Tuesday, 11 August 2015

They kiss on both sides of your cheek

The house
I’m sitting in a house that is over 500 years old. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The outside walls are made of rough sandstone and it has a thatched roof that must be replaced every thirty years. The windows are hexagonal lead lights with interesting latches and hand forged ‘arms’ to hold the window open. The internal doors have wooden latches and each room has one or more wooden beams holding the ceiling up. The upstairs hallway undulates like it’s been hit with perma-frost. Outside is a rambling garden that would have been beautiful in it’s hay-day, but it’s a little hard to keep a large garden going when you are in your eighties.

original windows...
the Studio
The outside barn initially caught the current owner’s eye as it could become a studio, the house was secondary but which they fell equally in love with. The house’s name is Agecroft, and it’s bad luck to change a property’s name so while they didn’t really like it at first it grew on them. There is an orchard around the back as the area is well known for it’s cider. John came here to sculpture. Born in England with an English mother and Australian father, he went to school in Australia during the war. During his teens he started working on a station near Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley. He later bought his own station in the 90-mile desert in South Australia where he raised sheep and cattle. His wife came from Melbourne and had always fancied marrying a farmer. I’m sure she didn’t realize that it would be out in the middle of nowhere. Her first memory of him was a photograph she saw when having dinner at his parent’s house on a trip to London, and she remembers asking them who he was. They didn’t meet each other until much later, and then kept running into each other at parties. A few more years passed when they didn’t see each other at all, but obviously finally they did.

At the age of 34, with a family of three boys and a wife to support, John decided he wanted to try his hand a sculpting. He had probably been thinking about it for quite sometime. He couldn’t do it in Australia though, as it just didn’t have the right cultural environment. So they moved to England. It must have been a huge learning curve as he had never sculptured before and was self-taught. Firstly he would make a model in clay, then he got a plasterer to make a cast and from that cast, bronze would be poured. They used foundries in England and Italy to make the final product.

He became very successful and had commissions from all over the world. There is a discus thrower across from the Art Gallery in Melbourne. There is a bust of the Queen mother in his workshop that was a very good likeness at the time, but she wanted him to embellish the portrait, to give her higher cheekbones etc. We all like to look better than we are. There was also one of the current Queen when she was much younger. There are a number of his works in the garden. Unfortunately the life sized ones of his children were stolen a number of years ago and I was really looking forward to seeing them. The perpetrator was caught, but they never recovered the statues. Being bronze, they would have been melted down and are lost forever. Sadly, I never got to meet him.

the acrobats
His wife Margie is my godmother, who was a good friend of my mother's; she has kept in contact with me throughout the years with cards and presents. She last saw me when I was three, which of course I don’t remember, so it was really special to be able to catch up. She lives alone now with Elsa her Labrador and told me if I was ever going to come and see her, I'd better hurry up as her 500 year old house and she were both crumbling!

the lovers
There is a gum tree in the back garden amongst the apple trees. Rub a leaf in your hands she said with a smile. It was leathery and thick. There is something magnificent about the smell of the Australian bush, which is of course the scent of the gum trees. It’s her way of remembering home.

the narrow roads
The area where she lives is Galhampton, near Somerset in the south. Where the roads are narrow and windy and you often have to reverse when confronted by an oncoming car. Luckily we rented a small one.

Margie, Elsa & Jane

Instead of just telling us places to go, both Margie and Elsa accompanied us on our adventures - old local churches, old country pubs, gazing on the land of Camelot, a friend's for an English afternoon tea... Each night we would sit outside and have a drink catching up on all the lost years. This whole trip was created around coming to see Margie and we enjoyed our time with her immensely.

And I thought it was only the French who kiss both cheeks….


  1. Hi Jane,

    WOW the house & sculputres look amazing!!! dina

    1. Makes our houses look pretty boring doesn't it?

  2. We have been stricken by complete and unadulterated jealousy . . .

    1. Thanks Fred, it was a great experience, so glad we finally got to see my godmother