Musings on Museums & Heritage hagiography with Matthew Ward of

Attracting and engaging an audience is one of the primary concerns of the heritage sector. Young and enthusiastic visitors are vital to the survival and prosperity of our heritage.

There are as many ways to attract an audience as there are brilliant books in the Bodleian. The only limiting factors are imagination and courage. Packwood House, a charming National Trust property in the heart of England, has imagineered a new attraction that engages and enthrals with whimsy and wonder. Færie houses peek out from the ornamental garden, a princess’s bed proudly peruses the lake and a winsome witch’s cottage waits in the wood.

The #PackwoodFollies were created by Hilary Jack, an artist from Manchester who has worked from Brooklyn to Budapest. I spoke to Hilary about her work and inspiration.

What inspired you to create the Packwood Follies?

I work across media often using reclaimed broken objects which I use in site referencial installations and sculptural work. While I was researching the background for my proposal for Packwood Follies I became aware of the quotation by a visitor, “a house to dream of, a garden to dream in” which sums up the uncanny, dreamlike experience of visiting Packwood, the fact that all is not as it seems. Graham Baron Ash the last inhabitant of Packwood House had salvaged a large quantity of reproduction and antique Tudor furniture, fixtures and fittings. He used the reclaimed furniture to create an evocation of a Tudor mansion House albeit in the twentieth century, effectively turning back time fort he visitor. I wanted to reference these facts in the artworks I made, the choice of materials and the differing scale of the works.

It is noticeable that the Follies engage and enthral all visitors to Packwood. Did you consider the potential audience for your follies?

It was part of the brief for Packwood Follies that the artworks should be accessible to all age groups. All three follies can be experienced at different levels, simply as spaces to be explored and as conceptual contemporary art which references the history and particularities of the site at Packwood and enhances the visitors experience perhaps highlighting aspects which have previously gone unnoticed.

Packwood Follies are constructed primarily of up reclaimed furniture and have a limited lifespan displayed outdoors. What plans or dreams do you have for creations in brick and stone or cob, wattle and daub?

Most of the structures I make have already been discarded and have a limited lifespan, my intervention extends the life of these objects which I’ve selected because of their histories and purpose. Packwood Follies is made to last for about three years and I believe the installations will change over time and become more embedded in the landscape and the history and mythologies of Packwood.

Packwood is in the geographical centre of England. Where else in the country or the world can people see your projects?

My next commission is for Barnaby Festival in Macclesfield near Manchester in June. I’ll be making another InsideOutHouse using reclaimed office furniture. The theme for the art festival is Industry and the structure will be positioned outside the town hall.

Exploring Packwood Follies

We discovered the follies courtesy of a photo tweeted by Packwood House @NTPackwood – love at first sight of a mysterious cottage in the woods. Choosing to explore without guidance, we started our search in the ornamental yew garden. Three petite palaces, perfect for pixies, prettified the parterre. Their diminutive size was delightful to the younger visitors who were eager to discover the residents. Attractive architecture and audacious artifice, on a small scale, were equally attractive to heritage geeks, grandparents and garden-lovers.

Beyond the pale and the pond, a princess’s bed enticed visitors to explore the lake and woodland walk. Carved from a fallen oak tree and upholstered with turf, anachronistic and anatopismic yet utterly right in execution and location. The craggily carved pillars whisper Delphic dreams and the turf-mattress entreats Tudor secrets. From ‘the Princess and the Pea’ to ‘Beauty and the Beast’ this was not aloof and esoteric art but a playpen for the imagination.

From the verdant lakeside pasture we passed into the tulgy wood, searching for the cottage that had first enticed us to visit. Hansel and Gretel, Vasilisa and Snow White, our imaginations had been visualised by Hilary Jack in this amazing inside-out cottage. The outside is clad in salvaged Tudorbethan furniture whilst the inside contains an enchanted glade. This is the Wendy House that everybody has always dreamed of. All the visitors were enraptured and entranced by the sylvan sorcery.

All was quiet, save the choirs of birdsong in the branches, yet our innocent wonder was challenged by the wicked witch who claimed ownership of the folly.

Packwood Follies is a wonderful attraction that I encourage all to visit, to play in and enjoy. The brand new visitors’ centre at Packwood House is excellent, with a comfortable tea room, free wifi and most importantly, a warm welcome from staff and volunteers. Please visit the National Trust website to plan your own visit.

More than four and a half centuries of history abound at Packwood. Now blessed with the wonderful whimsy and the witch, of Hilary Jack’s follies.

Thank you to Hilary Jack for discussing her inspiration. For more information about her work, please visit her website.

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