Writing / Grizedale Arts Blog

Guest Blog: Emma Sumner on 'What Grizedale Arts Means To Me'


Emma was one of 2019's first Lawson Park Volunteers, and we invited her to write about the experience:

Grizedale holds a special place in the trajectory of my arts career. I was fortunate to be invited to begin 2019 at Grizedale Arts Lawson Park residency as a volunteer, several years after I originally volunteered back in 2013. A week of toil on the land—coppicing trees for fences, painting functional sculptures, cooking mangelwurzel soup, and fixing poly-tunnels—took me back to my roots whilst re-establishing my faith in the unbounded possibilities of contemporary art.  

I don’t know where it came from, I don’t know what triggered it, or if it was just my destiny (to frame it in a ridiculous construct), but I knew from a very early age that I wanted to pursue art. I don’t come from a family of artists, or visited galleries until my early teens, but I was around 7-years old when I declared to my parents that I was going to be an artist and around 8-years old when I opened my own private art gallery under the stairs in our family home. Art has remained an unshakable force in my life, it’s been engrained in everything I’ve done, it features in all my most vivid memories, and at times has disappointed me to the point of heartbreak, but my enthusiasm for it has only ever expanded. 

I was raised in an agricultural family with the freedom to run the countryside, to be inventive and creative through play. My family were creative, as a child the clothes I wore had been lovingly crafted by my Mother who had also made most of our home furnishings from scratch, my Father had packed our home with alternative technologies, heating our rooms with a system run from a coal fire which always had the latest batch of laundry drying above it. Outside, we grew vegetables, composted and recycled all our household waste. My family life was overtly different to the rest of my peers, but I never considered it to be creative until much later.

Art remained a common force in my life, and I eventually enrolled in art school, a grown-up version of the creative space I had occupied as a care-free child, just here, in the adult world, it was called ‘experimenting’and cost money. I spent my precious vodka money on expensive art materials—paint, canvas, readymade textiles, haberdashery—to produce art that was of a market-standard, ready to sell. I churned out painting after painting, but it always felt a little pointless producing rt that had no useful function once completed.  It went against everything I had learnt as a child; it felt wasteful. 

After graduating I entered the art world and continued to paint whilst earning my rent (and vodka) money working in the institutions who decided what artists work was worthy of public attention. I never really understood the system, exhibitions would come and go, people would worry about signage, ticket prices and what themed goods the gift shop should stock. This all felt so far away from the exhibitions I had hosted in my under-stairs gallery and I was left wondering if there was another way: then I spent week volunteering at Lawson Park with Grizedale Arts.

Lawson Park is a space where my old life and new life merge together into a heady mixture of agriculture and contemporary art. After my first visit, I was inspired to leave my institutional role and widen my exploration of art, heading out to South Asia, where I have lived and worked for the past four years. In South Asia I learnt how the art world operates outside Western institutional models, engaging with projects that have found alternative routes for creativity to flourish, including the inimitable Somiya Kala Vidya who provide design education to traditional artisans. I established projects with my peers, which put the power of art in the hands of those not usually given the freedom to explore their creative reflexes, such as Katab: Not Only Money, which recently brought the art work of female Katab (patchwork) artisans to UK audiences. 

I returned to the UK in October, and after taking a few months to regroup, I knew I needed to start the next chapter of my arts adventure at Grizedale. It’s an organisation which makes absolute sense to me and reaffirms my faith that art can affect positive changes within society, whilst also having a useful and sustainable function within it. Where my next career steps will take me, only time will tell, but I remain inspired by Grizedale’s example and have the motivation to carve out an alternative trajectory for myself with others who share my passion: to make art useful and to celebrate the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. 


Posted by Karen Guthrie on 06/02/19 at 17:57

Field of Dreams


A recent dinner in Norwich with my favourite nature guru Richard Mabey brought to my attention a utopian cricket ground that could influence our own endeavours to revision the home of cricket in our local village of Coniston: Sir Paul Getty's 'cottage ornee' cricket pavilion set in the heart of the woods of the Chilterns (that's the bit soon to be changed by high-speed rail).

We won't quite have Getty's budget but we may well have his gumption.

Posted by Karen Guthrie on 23/01/12 at 21:44

"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

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

The patter of tiny programming fingers

Big congrats to our web guru and friend Dorian Moore and his wife Angie on the birth of a daughter Amiya!

Posted by Karen Guthrie on 05/12/10 at 21:17

Li Yuan Chia in Cumbria - BBC radio doc

Just in from David Gaffney:

Dear all,

You might like to listen to this programme about Chinese artist Li Yuan-Chia who lived in Cumbria for a time and set up a gallery.

When Taiwan's first abstract artist settled in a Cumbrian farmhouse, his life changed. Deriving inspiration from landscape and local people, he encouraged new British artists and anticipated the success of contemporary Chinese visual art.

Li Yuan Chia was one of the first significant Chinese abstract artists of the 20th century. This programme, presented by Sally Lai, the director of Manchester's Chinese Arts Centre, examines his career from the place he spent the last 28 years of his life: a stone farmhouse, built next to Hadrian's Wall in Cumbria.

Listen to the programme here


Li Yuan-Chia

Born in China in 1929, Li was educated in Taiwan. He worked and exhibited in Italy before moving toLondon in 1963. Here, Li's reputation was established with monochrome paintings and scrolls marked with a tiny, isolated dot.

But Li came to dislike the fashionable metropolitan art world of the mid-1960s. In 1968 he met Cumbrian painter Winifred Nicholson, who pursuaded Li to move away from the busy capital to a far more remote location, near her own home. With his own hands Li then set about converting a farm building, the Banks, at Brampton, where he built a gallery, library, theatre, printing press, children's art room and photographic darkroom, and opened it to the public. It became a popular attraction for local people, art afficianados and tourists walking Hadrian's Wall.

Over the next ten years over 300 artists exhibited at the Banks, which was also the base from which Li's organisation, the LYC Foundation, was able to commission work by young British artists, some of whom became very successful later, including sculptors and land artists Andy Goldsworthy, David Nash and Bill Woodrow.

Li's own work moved into abstract sculpture, using magnets, gold leaf, plastic discs suspended on plastic thread and additional text. The landscape also affected him, and he began to explore photography and environmental art. Always, he wrote poetry.

But after Arts Council funding became increasingly limited, (Is this right? That can't be right, DG) the LYC Foundation had to struggle to survive. Li continued to produce art, which became increasingly contemplative. He fell ill with cancer and died in 1994. Art historians now acknowledge Li Yuan Chia as having paved the way for the current expansion of Chinese contemporary art. But his former home in Cumbria is derelict.


Posted by Karen Guthrie on 22/12/09 at 20:39

The Dictatorship of Art - a Jonathan Meese inspired discussion


Today we shot a lively discussion at the Lawson Park TV studio, on naughty German artist Jonathan Meese's work and idealogy...

Pictured left to right is GA's Alistair Hudson, critic and Meese-o-phile Robert Eikmeyer, academic and writer Charlie Gere and academic John Byrne.

The final film will be up and online in early 2010.

Posted by Karen Guthrie on 14/12/09 at 23:42

St Peters (Glasgow not Rome)


Angus Farquhar of NVA in Glasgow recently invited Karen & Adam to share an inspirational but very wet (just like home then) tour of the unique St Peter's seminary just outside Glasgow. abandoned now but a rare example thereabouts of an architectural icon of the 1970's and now justly listed. NVA are bravely engaging in the battle to reclaim the building and surrounding landscape from the jaws of Nature - the grounds include an immense range of historic buildings from the 15th / 16th century onwards, and a landscape to match.

A good array of images of the incredible site can be seen on Flickr here, and you can read about Historic Scotland's detailed report on the building its significance and possible future here.

Posted by Karen Guthrie on 07/12/09 at 17:56

All aboard the Lawson Park Library launch


On Sat. 14th November, Guestroom launched their new Lawson Park Library with a Coniston Institute film screening with Oxen Park Cinema Club and a cruise on the solar powered Ruskin Launch on Coniston Water.

Sailors pictured above (left to right) Rob Little (UCLAN), Glenn Boulter (Musician / artist & GA intern), Adam Sutherland (GA director), Maria Benjamin (Guestroom), Dorian Moore (GA technologist and tall person) & musician Jack Maynard.

Thanks to everyone who attended and took part.

Posted by Karen Guthrie on 16/11/09 at 13:08

Depressing innit?

On last night's telly, following Jamie Oliver in the culinary desert that is the USA, we heard these immortal words as he squeezed into chaps in a rain shower:

"It's like the Lake District, really depressing"

Posted by Karen Guthrie on 09/09/09 at 20:23

Folk Float on the streets of London


The Folk Float produced by public works for Creative Egremont (a public art programme we managed) is out and about in central London - great to see after too long in the garage!

See www.diyregeneration.net for more on the project


Posted by Karen Guthrie on 18/08/09 at 13:10

Youtube uploads


Re-live on video - or catch if you didn't first time - Sir Nicholas Serota's praise for Lawson Park, given in his launch speech in June.


Posted by Karen Guthrie on 14/08/09 at 14:57

NGS Open Garden - Phew!


A big thanks to all who braved the rain to work at or visit the charity open garden held yesterday for the National Garden Scheme - especially Julie, Meg, Matt, Sophie, Alison & Joe & family, David and Chris.

Sadly the weather had a big impact on visitor numbers compared to last year's 200-odd, but as the third launch we've done here this summer the odds were against us for three sunny days on demand.....

One of the garden's star performers was a very simple but stunning carpet of annuals flowering just 8 weeks after sowing, right outside the hostel. By popular demand, here's  a link to the Pictorial Meadows online shop, where the 'Candy' flower seed mix we used (see pic) can be bought.

Posted by Karen Guthrie on 27/07/09 at 11:14