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August 16, 2014

Essex Revisited 2014

by Val Reynolds

Highlights over a two day visit: the local tourist

Essex evolves and changes without being manicured, over-gentrified or wrapped in cotton wool.

Colchester’s perpetual Roman digs were the stomping ground of my youth in the 1960s. Excavations and abundant pits were inhabited by archaeologists and volunteers with brushes and tools.

I revisited only last week and had great revelations – here are but three of four from many more!

FIRST SITE  is a rounded, golden, huge exhibition centre for visual arts designed by Rafael Viñoly. Currently showing a retrospective of the humorous work of Bruce McLean – performance artist, film/video maker and painter who rose to fame during the early 1980s.Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 11.29.08

A “re-placed” Roman mosaic lies under glass suspended in the floor over its original site within the gallery.

FIRST SITE houses the Cafe MUSA named after the Latin word for banana. Did you know ancient Romans would have known about bananas through their contact with India – the fruit is native to Southeast Asia. The plant was taken to South America in the 1500s. Modern scientific terminology assigns banana plants to the genus Musa.

Nicknamed JUMBO – a monumental, decorative Victorian water tower in the centre of Colchester – a pastiche to its Roman past and second highest water tower in the UK. Derelict since 1980s it was bought this year with the intention of turning it into a restaurant and flats.

A half hour from Colchester is Wrabness, smiling over farmland and the estuary is the happy house, a joint venture of Grayson Perry and Alain de Botton, under construction, designed by FAT.

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 11.33.47From afar it appears like an Indian or Buddhist golden shrine. A bellied goddess proud on the roof and the facia clad in outrageous tiles. Image and more info at

Nearby in swan-land is the heritage site of Mistley Quay embracing an arty enclave of workshops and café around the swan sanctuary with a restored oversize Victorian chocolate box swan fountain – folly on folly (see below!) looking towards an Adams folly way up the high street.

See The protest over the ugly and aggressive fence continues today – a display of mean, bitterness by a local stubborn landowner. Engraving from 1834

Just a mile away in Manningtree, is a super-gem exclusive gallery, THE NORTH HOUSE GALLERY created by Penny Hughes-Stanton in her childhood home. She has gutted stripped scrubbed and restored it lovingly and energetically into a dynamic and thoughtful exhibition space.

Penny is presenting a very disciplined, sophisticated, contemporary exhibition of work from both local artists and others from further afield.   Penny’s former partner is the genius printmaker Norman Ackroyd. What a force! (see site for appointments and opening)

P1010109_2Iron bowls by Rod Bugg

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 11.38.35John Dougills painted “Pear”

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 11.40.50Felix Sefton Delmer  abstracted, textural, yummy graphite canvases.

Essex is quintessentially and eco-centrically British celebrating its haunting flat salt marshes, bobbing boats and oddities, above all – fighting back against the homogenous takeover of bland!

user-avatar-picAnne TilbyMixed media designer and artist, Tilby is an experienced production set and costume designer for film, tv, film theatre and opera

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