Tag Archives: Wilhelmina Barns-Graham

Discover the paintings of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, the artist who inspired StAnza poets

30 May

A major exhibition of paintings by one of the most significant British artists of the 20th century will open on 8 June at Fraser Gallery St Andrews – part of a year of celebration of the artist Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, who was born in St Andrews and whose vivid paintings and prints inspired StAnza poets at this year’s festival.


The exhibition, “A St Andrews Modernist – Paintings, Drawings and Prints by Wilhelmina Barns-Graham 1912-2004” – which will open on what would have been her 100th birthday – will include a range of the abstract works for which she is renowned and has been organised in conjunction with the Barns-Graham Charitable Trust which is based at her home at Balmungo House.

 This is a major retrospective of an artist who is now recognised as an important one in the history of British Modernist art, associated with the influential artists of St Ives, where she also lived and worked.  According to gallery owner Roderick Fraser, the show gives ‘a perfect snapshot of her achievement as one of the finest painters and draughtsmen of her generation.’  

One of StAnza’s most innovative and exciting new projects this year, organised with the Trust, was an all-day workshop at Balmungo House. Our festival blogger, poet Stephanie Green, attended the workshop, which was led by StAnza’s Poet-in-Residence, Lavinia Greenlaw and focused on relationships between poetry and art. Find out more about her experience here.

Balmungo House

And there was more inspiration last winter for Canadian poet Karen Solie, who gave a stunning reading for StAnza, alongside John Burnside, during her time as inaugural holder of the School of English/Barns-Graham Charitable Trust International Writer’s Residency.

 The exhibition takes place at Fraser Gallery St Andrews, 53 South Street, St Andrews between 9-30 June 2012.

Photo of Balmungo House by Stephanie Green

Festival Blog: Stephanie Green at Balmungo House, Day One, 14 March

16 Mar

What a treat: an all day workshop with poet Lavinia Greenlaw in the beautiful surroundings of the Georgian Balmungo House, just outside St Andrew’s.   Lovingly restored, the exterior of the house is primrose yellow set in woodlands. And as it is spring, swathes of  daffodils scattered under the trees and a lawn framed by the graceful branches of an old larch is the peaceful view we will have during the day and a retreat to wander in the lunch break.   This is the perfect spot for a workshop on the ‘Image’ and links between art and poetry for this was the house of an artist, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, one of the St Ives set.

Willie, as she liked to be called, sounds fascinating – battling against a Victorian father who did not want her to got to Art School, she finally made it, with the help of her aunt who eventually willed her this house. The St Ives and Scottish link made me think of another one – that of the author, peace activist and philanthropist, Margaret Gardiner (1904-2005) and her collection of St Ives’ artists’ work bequeathed to the Pier Art Gallery in Orkney, including Barbara Hepworths- there must be something about the sharp, clear light of Cornwall and N.E. Scotland/Orkney, which inspires  affinities with both places.

Inside Balmungo,  dove-grey walls are a perfect foil to the bold colours of Willie’s abstracts  on display. The first that meets your eye is the vibrant blue of the hall carpet which was woven by Doocot Studios based on one of her screen prints.   It is amazing to think that many of the works were done in her eighties. She was immensely energetic, prolific and continued to experiment with new ideas and media to the end. An inspiration to us all.

Lavinia’s own interest in perception, especially in the work of Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Bishop, both poets famed for their precise, evocative imagery,  and Lavinia’s own background in art history (she studied 17th century art at the Royal Academy) were particularly relevant.

She asked us to use Willie’s strategems for her art  to compose our own poetry.  Willie liked to impose restrictions on her palette or for instance, only using lines and circles, we were asked to use an image in our poem, but let the image speak for itself-any emotional back story to be unmentioned, only inferred.  During the eventual reading of work produced in the day, it was exciting to see how everyone ‘s  precise, clear imagery led to charged poems.

It was a fantastic day.  Beautiful house and grounds, fabulous art work and fabulous poems produced. What more could you ask?  Maybe that an all-day workshop at Balmungo becomes a fixture at StAnza!

Then rush, rush back to St A for supper, the Festival Opening and lots of jazz – three bands – an impressive student St Andrew’s saxophone quartet and yet more jazz in the main hall – the Dave Batchelor Quintet, ‘Kind of Larkin’ (as in Kind of Blue, of course to you jazzers who get the ref) – but what a miserable git Larkin was. The jazz was great though, including Don Paterson as jazz guitarist, not poet for a change.



Powerful poetry of landscape and loss at StAnza’s reading

15 Nov

Getting lost was one of the common themes shared by the two poets at StAnza’s reading in St Andrews last night.  Fife based John Burnside’s poem ‘The Vanishing of my Sister’ recalled a sibling temporarily getting lost and   ‘The Lost Husband’ even contemplated the oddness of feeling adrift in one’s own home. Canadian poet Karen Solie evoked the rural landscapes of her native Saskatchewan, where rural depopulation has led to the emptying out of once familiar small towns. She confessed in one poem to wandering through these places using Google Earth, finding the streets ‘denuded of childhood flora’ and wondering ‘would we burn these places rather than see them change or simply burn them?’

This was a rare opportunity to see two prizewinning poets exploring profound questions about identity and displacement with great wit and grace. John Burnside, Professor of Creative Writing at the University of St Andrews, recently won the prestigious Forward Prize for his latest collection Black Cat Bone. Karen Solie won the Griffin Prize in 2010. She is visiting Fife as the inaugural holder of an International Writers Residency, provided by the  Barns-Graham Charitable Trust and the School of English at St Andrews. Both poets delighted the audience with new unpublished work and Solie’s stay at Balmungo House, the former home of the late artist, Wilhemina Barns-Graham, was already, she said, influencing her poetry.

StAnza will be working with the  Barns-Graham Charitable Trust to provide an all day workshop at Balmungo House during the festival next March. This and other programme details will be available later this month at www.stanzapoetry.org

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