It’s no secret that S and I have been looking forward to being the kind of parents who spend their weekends dragging a reluctant child around worthy places – National Trust, parks, art galleries etc. She’ll love it. So starting early, we decided a trip to the Harley Gallery was in order this weekend.
The Harley is based at Welbeck, the estate of the Duke of Portland, best known as the mad chap in The Underground Man. Today it houses a food school, the art gallery and a garden centre as well as some artists studios and they have a series of really good exhibitions. Plus this weekend they had their art and food Christmas fair and the open studios so there was lots to see. The food people also sell a mean batch of roast potatoes and I think they have a stall in Nottingham’s Christmas market this year – I’ll treat myself to some at some point.
At only 18 months, perhaps some might think E is too young for art galleries but when would you start otherwise? And the Harley isn’t one of those terrifying silent off putting galleries that make you feel you need to whisper as you go around. There were two exhibitions – the one I wanted to see was a series of Quentin Blake pictures he’d drawn for hospitals. The other was a collection of books and paintings by Edward Harley, a great collector who married a Welbeckian.
The Blake was lovely, as you might expect. It featured several different series – one for children’s hospital about aliens from the planet Zog, one for a hospital treating people with eating disorders and some lovely pictures for a maternity ward of mums and babies swimming about together. E walked around the gallery and was interested in the paintings. It’s fascinating to work out what she sees, how she sees it and to watch her reaction to it all. I think it would be so easy to forget a small child in an art gallery but there’s a lot of scope to start firing up her imagination. Bearing in mind they were all a lot higher than her she did point at them, perhaps recognising the style from our endless readings of Mr Magnolia, but also being interested in the subject matter. I pointed out some people and the things they were doing and she looked very hard. I have decided that when I win the lottery I shall ask Quentin Blake if he could do us a picture. I think that would be quite a luxury.
The Harley collection was different – to protect the books the lighting was dim and in a room with no windows. Perhaps not the thing to interest a small child although I say that because I had little interest in it (I’m rubbish in art galleries – I walk quite quickly through them, looking briefly at one or two paintings but if it’s not to my liking I can be through it in the time it takes S to look at about four paintings. I end up hanging about, sitting and looking shifty. I really should pay more attention.) But we wandered in anyway and I heard her shout “Ddddeeeeeeeeeee!!” which is her word for Dog, and there she was pointing at a painting of two dogs who’d killed a hare. She loved it.
We finished up by having a steak and ale pie from the market, browsing the craft fair, nosing round the studios and buying some tulips in the garden centre so a good afternoon all round. I doubt we’re bringing up the next Brian Sewell or Will Gompertz (probably for the best) but at least she seemed to enjoy it and that’s the important thing.