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Who are you and why do you like Upton House and Gardens?

My name is Ian and Jenny has asked me to write a blog. My first instinct is turn to the dictionary (a book) for a definition of a blog. My dictionary tells me it’s a weblog. I am none the wiser!

‘To blog or not to blog that is the question’; but then I realise there is no option.  Jenny has asked me to write a blog.  It’s going to be blogging difficult but here goes. The thing I enjoy most is making information accessible to visitors about our varied collection.

What is your role here?

I have been a volunteer room guide at Upton for the last 8 years. Sometime in the first year there was meeting of volunteers towards the end of which, we were asked whether there was anything on which we would like more information. The answer was- ‘Please can we have something about the tapestries’, and my role in researching more about Upton House started here.

One of the tapestries in our Main Hall

One of the tapestries in our Main Hall

What have you particularly enjoyed?

I didn’t know anything about tapestries other than that they were generally old and hung on walls and Henry VIII had lots of them. But nothing ventured nothing gained, I said, ‘I don’t know anything about them, but I am sure I can find out.’ If you want to learn about something you have to accept that you are likely to be starting from position of ignorance.

I enjoyed researching tapestries. However the material I produced lived in solitary isolation in the Main Hall room folder for a few years, but then somebody discovered it and it was brought into use, particularly by volunteers who were giving tours for visitors.  I used what I learnt, and often find that when I cross the Main Hall I am asked to talk visitors who are interested in tapestries.

Over 6 years I have produced almost 20 information documents for volunteers e.g. Books of Hours, Art & Power, The role of religious images, Choral books, Printing, -woodblock, engraving and etching, Lord Bearsted and the Shell Oil Company, Robert Waley Cohen and the Oil industry, George Stubbs and his horses, the social side of Hogarth  etc. The most rewarding feeling is knowing that the information is helping to bring the House alive and being used by volunteers to talk to visitors.

Lord Bearsted next to a Shell pump

Lord Bearsted next to a Shell pump

What are you next looking forward to?

I am currently working on the ideas and the potential impact of new art history. Not the history of new art, but new ways of thinking about art to bring out its social, cultural and historical meaning.  Very different from the connoisseurs’ approach which is much concerned with style, provenance, and particularly monetary value.   This painting is valued at £20,000,000 — it must a good picture!!!

Ian in the Library with another volunteer, Anne

Ian in the Library with another volunteer, Anne

Coming up soon though is a new side to the House being bought alive, exploring the Fortune and Philanthropy of Lord and Lady Bearsted. I’m interested in researching these avenues of the House and bringing out the emotional connections to visitors. 8 years ago I had no idea that my role as a Room Guide would lead me to so many different places!