Research Trip: Gibside Gardens

#untitled10 Me & Mary Eleanor

The National Trust now take care of Gibside, which was originally Mary Eleanor Bowes family home. It was on my list for places to visit as part of my research into the owner of the botany cabinet in the Bowes Museum collection. I went to Gibside just before the end of the project to get a feel for the family’s love of gardening and horticulture.

The gardens are amazing, and vary from the carefully constructed leafy promenade to the functional walled garden. I had no idea that a place like this existed just outside of Newcastle! Hidden just off the A1 in a place called Rowland’s Gill is this absolute gem. My trip was to consist of collecting flower photographs for my cyanotype sculpture and general lolly-gagging around imagining what it would have been like for the heiress to go from this to her other homes.

In Gibside she was the apple of her daddy’s eye and was treated no different from a boy. (In Georgian times it was extremely unusual for women of any class to be educated beyond sewing, singing, and obedience). Mary Eleanor was encouraged to indulge in the pleasures of learning, science, botany and literature. The ruins of the buildings add more romantic folly to the setting. Liberty stands proudly on a column in the landscape, specifically placed to draw the eye in a celebration of the picturesque.

The place is the embodiment of Georgian pomp. Mary Eleanor Bowes father was one of the richest men in the country because he was a coal magnate. He had none of the perceived provenance of the aristocracy. He had twice as much to prove as your usual rich dude of the time. The gardens and the architecture were to create an estate that felt like it had already been there a long time, a beautiful imitation of stately homes owned by the aristocracy.

A lot of what artists do is about interpretation. I’m offering the world my unique opinions on something, from my specific viewpoint. You can’t make opinions without research. Or at least you shouldn’t. In this respect the research trips that I used my Sunderland Culture development bursary for were completely integral to how I responded to the story. Visiting places allows me a visceral and tangible view of something beyond the written research.

The Orangery above, was the beloved creation of Mary Eleanor Bowes herself. The beautiful architecture also functional as a plant hot house. I took the printed sketchbook along and photographed it in the orangery. Putting Mary Eleanor back into her favourite place.

I’ll talk about my other research trip to Kew Gardens in a future post. Thanks for reading!

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