A look at the Hannah Bennett Sculpture Garden at Eyam
PUBLISHED: 13:24 01 August 2019 | UPDATED: 13:24 01 August 2019
Catherine Roth visits Hannah Bennett at her Sculpture Garden in Eyam
Hannah Bennett, artist, curator and gardener, has opened her outdoor sculpture gallery again to visitors this year. Hidden away in the historic village of Eyam, the Hannah Bennett Sculpture Garden features contemporary art from both emerging and established artists.
The garden features work by 14 artists in a setting that is just as much a garden as it is a gallery. Hannah says, 'Before the gallery it was a garden and it's not changed much. This is a real garden with my children's toys and a veggie patch. It's saying to people that they can live with sculpture rather than it having to be displayed in a gallery. A lot of sculptures are found in massive grand sculpture parks, which is fabulous to see but can be inaccessible - I want to show art on a domestic scale.'
This is why sculptures can be found resting amongst the vegetable patch with its artichokes, asparagus, beans, chard, courgettes, leeks and peas as well as raspberries, strawberries and rhubarb. They can also be found amongst the trees, silhouetted on the lawn and seeming almost to grow amongst the plants themselves.
Whilst the garden is relaxed and informal, choosing where to place each sculpture is an involved process and Hannah produces countless sketches as well as speaking with the artists themselves.
She says, 'I choose work that I have a strong emotional response to and imagine what each piece will look like in spaces and how the light may affect them. Some parts of the garden will get full sunshine or become really dark at different times of the day and this can dramatically alter the piece of art.'
Artist Clee Claire Lee, whose work Hannah has previously exhibited in her garden, has created 'Heirloom', a piece made from various thicknesses of stainless steel wire that feels similar to a woven nest. Hannah says, 'We really weren't sure how it would work with the light as it could easily have become lost in the background but placing it where we did makes amazing shadows!'
With over 40 sculptures in this year's exhibition Hannah must ensure they are all harmoniously placed with one another. She says, 'I have to be very careful that one piece doesn't take anything away from another piece so I always ask myself, "If you look past one sculpture what do you want to see?"'
Working in her studio in one corner of the garden, Hannah creates her own large-scale contemporary artworks out of clay, using age-old techniques. Indeed visitors will often see her working on her latest commissions, some of which are sent all over the world. Her new collection 'Vitality' was created specifically for exhibiting in her garden this year. Hannah says, '"Vitality" is trying to capture that point when plants, seeds and buds are about to burst open. I always prefer flowers when they are in bud rather than full bloom - it's a moment full of excitement and newness when spring is here after a long winter.' Each piece takes four weeks to make, two months to dry and one week to fire in the kiln in her studio.
Hannah's studio, and her house that sits in the centre of the garden, are an integral part of the gallery, not least because she designed and built them herself. Fifteen years ago Hannah bought the plot of land with just a mud-floored barn in the middle of an overgrown field. Having previously trained as a builder's apprentice - after a career as a baker supplying establishments such as Neal's Yard and Fortnum and Mason - and graduating from art school, she had all the necessary skills to set about turning the ramshackle old barn into the family home it is today.
Whilst the sculpture garden Hannah has created is small and informal, it has nevertheless come to national attention by being featured as one of BBC Countryfile's best sculpture gardens and trails to visit, sharing this accolade with venues including the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden in Cornwall, and the Henry Moore Studios and Gardens in Hertfordshire.
The garden itself, with its well-designed yet informal planting, provides a backdrop to the sculptures and, in the long border, creates a canvas splashed with vibrant colour. Hannah says, 'This year I've planted lots of geums with their striking dark oranges and reds that should provide a real show.'
In her garden Hannah curates unique exhibitions against an ever-changing backdrop of light, weather and seasons. She says, 'I know my garden extremely well but it's a living space and, with the elements, changes quite a lot. There are always surprises!' she laughs. Whilst the garden is a living space, so too are the sculptures as nature brings each one to life.
The garden opens May to October, Thursday, Friday, 10am-3pm, Saturday 11am-5pm and by appointment. Entrance £2. Car park in the village. Hannah Bennett Sculpture Garden, The Barn, off Church Street, Eyam S32 5RH www.hannahbennett.co.uk