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Graham’s Garden

Works of Frances Mason @seasewed
Virtual Tour
Mar 12, 2024
15th March

Artizan Gallery

Mar 30, 2024

Graham’s Garden

Graham’s Garden

A Story in Four Parts

Conceal, Peel, Reveal and Characters

From my very first visit to The Italian Garden at Great Ambrook I was haunted by the elements beneath the surface. While the garden volunteers unearthed buried plants and ancient pathways, I sketched, and felt the presence of the people who had shared this magical space over a century ago. It was as if the garden was disclosing its secrets.

Passage of time has left its mark on the physical nature of the garden leaving the sense that past occupants and events are somehow etched into its fabric shrouded by the process of growth and decay, images just waiting to be resurrected.

I felt I was drawing back into time to the world of the young Arthur Smith Graham, who created the garden. A world of great literature and art, love of beauty and decadence but also a time of fear, prejudice, social inequality and approaching war. The impact of Oscar Wilde’s trial and imprisonment in 1895 lingered on in a climate that must have influenced Graham’s request that his documents and photographs were destroyed at his death. The resulting absence of words left a space for imagination. The more I drew the more I knew there was a visual narrative waiting to be revealed. I decided the story of “Graham’s Garden” would be my final project for my master’s degree in illustration.

As Oscar Wilde, whose impression was everywhere during this project said, “To look at a thing is very different to seeing it.''

I asked myself how lifting the veil of time and illuminating the garden’s story might influence our lives now. The narrative of the garden is one of the connections between place and people whose lives have left their imprints on geography and on each other.

I was drawn to three sites in Graham’s Garden: the tennis court, the bathing pool and the bench. I repeated these in different media as a stage for the plants and characters in the story. Place takes centre stage, a kind of palimpsest, the plants act as a veil, another layer, concealing and revealing, the characters below.
What I was seeing was not what Graham would have seen. New trees had seeded themselves; original trees and shrubs had matured and annexed empty spaces, in some cases overwhelming original planting. The open views across to Haytor (the home of Graham’s friend, the garden’s designer Thomas Lyon) were obscured. Sycamores had invaded the tennis court and while chocolate vines continued to scramble up the walls there were gaps where other plants would once have thrived.

I wanted to use a process and materials that reflected the era and the spirit of the garden, something that would convey the layers of decay and regeneration. I settled on cyanotype and linocut printing, with the concluding pieces revealed under sanded acetate. My process felt it had history behind it and Graham would have recognised it!

Graham, his friend and neighbour, Thomas Lyon, and Frederick Rolfe (an author who based a character in his book, “Nicolas Crabbe”, on Graham) appear together on the Ipplepen marble bench in one of the linocut prints. While I’m not sure they were ever in the garden together I felt it was reasonable to assume they might have been.

My images describe a place of co-operation, collaboration and celebration with nature and fellow humans, a shared space. Records indicate Graham was a generous man leaving many bequests in his will and entertaining employees and the local community in his garden. The garden remains very much a place of community and co-operation as elements of its past are restored and it grows and evolves through the dedication of its volunteers and new owners. I believe illustration can reach and connect with people in ways other communication may not so there is hope that by visually delving into the past and illuminating stories of people and place it can create a better future.

My aim was to illuminate Graham’s world inside the garden in contrast to the turmoil outside...

I am very grateful to the Italian Garden and the volunteers for sharing their stories and their magical place with me. There couldn’t have been a better subject for my final project, and I heard while writing this blog that I have been awarded a masters (distinction) in illustration from Falmouth University in 2024.

Exhibiting Artists