I’d like to tell you the story of my book. Once upon a time, on a winter evening my two friends Tony Wigg, Christopher Williams and I met for fish and chips at the Black Lion in West Hampstead. It was a noisy Friday night so I invited them back to my house. The conversation moved around Kettle’s Yard and also towards my 1960s charcoal drawings; and at last I opened a very old and battered suitcase containing my art when I was five, six years old. My mother had saved those drawing-books for me. That early gift was deeply nourished through my grandparents Jim and Helen Ede.
Tony and Chris fell in love with my Molly and her friends on the Cornish coast. They said – “why not make her into a small children’s book for young visitors to Kettle’s Yard?” We got quite excited and started planning it. At that time the house at Kettle’s Yard was closed during the two-year renovation. Our idea germinated and began to suggest a creative parallel – with re-opening Kettle’s Yard to new generations.
It swiftly grew much bigger than the slim volume we envisaged. For us, it mirrored other journeys of mystery and discovery during the hiatus: including Andrew Nairne’s Moroccan odyssey to Tangier in search of White Stone!
We were aware of the new generation – the children who will visit Kettle’s Yard – the timeless child within each artist and visitor there, the creative child in Jim Ede himself … a quality of education – with which there are painful and constricting issues nowadays. Educational intimacy develops the imagination and opens the inner life.
Local school projects are linked to Kettle’s Yard. To my delight, on my first visit the day before the house reopened, I met a multicultural flock of school kids in the 1970’s extension; everything in the house is a part of my childhood. We took my grandparents’ home for granted but were rather in awe of it; to be careful how we touched things.
Jim was an imaginative grandfather – a child at play himself. I was in love with my grandparents’ home, the smell of toast and honey, and the strange spartan beauty of its atmosphere and speech.
Early in 2017, my friend Tony Wigg had a symbolic dream. He was standing in the garden near St Peter’s; there was a long hedge to the left – where the building work on the new wing was actually going on – and in that hedge he saw a huge and beautiful green apple. For a moment he also caught sight of an old man in an upstairs window of the house. The old man carried a canoe paddle; he smiled shyly and moved away into the interior. Does’t that green apple hint at the renovation project and its future?
We felt Jim’s curating presence in the house – quiet, still and private while it was closed – keeping sanctuary among crates and boxes and labels; his long-term view that all may turn out well.
“Lighthouse in Kettle’s Yard” is put together like painting a portrait or landscape. You may open and dip into it wherever you like. Most readers do this spontaneously because there are more than 500 paintings, drawings and old photographs to look at (370 pages), with the story; later the reader may start – or end – where the story begins.
It is conversational, inspired by the way my grandfather arranged light, furniture and objects in the house as constellations to talk to each other. There are voices, periods of life, old family letters (particularly some of Jim’s to my mother) and discoveries with other artists. It is a private account, becoming transpersonal.
Today we celebrate Kettle’s Yard’s archival character. Although my “Lighthouse” is a creative archive, filled with eclectic art from different periods of my life, the continuity is with my very early drawings which speak. It is poetic rather than chronological. In any creative project there are discordant stresses – the sharp green apple to ripen. We all knew how Jim suffered these stresses, and how difficult he could be. He was a mystic with a rare ability to embody his vision and make it matter to others.