An Art Historian’s Review of Devon Sculpture Park

A secret discovered in the heart of Devon.

Art in the Devon Sculpture Park

Rosemary Cieri, Art Historian and Exhibition Curator

Arrived in this remote part of England – perhaps one of the most scenic I have seen- I proceeded to my assignment: A report on an exhibition of the latest art concerned with our most immediate problems: the destruction of our nature, our world, and our divine right to inhabit it.

This happened to be in the Devon Sculpture Park, 100 acres unknown to me, in perhaps the most beautiful part of Devon I have seen; with hills gently rolling down to the mouth of the River Exe and the open sea. A centre of rewilding, the new way to look after trees, plants, grasses and animals, who all live here in blissful harmony.

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I discovered the impacting art of an artist, Philip Letts, English but known throughout the world (from New York to Beirut) for his groundbreaking art, progressive, but full of human history, of humanity faced with today’s problems. In a series of installations with paintings, sculpture, worked out with metal… we see animals alive and as skeletons, these last produced by man and industry’s impact on the natural world they need to survive.

Some of these installations shown here made me face problems until now partly ignored, but which made me think like Rodin’s “The Thinker” sitting and reflecting on our world. On leaving I saw similar types of sculptures scattered throughout the Devon Sculpture Park which, like me, were reflecting on our present dilemmas. Enhancement, vitality and energy stems from Philip Letts’ art, an art provocative, enlightening, as art should be and above all inspiring.

A Sculpture Park Tackling Climate Change

Devon Sculpture Park is on a mission. Not only is it developing one of the UK’s more ambitious sculpture parks, on a truly historic estate, but it is becoming a leading voice in tackling climate change.

Its permanent art collection is one of the UK’s larger collections of environmental art – sculpture, installation art and more. It includes a ground breaking 5 acre installation of 25 massive wood biodomes each housing hundreds of creatures while overwintering butterflies and bees, yielding sizable colonies of each.

The sculpture park has dedicated its outdoor and indoor galleries to exhibitions that challenge our thinking around man versus environment and community.

As if this was not enough the sculpture park sits on a hundred acre Rewilding Project. Six years in, this initiative has enabled nature to repair and renew the land, its wildlife and those of us lucky enough to wander through. The wildflower laden parkland with golden grasses shimmering in the sunlight remind us of bygone times. The ancient woodland glades and open scrubland foster vital biodiversity and protect wildlife, insect and birdlife. The Wilded verges are a simple demonstration of how any verge could be kept. This place is an eco-safari park right on our doorstep.

The Capability Brown gardens are one of the first historic gardens in the UK to be truly Wilded following a painstaking four year restoration. They showcase how we could make a difference in our own back yard no matter the size. The gardens lead the way on smaller scale, mass market, natural climate solutions.

The art challenges and provokes us while the Rewilding Project helps to educate us on how such natural climate solutions can save our planet – if we get behind them fast.

The education opportunities at Devon Sculpture Park are far-reaching. Children, parents, adults, researchers and activists all learn here – through the art, the gardens, the guided park tours and the events.

A day out at such a unique place not only helps support the wonderful estate and its content rich, highly topical art programme, but it allows us to get involved in solving our largest shared problem: saving the planet, its unique biodiversity and our very way of life.

Book a Group or School visit by contacting hello@devonsculpturepark.org. Volunteer at the park or simply start your climate journey by joining a 2 hour guided Wilding Tour – CLICK HERE.

Guided Art Tours at Devon Sculpture Park

At Devon Sculpture Park we pride ourselves in our guided art tours. We believe in interactive, human led art education.

The art tours take in not only the exhibitions of environmental art in the wilded Capability Brown gardens, but also hidden private collections in the outer wildlands. Indeed, the private collection in the outer wildlands can only be visited by joining a guided art tour.

Visit our famed installation of 25 wildlife biodomes across 5 acres of the parkland. Each is designed to house 200-300 creatures and overwinter butterflies and bees. Truly functional environmental art.

Observe art wilded in the UK’s leading smaller scale rewilding project. Nature, wildlife and art fuse into one massive 100 acre installation.

Following this you visit the main environmental art installations in the Capability Brown gardens and the two indoor galleries.

Last of all enjoy a complementary tea and cake at the terraces in front of the Robert Adam Orangery.

The guided art tours are led by artists and are available Friday, Saturday or Sunday morning, 10am – 12pm. To book a Guided Art Tour – CLICK HERE.

‘Textures’ Inaugural Indoor Exhibition

Devon Sculpture Park’s new indoor exhibition space at The Sheds opened on Saturday 29th June with ‘Textures’, a mixed media show of resident artist Philip Letts latest works.

‘Textures’ is a layered combination of mixed media art that challenges us to reflect on ourselves, our environment and the issues that surround us.

Each piece is a theatrical, layered examination of modern challenges including climate change, urbanisation, commercialisation and waste. The art speaks for itself behaving as an emotional mirror for us to reflect on and in.

‘Textures’ is a series of resident artist Letts’ most recent works. The collection fuses sculpture with tones of rugged street art rubbing against metal, plastics, textile, bone and wood.

Each artwork behaves as a mini installation. Theatrical, performant, conceptual but always raw, challenging us to think about our impact on the environment and community surrounding us. Are we materialist and selfish? Or more open and caring. We can decide.

Philip Letts is a recognised international artist. He has been represented at most of the leading art fairs around the world and has had a number of solo exhibitions in major galleries in New York, London, Paris and Beirut. He is collected widely.

Philip is passionate about large, global projects that challenge convention and attempt to design groundbreaking solutions to social, environmental and market issues. He is also the founder of Devon Sculpture Park.

Capability Brown Gardens

The wilded Capability Brown gardens at Devon Sculpture Park are extraordinary. Capability Brown was commissioned over 250 years ago to design one of his only seascapes and probably his most intimate garden. Today it is one of the last remaining Capability Brown gardens in the South West.

Painstakingly restored, the gardens boast historic water gardens, rows of signature Capability Brown Cedar trees, a lake carved into Haldon Hill and an impressive series of connected beds that keep going twelve months of the year thanks to the unique design, aspect and micro-climate. The gardens are the first truly rewilded historic gardens showcasing natural climate solutions.

There are specific Autumn and Winter gardens, wild gardens, Romanesque courtyard and terrace wrap-around gardens plus a Tuscan style terraced kitchen garden.

We believe we have developed a nationally important collection of trees while fusing UK West country plants with Mediterranean species. We put nature first. Birds, bees, butterfly, moths and waterfowl abound. The gardens form part of the UK’s leading smaller scale rewilding project.

Art and Wellbeing

A standard definition for art is ‘art is emotion’. It should therefore be the case that art can and perhaps should affect our emotional wellbeing. Hopefully positively.

At Devon Sculpture Park we want to foster this link. We have double the motivation: firstly evidence supports that people de-stress in museums and galleries but also there is a sizeable movement around improving our wellbeing through ‘time in nature’. As a leading UK Rewilding Project we specialise in the wellbeing of land and wildlife. The reserve is mesmerising.

We are all about ‘art in nature’. Mamhead Park (South) was designed for it. The evidence is everywhere – with endless, mesmerising sea views framed so magically by Capability Brown, connected via a tunnel from the ice house all the way to the sea.

The Robert Adams Orangery has a dome that makes you giddy when you stare up at it. The Lake House reflects calmy off the Capability Brown lake. Rowing boats float among fish and birdlife.

Dozens of benches and chairs have been painstakingly positioned to promote sitting and relaxing; taking in the ‘art in nature’ while detoxing. After all, we have to live up to the inspiring engraving on one of our ancient pillars: ‘Et in Arcadia ego’ which translates to ‘I am in paradise’.

Companies, charities and healthcare organisations can bring team members here for a day retreat.

To arrange a wellbeing retreat contact hello@devonsculpturepark.org.

‘Art Wilded’ Exhibition

The inaugural outdoor exhibition in the Capability Brown gardens is ‘ART WILDED’ by resident artist Philip Letts.

The exhibition is a series of contemporary sculpture installations blending conceptual and abstract themes that examine the clash between modern society, technology, environment and nature. The overarching theme is ‘Man versus nature’.

Resident artist, Philip Letts, has been shown in leading art fairs across the world and has had a number of solo exhibitions in New York, London and Paris. He is best known for his relentless push into new media from abstract photography to mixed media, digital art, sculpture, installation and performance art. He focuses on urban culture and its relentless pressure on community and the environment.

Philip helps us challenge our place in the continuum of nature. Nature and urbanization are too often at odds leading to the degradation of the environment. It is more important than ever to work together to deal with climate change and the destruction of our land, wildlife and biodiversity.

‘Art Wilded’ is the first annual outdoor exhibition in the Capability Brown gardens at Devon Sculpture Park.

Book a Guided Art TourCLICK HERE. To arrange a group tour (minimum 6 people) or school visit contact hello@devonsculpturepark.org.

Open Air Permanent Collection

Devon Sculpture Park has a sizable permanent collection of individual sculptures and installations. Developed over many decades the Open Air collection is now open to visitors.

Sculptures in the rewilded parkland reflect the extraordinary contours of the land and endless seascapes.

The permanent collection includes the largest collection of resident artist Letts’ environmental artworks plus dozens of sculptures from other leading UK artists.

Open scrub and woodland house an eclectic mix of environmental installations and graffiti art.

The Capability Brown gardens above the 800 year old church house sculptures installed decades ago.

Nearly 100 artworks can be viewed across 50 acres of the sculpture park.

Book a Guided Art TourCLICK HERE. To organise a group visit (minimum 6 people) or school visit contact hello@devonsculpturepark.org.

Historic Buildings

Mamhead Park (South), where Devon Sculpture Park is located, is steeped in history. There are a number of historic buildings.

The Robert Adam Orangery

The Grade II listed Orangery started as a cascade house over 500 years ago. An early owner, Thomas Ball (1671 – 1749), planted many exotic trees brought back from his continental travels. A number are still standing. In the 1770’s Robert Adam was commissioned by the Earls of Lisburne to redo the cascade house with his classic Romanesque temple and cupola.

Robert Adam introduced the now famous Lancelot Capability Brown to redesign the gardens and frame the extraordinary views over the sea and Exe estuary. The Orangery is one of the last historic orangeries that is still lived in. It houses some of the Letts family’s private art collection.

The Ice House

The Ice House has a fascinating history dating back hundreds of years. It sits around 5 metres below ground with only its ancient roof visible above the ground.

It has tunnels running for miles East and West. One leads all the way to the sea at Starcross and another heads up the hill to the Obelisk at Mamhead Woods. They may even have been smugglers tunnels!

The Church

Grade II listed St Thomas the Apostle Church is over 800 years old but the current structure is mostly a 15th Century building. It still holds a monthly church service and is available for weddings.

St Thomas’ has a small but active congregation. The beautifully maintained garden and graveyard, with historic yew, are open to the public.

A Rewilding Centre

Devon Sculpture Park is surrounded by parkland and a recently established Wilding Project. Book a Wilding Tour – CLICK HERE.

Nearly 100 acres have been rewilded letting the land and nature return to their ancient, organic roots. Ploughing and fertiliser destroy the soil and damage our fragile environment – we do neither.

We nurture and support wildlife to manage the land with us. Ponies, Roe deer and small rare breed sheep top grass and keep invasive weed back. Alpacas lift lower canopy, protect new born lambs and eat thistle. Pigs manage scrub.

An extraordinary array of birds, bees and butterfly share our trees and hedgerow with field mice, bugs, hedge hogs and snakes.

Our lakes support a rich variety of fish, newt and dragonfly with duck and heron frequent visitors.

We believe the combination of sculpture park and rewilding project is unique. The wildlife and nature are a part of the overall installation, of our living art. Environmental, sustainable art is the future. Environmental issues are vital for artists to attack.