Kettles Yard, Cambridgeshire

To the discerning visitor of impressive mansions and stately homes, an ordinary-looking country cottage with a tiny garden may seem a little obscure to include in a list of 'notable houses'. Notwithstanding the fact that it is indeed an amalgamation of four cottages, located on the outskirts of the university City of Cambridge, it is the 'inside story' here which provides the fascination for this unique enterprise centred around contemporary art.

From the early age of 15, Harold Stanley ('Jim') Ede was besotted with paintings, and studied at Newlyn Art School and the Slade in London. He later became a curator at the Tate Gallery, where he formed many important connections with the art world, but preferred to write about other artists' work rather than continue with his own. It was during this time, under the guidance of Ben and Winifred Nicholson, that he learned a great deal about the role of art in the context of everyday life. His own knowledge of modern art expanded with the help of Kit Wood, David Jones, Alfred Wallis and many others, as did his collection of various works.

When he resigned from the Tate in 1936, Jim and his wife, Helen, moved to Morocco and, later, France, and lectured for many years across the United States. By 1954 he longed of owning a place in England where he could share his love of art, particularly with young people, in an environment that they would find far less intimidating than a public gallery or museum. Restricted by limited funds, Jim's dream of some kind of stately home that he could open up for the enjoyment of art in a domestic setting was eventually realised in the form of four near-derelict cottages in the heart of a bustling city.

In 1957, Kettles Yard having been interestingly remodelled and renovated to form a decent-sized house, the vision was realised and Jim and Helen began their 'open house' sessions each afternoon. Recognised by Cambridge University as something innovative that needed to be encouraged and continued, the Edes presented Kettles Yard and its contents to the university in 1966. Soon after, a large first floor extension was built over the walkway, between the cottages and the present art gallery, to make way for the ever-increasing collections. Jim and Helen retired to Scotland in 1973, and Kettles Yard has remained in a time warp since that time. Apart from the paintings, sculptures and ceramics displayed around the house, Jim's obvious obsession with nature is clearly evident in the numerous stone formations and flower arrangements that can be seen in almost every room.

Kettles Yard is not so much about the investigation of a great house in terms of ancestral ownership (of which there appears to be none), nor the discovery of any architectural importance. It is essentially a means of understanding the life work of a creative, 20th century man who had a desire to open up the world of visual art as seen through his own experiences. By ringing the doorbell on certain afternoons, today's visitor can still enjoy the same informal approach that Ede created in this refuge of 'living art'.


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