Plymouth Link with London Gallery!

Green Minds has linked with The Village Hub and The Box for a collaborative project -'Fruits of the Spirit'- with The National Gallery in London.

Earlier this year, the National Gallery announced that they are running a project called 'Fruits of the Spirit'. The project pairs nine paintings from the National Gallery’s collection with nine paintings from regional partner collections from across the UK- The Box in Plymouth was invited to be one of these partners.

The National Gallery paired Joseph Turner's industrial painting Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway with Ben Hartley's rural Devon Lane, Westlake, which resides in The Box. The idea is that the paintings- and people's reponses to them- are compiled and digitally accessible as an online exhibition. Someone in Plymouth can scan a QR code next to the Ben Hartley painting and find out about its contrast to the Turner painting in London, and vice versa. View the exhibition here!

The Box team contacted Green Minds, hoping to link in with a community group we've been working with on one of our nature recovery sites. We paired up The Box with the wonderful Village Hub community group in Stoke. They saw the Ben Hartley painting and wrote their responses alongside some of the staff from The Box. See below for their responses, which are now accessible in The National Gallery in London!

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Above: Ben Hartley painting at The Box in Plymouth.

Ben Hartley, Devon Lane, Westlake, 1968, gouache on paper, 71 cm × 57 cm, Plymouth, The Box, Gift of Bernard Samuels, 2022 (PLYBX.2022.21.19)

The quotations and poem below are from members of the Stoke Village Hub community, who thought that writing about a painting might be fun, especially around climate change and self‐control! They went to see the Ben Hartley painting, Devon Lane, Westlake, and here are some of the responses it inspired:

‘As inner‐city community members, diverse and fruitful as the hedgerow, we welcome the incomers. Many have travelled long lonely roads looking for healthy boundaries, belonging, space and hope.’

‘After a short while contemplating the painting Devon Lane, Westlake, it seems like a journey, a story, someone’s story. We need to visit the small scenes individually and then come back to the whole picture. We wonder, what is there, who is there and why?’

The Road and the Way
A poem for temperance around climate change
Ancient ways flowed – no straight lines, no fields existed. Gifted old growth as warmth and trees, never lonely. They had each other, so did we. We knew each other. This went on for thousands of seasons.
At first receiving, we learnt to borrow. We always gave it back, this was the time of tending. Too short because it was beautiful. Something was lost and trees became lonely, so did we but nobody noticed.
Once there were no boundaries, but we felt compelled to impose. Gentle it once was, with no fences or walls, only hedgerows. The boundaries, though not as good as before, held life still, respected Mother Earth. A track in a place that was its own, now covered in concrete began to groan. Nobody noticed, all our elders ignored.
Time seemed to move faster and everything changed. It’s unlikely we’ll be allowed to simply tend again. The hedgerows continue diminished and the tree is a solitary individual. The smoke of warmth still drifts away to the west. What wisdom is left tries to decide what is acceptable and what is not. We dread what’s on the horizon, yet do little to change it, grey and looming, we hurtle towards it.
Some more time has passed since then, though not as much yet quicker than before. This concept of time, the one we made up is not working. Our souls and our energy – the Earth is full steam ahead – declining. Everyone says, ‘I know’ but most have never looked or seen. Never shown how.

‘The road starts off wide and powerful. The dark house looks cold, barren, as if signifying the death of a loved one. As you get older the path gets narrower and steeper as you slow down. The sky is dark grey and threatening as it often is here.’

‘Humans suffer from need greed, we lack self‐control. We go too fast for clear thinking but too slow for real progress as we fight to save the Armageddon of places and species that threaten everything the painting represents. Death on Devon lanes – insect, pollinator, hedgehog, fox, badger. You’d be wise to slow down on Devon lanes. The hedges are so tall you can’t see what is coming.’

‘The charging train of Turner’s Rain, Steam and Speed rushes towards you. Some see progress and excitement – escape from rural poverty, isolation and stagnation in the past. Others see danger, industrialisation, pollution. Everything that moves is damaging the environment.’

‘The farming methods of the 1960s encroaching on the painting. These removed many of the hedges, even in Devon. Farmers are continually squeezed between insufficient subsidy and cash king retail giants. Mass production, produce is sold at a pittance to intemperate consumers. Temperance is a virtue badly needed right now: no finger wagging if we can’t control our own behaviour.’

‘None of us can live in such sheltered, small communities if they have been snapped up by developers and used as second homes! Just a little bit of land allows us our veg patch and a way of life that many crave, more connected to the seasons, the elements.’

‘You slow down on Devon Lanes to experience shelter and the feeling of being safe and cocooned by nature.’

‘We are re‐establishing city hedgerows, planting trees and sowing wildflowers to discover the balance we feel in a Devon lane.’

‘We rest and unwind. We feel liberated in the long walk, or the mad cap cycle down the hill as the artist would have done. The arrival of the bicycle brought the catchment area for marriage up from two to thirty miles! “There is joy in journeying. Not all roads are evil.”’

‘Rows of roads wind through Devon hills, joining loved ones from A to B, whilst hedgerows reach from moor to sea for bats and bees, birds and bugs to find new mates and neighbourhoods. These connections like roots bring people, fauna, life to place.’

Inspired by the painting, the Village Hub took a group of young people to visit the lane in Westlake about fifteen miles away. Walking over the top of the hill, they noticed that lots had changed, but lots had stayed the same. Fifty years after Hartley had recorded the view, we walked nature’s highway with those young people – who have the greatest stake and the most to lose – away from the ease of online instant gratification. The snaking grey ribbon road still winds hopefully ever upwards towards the purple skies. A wind turbine gently hums overhead. Here are some of the things that the young people said:‘Wind turbines are good for the environment. High up in the sky they don’t cause any harm.’‘There’s a need for the wild and the re‐wild. It’s making space for the green in the grey.’‘I would live here in this lane with safe passage for snails.’‘The only sound is our footsteps and the birdsong. I like it that way.’‘We CAN work with water, wind and soil
We CAN tread lightly on the earth
For our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren
Fifty years on.’

Find out more about The National Gallery project here.