GALLERY: Fusion at West Dean

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FUSION – a celebration of creativity – was held at West Dean this weekend, chief reporter Sheena Campbell went along to find out more.

Walking through the grounds and house of West Dean it is easy to see why it has become a place of inspiration for generations of artists and craftsmen.

Fusion at West Dean 2013

Fusion at West Dean 2013

This weekend’s Fusion event offered the chance to take part in a host of art and craft workshops, see students of the college at work and the once-a-year opportunity to walk around the house itself.

With beautiful gardens, a house packed to the rafters with surrealist art and the chance to play with hammers there was plenty to keep me interested despite the cloudy weather.

At the entrance to the workshop area, I met Sue Timney. She has designed a range of stationery and crockery inspired by West Dean house and the surrealist art within it.

In particular, she uses imagery from the two giant Samson famille rose vases, purchased by Willie James in a Christie’s sale in 1894. The range is due to go on show at the Victoria & Albert Museum early next year.

“It is all about Edward James and the surrealist movement, the whole collection is about images from the house and his life,” said Sue.

“I was invited as a designer to start thinking about a range because this has never existed before. West Dean has never had collection of its own. I’d hope if Edward was alive today he would like it – I would hope to be a very good friend of his if he were alive today.”

The Edward she is referring to is Edward James, who inherited the estate aged just four upon the death of his father, Willie, in 1912.

Edward was a lifelong supporter of the arts and close friend of Salvador Dali. They worked together on the iconic Mae West lips sofa and the lobster telephone, both of which were able to view when the house opened its doors on Friday.

Alongside Dali’s work were paintings by Pavel Tchelitchew and more recent additions from former Lavant House pupil Isobel Darton. This continued support of artists is possible because of Edward’s early vision to protect artists and traditional craftsmen.

In 1939, he wrote to Aldous Huxley expressing his fear that, after the war, certain arts would be lost and suggesting setting up his estate as an educational community.

In 1964, Edward conveyed the house and 6,000-acre estate to his charitable trust – The Edward James Foundation. In 1971, his early vision became a reality as the gates of the family estate were opened as West Dean College, under the auspices of the foundation. Today, students and teachers are still as passionate about traditional workmanship as Edward was.

At Fusion, I make a brass ring, complete with engravings, am shown the different kinds of link which can be used to construct jewellery or chainmail, listen to the difference between conservation and restoration of antique clocks and get a glimpse of book binding. I will definitely be returning to see what I can pick up next time.