A stunning exhibition conveying in ‘fibre and stitch’ the story of one of the North East’s most captivating and enigmatic aristocratic families has been unveiled at the Northumberland estate they once called home.
The Spirit of Wallington captures through a serious of vibrant and rich textiles the lives of the last of the Trevelyans to live at the ancestral seat as well as the essence of the country retreat’s natural and built environment.
Fifty attention-grabbing and often thought-provoking works have gone on public display and include everything from brilliantly woven wall hangings to intricate embroidery, proggy matting, 3D pieces, felting and factually inspired costumes that help bring not just Wallington’s long and illustrious history to life, but that of Sir Charles and Molly Trevelyan who donated the estate at Cambo near Morpeth to the nation in 1941.
The remarkable pieces are the result of a year-long collaboration between the Twyne Textile Group and the National Trust, which owns Wallington.
In total13 female textile artists living between the Rivers Tweed and Tyne – hence Twyne’s name - who work in a variety of media styles, have been involved in the project.
Julie Tucker, Events and Marketing Manager at Wallington, said: “This is the first time we have been involved in anything quite like this. The range and scope of the work that has been produced has been truly astonishing.
“It is colourful, vibrant, often thought provoking and visually stunning. I think we have all been amazed by what the artists’ have drawn from the Wallington story and how they have tied everything together.
“The National Trust is very proud to have been a part of this project and to now be able to share Twyne’s work with the wider public. The exhibition opens a new and hitherto unexplored window on to Wallington’s past in a wonderful and very original way.”
The showcase, which can be seen on the first floor of the Clocktower Café, inside the house as well as in the conservatory and potting shed in the walled garden, draws on a long tradition of fine needlework amongst the women of Wallington.
The house boasts 10 striking 300 year old life-size wool and silk needlework panels worked by Julia, Lady Calverley, whose son Sir Walter Calverley Blackett inherited the Wallington estate in 1728.
And between 1910 and 1933 Molly Trevelyan undertook the mammoth task of embroidering an 8ft by 6ft (2.5mx2m) wall hanging using the legendary tale of King Arthur and his Knights as an allegory for the origins of the Trevelyan family.
The tapestry, which has pride of place in the drawing room, also records momentous events that happened during its execution, such as the outbreak of World War One and the armistice of 1918 as well as the birth of two of Molly’s children.
To set their creative juices flowing, the Twyne project team of Kate Allport, Gillian Arkley, Pat Ashton-Smith, Sally Bird, Margaret Bodley Edwards, Helen Cowans, Sheila Craig, Chris Dixon, Wendy Dunstone, Pauline Lawson, Paula McEwen, Jane Penny and Denise Primrose, were granted unlimited access to Wallington’s house, grounds and archives.
They were then given free rein to interpret the Wallington story, the only stipulations being that some of the pieces should record the effect World War One had on the estate and the Trevelyan’s to commemorate 100 years since the start of the conflict, and that the colours should wherever possible reflect an explosion of autumn hues to tie-in with the exhibition’s timing.
Among the pieces depicting the 1914-1918 war is a beautiful lockerhook hearth rug by Wendy Dunstone displayed in the Blackett Bedroom in the house, the idea for which came from a souvenir handkerchief printed with the song ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning.’
Another poignant wartime exhibit is an exquisite ruby red evening dress fashioned by Helen Cowans entitled La Belle Epoque Ends displayed in the Central Hall, which features embroidered crows representing death and a red and white poppy corsage, the white flower referring to the Trevelyan’s hatred of war.
Other pieces such as a roundel rose fabric bowl by Kate Allport have taken their inspiration from architectural features – in this case a ceiling decoration – and nature, such as Denise Primrose’s ethereal Autumn Glory corset on show in the Trevelyan Bedroom decorated with feathers, seed pods and grasses.
Gillian Arkley, a retired school teacher turned textile artist from Ponteland, has six works in the Spirit of Wallington showcase, including a fabric, paper and embroidery panel based on a letter written by George Macauley Trevelyan from Italy during World War One where he describes missing the estate’s ‘tall, dreaming trees.’
She is also responsible for a set of delicate handmade artist’s books fashioned from paper, fabric and embroidery, inspired by Wallington’s library.
Gillian describes The Spirit of Wallington exhibition as the “most exciting project we (Twyne) have done. The focus and the range of inspiration allowed everyone to pick up on their own individual interests and interpret them in a wide variety of ways.
“The fact the Trevelyan’s were interesting people too just added to the interest and artistic scope.
“I focused on the library as that’s where the family during Charles and Molly’s time used to gather most evenings and do lots of crafty things like needlework, mending and knitting. I find it amazing that while the Trevelyan’s were obviously very wealthy, Molly still used to darn socks and was very much a ‘make do and mend’ person.”
To highlight this the National Trust has set-up little displays of its own around the house with baskets of sewing paraphernalia and knitting and unfinished embroidery left draped across furniture.
The Sprit of Wallington exhibition – which runs until November 2 - came about through a former Twyne Textile Group member and National Trust volunteer who has since moved away from the area.
Janet Bannister had herself been artistically inspired by Wallington’s beautiful formal gardens and woodland and suggested the venue would be the perfect place for Twyne members to bring their skills to a wider audience.
For the National Trust, The Spirit of Wallington falls in with its own desire to help bring its houses to life for visitors in new and unusual ways.