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Lindsey Porter

A significant year for flight – call out for Bird Garden stories

Harewood House in Yorkshire is a Bird ZooFifty-year-old flamingos, the first penguins in a country house and a passion and commitment for wildlife and conservation, the Bird Garden at Harewood is an accredited zoo and first opened to the public in spring 1970, then hailed in the press as ‘one of England’s most comprehensive collections of rare and exotic birds from all parts of the world.’

When Harewood reopens on 21 March, following three months of winter closure, it will be to celebrate 50 years of the Bird Garden, with new launches and exhibitions to be revealed across the House, grounds and gardens.

We’re calling out to visitors and local people from around the 1970 opening to get in contact now and share their memories and stories of one of visitors’ most loved areas of Harewood to this day.

The Bird Garden was originally opened by the 7th Earl and the Countess of Harewood, to provide a new attraction for visitors and celebrate their passion for wildlife and the protection of endangered species. At the time they were advised by Sir Peter Scott, the conservationist, ornithologist and founder of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trusts and also by Len Hill, celebrated ornithologist and founder of Birdland Park and Gardens.

It once housed 500 birds from 140 different species, including native Australian birds from the Countess’ home country, in addition to significant collections of birds from the Himalayas and South America. Today, Harewood is an accredited zoo and a member of BIAZA, the professional body representing the best zoos and aquariums in Britain and Ireland. It is home to approximately 300 birds from 56 different species, of which there are 17 managed international breeding and conservation programmes.

1970 was a significant year of flight – the year Concorde first flew supersonic; the first commercial passenger flight took place on a Jumbo Jet from New York to London and the Apollo 13 mission to the moon.

Jane Marriott, Director, Harewood House Trust, says “The Harewood Bird Garden is one of the best-loved parts of a visit to Harewood for many people, but what people may not know is that we are also an educational charity and the Bird Garden is an accredited zoo. At Harewood, we have a clear commitment to the care, conservation and biodiversity of many endangered bird species from around the world.

“In this 50th anniversary year, we would love to hear from anyone who might have visited in those early years, from when the Bird Garden opened in 1970. We’re sure there are many fascinating stories and memories, and hearing them will enable us to build the most complete picture of the impact of this part of Harewood’s past and its future and how zoos have developed from lovely displays of birds, into a very important place to care for our planet and wildlife.”

Harewood is asking people to send their stories to marketing@harewood.org

You can find out more about the Bird Garden here

A year of great highs – Jane Marriott Reflects

December and the Christmas break are a good time to reflect on the past year, and what a year 2019 has been.

There are many highlights that spring to mind straight away, from the launch of the inaugural Harewood Biennial Useful/Beautiful: Why Craft Matters to ending with this beautiful Christmas House, A Night at the Mansion, and along the way seeing the number of new Members grow the Harewood community and celebrating and sharing the practice of craft with visitors during our first ever Make It Harewood annual festival.

I have to confess that we started with no intention of launching a Biennial to celebrate ‘why craft matters’, but the overwhelming enthusiasm and support for the concept of the show, the growing numbers of people passionate about craft, shopping locally and supporting creative individuals and makers, made us reconsider.

Harewood has always been a place of great craftsmanship, from the late 1700’s through to today, the Lascelles family have been consistent supporters of artists and makers. So Harewood seemed a very natural home. Whilst London is a thriving hub of craft, there is no other significant, regular craft exhibition, we wanted that to change and so we decided to do just that!

Useful/Beautiful: Why Craft Matters received some fantastic feedback and achieved for us two main visions – to showcase the best of contemporary craft currently in the UK, and to present a different perspective of Harewood, that of a living and breathing house. And so, we will return with the next Biennial in 2021, and we have invited Hugo MacDonald to return as the curator, and the second Make It Harewood will be back again in early July 2020.

We’ve established a set of ambitions for The Biennial long term:

‘To be the pre-eminent venue outside London for craft and design. We will offer a new perspective of Harewood and our collections, celebrating great craftsmanship through the centuries with beautiful new work. Our legacy, will be to create a cultural project that provides a unique insight, over time, on craft and design as a business and creative endeavour and to provide unrivalled support and inspiration for makers, designers and artists.’

I couldn’t reflect on the year without mentioning several other highlights, including the celebration of 30 years of contemporary programming and the work that Diane Lascelles, Countess of Harewood, has done over the years to programme Terrace Gallery and bring contemporary art to Harewood. If you haven’t seen the film Postcard to the Future about her work, this can be accessed here.

We were also delighted to come to an agreement this year with the Victoria & Albert Museum, to retain the Chippendale pier tables and glasses on public display in the Music Room for which they were designed. They were gifted to the Nation earlier in the year and entrusted in the care of Harewood and the Victoria & Albert Museum. We also presented Pleasure Gardens, an audio installation in the Walled Garden during the summer, created by celebrated Australian musician Genevieve Lacey. The Walled Garden was transformed into a place of musical play.

We’re planning plenty of exciting new opportunities at Harewood in 2020, and I look forward to sharing the plans and welcoming you. We will be celebrating 50 years of our Tropical Bird Collection and Conservation programmes for a start…watch this space.

With less than a week before we end the year on a tremendous high and close the House for winter, a visitor’s recent comments can capture some of the impact this show has had;

‘Harewood has excelled itself this year! The theme was so clever and incredibly magical and immersive. We all loved it!‘ (LR, Leeds)

Find out more about the Christmas House: A Night at the Mansion. Harewood closes on Sunday 5 January, reopening 21 March 2020.

Rollerskates and giant crackers, childhood Christmas memories

LadyEmily_ShardportraitWhat was the atmosphere like in Harewood House when you were growing up in the run-up to Christmas? This is just one of the questions we asked Lady Emily Shard, daughter of the current Earl, David Lascelles.

We spent a lot of Christmas here when myself and my brothers was younger in the 70’s and 80’s.

We tended to spend much of the daytime in the Library. There would be a roaring fire (often with wet dogs drying out in front from a morning walk) and hundreds and hundreds of Christmas cards tucked between the books. I was always amazed that my grandparents could know so many people.

There would be a large and rambling family walk round the lake at some point. Although, having three children myself now, I am now sure getting everyone into coats and wellies and out the door took almost as long as the walk!

In the evenings we would tend to be upstairs in the private apartments – myself and my brothers shared the old nursery so we would play there, while the grown-ups got dressed up for dinner in the private dining room.

Do you have any particularly special memories of Christmas at Harewood?

Giant crackers and table decorations!

Our main Christmas dinner was held in the evening in the private dining room – the table was always laid in full glory with all the silver and glassware, with a Christmassy table centre to keep us children entertained. And after we had eaten, we would pull a giant cracker full of little gifts and party hats. In my memory it was around 10-foot-long and took everyone to pull it…looking back at old photos they were actually probably closer to 4-foot-long but the memories are magic.

Another powerful memory was the year myself and my brothers got rollerskates for Christmas! It was before the Terrace Galley existed and that space was open and flat and crucially since the weather was bad, undercover…we spent hours skating round down there, spinning round the columns and trying to avoid plummeting down the steps and into the doors to the parterre.

Was there and is there a lot of hustle and bustle at Harewood in anticipation of Christmas?

In my childhood it was mostly family members for Christmas itself, and the New Year gathering my grandparents threw always had lots of friends as well, so tons of people staying and lots of hustle and bustle. However, at that time the house was not open to the public during the winter, so many parts of the state floor were pretty shut down – festive celebrations tended to happen in the Library and private apartment. I am not clear how much of that was a self imposed ban for the children but I do not remember spending time on the rest of the State Floor, and certainly the less occupied bits of the house had a tendency to be jolly chilly!

Nowadays I think there is fantastic festive cheer all over the house at Christmas. We have so many committed staff and volunteers here and in the run up to the Christmas opening the whole place is a-buzz with preparations. As an educational charitable trust we have worked to open many more areas of the house that were little used when I was a child – this enables Harewood to welcome more people and gives us the opportunity to show even more of Harewood’s amazing past, present and future.

You can visit Harewood every day except Christmas Day and Boxing Day until Sunday 5 January. Find out more about the Christmas House here. 

Rocking into Christmas

NLYW-Harewood House Christmas Illumination

Date:20th November 2019.
Picture James Hardisty.

Amongst the many objects in Harewood’s collection, there are some that hold not just historic value, but emotional value too.

A children’s rocking horse is one of these items. It’s on display at the moment in the Main Library as part of  Harewood’s Christmas, A Night in the Mansion, in this family-focused room where it might just have been when the family lived here.

It’s a beautiful early 20th century wooden horse and was most probably a Christmas gift in 1927, from the 5th Earl of Harewood to his grandsons, George and Gerald Lascelles. It was purchased in the Leeds department store, the Grand Pygmalion, just at the junction of Boar Lane and Trinity Street.

There’s a detailed letter from Princess Mary to her mother that describes the family festivities that year:

“Our Xmas day went off very well. We went out to Hold Communion at 8 and then to Church at 10.45. Then we went for a walk. I unpacked some presents. After luncheon the children came down and my father-in-law gave them a rocking horse which they much appreciate. It snowed off and in the afternoon we did not go out. The children played downstairs for a bit. I opened my letters etc. After tea Robert Doyne dressed up as Father Christmas and brought the children presents as well as a large cracker. We spent a most cheerful day and evening. We had the Xmas Tree on Xmas Eve and the children very much enjoyed it….”

Find out more about Christmas at Harewood A Night at the Mansion

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Making Christmas…Davy & Kris take us behind the scenes

Harewood Christmas_TomArber_davykrisDavy & Kris McGuire created the mesmerising installation for this year’s Christmas experience, A Night at the Mansion. We delved behind the scenes on their creation…

What are the details around the technology you are using? Is it something specific?

We are mostly using pretty standard projectors, the type you find in conference rooms or home cinemas. And what is thrown at the wall are literally just movies that have been edited and rendered specifically for the surface we are projecting onto. If you were to see those films on a screen you’d be surprised how weird and non-sensical they look. They only come to life in combination with the fabric of the building.
The films are looped on tiny, almost credit card sized computers called Raspberry Pi which you can find in children’s hands in computer science classes.

How do you create the projections?

We follow the same process that other film makers follow: You start with a vision and a story. Then a scriptwriter comes on board and writes all the dialogue, for Harewood we commissioned Christina Lewis. Then you cast your actors and you film them. In our case we mostly shoot them in front of green screens or with a very uncomfortable, weighted helmet/camera contraption on their heads (to film their eyes and mouths in a very particular way). Then you edit and comp that footage into what we call projection mapping kits. What we do differently from traditional film makers is the next step. We don’t finish here but we take those footage kits and splash them onto the wall where we map every pixel to the right spot on the chosen projection surface. This last process takes place in situ and it’s the reason why we stayed 3 weeks at Harewood prior to the opening.

How hard was it to line up the projections with the porcelain and the ceiling for example, it’s so precise, how is this possible?

As projection mapping artists you know the right tricks and softwares to help with pulling and pushing pixels into the right direction. It’s neither easy nor hard, it’s a technique you’ve got to learn. What is hard is making sure that the projections stay in place after you’ve mapped them, especially in buildings where you can’t drill into anything. When projectors heat up their focus can change and the projection can go wonky. If your projection surface (for example paper in different humidity conditions) has a life of its own the mapping can lose its precision. If audiences touch or kick projectors they can dislocate the mapping. So that part can be much more nerve wrecking and time consuming than lining up the projections initially.

What’s different/special about what you do from a tech perspective?

We think that we bring something special to projection mapping through our background in dance and theatre. We think in characters and stories whereas a lot of projection mapping artists think primarily in audiovisual effects.

The music was commissioned – can you tell us what the brief was and who you worked with?

We worked with a brilliant composer called Spesh Maloney (one visitor asked whether we had used Händel or Haydn for the porcelain figures!) and we briefed him by either describing what we need or sending him musical references. For A Night at the Mansion it was a mix of describing the atmosphere we wanted to create for each room, suggesting instruments, asking for a mood (a melancholy mood for the gallery figures for example), filming one of us ‘singing’ the idea we had in our head to our phone camera and sending the video to Spesh (don’t ask to see this please) and sometimes Spesh would just send a track as a suggestion from his side. Towards the end of the install Spesh joined us in the house and mastered each sound to fit the acoustics of the room. That’s when the portraits got a slight musical backing track for example – to disguise the musical noise bleed from the music in the room next door.

How long did the project take to create, aside from the installation?

We started with technical site visits at the end of July and then went more or less exclusively until the opening. So 4 months, whilst gently keeping other projects cooking on the side.

Find out more about Christmas at Harewood: A Night at the Mansion here

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