“I am not particularly interested in the dates of artists or in their names or in what school they belong to, but I am interested in the force of life which pushes them into expression … and it seems to me that every human being must be interested in this force, for in one form or another, it is the thing from which all our own activity is derived.”
Jim Ede, 1941
‘Lighthouse in Kettles Yard’ by Jane Adams is a free discovery and improvisation on that‘force of life which pushes creativity into expression’. The book explores an artist and poet’s creativity from within, to contact the inner child and philosopher. It is autobiographical and impressionist, covering generally the period 1953 till the present day.
Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge is more than a gallery: its creator Jim Ede developed it as a dynamic and healing way of life at all levels. He arranged sea-pebbles, furniture, music, old porcelain and books in conversational placement with the art and sculpture of Gaudier, the Nicholsons, David Jones, Alfred Wallis and many more. For many visitors, it holds sanctuary; eminent musicians gave concerts there and asked no fee. From 2015 until February 2018 Kettle’s Yard was closed for renovation, to expand its potential into an educational centre and to develop the exhibition galleries’ capacity to support contemporary installations.
‘Lighthouse in Kettles Yard’ was written in synchrony, a spontaneous gesture towards the collection’s reopening and rebirth.
The book opens with a drawing of ‘Two Girls’ in the Kettles Yard collection, by a child of five. Jane – Ede’s granddaughter – leads the viewer behind her picture into its story. She recalls her childhood with the atmosphere of Kettles Yard and its friends and artists: Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, the works of William Congden and Gaudier-Brzska, along with the inspiration of Picasso and many others. Through this environmental heritage, she discovered her direction and development.
An open landscape is recalled, before the onset of media technology. The first few chapters evoke early post-war childhood on the Yorkshire moors and in south Cornwall: the recall of a very young artist at work. Jane began to draw full-time at the age of four, encouraged by her maternal grandparents the Edes, and by her parents, who combined the physical hardships of hill farming with string quartet playing, the vision of David Jones, and T S Eliot’s poetry. Later chapters introduce other vivid characters, such as Lionel Miskin (to whose memory the book is dedicated) and Stephen Szegedy Szuts: their creative influence and letters. In the 1960s, the adolescent artist rebels and discovers street life and the Rolling Stones.
The book is conversational and contemplative in tone, with a colourful interplay of characters and interior worlds. It is illustrated throughout with Jane’s work at various stages since childhood, including some new watercolour drawings for the book. The tone is archival, for Jane has access to old family photo albums and her parents’ and grandparents’ active correspondence. Through their letters, they speak for themselves and bring to life a period of history. Through this odyssey, a reader may connect with the value of his or her own ancestral resonance.
There is an association from the first pages, of the drawing of ‘Two Girls’ with the old fisherman Alfred Wallis; his boats, and the slow unfolding of a mystery. The lighthouse develops as a symbol throughout the book, from those in Wallis’s paintings, to C.G.Jung’s extraordinary vision in his early childhood, of a subterranean ‘lighthouse’. ‘Keepers of the light’ guide seafarers on their journeys.
The ‘Two Girls’ also evolve a recurring theme of sisters – vignettes of Jim Ede’s daughters and of Jane’s childhood companions by the sea with her sister. The theme of mystical, matriarchal mother and womanhood balances the more masculine world of art, lighthouse-keeping and the management of Kettles Yard: a continuing flow of the feminine across family, humanity and time. Jim Ede’s vision combined both aspects.
Jim and Helen Ede are the book’s main stem; his character and especially Helen’s, come forth poignantly in life and death. While their house was closed for the recent renovation, the collection was made available for exhibitions. Similarly, ‘Lighthouse in Kettles Yard’ illumines many rooms of life, returning for renewal to the family centre of gravity.
The book evolves a personal and visionary response to Jim Ede’s vision, including a few extracts from his unpublished writings. As public interest in him grows, with a desire to know more about his family and domestic way of life, further studies and biographies are being prepared. This book supplies a more intimate view. The principal characters sprinkled through it include the Edes, their daughters Elisabeth and Mary, some of the painters in Kettles Yard and in Cornwall, the poet Jack Clemo, the pianist Vera Moore, C.G.Jung and the artist Anthony Wigg.