Glass ceilings

18 Dec 2009

Endless rain and cold, damp air do little to affect my enthusiasm for Tatton Park. The view onto this centuries-old plot is stunning -- from any window of its impressive mansion. It's a Monday and the park and house are closed to the public. Looking out from a workaday National Trust office interior onto the formal gardens front-of-house the present and the past become jumbled like the ill-fitting sections of multiple jigsaws – I might be Lewis Carroll's Alice brought to life for continuity advice on the filming of the book.

There are specially commissioned Canalettos in one of the OTT drawing rooms and pieces of furniture that would cause coronaries on the set of 'Antiques Roadshow', throughout, but it's the lore and life of the place, gleaned from wall plaques and tidbits dropped by the biennial curators and estate staff, that really endear one to it. Stuffed giant tuna, glistening as if recently brushed with aspic, bear testament to an ambitious fishing trip in 1933; ladies wrestle in real-time with an unwieldy mannequin for the Christmas display in the hall; the heads of game animals poke through Rapunzel lengths of jaundiced curtain (designed to separate sensitive wedding parties and other clients from the macabre majesty of these mammal trophies) in the dining hall extension.

For this trip I'm an observer but for an artist visiting for the first time it's all about catching a whiff of the place and developing a feel for the edges: the border territories between rural requirements and urban ideas and the bounds of access and creative possibility. After chatting to the office manager and receiving tours of the house and grounds one becomes all too aware of the limits – set by funds, preservation orders and the perceived expectations of Tatton's core visitor traffic. But listening to my guides get passionate and artists and engineers get lateral I imagine limits in this context not as a glass ceiling, there is simply too much sky and space here, but a stout yet topiariseable box hedge.

Posted by Rebecca Geldard at 2:16 PM