Jim Ede really is our hero and so that makes Kettle's Yard one too!
In 1957 he lovingly and modestly restored the dilapidated group of buildings known as Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge and over time he grew his collection of art and found objects. The house and its contents are deeply personal, so it is easy to forget that it was always Ede’s intention to give them away. But even during the 15 years that he and his wife Helen lived there they kept ‘open house’ every afternoon of term.
‘a living place where works of art could be enjoyed… where young people could be at home unhampered by the greater austerity of the museum or public art gallery.’
In 1921 Ede joined the National Gallery of British Art (renamed the Tate Gallery in 1932) as a curator and assistant to the gallery’s director of contemporary art. His work at the Tate brought him into contact with some of the most important artists of the time and work-related trips to Paris led him to meet key figures of the artistic avant-garde, including Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Joan Miró and Constantin Brancusi. Ede became close friends with artists who were significant in the development of twentieth-century British modernism such as Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Henry Moore, Christopher Wood and David Jones.
Ede devoted Kettle’s Yard to simplicity of form, iterations in nature, the handmade and to space, quiet and light. He positioned paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures and pottery alongside traditional furniture and homely and natural objects including functional jugs and shells. Artworks and things converse in an intimate domestic setting filled with inventive living spaces and natural light.
He spent hours combing beaches for the most perfectly formed pebbles and then grouping them carefully on tabletops and cabinet displays. His friends such as Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore also sent him beach finds to add to his collection. From Alfred Wallis to Brancusi to Miro, there are many pieces in the collection but the generous and thoughtful space given to each one tells us that the curator’s process was a highly selective one.
In 1966 he gave the House and its contents to the University of Cambridge. In 1970, three years before the Edes retired to Edinburgh, the house was extended, and an exhibition gallery added, both to the design of the architects Sir Leslie Martin and David Owers. The house was further redeveloped and reeopened in 2018 after a two year closure.
Go when you can because this is a place that needs your support. You can also buy lovely things at the perfect Kettle's Yard Shop in person or online.
As a visitor you will ring the clanging doorbell, enter a magical world of collection and witness the very special level of light that cascades onto paintings and pebbles, making the Edes’ home truly alive, or in Jim’s words ‘a space, an ambience, a home’.
Pictures courtesy of Kettle's Yard