Christmas on the Riverbank
A visit to the gloriously decorated rooms of Doddington Hall is a highlight of the festive season. Caroline Bingham joined one of the workshops helping to assemble a flock of paper birds, just one element of creating the magic of the riverbank in winter.
I hasten to add that the flock – a blaze of gold, pink and blue – will be more than 100 strong and I have contributed just one to that number. There was still plenty of work to be undertaken by volunteers and the artists themselves to prepare all of the pieces needed for the installations in the grand rooms chosen this year.
Collaboration of artists
The theme is the concept of Michelle Kelsey of the Doddington team in collaboration with owners Claire and James Birch.
“We have an amazing amount of talent on our team here at the Hall,” Claire told me, “and willing hands. We have been growing Christmas trees on the estate and selling them for many years so in 2007 it seemed a natural extension for visitors to see a decorated tree in the Hall.
“It was not a complete success that first year as the tree James and I had decorated toppled over initially, just missing one of our priceless chandeliers. We also lost some heirloom decorations. We have learned so much since then and the scale and complexity has gradually grown over the years.”
Claire has also built a portfolio of contacts within the county’s creative community which allows her to now step back from managing the entire project herself. “I have seen designs on paper and know rough ideas but I will be coming to this with fresh eyes when the final installations are unveiled – which will be a delight.”
I was guided in my bird building by artist Nadya Monfrinoli, who with fellow artist Louise Jones is a director of Lumo Workshop based in Welbourn. They work primarily in 3D but also in light and digital effects for theatre and events. Some of Lumo’s recent 3D work was to create the 20 aluminium and foam corgis which drew so much attention on the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Pageant. Closer to home, Nadya and Louise are part of the team who create Spilsby Light Night.
“We know that most people will identify with the Tales of the Riverbank,” said Nadya, “which will be referenced in parts of the house, but our design for the Brown Parlour is more abstract, and hopefully surprising to visitors. The room has dusky lighting and a series of illuminated paper boats will appear to be floating downstream as if dropped as Poohsticks.”
Nadya and Louise are also working with Rachel Petheram of Catkin Flowers to create a riverbank and trees in the Drawing Room. “We have designed and made paper, waist high herons in vibrant blue, white and gold. Some will have their wings outstretched as if taking flight.”
I had chance to talk to Rachel about her task of creating the riverbank from foliage from the Doddington Estate. “I want to make it as natural a backdrop as possible but I am a florist and used to floral installations,“ she said, “ and the scale of this is another level in terms of planning the amount of dried material I need to gather and prepare. As with most things, it is the foundations and structure which will be crucial.
“The Wilder Doddington project is returning more of the estate land to natural wetland so there is birch, willow, miscanthus grasses, reeds and bulrushes which will be perfect to bed into the chicken wire frame which will support the whole structure.”
Rachel is toning her work to the sumptuous blue and gold décor of the Drawing Room to provide a backdrop which should contrast to make Nadya’s paper sculptures come to dramatic life.
Tapestry brought to life
The Holly Bedroom and Tent Room displays will exhibit the work of early career artist Emma Chippendale, a 2021 fine art graduate of the University of Lincoln. A riverbank scene in one of the tapestries has been her inspiration for the Victorian 3D theatre she is creating for visitors.
Influenced by the toy theatres created by Benjamin Pollack, her vision is to create a riverbank scene, directly influenced by the late 17th century Flemish tapestries hung on the walls of the Holly Bedroom along with the rich history of Doddington Hall itself.
Emma explained that this installation was very reminiscent, as a visit to the theatre was a traditional festive pastime with her father, be it a pantomime or show at Christmas.
On entering the Holly Bedroom, visitors will be greeted by the sounds of instruments tuning and chatter of the people gathering as you the viewer peer into the auditorium whilst music begins to play. Allowing you to become part of the audience, whilst seeing the story of the tapestry unfold before you.
Emma’s second installation is a playful recreation of childhood memories of favourite fictional illustrated riverbank characters and tales. This will be brought to life in the Tent Room as a large-scale open book where the story will spill from the pages, escaping out into the foreground for the viewer to see.
The wooden structures for her work have been built by Richard St-John Ward, from the company ‘Something Weird’ Events Joinery. Almost all other materials used to make the set are recycled cardboard and wire, primarily from the Giant Store Lincoln bike shop on the estate. “The effect will be muted rather than bright, to contrast with the elaborate motifs of the tent adorning the walls. However I believe the overall effect will be very dramatic,“ said Emma.
Swans and soundscapes
The Great Hall will be the domain of Michelle Kelsey, who will be creating a majestic swan which will appear to be gliding downstream, while the students from Lincoln College, under the guidance of professional designer and lecturer Howell Thomas of Production Arts, will be building a frosty riverside in The Long Gallery. The riverside will be hung with lanterns and the soundscapes which Howell produces will create the haunting sounds of wildlife and water which carry so distinctly in winter months. More of the talented team employed at Doddington are Pippa and Abbie fromDoddington Country Clothing. They make many creative displays in the shop throughout the year and their contribution to Christmas on the Riverbank will be Jeremy Fisher installed in the Tiger Bedroom. Meanwhile, teams of volunteer knitters have been creating characters from The Wind in the Willows in yarn.
It will certainly be a spectacular unveiling of this frosty, festive spectacle and I will definitely be trying to spot my gold bird amongst the flock.
Christmas on the Riverbank will open to the public from 23rd November to 23rd December, on Wednesday to Sunday each week. Booking is essential by timed entry.
You can book tickets at: www.doddingtonhall.com