5 minutes with Mel Winstanley

Mel Winstanley at Blackwell, the Arts & Crafts House on a misty day Blackwell, The Arts & Crafts House (photo Tony West) White Drawing Room at Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House (photo by Nick Wood) Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal (photo by Tony West) Kitchen at the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry (photo Lakeland Arts)

Introducing 5 minutes with Mel Winstanley..

Who is a volunteer at Blackwell, the Arts & Crafts House, Abbot Hall and Windermere Jetty, which along with the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry (MOLLI), make up Lakeland Arts.

Tell us more… I began volunteering for Lakeland Arts at Blackwell in February 2002 and my first task was to wrap copies of ‘The Studio’ magazine in acid free tissue paper – since then my volunteering activities have extended and include being one of a group of five who give talks to coach parties coming to Blackwell. It’s always a joy to share the wonder of this Arts and Crafts house with first time visitors. Volunteering has also formed new friendships and the five of us regularly have lunch together in the tearooms at Blackwell.

Abbot Hall sees me invigilating the exhibitions on a regular basis and giving talks on the permanent exhibition on the ground floor. It is a great pleasure introducing visitors to the art gallery, explaining how Lakeland Arts was formed as a charitable trust and continuing the tour by looking at ‘The Great Picture’ and the wonderful pieces of Gillow furniture before highlighting the interesting individuals, many with local connections, painted by Romney in the mid-late 18th century and finally the examples of Schwitters work created in the Lake District in the 1940’s.

Windermere Jetty’s collection has provided more exciting areas for volunteering – this time conservation work.  Working closely with the curator, a team of volunteers has cleaned, wrapped and photographed many items from the steamboats and written condition reports.  One item I became particularly involved with was a wicker chair which took quite a long time to clean using a conservation vacuum cleaner, brush and smoke sponge.

It has been a pleasure to participate in a training session held recently at Brockholes on leather conservation and then to clean leather items from MOLLI’s collection.  Assisting two textile conservators prepare shoe supports for the current display at MOLLI has also been of considerable interest.

Why is this special to you… It offers me considerable opportunities to learn more about caring for the Lakeland Arts collections in a very practical way, allowed me to share my interest in the Arts and Crafts Movement and introduces me regularly to new exhibitions, ideas and friends.

What can audiences expect… They can expect an enormous variety within all the venues. Items from the Lakeland Arts collection are on the ground floor at Abbot Hall Art Gallery. Blackwell offers changing exhibitions – both Arts and Crafts based and by contemporary designer-craftsmen and women in an almost intact Arts and Crafts house with a wealth of stimulating decorative features and an excellent café and shop. It has a very relaxed atmosphere and invites every visitor to pause and enjoy the window seats and the living picture of the lake from the white drawing room.

The Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry is a gem and tells the story of Lakeland life at an earlier period and if you pause, look and listen carefully you can still almost hear the rhythm of that life. I look forward to seeing the redeveloped Windermere Jetty as I’m certain this 21st century building will complement the venues making up Lakeland Arts wonderfully well.

If you could name only 3 unmissable cultural hot spots or events in the Lakes – what would they be… Apart from the above I would encourage visitors to see two National Trust properties – Townend in Troutbeck and Allan Bank in Grasmere – very different properties but both fascinating. My third choice would be The Quaker Tapestry in Kendal which exhibits a beautiful collection of embroideries telling the story of the Society of Friends.

In a nutshell how would you describe the cultural offer in the Lakes… The Lake District offers a wealth of cultural opportunities in the arts combined with the beautiful scenery and with a fascinating history makes it a ‘to die for’ place to live in, or near, and visit!

And after a cultural adventure in the Lakes, where would be your ideal place to eat or stay… I would recommend the vegetarian Quaker Tapestry café for lunch and the New Moon restaurant for an evening meal. Both are in Kendal and well worth trying.

And we just have to ask – if you could choose one view in the Lakes where would that be… Having first seen Blackwell on a dismal February day in 2002 – it will always be the view across the lake – a living picture which can change minute by minute and is always captivating.

Looking out across Windermere from the gardens at Blackwell, the Arts & Crafts House
Looking out across Windermere from the gardens at Blackwell, the Arts & Crafts House

Discover more about Lakeland Arts and Blackwell, the Arts & Crafts House, Abbot Hall, Windermere Jetty and the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry (MOLLI) here

To enjoy this Lakes cultural event and much more, book your break in the Lake District here