A date with the dead
Yesterday I had a date with the dead at Falmouth cemetery, in particular with dead artists. Falmouth has a rich heritage of art, the skills, lifestyles and characters of artists past and present continue to add to the beauty and intrigue that entices visitors to Falmouth each year. Falmouth Art Gallery boasts an outstanding exhibition of artists who have contributed to the diversity that makes Falmouth such a wonderful place to live and visit.
A walk presented by Glyn Winchester on behalf of Falmouth Art gallery introduces guests to some of the artists buried at Falmouth Cemetery. The walk took us past the graves of eight artists whose works are exhibited at the gallery. It also acknowledges five further artists whose works are yet to be exhibited but are equally relevant.
I offer to you not one ounce of valuable art critique as I am one those people who either likes a picture or doesn’t. Good art, in my opinion, is a picture that draws me in and conjures an entirely different one in my imagination and not so good art quite simply bores me. I have a rather similar relationship with cemeteries and graves. A good grave evokes images of what the deceased was wearing when they were buried, how they spoke when they lived, what their lifestyle was like and what skills they employed and how their character fitted within the community. If I’m honest and I thought I may have grown out of this by now, I am also partial to the odd damaged grave that prompts a shiver to run up my spine as I step that little bit closer (being careful not to wake the inhabitant), to see if there are any bones. Well I didn’t see any bones yesterday but Glyn presented such a clear and detailed account of the ‘sleepers’ I was able to vanish through the doors of imagination.
I met with Henry Scott Tuke and Winifred Freeman outside Henry’s Pennance Cottage that overlooks Swanpool and Pendennis Castle. It was a beautiful day and Henry suggested we should pay our
respects to William Ingram who had assisted Henry in founding the Falmouth Art Gallery at Grove Place some years previous. Wini, as always, had arrived on her push bike shrouded in a cloud of cigar smoke and wearing knickerbockers. We set off and Henry took up pushing Wini’s bike, it struck me what such good friends they are and yet both of them chose to lead single lives.
As we walked along past the lake I ignored the odd looks Wini’s choice of clothing encourages I am used to it now. I think many women envy her indifference to the attention she receives when in her knickerbockers. What else would a woman wear when always on a push bike with an easel strapped to her back? I listened intently as they discuss some of the artists who were keeping William company.
James George Philp had been waiting for William at the cemetery for just over twenty years. The two friends speculated that by now both William and James had discussed in great detail the finer points of working in watercolour and their exhibits and work at the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society. James had won the first silver medal at the Poly and in later years William became the Poly’s Vice President.
William J Boase Smith was also there he had been a close friend to Henry. For a while Wini became silent as she listened to her friend reminisce about the days when he and Boase would advise the auctioneer on their fine art section. Boase who was born at Manaccan drew on the beauty of the Helford to produce the wonderful art that has been exhibited at the Art gallery since its early days at Grove place.
We enter the cemetery and walk up through the Nonconformist graves and the friends begin discussing were they would each like to be buried. Of course Winifred will be buried with her family in this section and Henry has his sights set on a corner of the Anglican section that overlooks his cottage, the ocean and is close to his friend William Ingram.
We turn right and up toward the first of the two chapels. Winifred lights another cigar and nods at the grave of her brother in-law Charles Hemy. ‘Ten children! Imagine that Henry. Do you know every time Amy had another child Charles would be informed at his studio and would ask if they had all their fingers and toes? Then he would go right back to painting another of his fine marine paintings’.
‘There is Sophie’, Henry points to a dark tinged head stone ‘they are saying she influenced the Pre-Raphaelites, that would be all the botanical elements in her work. I can understand why she and Walter settled here, there is certainly plenty of flora and fauna to inspire her’. Wini turns and smiles ‘yes and the climate here is agreeable to your nude models’. ‘And the ocean that offers plenty of boats and ships to model them on’, he replied.
As we near William Ingram’s grave they talk about his energy and how beneficial this had been in setting up the Falmouth Art Gallery at Grove Place and fulfilling his position as Vice President at the ‘Poly’, (Royal Cornwall polytechnic Society). While I wonder how he ever found the time to paint.
Approaching Williams grave Henry looks around and says to Winifred, ‘Yes I think this would be a lovely resting place’. We all look over the hedgerow and out to the sea and agree it is a lovely place. We sit for a while and talk about Winifred’s watercolour painting of ‘Filling the Pilchard Barrels in St Ives’ and when she painted her brother in-laws study at ‘Churchfield’ here in Falmouth.
Feeling like I have eavesdropped long enough on their conversations I stand up and quietly walk away. Looking back over my shoulder I smile as I see that Henry did indeed get his perfect resting place overlooking Swanpool and the bay.
I wonder back through the cemetery acknowledging the graves of everyone who in their own way have contributed to their and my home town. Many of whom are still remembered through work that is exhibited or institutions, societies and industries that still remain. Others are remembered in the hearts and minds of friends, families and colleagues who may still be alive today.
Dropping back down toward the Madeira walk side of the cemetery I wonder if Wini is with her family. Yes she is. I stop, I am certain there is a faint smell of cigar smoke in the air.
For future walks, talks and exhibitions contact:Falmouth Art Gallery, The Moor, Falmouth, TR11 2RT (01326) 313863 www.falmouthartgallery.com