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whereupon we revisit charleston farmhouse

October 5, 2015

when we are fortunate enough to spend time in great britain,

we have become extremely fond of our journeys to sussex.

both of us have found deep connection with the group of people

who formed a unique community of friendship and purpose

in the early nineteen hundreds and whose friendships

lasted decades–  the bloomsbury group.

and so, last fall, we found ourselves making our fifth pilgrimage

to the country destination that provided comfort and solace

to this group of friends and family for over sixty years…

charleston farmhouse.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

it is a bright and crisp october morning as we walk down kensington high street

to the tube station, where we will make our way to victoria station

and take a train south to brighton.

we love train travel, its leisurely pace well suited to our need

for transition between the bustle of city life and

the slower, more contemplative pace of country life.

we use this time to prepare for a day of

visual and intellectual saturation,

now on a more human scale, as we deepen our understanding

of the artistic, intellectual, and literary world of a small group

of people who turned away from mainstream society

to live a life more expressive of their personal beliefs and interests.

once we arrive in brighton it is a short walk to the car rental

and we are soon on our way east on the A27.


we stop briefly in firle, whose churchyard is the final resting place for several members

of the bloomsbury group.  i can already feel the change coming over me, the

sensation of being invisible–  a time traveler no longer in my body

but an artistic spirit watching, observing, and absorbing what surrounds me.

 studying something in such a way the heart overtakes the brain,

and i begin to inhabit the place itself…

not through books and dialog, but in spirit.

i welcome this change.


we continue east and turn off onto the narrow, winding road that will take us

to charleston farmhouse.  surrounded by the downs of sussex, it seems

another world entirely–  remote, quiet, and of another era.


every time i glimpse the open front door i expect to see vanessa bell

standing inside.  she first came here in 1916  with her sons julian and quentin

on the recommendation of her sister, virginia woolf.

she was joined by duncan grant and david garnett.


despite the romantic notions that it is easy to become lost in here,

i’m quite certain that with no central heat, no indoor plumbing,

cold damp weather, and no excess finances life was difficult.

artistic and creative freedom compensated for that.

“it will be an odd life but…  it ought to be a good one for painting.”

                                                                                             vanessa bell


i’m also certain that the workload was at times overwhelming,

despite live-in domestic help and combined efforts to maintain

the gardens and surrounding property.


it was an idyllic setting for the painters, writers, historians,

philosophers, and occasional socialites that gathered together frequently.

it is still possible to feel the creative energy in the atmosphere of the house.


over time the farmhouse took on the personalities of those who inhabited it,

 the work of their hands transforming house and landscape into

what is now a museum maintained by the charleston trust.


photography is not allowed inside the house, so i take walks around the gardens

before and after our walk through the rooms.

my great hope is that one day i will be able to take photographs inside,

to document for myself the images that strike a resonant chord within.

even writing this and looking at these images i feel my pulse quicken,

the restless creative energy of this environment coursing through my veins.


sunlight and shadow dance around us every time we are here–  brilliant sunlight

shining in one direction while ominous clouds build in another.

there is a meteorological tension here comparable with the creative tension.

i wonder if there is any correlation between the two.


the studio that vanessa and duncan added onto the house still contains

pigments, canvases, easels, and memorabilia that continue

to bring their presence into this space.

i feel an electricity here, a sense of possibility that i want to hold on to…

perhaps a bit more stays with me after each visit.


i yearn to give myself free creative rein in my own home,


to create with abandon, covering walls, doors, and other surfaces

with my own handwork.


i want to find ways to incorporate a wilder version of these gardens

on our own property, something perhaps less tidy and well-kempt.


water, in any form, has a soothing and tranquil effect,

and if we can’t have the big pond with fish perhaps

we can create something on a smaller scale such as their lily pond.


i want to dive into the color spectrum found in the flowers


to drink in the saturation of all this chroma.


i want to remember the contrasts all around,

the light and the dark,

the pale and the vibrant,

the soft and the harsh.


to feel the breeze as a welcome friend

and marvel at the gentle movement it creates.


to bring the outdoors in.


to put together the bits and pieces to create the whole.


to harvest the goodness that is abundant.


to be able to look back at a life that expanded into its potential.


to see connections in all things, just as the teasel that grows at charleston

also grows along the ditch on our property back by the hay field.


to open doors of possibility and not fear walking through them.


to fill to the brim with goodness.


to take advantage of what is so freely given.


to make a garden of my life,


a garden rich with color layered lavishly all around.


to see the reflections that come back while also seeing what lies within.


to gaze upon things with a sense of wonder.


to swim in community when possible


and embrace solitude when necessary.


to search the horizon


while remaining firmly grounded.


to live as abundantly as possible,


seeing walls as ornament rather than impediment.


what took place within these walls and under this roof

made history.

a highly intellectual and extremely creative group of people

somehow found each other and created a life outside the confines

of proper society.

their contributions continue to gain respect and admiration

for those who thought well ahead of their times.

the lessons they unknowingly taught

continue to benefit new generations who fight modern day constraints.

as a retired educator i can say that nothing i learned in a classroom

 taught me what following my passions has–

to open my eyes, heart, and mind together to make

the connections that give meaning to life.

i like to think that’s something we might have had

in common.

* * * *  further references * * * *

•  to learn more about charleston farmhouse and how to plan

your own visit click charleston farmhouse

 • to view some rather lovely images of the interior of charleston farmhouse

click homes and antiques magazine

• to purchase a copy of the book that is in constant rotation

in our home as a guide to color, pattern, and texture,

click charleston: a bloomsbury house and garden

• to understand more about the history of sisters

vanessa bell and virginia woolf and the

importance of their house museums,

click charleston and monk’s house:

the intimate house museums of virginia woolf and vanessa bell

**** to be continued ****

8 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2015 3:22 am

    To make a garden of your/our lives. A wonderful sentiment, I must say.

    • sassysistersink permalink*
      October 6, 2015 4:13 am

      oh, janet, you have been on my mind big time lately! we must get together very soon and catch up! it has been way too long. as soon as I get back from California, ok?

  2. sageandspirit permalink
    October 6, 2015 5:08 pm

    What a beautifully inspiring place! And I love your words, you’ve made me feel as though I was walking the grounds of Charleston Farmhouse with you! I could get lost in that world…

    • sassysistersink permalink*
      October 8, 2015 12:58 am

      this is such a special place to us– I think we intuitively know which environments most nourish our best selves. I am grateful to have found this one and I thank you for joining me as I wandered through it once again! xx

  3. October 9, 2015 2:51 pm

    Ah…I see you’re in Great Britain! In your heart, that is. 😉
    You can’t fool me. I know where you’re really at!
    But, I love scrolling through those gardens and manors of brick and lush lush lushness of the UK!
    You KNOW, all my relatives live there. One cousin, he owns a bed and breakfast! Another cousin lives outside of Liverpool, me mum’s home town, as you know, and my other cousin lives in France, and I’m sure there are smatterings of aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews….
    When I read your post and smiled at the delightful images I couldn’t help but want to start planning a trip.
    Thank you for this journey!
    I’ll call you. 🙂

    • sassysistersink permalink*
      October 9, 2015 8:58 pm

      oh, I think you must plan a trip! you have so many reasons to go! I never tire of the gardens and the museums– those dreamy environments make me believe in a world of possibility. it would be amazing if we could meet up there some time! my goodness, life can be so rich. I love having friends that find beauty wherever they go– and that know how to seek it out! yes, do call!! xx

  4. October 9, 2015 7:01 pm

    Thank you for a lovely tour of Charleston – even the flowers in the garden remind me of the Bloomsbury aesthetic. I’ve seen some photos of the inside on-line in the past. Your narrative complements your photos so well – it’s fun to armchair travel with you, Janet!

    • sassysistersink permalink*
      October 9, 2015 9:10 pm

      thanks for coming along, Diana! I think what excites me the most about travel is how the places, stories, and images inform my aesthetic. I always seek out ways to become changed somehow by what I experience. charleston is my “onion” destination, the one where each visit peels away another layer and deepens the meaning. we live in such a glorious world!

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