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.

Image result for the thinker rodin

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.

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.