Gaskell House Blogs

Finding Breathing Space at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

14th May 2019
in blog, Events, Garden

As part of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Heritage Lottery funded project celebrating the bicentenary of Ruskin’s birth St Luke’s Art Project have been invited to run some workshops in the house, garden and Swinton Grove Park (land which used to belong to the house which was bequeathed to Manchester City Council for the leisure of local people).

St Luke’s media artist Rae Story will lead four workshops between May and July to explore the house, garden and park. Two of the workshops will explore the outdoor gardens and adjacent Swinton Grove Park and two workshops will concentrate inside the house itself. Rae will be using quiet drawing and photography skills to help people to engage and become absorbed in the nature and design of these special places. We are interested in the environmental links between the park, garden and the house.

Rae is currently running a project at St Lukes Art Project called Breathing Spaces, which is researching the connections between art, wellness and our environment. These workshops fit perfectly with the Breathing Spaces work.  Rae feels that Ruskin was in many ways ahead of his time emphasizing that engagement with art and nature can enrich people’s lives spiritually and lift us out of the mundane concerns and stresses of our lives. This is certainly what we have found when we spoke to people after the first workshop (see the comments below).

The first workshop was carried out on 16 April and was focused on Quiet Drawing exercises to help people pay close attention to the environment of the park and the garden. We did a series of activities including leaf and bark rubbings, drawing with our non-dominant hand and drawing without looking at our page – to help us really look properly and not just make up what we thought the things should look like! Then we went over to Elizabeth Gaskell’s Garden and we did a version of the Exquisite Corpse game where we folded our paper into four sections and we began at the bottom by drawing one plant and then after a short time we swapped our pages and folding the page down the next person continued the drawing on the second fold, until all four sections were filled. This playful exercise gets people interacting, sharing, working together to co-create a piece of artwork that containts different styles, different plants, different ways of looking and recording. As we get our original piece of paper back and unfold it we see an amazing picture that represents something more than we could have done on our own.

Here are some of the things that people said about the workshop:

“Yes it has helped me calm down a bit, focusing on trying to draw something, being outside, just being out.”

“It has been really lovely to  just forget everything and get totally engrossed in a plant, and individual leaves and the gorgeous curves of the leaves, I got completely absorbed and the rain was falling on my paper and getting totally soggy, but it was lovely yes.”

“Its been lovely to take my mind off the real world for a bit. Beautiful flowers – its been a nice atmosphere and a very gentle day which is nice amidst the chaos of the rest of my life.”

“Its been very good, I like the variety, I liked the pace, I liked being outside and I also liked coming in – it was perfect timing! I have just enjoyed having the space to just remember how much I enjoy art. I had forgotten how much I had liked doing art – and how good it is for you.”

“Interesting… I have managed to photocopy the leaf (do a rubbing), and shadow it and use my pencil to shadow it it and it came out quite nice which was good starter for a beginner, we walked around the garden which is lovely, and we drew some of the flowers we saw around there, and we enjoyed a cup of tea and biscuit which was provided. I am very happy I have managed to get through the art today.”

This project is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Project by money raised by National Lottery players. Thanks to National Lottery players, they are invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about – from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #HLFsupported.


And we've got a house. Yes! we really have

Elizabeth Gaskell, 1850