Parkland between the farm and the River Alde at White House Farm, Great Glenham, home of the Alde Valley Spring Festival
Over the last two weekends I have twice visited The Alde Valley Spring Festival 2015, a title which perhaps suggests a worthy event of but local interest. It is, however, much more than that, an enjoyable happening, apparently so casual and deeply bucolic as to obscure its success as a very high class act indeed. Its secret lies in two things: its scope, defined in its subtitle as ‘A four week Celebration of Food, Farming, Landscape and the Arts’, pretty much a definition of bliss as far as I am concerned; and, secondly, the persona who has thought it up and now drives it creatively and organisationally with a concealed dynamism. Jason Gathorne-Hardy, a scientist by training, visionary farmer, and no mean artist himself, also has the great merit of owning White House Farm where the Festival happens, in the rooms of the farm-house, in many farm-buildings such as the ‘Lamb Nursery Room’ and, this year, out in the fields and woods beyond.
In the same parkland as that illustrated above, beneath the sentinel gaze of a pollarded oak, the long dining table is here being extended to become the longest table in the world during the 2015 Festival
On my first visit I attended the opening when several hundred people were not only fed for free but were visited – in the Biblical sense – by, not an apparition, but by the reality of an ascendant Maggi Hambling, stepping into the bucket of a fork-lift tractor and then being elevated on high to open the Festival, with an amusing anecdote about an Irish BT Customer Service employee. As with much of BT’s output, it was difficult to spot the connection but the image of Hambling on high projected in real-time 3D through the open side of a Dutch barn to hover over admiring hundreds will long remain.
But it is of other images I meant to write. Suffice to say that the art on display is varied, – paintings, drawings, sculpture, ceramics, carpentry, – variously accomplished and generally of a ‘Romantic’ idiom and figurative nature. Collectively they suggested the idea of a ‘White House Farm School’, the sort of things that Jason’s friends produce. I particularly liked Laurence Edwards’ new work, especially his life-sized bronze Nomad, a travelling man, meticulously observed in an ethnographical sense, festooned with the kit by which he lives. ‘I couldn’t live with that in my house’, announced one well-bred voice authoritatively; ‘Weird’.
Bluebells, white as well blue, in the wood above White House Farm
The lovely surprise, however, came on my second visit when few people were around and it was possible to wander farm, fields and woods alone. Having paid due homage to Henrietta Inman’s gluten-free patisserie, on the outside corner of the farm-yard I discovered the brand-new Education Room; its walls were brilliantly covered by a display of a different sort of art. These were paintings and collages, prize-winners and ‘Highly commendeds’, from local schools: they were different because they were so obviously not the work of adults. Their freshness, imagination and innocent assurance were revivifying to behold, yet also sad as reminders of what many adults, and certainly this one, lose in their so-called maturity.