Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Trip to Cragside

Our first official MFA outing was to Cragside, a National Trust property and estate in the North East.

"Cragside was created very largely by three remarkable Victorians - its owners, William and Margaret Armstrong, and their architect, Richard Norman Shaw. Despite later changes, the house and estate still bear their distinctive stamp.

Sir William, later 1st Lord Armstrong (1810-1900) had one of the most extraordinary careers of the Victorian era.

In 1863, not having taken a holiday for years and tired after organising a conference of the British Association, Armstrong visited Rothbury. He had happy childhood memories of the area, and decided to build a place in the country.

And so Cragside began."


"Lord Armstrong was an engineer through and through and he brought his wealth of professional experience as a great civil and mechanical engineer to brilliant effect at Cragside. He knew how to move water about after working on a project to bring fresh drinking water to Newcastle.

Building and civil engineering wasn’t a problem; he had seen his factory built and knew all about bridge construction. Mechanical engineering was his meat and drink at his Elswick Works on the Tyne. He was 53 when he started Cragside and knew his stuff, and if he didn’t know something, he certainly knew someone who did.

His technical and scientific mind made Cragside a wonder of its age and provided incomparable luxuries. Imagine the task of installing an infrastructure of pipes and a hydraulic engine that pumped thousands of gallons of fresh water to the House enabling:
Hot running water
Cold running water
A Turkish bath suite
A hot room
A rain shower
A plunge bath

The meat in front of the kitchen range was turned by a little ‘Scotch Mill’ water turbine, still in operation today. A hydraulic passenger lift was based on the ‘jigger’ technology he had developed for his world famous cranes. Ranks of cast iron pipes and radiators provided central heating, and, just to make everything safe, a fire hydrant ring main surrounded the house.

Water was to give Cragside its ‘world’s first’ status when he developed hydroelectricity here in 1878. Then, in 1880, the house had one of the first proper installations of his friend Joseph Swan’s light bulbs. A bright, clean form of lighting was introduced into domestic use, making Cragside the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity."


"The recently operational Archimedes screw will produce about 12kw of electricity and over the course of a year Cragside expects the screw to provide about 10% of its electricity. This is the equivalent to lighting all the lights in the house for a year, but not enough to run all its computers, fridges and freezers etc. "


We were able to look round the house, and view what remains of the Armstrong's collection. His enthusiasm for collecting included contemporary British art, furniture, ceramics and natural history. The house also has items which reflect his scientific curiosity and experimentation.

This year the team at Cragside have worked with arts & heritage to create a contemporary art exhibition that responds to this unique place focusing on Armstrong’s fascination with light.

LUX showcases six artists work.

Imogen Cloët Illumine

Imogen has created an immersive installation in the historic interior of the dining room. At the centre of the room a large Victorian ‘boardroom’ table, its surface covered with industrial polished steel, reminds us of Armstrong’s industrial might. Suspended light bulbs directly reference the invention of Joseph Swan’s incandescent bulb and the first stage of their installation within the house, signalling the birth of modern domestic lighting.

Ive been told that although Armstrong owned many collected objects, these were collections that he kept in order to appear an interesting person rather than because he actually had an interest in collecting.

I was attracted to the pianola as it reminded me of my Gran as she has one in her bungalow, and as kids we often used to play it, pretending that we were pianists!

It would be good to create an artwork that could be played on the pianola - both visually and musically stimulating. Perhaps using the laser cutter?

Andrew Burton Light Vessel

Andrew has created a sculpture made up of thousands of small glass bricks using the sun as the source of light.

The work draws its inspiration from the title of the project, LUX, from Armstrong’s fascination with light and from the sense of excitement and innovation that Joseph Swan’s early incandescent lamps used at Cragside would have generated when they were first seen.

Jem Finer Spiegelei Junior III

Spiegelei Junior III is a sculptural camera obscura. Visitors are invited to place their head inside the sphere to gain the full effect of the work. Reflecting and inverting the visible world around it you will see a 360 degree panoramic projection of the space.
This work was originally commissioned by the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

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