Over May half-term, I got a chance to go down to London and visit Alexander Pope's Grotto, on the grounds of Radnor House School, in Twickenham. I'm particularly excited about this folly, because my work will involve the pupils at Radnor House, and I'll get a chance to be "Artist in Residence", taking key parts of my work down to Twickenham over a number of visits, and returning to the site throughout the year.
The grotto is far more integrated into school grounds than I was aware of, and I even found evidence that it must have been the site of the school's Easter egg hunt (by the way, guys, you missed two chocolates and three fluffy chicks!)
There is a table with stones, partial fossils and shells, and I got a good chance to take lots of pictures of features and mosaics.
Understanding the layout of the grotto was particularly important to me for this first visit, it's something that's difficult to convey via pictures, and I wanted to make sure I understood the potential of the grotto right from the start - where are there niches that could be used for display, where are the light sources, where are the features situated, and what importance might be attached to them? The grotto tunnels right underneath the street, and exits at St Catherine's School across the road. After our visit, we found the steps leading down to the grotto on the other side.
I am particularly happy to be working on the grotto, because, for the first time in this project, there is some eloquent writing about the folly. In a letter to his friend Edward Blount, written in 1725, Pope writes:
I have put the last hand to my works…happily finishing the subterraneous Way and Grotto: I then found a spring of the clearest water, which falls in a perpetual Rill, that echoes thru’ the Cavern day and night. …When you shut the Doors of this Grotto, it becomes on the instant, from a luminous Room, a Camera Obscura, on the walls of which all the objects of the River, Hills, Woods, and Boats, are forming a moving Picture…And when you have a mind to light it up, it affords you a very different Scene: it is finished with Shells interspersed with Pieces of Looking-glass in angular Forms…at which when a Lamp…is hung in the Middle, a thousand pointed Rays glitter and are reflected over the place.
I think I'll be able to use that as a good starting point to play!
I'll keep you all updated as the folly continues, of course - expect fossils, shells, mosaics...........and probably a bit of evidence of the literary fight between Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Alexander Pope!