We have nearly 300 volunteers here at Upton House and Gardens and many different roles, from welcoming visitors, driving the buggy, researching the family history or helping to keep the gardens looking immaculate. To give you a behind the scenes look at what they do we will be posting a blog every month looking at ‘A Volunteer’s Eye View’. Let us introduce you to our January:
Who are you and why do you like Upton House and Gardens?
Hello, my name is Veronica Cutler and I volunteer in the House.
I’ve always loved Upton House and visited regularly with my family from as long ago as the 1970s, a very different era when the Bearsted family still lived in the house, and of course certain parts only were open. My small children loved racing over the lawn and running down to the Mirror Pool. There was no restaurant then, just a tiny tearoom in the old kitchen, but on fine days you could take your tray of tea and have it as a picnic on the lawn.
What is your role here?
I have been a room guide here for 11 years. The main attraction of Upton for me has always been the picture collection, which must be uniquely rich for what was a private house. It is very special too that Lord Bearsted wanted his house to be shown without barriers, ropes and obvious alarms cutting visitors off from the feeling of a lived-in home. Visitors are sometimes amazed that they can see the wonderful paintings from so close. During the years I have been a guide, the staff have made more and more effort to present the house in a way which gives the feel of real life – though of course in more affluent times!
The Picture Gallery
As the key thing about the house for me is the painting collection, I was really pleased to get involved with preparing for the exhibition ‘From Lowry to Piper’ – a tribute to the tremendously successful Whitechapel Gallery exhibition pioneered by Lord Bearsted in 1950, and which, sadly, he did not live to see come to fulfilment. I joined an interesting group of staff and volunteers and my job was to research two artists. Others did the same for the remaining artists and also researched the Whitechapel Gallery and the historical background.
What have you particularly enjoyed?
As I’ve been retired for a while it was so good to have to do some real work with deadlines and a framework, and also to share work with others who had produced brilliant research on their topics and chosen artists. To have extra fun, I went further than was strictly necessary and visited Charleston Farmhouse where Duncan Grant lived and worked. Flowers Against Chintz and Artificial Flowers drew influences from Grant’s time with Vanessa Bell at Charleston, and it was thrilling to see this. I also visited Berwick Church near Charleston which Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant decorated with murals during the Second World War. When researching Ivon Hitchens I discovered an early work of his at Cecil Sharp House in North London. Here can be found a semi abstract mural with a pastoral theme appropriate for the English Folk Dance society whose house it is. By the end I felt as though they really were ‘my’ artists and when the exciting day came and the exhibition was mounted it was really emotional (yes, a tear in the eye) to see the real paintings which I’d seen previously only as reproductions in books and online.
Veronica and other volunteers on the launch evening of the exhibition
What are you next looking forward to?
I had a wonderful summer, very stimulating and absorbing, so I’m looking forward to the chance to help with the Shell exhibition planned for April.