Sculptor Angela Conner of Monnington Court, Herefordshire
PUBLISHED: 12:11 19 February 2010 | UPDATED: 01:02 06 February 2013
Nature meets art in the gardens at Monnington Court, home of sculptor Angela Conner
International sculptor Angela Conner is known for her large scale abstract sculptures that take pride of place in public spaces, including the Janus Arch in Longleat; the Irish Wave at Parkwest, Dublin, Ireland, which at 129 feet is the tallest mobile in Europe and commissions for Chatsworth in Derbyshire. Engineered to respond to natural forces and elements, they entice viewers to watch their gentle movement. I think weve all become more interested in the environment. People do stop, and contemplate, and look, she says.
So while it could be said that Angelas studio is a temple to nature, the beautiful gardens at her Herefordshire home, Monnington Court, serve as a temple to her work. Nestled in the Wye Valley, the medieval house is surrounded by 25 acres of parkland, lake and herb gardens, with the famous mile-long avenue of pines and yews planted in the mid 17th century, reputedly a favourite of Sir John Betjeman, one of her subjects who made a film about it. Dotted around the tranquil gardens and private walkways are examples of Angelas kinetic sculptures, as well as groups of her intimate bronze portraits of members of the Royal family and prominent figures from the 20th and 21st centuries who have sat for her.
Starting working life as assistant to Dame Barbara Hepworth, Angela married the grandson of the Bulmers Cider company founder, the pioneering colour photojournalist and filmmaker, John Bulmer, in the church of Monnington Court in the late 1970s.
John, who worked for the Daily Express and Sunday Times magazine, had bought the house by way of a sealed bid while at the airport en route to an overseas photo shoot in the late Sixties.
It was a bit of a spur of the moment purchase and a total wreck when he bought it, explains Angela.
With Angela spending a lot of time at her studio in London and John travelling overseas for his work, it has been a slow and gradual process to restore the house and gardens toglory.
We took it back to what it was, says Angela. It is a very unsuccessful modern house but a very successful medieval one, and we are still working away on it right now.
What I most enjoy about Herefordshire is that there is an extraordinary collection of medieval houses left intact, more so than anywhere else on this island. Nearly all of the big houses elsewhere in the country were influenced by the Grand Tour in the 18th Century when the upper classes travelled to Greece and Rome and were influenced by the architecture they saw there. Whereas people from Hereford, for some reason, seemed not to go so there is a great mass of untouched medieval houses with no porticos or pillars added.
Surrounded by boggy fields, Angela and John transformed part of the Courts land into green parkland by filling in with earth taken from the neighbouring field, and with the hole that was left created a lake.
They also planted a second tree-lined walk of alternate red oaks and silver poplars, planted in celebration of their marriage and using money Angelas mother had given to buy the wedding canaps. Which I thought was much better value than canaps, she laughs.
The tree-filled gardens now provide a beautiful and fitting setting to showcase Angelas sculptures.
While she holds a fascination with the power of wind and water, Angela does not find inspiration necessarily from her surroundings in Herefordshire and what she may see in the landscape, but rather the wider context of forces from space, such as the suns or gravitational effects on a sculpture. Our little tiny planet is a minute part of something so huge. We are such a tiny speck that its so interesting to put our lives in context a bit. I suffer from too many ideas rather than too few. When people ask me to do a sculpture, they dont ask me to do what they think; I can only do what I want to do.
This element of Angelas work sits in complete contrast to the portrait sculptures, which on an intimate and personal level probe the character behind the mask. Among those who have sat for her include HRH The Queen, who she described as a perceptive woman with a very strong centre, Lord Rothschild, Sir Tom Stoppard, Harold Macmillan, Alec Douglas-Home and many more.
Sometimes Ill do their portrait because they ask me and sometimes Ill do somebody just because I want to. I did Sir John Tavener and Alan Bennett for that reason, she says.
Working from life is a form, perhaps, of an osmosis. It has to be done by instinct; its not something you can do intellectually.
Visitors can enjoy the gardens and sculptures at any time by appointment or during the summer open days as part of the National Garden Scheme. During these open days visitors are treated to displays of the British Morgan Horses, for Monnington is also home to the Bulmer Morgan Horse Farm, where the Bulmer family breed and train these famous British horses.
Together with their daughter, Georgia, they show their horses all over the country and in the USA, taking part in the major shows within the UK as well as competing in open driving classes.
Monnington Court and Gardens will be open from May 29-31 as part of the National Garden Scheme. Entry fees: House and gardens; adults, 7, children 3.50; garden; adults, 5.50, children, 3.
Monnington Court, Hereford, Herefordshire, HR4 7NL Tel: 01981 500264