's all looking great and working so we're looking forward to cooking a big thank you dinner for all the volunteers, committee members and funders.

We also had a massive clear-out of a general hoard found squatting in the basement. The mouse-nibbled shuttlecocks, broken Christmas decorations, rotting curtains and paint brushes gone hard, filled a trailer and three cars. 

Then came the rubble.... a wall has come down to make a once overflowing storage room and dark corridor into a beautiful new library.... update to follow.

Posted by Maria Benjamin on 12/11/11 at 23:26

"It may be winter outside, but in my heart it's spring"


...As the rain lashes the window on a Friday night, I find myself wondering if Barry White was much of a gardener?

Anyhoo, I'm posting to remind you that the Grizedale garden at Lawson Park opens next year to you - the public - for charidee (the National Garden Scheme, it's prestigious don't you know).

The big cakes and all date is SUNDAY SEPT. 2ND 2012 - save the date now and order your waterproofs.

But you can also contact me if you're in the area another time and if I'm around you'll be most welcome.

Posted by Karen Guthrie on 11/11/11 at 19:25

Rietdale. Gerrit?


On Monday we took delivery of this fine Rietdale Chair made by Harvey Wilkinson, former curator at Blackwell. The chair is a hybrid of the 1917 Red and Blue Chair by Gerrit Rietveld and the Eskdale school of woodcarving, produced by itinerant craftsmen in the valley of Eskdale in the English Lake District around the same time.  The Eskdale woodcarvers were never recognised as a movement or driving force in arts and crafts , yet their extraordinary designs in carved oak offer a proto-modernist version of design evolved in this remote valley, like some lost evolutionary offshoot.

Harvey has not created this piece as an art joke, but as a genuine improvement on what he sees as a slightly clunky attempt at a chair. The frame is built in beech, the arms in oak and the seat and back in ply. The edition of ball and ring turning to the legs is conceived to give the whole thing 'lift' in the traditional manner.  Further models with material variations are to be developed and it is surprisingly comfortable.

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 09/11/11 at 21:29

Feeding Of The 180 Or So


We celebrated Harvest Festival twice this year. The first was in collaboration with St. Andrew's church in Coniston where we received huge donations of locally grown produce. About ten or twelve volunteers came throughout the day to help with the preparation and cooking of a celebration dinner and ready meals. Thirty people came to the dinner and we made more than 120 packaged meals which were delivered to some of the elderly residents in the village. The second Harvest Festival was at Wysing Arts the following week. Wysing's base is a converted farm in Cambridgeshire and although the land is used for sculpture now and not food production, they still have some very productive fruit trees. However, we decided not to do an entirely fruit-based dinner and so managed to get a few things grown locally (onions and cabbage) before hitting the supermarket (where there was an excellent deal on squid). The Harvest Festival at Wysing consisted of a day of talks and films followed by a supper for the artists, staff, volunteers and visitors. The talks were mainly food related, including Erik Sjodin's research into the fast growing Azolla pond plant as a nutritious food source and Will Clifford's talk on the Miracle Tree (Moringa Oleifera) and it's nutritional and medical properties. Kathrin Bohm presented a project in Berlin with myvillages.org about approaches to sustainable food production and also made us a huge batch of sauerkraut (which we had to take back to Lawson Park and is still fermenting in buckets in the cold store). 

Posted by Maria Benjamin on 14/10/11 at 09:33

Goodbye English Rose


For the past year the volunteer group (The Boon Day Group as we have been named) has worked hard to get Coniston Institute back into shape. Having raised more than £10,000 (with grants from Coniston 14 and the Rawdon Smith Trust), work began today stripping out the old kitchen. It was a vintage English Rose kitchen but fits of territorial behaviour resulted in padlocks being bolted to the fronts of many of the lovely aluminium cupboards, not realising that they were a British design classic! The company that made them, Constant Speed Airscrews originally made nose cones for Spitfires and parts for Lancaster bombers throughout WW2, but after the war, being left with a large workforce and a stockpile of aircraft grade aluminium, the company went on to design the English Rose Kitchen. This was quite possibly the first ‘modular’ kitchen range in Europe. We did managed to sell the units on ebay but only for about 5% of what a reconditioned one would cost. Never mind! 

Posted by Maria Benjamin on 26/09/11 at 16:31

Greasy Pole Champion Reclaims Title


2009 Greasy Pole Champion Adam Kane reclaimed his title this weekend at the 2011 Crab Fair and Sports, Egremont. In torrential conditions the Pole proved nigh on impossible, but with perseverance the competitors gradually dried the pole as they gained height with each effort.  An engrossing three way dual ensued between the pack leaders Lehn and Moorfoot, with Master Kane ultimately claiming the shortest ribbon and his prize of £5.00 cash and a leg of lamb sponsored by Wilsons Butchers of Egremont. That's Wilsons Butchers of Egremont.

The organisers would like assert that Adam Kane is no relation to Alan Kane (nor Jeremy Deller) the artists responsible for bringing the Greasy Pole back into operation as a seminal public sculpture of the Discursive Age and dangerous sporting apparatus.

Greasy Pole Results:

1st Prize: Adam Kane

2nd Prize: Sarah Lehn

3rd Prize: Josh Moorfoot

A Hudson GA Sports Correspondent

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 19/09/11 at 12:12

Feeding Back

One of our volunteers Michael Davies who was with us for 3 months left us with a very interesting and well written blog entry for our website about his time at Lawson Park. 


When I came to Grizedale, being a working class boy from suburban Glasgow, I couldn't have been farther from home, in these rural Lake District surroundings of the staggeringly beautiful and impeccable Lawson Park. Thankfully I was met with a genuine acceptance and quiet assistance by the residents, the degree of which has surprised me somewhat.


I came here without particular proclivity for, well, anything useful. Fresh from art school, your eyes can still be a little dewy - because art schools aren't really schools are they? And what you learn in them can so easily, and often, amount to nothing at all. In fact it seems an absurd misuse of the word art, or artist, if one thinks it can be proscribed or created through a meagre three - four years in a non-school. What they do achieve though, in general, through provision of their nurturing time, space, framework, is capacity for critical outlook and thought, which is a powerful, vastly under valued skill, and quite ominously rare. But this capacity must be applied with rigour and insight to far more than just insular gallery exhibits.


Anyway, when I read the great modernists talking about the merging of art and life, as they do, it always seemed to me to veer tragically and slightly solipsistically back toward art. At Lawson Park, life really is an art, with even it's own type of autonomy in the form of six hundred feet of altitude and an exceedingly long driveway (much to the fury of certain members of the village people.) Indeed, if I could belligerently key a phrase: There is no art but life. That is to say, art here is an integral part of life, not that it doesn’t happen - it just isn’t as precious. In terms of use value though, besides growing much of it’s own foodstuffs, Lawson Park as a site has as strong a cathartic and revelatory spiritual affect as any of the conventional art-forms can claim. At the same time, as locus or matrix, it is able to export these values to make real social head way, creating interesting connections between disparate cultural nerve-endings - even if this is entirely lost on it’s most frequent visitor; the lesser Lake District Mountain-Biker.


I see Lawson Park as a yardstick, a benchmark, a tan line, err... it's like white bed linen that shows up all the dirt, hair and nasty bits that we all leave behind and makes them so obvious that we really can't ignore them any longer, in fact they become to clear that we can examine them in comfort and wonder at how they came to be, and perhaps devise ways of not getting so dirty in the future. The shit streaks and sweat patches that as a society we've grown so used to hiding under dark colours and deodorant that only once you see them you realise how easily they can be washed away. Perhaps I’m being a little think with simile, but simply put, they have a good life here, and eminently worth striving for. There are so many things that are lost to habituation of city life and work - most significantly the manual work of making or growing - which has dislocated so many lives with the reality of our existence.  This disjunction grows greater by the day, observable through the sense of suspicion and uncertainty on the part of the ‘offcomer’ people from cities, at anything that is not qualified by the framing mechanics of consumer packaging, sell-by-dates and GDAs - an odd reversal of the stereotypical country folk’s distrust of everything technological.


I've spent my three months here a bit like a sponge, quietly absorbing and reticently retaining as much as I could. I've even washed Andy Warhol’s collection of cups, and wiped down surfaces used by some great minds. But alas, my summer not-a-holiday at Grizedale is at an end and now I must go off into the night and squeeze myself of all this juice.


So long, and thanks for all those Sophistocakes (copyright Benjamin, M. Z. 2011)

Posted by Maria Benjamin on 01/09/11 at 09:56

Can Art be Useful?

During the recent ‘Terminal Convention’ Symposium in Cork, our erstwhile Ruskinite-Reformer and keen Big J R blogger Alistair Hudson began his own presentation by showing David Shrigley’s animation ‘An Important Message About the Arts’. Intended as a useful propaganda tool for yet another UK institution threatened by massive government cuts – in this case the Arts Council UK – Shrigley’s animation used the characters of a farmer and his son to make a case for Art’s economic viability (as a key driver in both the Creative and Tourism/Leisure Industries) and, perhaps more predictably, for Art’s assumed cultural and civilising values. As Alistair pointed out though, the twin towers of economy and truth tend to overlook the question of art’s use-value.

In the light of this, Alistair went on to pose a series of key questions which tend to loosely underpin the Grizedale way - what kind of thing would artist’s do if they decided to make themselves useful? What can artists begin to do as citizens? What would art look like if it wasn’t reduced to monetary imperatives on one hand or the need to ‘inform’ the masses from the dizzying heights of culture on the other? What would happen if artists didn’t necessarily commit to producing luxury consumer goods for London centric art market? In other words, what happens if we began to re-look at the possible use-value of art?

As it turns out, these are also questions that big J R had begun to ask in the latter part of his career – the bit where he moved to asking questions about the morality of aesthetics (and also the bit where people began to think he was barking mad started to ignore him). It seems these questions also drove some of big J R’s thinking behind his support for Mechanics Institutes: as educational centers for the working class, as places where art, science, theatre and music would all combine to provide a rounded education.

These questions of art’s use value, and the role they can play in education, are perhaps more pertinent today than they were in Ruskin’s time. As Universities are now asking students to take up 9K loans per year to cover their Higher Education fees, and as the UK government is proposing ‘employability’ league tables for every HE course in the country (to help prospective students and their parents chose the courses of study most likely to get them a job), it’s maybe time to give this all a little more thought? Being involved in Higher Education myself (running the both the Fine Art and History of Art Degree Programmes at Liverpool School of Art and Design – part of Liverpool John Moores University which, incidentally, can trace its roots back to an Arts and Mechanics Institute that was set up in Liverpool in 1823) I’m really interested in continuing a critical Ruskinian re-invention by beginning to pose two key post-Ruskinian questions myself – Just what kind of job is to be done by artists in today’s increasingly instrumentalised and economically driven society? And, in the light of this, what kind of work does making art become?

So, over the next months I’m proposing to ask these questions, Flip camera in hand, of anybody who is willing to attempt an answer (admittedly this may not be many). I’ll also try to link this to some of the goings on down Coniston Institute way and, of course, attempt to seek some help and guidance from the legacy of Big J R as I go. I also have a feeling that cheese, vegetables and soup may figure prominently in this analysis.

Posted by John Byrne on 05/07/11 at 11:16

Lawson Park Open House Day

Saturday 27 August

1100 - 1600 hrs

Admission Free

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 03/07/11 at 09:36


Posted by Adam Sutherland on 01/07/11 at 21:46

Let there be Light


Spent a bit of time up at Low Parkamoor this week getting it ready for the summer bookings. It's looking really rather lovely but we still need to find a good, inexpensive and eco lighting system, bearing in mind there is no electricity up there. Paraffin lamps get broken very easily (on average one glass chimney gets smashed per booking), candles are a bit of a fire risk and wind-up lamps don't last very long or give off much light. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

Posted by Maria Benjamin on 09/06/11 at 18:05

Let There Be Light

We had a great day out in Blackpool last week. Or more of a day in really, as we spent a good few hours looking round the Blackpool Illuminations warehouse.

Posted by Maria Benjamin on 01/06/11 at 14:16

RIBA prize!

We're totally thrilled to announce that Grizedale Arts HQ Lawson Park has won one of the region's prestigious Royal institute of British Architects awards!

Congratulations to us, everyone who worked on the building and of course to Sutherland Hussey architects for their inspirational design.

Here's a short film starring the Sutherlands that we made a few years ago shortly after the building relaunch...

Posted by Karen Guthrie on 19/05/11 at 16:32

Wedding Bells for Ben


Ben Sadler, aka one bit of Juneau projects, survived a recent stag night at Parkamoor with his mates, before getting married to the lovely Katy. We fed them a sunny brunch to see them on their way back home to Brum after whatever stags do in an offgrid house up a hill....

Congratulations to them both from all of us at Grizedale Arts...

Posted by Karen Guthrie on 09/05/11 at 23:24