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‘Portals’: an Exhibition by Robert Marshall MRSS

A series of bold conceptual art installations adorn Exeter’s Capability Brown gardens

‘Portals: In Search of a New World (amongst the beauty and decay of the old world)’ – a series of powerful conceptual art installations by Robert Marshall MRSS are now featuring at Devon Sculpture Park.

Bold conceptual art in the park

Robert Marshall’s works are deliberately big, bright and bold. They ask the viewer to reconsider how individuals impact the environment. They ask us how to cease being passive, blinkered watchers of deleterious effects of environmental damage and become active negotiators and protagonists to force change through our own personal choices.

‘Re-Evolving Doors’

‘In Search of a New World…’ comprises four large scale conceptual sculptures offering different pathways via portals into possible worlds. They open liminal spaces and allow you to peer into them through doors left ajar.

By helping us look inside/out and outside/in Marshall encourages the viewer to not settle for one utopian vision but contemplate the many possible outcomes and journeys through a series of revolving doors.

‘Temple of Universal Re-Thinking’. Over 30 ft tall.

Robert Marshall MRSS’ ‘Portals: In Search of a New World’ can be seen at Devon Sculpture Park from 25 June 2022. Book your visit today.

Artist Programme at Devon Sculpture Park

Devon Sculpture Park (DSP) offers open-air art in the park, complete with environmental art, Capability Brown gardens, and endless sea views.

DSP is a refreshing new take on the private sculpture park with a green and digital agenda and a contemporary art collection from established and emerging artists. At any one time there are over 60 open-air sculptures and installations. Devon Sculpture Park is supported by LettsArt and LettsSafari.

The artist programme at DSP is designed to support an array of contemporary artists developing their works with an environmental agenda throughout. The programme works alongside the permanent collection at DSP’s rewilded Capability Brown gardens in order to show exciting environmentally conscious, open-air artworks.

This programme is more unique with its innovative digital agenda which amplifies the artists work within these historic gardens nationally and internationally – thanks to DSP’s talented photographers and filmmakers and its broad outreach programme.

We offer a number of artists exclusive days annually where they can meet, discuss and learn from each other, forging collaborations and activities at the park and beyond, as part of the programme. The artist days are reinforced with a free newsletter and website discussing and demonstrating the artists works and supporting initiatives.

DSP’s partnership with LettsArt, a LettsGroup venture, is enabling the growth and potential of artists to showcase and sell their art through one of the most modern and impressive online gallery systems at LettsArt.com. 

The LettsArt platform is free to use for artists – both emerging and developed. Through LettsArt, DSP is also able to discover new artists relevant to the park and in alignment with its values and agenda. We recommend that artists sign up to LettsArt as a first step. The digital art marketplace has been developed by artists, for artists – and is the first artist website system that supports the selling of digital, physical and NFT-enabled art all on one platform.

Sign up to LettsRetreat+ to receive the digital experience of DSP today, along with regular newsletter updates. LettsArt’s site is live for artists and collectors. LettsArt is a venture of the branded incubator group, LettsGroup, which is active through @LettsGroup on twitter.

An Exhibition by Chris Speyer

Chris Speyer, leading British environmental ceramic sculptor, has opened his latest exhibition ‘EARTH WORK’ at DSP – until 31 May 2022.

EARTH WORK is a collaboration between artist and place, between artist and those things born from the Earth in a specific location, but also a collaboration between artist and earth with a small ‘e’ – clay – that most basic of material.

‘Nutshell’ by Chris Speyer

Each of Chris Speyer’s pieces began with a discovery, something found in the rewilded landscape that surrounds the exhibition; twisted branches, a seedpod, the colour and texture of lichen, the patterned bark of a eucalyptus tree, beechnuts, flintstone, the play of light and shadow over hills and valleys, birdsong. These starting points informed all that followed, the modelled clay elements that were inspired by and combined with found objects to create finished forms, the colour and character of glazes and the interplay of ridges, edges and hollows.

‘Natural Curiosity of Branches’ by Chris Speyer

Stripping the bark from the branches that I brought back from the sculpture park to the studio exposed the sinuous nature of the wood beneath allowing my fingers to trace the history of their growth. Frequent changes of direction demonstrated a constant, inquisitive searching for sunlight, knots that bulged and twisted, and scars where sap had bled and hardened told a story of endurance. I felt a new intimacy with the trees that had until now been mere background and developed a fascination with the ingenious ways they adapt and respond to threats and opportunities. Trees dance, but in a time-scale far larger than ours. My ceramic additions are notes to accompany their epic performance.

Detail of ‘Natural Curiosity of Branches’ by Chris Speyer

The malleability of clay can lead one to believe that it is without character, and in the wrong hands it can indeed be rendered soulless and inert. But clays are combinations of many elements; elements that have been eroded from rocks over vast stretches of time, carried by rivers, laid down under great lakes, overlaid and buried then coloured by the seepage of oxides and minerals. To create forms that have movement and life you need to get to know your clay, to work with it, allowing it to express itself as well as your creative vision. In its raw state clay can seem to be no more than mud. But it is from mud that all life springs.

‘Seedpod’ by Chris Speyer

This collaboration between artist and place, between artist and the gifts of the Earth, reflects in a small way the far greater collaboration we as a species need to enter into with our planet, and the Earth Work we all need to do if we are to ensure our survival and the survival of all living organisms.

Chris Speyer 2021

To experience ‘EARTH WORK’ at DSP book your visit today.

Environmental Art Moving Online

DSP is passionate about environmental art. It is central to our mission to support nature and art; wildlife and sculpture. Environmental art is often site-specific in its physical form and virtual in its commercial form – as photographs, video, words and performance.

Mamhead Park South, DSP’s home, has had environmentally minded sculpture for centuries, including its considerable collection of ancient stone pineapple sculptures that celebrate the exploration of far off lands. It was around 25 years ago that the private sculpture park was developed in the Capability Brown gardens. Most of the sculptures made here and collected were environmental in nature.

The environmental art movement emerged in the 1960s and early 1970s and primarily celebrates the artist’s connection with nature. Pioneers of the movement such as Nils-Udo and UK artist Andy Goldsworthy became famous for creating site-specific sculptures and installations from found natural materials, then documenting their works with photography. While earlier artists such as Udo celebrate the beauty of nature, many of today’s artists are using a wide range of media, techniques and styles to address social issues and the negative impact we as human beings are having on our planet.

Environmental art has its roots in arte povera and the minimalist art movements. The former offering up artists such as Giuseppe Penone who’s works in wood and bronze are masterful. Today environmental art has a number of strands including land art, eco art and conceptual art. Conceptual environmental art has contributed to taking conceptual art outdoors.

DSP has spent many years developing its physical site-specific aspects – largely environmental art installations in wood, clay, stone, bronze, steel, fleece, fiberglass and plastics. Most of the materials are found – some on site and some beyond. Artists such as Chris Speyer, Matt Dingle, Steve Carroll, Terry Howe, Robert Marshall, Brendon Murless, Colin Porter and Philip Letts dominate. Most recently, emerging environmental artist, Belle Cole, has been adding her elegant stainless steel Poppies.

As the artists and installations are maturing, the word is spreading more widely about what DSP and these artists are doing – partly because this is the only sculpture park in the world to be fully rewilded and to focus solely on environmental art. To support this we have started developing two online galleries. The RA Gallery showcases a number of DSP’s established artist’s works online – including a few select pieces that are made available. The Sheds gallery offers exhibitions online. Both are in their infancy but we are excited about where they might take us. As always, we thank the Letts Group for making this happen.

We have worked hard to develop a series of regional installations to complement our permanent collection. As a result we have developed an effective process for discovering, nurturing, curating and developing artists at DSP and beyond, with works that tackle climate issues and complement the landscape and environmental projects.

We are passionate about working with and supporting environmental artists. Having established the process with an initial group of artists we are working to nurture the next wave. This year we look forward to working with our more established artists to help mentor some new and emerging artists – in southwest England and more widely across the UK.

Environmental art has come a long way and is starting to take off. DSP has just begun. We hope you will support our artists and their important environmental contribution by taking a look at The RA Gallery and The Sheds gallery.

Rewilding a Historic Garden

The Capability Brown gardens at Devon Sculpture Park have gone through a multi-year restoration programme. Since the Letts family bought this old Mamhead estate, the centuries old cascade gardens have been transformed from a tired, overgrown traditional English garden to a model for wildlife gardening and biodiversity.

The idea was simple. Take the principles of rewilding and apply them to a garden. Human endeavour replaces the work of herbivores but the ecosystem design is similar – areas of woodland, open scrub and wild grassland with waterways meandering through. Some man made, some natural.

Plants, shrubs and trees are allowed to go to seed so they can regenerate naturally. The offspring develop in situ until they are big enough to be transplanted, or to remain in place. If transplanted they are established in new spaces.

To enable the transformation to happen thousands of new plants were brought in. These plants having been established now parent the new plants, bushes and trees which are naturally bred in the gardens.

The ancient streams off Haldon Hill, on the outskirts of Exeter, have been restored so they can flow across the gardens, feed its lakes and ponds, and descend over the bog gardens and wetland areas. These aquatic meanderings support water plants, invertebrate and an abundance of bird life.

The two hundred metre long horseshoe shaped flower bed that wraps around the Robert Adam Orangery has been transformed into an oasis of flowering shrubs and small trees, which are packed with a year round wave of flowering from plants that support pollinators. The plantings and the beds have been designed to naturally improve the soil, to store carbon and to provide cover and perches for small mammals and birds. Hedges, bushes and trees surround the gardens perimeter.

The sweeping lawns have become large areas of wild grasses and wildflower. Paths are carefully cut through them. This wild, ungrazed, open grassland provides abundant insects for the extraordinary collection of bats that roam the place. Twelve of the seventeen species of bats in the UK have been monitored at Devon Sculpture Park – including some of the rarest.

The stunning collection of ancient deciduous and coniferous trees have been restored and the old wood cuttings scattered around the gardens to provide shelter and nesting, while at the same time bugs breed in the underbelly and cracks of the logs. New trees are planted in copses of the same family. Trees grow up as a family, like us, so we should plant them together. Pine trees together, oaks as a unit and maple trees in the same place.

Now that the new ecosystem is in place across the gardens and the rhythm of sustainable biodiversity has been established, the soil is improving, the wildlife is moving in and plants are naturally developing. The ecosystem can work to clean our air, our waters and store carbon under the ground.

It has been a painstaking process at times, but now that these historic gardens have been effectively rewilded, they can become a model for garden rewilding, wildlife gardening techniques and biodiversity at scale. After all, there are over a billion gardens worldwide.

If you would like to learn more about wildlife gardening and how to rewild your garden pre-book a Garden Safari. Alternatively learn from the comfort of your home – subscribe to DSP Online.

An Exhibition by Terry Howe

Terry Howe’s conceptual, environmental art exhibition ‘Looking For Clues’ is at DSP until 31 May 2021. Visit it online.

Terry’s online exhibition is a playful yet insightful examination of the ‘found’ and ‘natural’ that surround us. A reminder of how small and fragile this planet is.

We asked Terry to describe his work in his own words.

I work with the spent, washed up and the discarded.  The shoreline, car boot sales, skips and hedgerows are my main starting points for making. 

From there I take off on imaginary space travel and what I keep finding are spheres. No matter how much you zoom in or out, spheres are there (atomic, sub atomic, planets, galaxies).

You may well think what a load of old balls but have a look yourself! I find a creative charge in giving the everyday a chance of a new life.

In this exhibition you will see multiples of pan scourers, freezer bags, oil cans, funnels, table tennis, snooker, and bowling balls.

Hedgerows produce imaginary archeology, prolific multiples of spikes and barbs (amazing systems of protection). I am mainly working with acorn cups, rose hip barbs, and blackthorns/hawthorns.

In the 1960’s (my childhood years) I was free to be out all day to play, explore and invent (tips, fires, dams, dens, scavenging, collecting, penknife whittling).  All of this fired my imagination and it still does.

Why Smaller-scale Rewilding is Important

Rewilding could be the most holistic and natural solution to the climate crisis. Large national parks started the practice nearly thirty years ago in places like Yellowstone Park in America. Large scale projects are focused on wildlife conservation and reintroduction through natural, wild habitat regeneration.

Rewilding solves three key problems at once. It restores our soil so that it can become an effective carbon sink, it develops habitats which support our vital wildlife and it helps regenerate natural plant growth. Each are critical ingredients to saving the planet from the effects of global warming. If we get it right, our soil alone should be able to absorb the vast majority of emissions that we produce each year.

Rewilding is about creating the right balance of three essential habitats: woodland, open scrub and open grassland. Smaller-scale rewilding also involves the creation of a fourth, which is waterways. Larger-scale rewilding assumes that there will be natural waterways flowing through the land. With smaller-scale rewilding this often has to be created.

Up until recently rewilding has been the sole preserve of national parks and a few large farms. They have proven the model and provided some of the approaches for how to make conservation-based rewilding work. But it needed something else to deliver climate-fixing rewilding at scale.

Around fifteen years ago a Letts family project started playing with an idea which could end up cracking the code for scalable, mass market solutions to the climate crisis. It’s called smaller-scale rewilding.

Today it is an accepted practice and smaller-scale rewilding is classified as a rewilding project smaller than 250 acres. Over the last fifteen years the Letts Group have taken it a step further and defined a number of practical and distinct models for garden-scale rewilding through to 250 acre projects.

Smaller-scale rewilding is more involved, more technical and much more scalable. It is also more broadly focused on solving the climate crisis and not limited to certain objectives around conservation. Smaller-scale rewilders make green spaces that are effective carbon sinks and oases of low carbon energy and natural food production. Their spaces also accelerate natural plant growth in a more controlled environment while nurturing habitats for wildlife.

The Letts have for years been practising what it is now called ‘Wildlife Gardening’ – a trendy new gardening method for rewilding your garden. But they have also developed practical models for rewilding verges, allotments, commons, parks, smallholdings and corners of farms and estates. They have a new centre that is up and running in the southwest of England called DSP which you can visit to learn about the various models and methods.

If you tour the surrounding towns and countryside you can already see a number of the approaches developed and showcased at DSP appearing in the region. Clearly something is catching on. Indeed, DSP is regularly hosting and educating government and business leaders, environmental experts, gardening professionals, conservationists and land holders committed to a more regenerative form of farming. They have even established a private sculpture park solely focused on environmental art to extend their climate message.

If smaller-scale rewilding can become a wider movement for change then perhaps there is a glimmer of hope in the battle against climate change. After all, we estimate that there are over a billion gardens on this planet, more than 250 million smallholdings, and millions of smaller farms and parks. Imagine if all of them were at least part-rewilded.

Wildlife gardening is rewriting the book on how to garden, turning gardens into mini carbon sinks that support insects, birds and small mammals while advancing regenerative plant growth. Wildlife gardening practices zero watering techniques, zero chemical or pesticide approaches and zero use of petrol guzzling tools, making the new crop of electric tools truly du jour. All plants are left to seed and pruning techniques could not be more different. Wildlife gardens have lighting that is solar powered.

Rewilded gardens recreate small woodland with just a few trees, shrubs are carefully selected as proxies for scrub and wild grasses abound. Plants are generally chosen for their year round ability to support pollinators. And each plant is left to seed. At DSP you can see the team’s three-tier waterway approach which effortlessly links a pond to a bog garden and on to surface water over grasses which creates wetland. The insects and birds love it.

The Letts Group has shrink wrapped large-scale rewilding and repurposed it for the masses – making it effective and understandable for everyone. By following the practices and updates at DSP Online anyone can become a rewilding expert. No matter whether you have a small terrace garden, a roof garden, cottage garden or more.

The Letts constantly remind us that in your garden you are the herbivore and herbivores are vital to managing projects that are larger than a garden or smallholding. When you walk across the outer wildlands at DSP you understand why. The extraordinary selection of conservation grazers that are unique to smaller-scale rewilding help maintain and shape the habitats keeping scrub as scrub, woodlands as healthy woodlands (where you can practice silvopasture techniques) and open grassland free of endless weeds, scrub or tree shoots.

You can’t exactly reintroduce the bison, the wolf or a red deer into smaller-scale rewilding so at DSP you get to see what does work. The grazers are smaller and lighter with a reduced footprint, but no less wild and effective than their larger proxies. The Letts even help us mathematically understand how many of these conservation grazers can be hosted per acre.

A visit to DSP Online or in-park is a real eye opener and you are left with a profound sense of hope. We no longer need to wonder what we can do about the climate crisis. We don’t need to wait for the government or super-rich to act. Any of us can become a rewilding expert and planet saver. Greta Thunberg might soon be telling us about how she has rewilded her school yard. No pressure Greta!

Visit DSP – pre-book a Wildland or Garden Safari.

This article first appeared in a Letts Group publication called the Letts Journal.

The Wild Kitchen at DSP

We offer catered gourmet picnic lunch boxes for certain private safaris and workshops.

In keeping with the ethos of rewilding DSP has designed an innovative Wild Kitchen. Our two course lunch, served in gourmet picnic boxes, is freshly made. Simple, light and delicious you’ll enjoy a choice of healthy, gluten free and vegan dishes.

Freshly Baked Focaccia

Rock Shrimp Roll, Home Grown Leaves with Lemon Oil

Roasted Duck Leg with Lentils

Miso Aubergine with Chirashi Rice

Roasted Butternut Squash with Lentils

Home Grown Leaves with Lemon Oil

Gluten Free Bakewell Tart

Brownies

Baked Apple

Enjoy a relaxed picnic taking in Capability Brown’s extraordinary landscape overlooking the sea. There are a various seating areas scattered across the gardens – a number are covered. Experience our natural dishes, with farm fresh veg, meat or fish. Alternatively collect your gourmet picnic box to enjoy at home.

A Very Private Estate Retreat

Devon Sculpture Park is at Mamhead Park (South) which is a very private estate retreat on the outskirts of Exeter, overlooking the sea. Indeed, the first thing you see as you enter is a ‘private’ sign to remind us that we’ll be enjoying a relaxed, immersive and very private visit.

This historic estate harks back to the Domesday Book and ancient, distant times. The landscape has been restored and rewilded, whisking us back many centuries while bridging to tomorrow with advanced natural climate approaches supported by the latest digital technology.

The family reside at the estate which gives any guest a feeling of home. Visits are warm and welcoming. The Letts’ have roots in Devon going back to the 13th century at the Shapcott estate, Knowstone. The family are private and deliberate, rarely inviting more than a handful of guests at a time.

Visits are requested online and by email each meticulously managed by the team and hosted with care. The integrity of this historical retreat, the natural habitats, wildlife and environmental art can only be fully protected in this very private of private settings. A place where social distancing is comfortably managed.

The family are often at the heart of things mingling with their various guests: artists, scientists, inventors, film makers, writers, photographers, environmentalists or environmental and art enthusiasts. Government, non profit and business leaders come here to learn about the various environmental projects and the teams perspectives on the future of natural climate solutions, the arts and the publishing industry. The Letts’ have been high profile participants of the publishing industry for over 200 years.

Mamhead Park (South) and the Letts Group are today innovating by funding and developing natural solutions to the climate crisis, including Letts Safari, while supporting the environmental arts. Guests enjoy learning about smaller-scale rewilding, regenerative estate management, carbon farming, wildlife habitats and wildlife gardening, as well as natural plant regeneration, environmental art and culture and wild kitchen foods – all mixed up in a Capability Brown setting with Robert Adam architecture.

The family and the team treat each guest with the same welcome and the same enthusiasm for the environment, the arts, health, politics and new media – no matter what brings them to this project or what kind of meeting they will be enjoying.

Guests are grateful for the hands on experience from the team in-park and online. Safety, health, education and mutual respect are practised by all.

Most guests communicate with and visit the park and the various projects online meaning that the in-park experience is private, intimate and unique. The vast majority enjoy this special place digitally, via DSP Online, as only a few can meet and retreat here – combining the best in modern technology with living history and conservation.

Mamhead Park (South) and Devon Sculpture Park have restored and reimagined the term ‘salon’ whereby supporters of the arts have for centuries been hosting guests to view their private galleries and performances. It’s just that in this place the private gallery extends to the park. An oasis of magical tranquility and privacy layered with wild abandon and mystical moods. Guest after guest describe their time here as ‘fairytale’.

If you would like to request a visit or a meeting just go to the website or email us.

How To Get Involved with Devon Sculpture Park

Many of you ask us how you can get involved with Devon Sculpture Park (DSP) online or in-park. And we’ve noticed these requests growing since the UK announced the first phases of reopening post Covid-19 lockdown.

There are a number of ways that you can get involved whether you’re an environmentalist, artist, gardener, arts enthusiast, wildlife supporter, company or lover of things Devon.

We recommend that you start by subscribing to DSP Online. DSP Online members not only enjoy valuable discounts visiting the park but also get priority booking and invites to special events.

We try and spend as much time as possible recording and communicating our daily experiences and learnings at DSP Online – via narrated videos, photo-tips, articles, interviews, recipes from the wild kitchen and online Q&A’s. Visitors can also message the team direct with their questions.

DSP Online was designed for anyone to visit the park as often as they want from just £3 per month – at home, in the office or on the move. It also serves our far flung supporters and those with accessibility issues. Given the discounts offered to DSP Online members, much of the monthly pledge can be paid for with special offers on visits to the park.

As an artist we recommend getting to know the park via DSP Online or a visit in-park as we are quite a different kind of art park. If you are an art collector we will soon be launching the Robert Adam Gallery online so you can browse and purchase selected environmental art from your home. Art bought from DSP is truly environmental, not just because it comes from leading environmental artists with environmental practices, but because you can rest assured that proceeds go towards rewilding projects and environmental art programmes.

We have a growing number of experts and organisations wanting to partner with DSP. These include wildlife trusts, educational groups and arts institutions. Also art teachers, wellbeing practitioners and yoga and meditation experts wanting to set up practices at DSP or special one day retreats. If you would like to partner with DSP email us at hello@devonsculpturepark.org.

The Coronavirus pandemic has made us all rethink our priorities and we thank you for wanting to get more involved with us in tackling climate change. We would also like to thank you for your patience through this process. We were early into locking down the park and will be cautious about re-opening. But the safety of our guests and that of the wildlife, plant life and team at DSP will always come first.

Devon Sculpture Park was established to tackle climate change – as a rewilding park for environmental art. We have worked hard to become one of the UK’s leading supporters of wildlife and art. This also means we have plenty of experience with healthier living – diet, wellbeing, eco-habits, eco-arts, exercise, nature, wildlife, green spaces and carbon sequestration. All vital to understand and celebrate as we go forwards.

We created the park as a place that could, first and foremost, be enjoyed online. Numbers have always been very limited in-park so as not to disturb the wildlife or damage the unique habitats and to keep our carbon footprint to a minimum. The in-park experience is intimate – private, immersive and relaxing. Always guided by experts. Your very own wildlife haven and creative retreat. The online experience is equally enthralling. Join us today at DSP Online.