Guest post: My year in the Harris Garden by Jenny Halstead

Our first guest post is by Jenny Halstead, whose exhibition, An artist’s year in the Harris Garden opened at MERL last week. Jenny is a local artist who spent a year as Artist in Residence at the University of Reading’s beautiful Harris Garden.  The resulting exhibition showcases the paintings and sketchbook studies which take us through the seasons, moods and development of the Garden over the duration of a year from 2011. The exhibition at MERL is a wonderful example of collaboration between one of Reading’s best-known local artists, the University and the Museum, and is already attracting people with an interest in Jenny’s work and the Garden, but who may never have thought of visiting MERL before. We are delighted that Jenny has agreed to give us an insight here into how the exhibition evolved…

My year in the Harris Garden, by Jenny Halstead.

The exhibition is up … on the newly painted panelling in the Studio at MERL. Seeing one’s work all together and displayed for the first time is always a surprise.

Jenny installing the exhibition in the Studio at MERL

Jenny installing the exhibition in the Studio at MERL

I had planned the arrangement on paper, and hoped it would all fit as well when on the wall…and it did!   I wanted to create the transition and flow of the seasons around the two walls of the room,  starting with the process of people planting in ‘Forward Looking’ then into the cool colours of winter – the snow and the frost giving way to the acid greens of spring, followed by the vivid colours of summer, before drifting into the oranges and earth colours of autumn. During my year as Artist in Residence, I’ve recorded the Harris Garden over the changing months, its development and the people who work in it. This I have done by using  sketchbook studies rather than photographs (although a camera is useful on occasions for extra reference).

Jenny sketching in the Harris Garden

Jenny sketching in the Harris Garden

When I draw, I engage with the subject, the eye observes, the brain absorbs and the hand holding the pen translates. The drawing is a thought-process and adding a tonal wash gives me enough information to make  finished paintings in the studio later.

Most of these sketches are on a continuous loop playing on a monitor as part of the exhibition. The iPad is text–free and encourages the visitor to flick through the images of paintings and, when tapped, to hear my voice describing either the scene or my reasons for choosing to paint it and choosing the medium to be used. It has been fun planning the exhibition, choosing the selection of paintings and sketches to be used in the book An artist’s year in the Harris Garden (published by Two Rivers Press) and writing the accompanying text, with extra input from other invited contributors.

Jenny signing copies of the book at the Private View

Jenny signing copies of the book at the Private View

The year has been a fantastic one and I have so enjoyed all aspects of the project and the process, and hope the visitor enjoys the  exhibition as much as the Garden itself. Jenny

Toddler Time inspired by Jenny's exhibition

Toddler Time inspired by Jenny’s exhibition

For full details of ‘An artist’s year in the Harris Garden’ and related events, including a afternoon sketching workshop in the MERL garden, Jenny’s open studio as part of the Whiteknights Studio Trail, visit the exhibition page on the MERL website. You’ll also be able to meet Jenny at the MERL Village Fete tomorrow, Saturday June 1st…

OCL at the Village Fete 2013

written by Adam Koszary, Project Officer for Our Country Lives.

The MERL Village Fete is only a few days away, and we are already preparing our hi-vis jackets, gazebos, bunting and scones, as well as harnessing an army of volunteers and staff to ensure everything runs smoothly.

The focus of this year’s Fete is on rural crafts and traditions, and we have an exciting bunch of craftspeople either demonstrating or offering opportunities to make your own crafts. We have a wide array of exhibitors this year, meaning you can taste some cakes while learning about your family history, or feel the sparks from some blacksmithing to the sound of the Walham St Lawrence Silver Band. Then there’s also the hog roast (with a vegetarian option), locally brewed beer, leather-working, Jenny Halsteadwoodworking demonstrations, and of course, morris dancing, a raffle, and a cake competition – plus much, much more.

Enjoying the entertainment at last year's Village Fete

Enjoying the entertainment at last year’s Village Fete

As well as all these options there will also be a chance for you to influence the future of the Museum of English Rural Life. We are at a stage where we are keen to learn about what ‘rural life’ and ‘the countryside’ mean to our visitors, and whether our plans for the museum are on the right track or whether you think we are missing something. The questionnaires are very short, but your responses will be a huge help to us. A team of volunteers, myself and a few others will be at the fete gently persuading visitors to give us their views on what they think of the museum, and how it could be improved. We can also tell you about our plans for Our Country Lives, and answer any questions you may have about the redevelopment, so please come and see us! Our gazebo will be in the middle of the field, sandwiched between the Facepainting and the Centre for Agri-Environmental Research!