Continued from Part 2:
After five exhilerating and exhausting days in history, art and culture rich London, my daughters and I hopped on a non-stop 2 hour train to York and then Manchester for the more relaxing part of the trip. We still managed to pack in plenty of sites, but weren’t quite as overwhelmed as we were in London. York is a beautiful walled city originally founded by Romans with many ancient Roman sites still evident in the town structure. It was here that Constantine was named Emperor – I sometimes forget how far north the Roman Empire extended. It is also home to York Minster, a glorious gothic style cathedral famous for its facade as well as the stained glass windows, artwork, and crypt. Visiting a church built atop an older church is haunting as well as historic, and going down below to see the original structure is a thrill. The deep relief carving (here on the left) is one of the artifacts that remains from the orginal structure, a Norman Church built around 1080 AD.
In addition to York Minster, there are countless stunning sights in this northern English town. A walk on top of the wall itself is marvelous, offering what feels like secret views into gardens, homes, restaurants, courtyards, parks, and over bridges and rivers. Voted the most picturesque street in Britain, The Shambles,
is thought to be one of the oldest, best preserved medival streets in England. It’s timber overhangs make the already narrow street feel even more intimate and is filled with alluring shops and restaurants. Chocolate shops are a common sight in York, as the town has a long chocolate making history. It is no wonder I felt immediately drawn to the place! Confectionary window displays all over town are like exquisitely designed jewels…works of art, really. Other beautiful sites that contribute to York’s allure include the outstanding York Castle Museum with multiple exhibits and an excellent tour of the former prison, Clifford’s Tower with its expansive views, and the gleaming two rivers: the Ouse and the Foss. These rivers were an essential component for York’s earliest settlers, perhaps even Celtic tribes before the Romans arrived. One of our favorite sights was the botanic York Museum Gardens which include Roman ruins and the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey where Turner famously worked.
One day we ventured into the countryside. Hoping to explore the seaside town of Whitby, we were cut short due to inclement (worse than usual) weather so we decided to tour Castle Howard instead, which is about a 30 minute drive from York’s city center. Even in the rain, Castle Howard was stunning. The artwork and sculpture, both inside and out, was quite overwhelming. This is a good place to explore and get lost.
After four days of the most heavenly pastries, coffees, and chocolates on earth, we sadly departed York and headed for Manchester, where we would spend one final day before returning to the United States. We didn’t quite know what to expect of the industrial soccer crazed city, but the food and art did not disappoint. After tracking down ancient Roman ruins at Castlefield, we headed to the Manchester Art Gallery. Much to my surprise, we were all three more interested in the “Vogue 100: A Century of Style” exhibit than I would have expected. I suppose, after seeing the exhibit “Shaping the Body: 400 Years of Fashion, Food and Life” so recently in York, we were primed to appreciate the nuanced Vogue display where art dominated practicality most of the time.
Another visual treat at the Manchester Art Gallery was the exhibit by Boris Nzebo. The artist’s large bold paintings explore the relationship between humans and their urban environments. As an artist thinking about how to convey and how to integrate people with place, I admire the method and style Nzebo uses to enmesh the person with his or her surroundings. It is the opposite of my approach which attempts to blend the figure with surrounding space. Nzebo uses crisp graphics, patterns, and shapes – his large faces are filled with and defined by architectural lines and urban objects. In one way, his paintings are filled with multiple layers as objects and people fit within other objects and people. On the other hand, the hard-edged lines and patterns flatten the space which unifies the people and the urban elements.
After lunch in the up-and-coming northern quarter of town, we sought respite at a beautiful little cathedral known as “The Hidden Gem” on our way to the John Rylands Library. The is a bibliophile’s nirvana. The collection includes treasures such as John Wesley’s 16th Century Hebrew Bible, notes and letters by Chemist John Dalton, a Gutenberg Bible, and many first editions such as Ulysses by James Joyce. The most famous artifact in the collection is known as Papyrus 52, or the Fragment of the Gospel of John, which is thought to be the earliest portion of any New Testament writing ever found. To read more about the history of the library and its’ special collections, visit: http://www.library.manchester.ac.uk/search-resources/guide-to-special-collections/.
Our grand finale was an evening event, Summer Garden Party, at the Whitworth Museum. We had dinner overlooking a lush garden with live music. There was a perfume station set up for sampling, botanical cocktails, a drama performance about modern isolation – not to mention the exhibits themselves. The Whitworth is home to a renowned sculpture collection, print collection, portrait collection and wallpaper collection. I surprised myself by being most drawn to the textile collection; perhaps due to a recent surge of contemporary artists who incorporate fabric and thread into their mixed media creations which exemplifies the blending of fine art and craft that is so hotly discussed these days.
During our final walk in the rain to the regal Midland Hotel, my younger daughter hailed herself a cab and insisted we were finished with the walking part of the trip. I think the little one had no more steps in her so it was time for our adventure to end. A mere 8 hours of flight time and we were transported to another world, where the modern and the ancient coexist. In all of our travels, it was the art and architecture that provided the clearest insight to the enduring truth of a people and place. I’m deeply grateful to our friends who hosted us during parts of the trip and to my family who dug deep to cooperate with a mom who loves to explore and find the art of a place.
As always, thank you for reading.
Up next, Florida art…its not all about the beach!