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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

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Drawing on 250 years of capturing the Lakes

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ATTRACTION: Tourists at Dove Cottage, Grasmere

By Karl Steel

“THE loveliest spot that man hath ever found.” Few could surely disagree with William Wordsworth’s verdict of Grasmere, the Lake District village that he still has a close affiliation with more than a century-and-a-half after his death.

People generally visit Grasmere for one of two reasons – its central Lake District location makes it the ideal base for visiting walkers, while poetry fans from across the world head here for a glimpse into the world of some of the most important literary figures in British history.

While Grasmere would be almost unrecognisable from the handful of buildings that made up the village in Wordsworth’s day, you can still get a feel for what the place was like. Dove Cottage is a tiny house, which has been preserved in a similar state for the past 200 years and houses a number of the Wordsworth family’s treasured possessions.

Paul Kleian, head of marketing and communications for the Wordsworth Trust, which owns Dove Cottage, says: “Wordsworth wrote that, after he left Grasmere, his creative spark had gone. Thomas de Quincy lived here and other literary figures followed, so it is a very important house, and that’s why people come from all over the world to visit.

“The whole idea of the Wordsworth Trust is that we are trying to make his life and work more accessible, so we run a contemporary poetry programme – in fact it’s become a bit of a national centre for contemporary poetry.

“We are looking at building on, and developing the experience to make it about more than just the cottage.”

The Wordsworth Trust is fast becoming a place to schedule a day out to, instead of just somewhere to visit as you pass through. The visitor centre alongside Dove Cottage is a wealth of information about social history, new romanticism and contemporary poetry, while exhibitions and talks take place throughout the year.

A new exhibition, which opens at the visitor centre next Friday, is the most important yet. Pen, Paint & Pixels: Touring the English Lakes across 250 years draws its inspiration from the different media used to communicate the beauty of the Lake District landscape over the last two-and-a-half centuries. It takes three moments in time and studies the same places within the Cumbrian landscape over 250 years, to examine social, topographic, geological, environmental and cultural evolution.

The first freeze frame is Thomas Gray’s account of a tour in Cumbria, written in 1769 and constituting the first piece of real travel journalism ever produced in this country.

The second is the work of Joseph Farington RA, who followed Gray’s route to produce at first exquisite watercolours and then engravings of the places described by the writer. Both paintings and the coffee table-style engravings are on display with maps, to create a sense of place.

Moving on to the 21st century, the third element of the exhibition is provided by digital photography, taken within the past few years by John R Murray.

Murray was bequeathed Gray’s travel log and became fascinated by it and set out to follow in Farington’s footsteps, to capture the same places again.

The gallery-goer can become landscape explorer, by requesting the co-ordinates of the Farington locations and buying the exhibition book, which is integral to the experience, adding insights into the photographic challenges experienced by Murray after 250 years of landscape evolution.

Visitors, armed with these elements, can then follow in the footsteps of artist and photographer and take the exhibition outdoors and to a fourth level, which involves their own photography at identical locations to those captured by their artistic predecessors.

Stage one of the exhibition runs until July, when stage two of Pen, Paint & Pixels launches. This will re-energise the exhibition in the form of a smartphone app that will combine GPS technology with the words and pictures from the exhibition.

With this pioneering interactive exhibition, the Wordsworth Trust experience achieves its aim of being about more than just the cottage.

Pen, Paint & Pixels opens at the Wordsworth Trust next Friday, May 4, and runs until January 2013.

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