We are delighted to announce that Rebecca Harvey and Lucy Sparrow are our new Artists in Residence from November 2023 into 2024.
Their joint residency is titled “Revealing Morrab Library: Poetry & Porcelain” and will draw from their respective disciplines. Rebecca Harvey is an artist working in porcelain and Lucy Sparrow is a poet. They are both members of the Morrab Library and it was spending time amidst the bookshelves of the library which inspired them to work together. Their creative affinity has manifested in, as Lucy describes, “a collaboration of porcelain and poetry”.
Over a period of time, members and visitors alike will spot installations taking shape and evolving in various unexpected places throughout the building. Work will draw on the themes of the different collections within each room, revealing and illuminating features of the spaces in which they are sited as well as their interplay with the surrounding gardens beyond the windows.
The pair agreed that “Morrab Library is More than Books. Whilst it is an archive of treasures revealing the past it also embraces the contemporary speaking to the future” (italics here are a reference to the Treasures of the Morrab: A Penzance Library That Has More Than Books (2005, p. 31) by Penwith Local History Group).
Through their residency they hope to “to raise awareness within the local community and beyond of the library’s rich diversity of resources and archive”.
Lucy Sparrow evocatively describes the character of the Morrab:
“Morrab Library and Gardens is such a special place. The gardens are achingly beautiful in Spring and Summer and people picnic or read or just lie on the grass cloud watching. Inside the library rooms steeped in history buzz with members, volunteers and visitors attending workshops, lectures, residencies and exhibitions. Books are browsed, borrowed and bought. Laughter, chatter and silent corners co-exist, there is a warm, quiet energy. Morrab Library is a living library where the past can be preserved, examined and re-evaluated to inform and illuminate the present. This is made achievable by the commitment of the library staff who work tirelessly to keep this wonderful institution accessible and relevant.”
At the moment in the Reading Room (Ground Floor) Lucy’s poem is titled ‘Her Installation’. It is about a mother’s experience of war, loss and survival. She wrote it after attending writing workshops in the Reading Room, coupled with the experience of seeing Rebecca’s porcelain sculptures in her studio.
The installations seek to reveal spaces unseen or overlooked. Rebecca describes the way in which she hopes that their work will draw attention to things that people may not have noticed, “to stop and really look at something and think about the interlinked nature of things and that everything is interwoven”. Lucy adds, “In the history room, barely noticed between and beyond the spines of dictators is a rather ornate fire-place now cold, boarded up, blackened. Here, the energy of grief expressed in poetry hangs, visible, surrounded in the room by strung porcelain sculptures. This simple domestic space with its picture frames on the mantle-piece reveals the hidden history of an individual and yet has wider connotations contextualised by Auschwitz and the Crimea. In this first installation the past is revealed afresh in the present through the window of collaborative contemporary art.”
Rebecca’s first piece has been inspired by Lucy’s poem and similarly draws from the collection of books it is held within, without being directly representational. It is titled “Yet the Gorse Flowers”, and is site specific, made from gorse collected over the year, porcelain, local wild clay and horse hair. Suspended in one of the windows of the Reading Room, on the threshold between inside and outside, porcelain petals, skin or bone-like structures catch in the sunlight. The work explores the materiality of porcelain, from raw to fired, translucent to dense. The installation is intentionally a work in progress and will evolve in response to its location throughout the next few weeks.
Rebecca is an alumni of the Royal College of Art working primarily in porcelain and represented by the Belgrave Gallery. A grant from the Arts Council to develop her creative practice first drew her to the Elizabeth Treffry Room, to browse this special collection of books by and about women in Cornwall, donated to the Morrab Library by The Hypatia Trust. The room contains lots of books about Virginia Woolf, as well as beautiful editions of her work, and spending time in this space inspired Rebecca to think about a residency in the library.
Rebecca first visited the Morrab as a child, as part of a regular Sunday walk with her grandfather, through Penlee Park, to Morrab Gardens and on to St Mary’s Church. She has early memories of being tiny here; gazing up at the floor to ceiling bookcases in awe. She has always had a multigenerational experience of the library and has passed down the connection to her daughter, regularly popping in to borrow books, attend classes and workshops, and recently enjoyed a visit to see the collection of pressed seaweeds.
Penzance is Lucy’s home town and she also remembers visiting Morrab Library as a child. She re-discovered the Morrab Library when attending writing workshops and lectures as part of Penzance Literary Festival. She says, “The first time I walked in I recognised a librarian from school! The library exudes a sense of timelessness and relaxed ambiance. It appeals to all readers of all ages offering quiet places to sit and read or think whilst also encouraging new writers, artists and historians to attend talks or share and explore its environs.”
Lucy studied English and History at University and in her professional role as a nurse has maintained an interest in these subjects.
She says “Literature and writing have always been an important part of my life but recently the focus has shifted from a therapeutic function to creative experimentation. I am currently working on a collection of poems for publication. Spending time with Rebecca in her studio, surrounded by her porcelain, I saw an affinity between this material and human bone and skin, in texture, shape and translucence. We bury our bones in the earth and from this we extract clay. Through this conversation came the idea of the current collaboration.”
The pair hope that their collaborative residency will help to illuminate what a “rare and special place Morrab Library is” and “actively support its continued presence within Penzance”. You are warmly invited to a ‘drop-in’ session held in the Reading Room on the 15th December 10-12: pop in to see their work and chat to them more about their creative practice.
This year’s Morrab Library Christmas Cards are now on sale, featuring a beautiful image by own staff member Harriet.
You can purchase them from reception at £1.00 per card, £2.75 for a pack of three, or £4.75 for a pack of five.
All proceeds go to the care of the Library.
We’re happy to post cards to you for a small additional fee if you can’t make it into the Library.
In 2021, Exeter University student J.T. Albright made his first visit to Morrab Library, one which would change the course of his academic career and, through our archives, immerse him into the world of Regency Penzance. Having now graduated and moved further afield to York to continue his studies, J.T. has not only shared this beautiful blog about his time with us at the Library (see below), but also given us access to his brilliant dissertation, which clearly demonstrates the value of our archive collections. You can click here to read his paper, wonderfully titled : ‘It is a Truth Universally Acknowledged That There are no Secrets: Gossip’s Role in the Regency Era Ballroom’
Where does one begin when extolling the virtues of the Morrab Library? Many of them are self-evident: the elegant house full of old books, the sea views and picturesque surroundings of Morrab Gardens, friendly faces and cups of tea, the list could go on infinitely, yet I would say its delights go far deeper than those, lovely as they are. My relationship with the Morrab Library started on a rainy autumn day in 2021 when, at the behest of a dear professor of mine from the University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, I decided to make the long journey by bus from my home in Penryn in order to see the magical environment for myself. If the vast collection of books and quaint ambience did not seal the deal immediately, impossible as that sounds, the rich and varied archive did. Little did I know that when I first entered through that wonderful red portal, the trajectory of my life would change entirely.
It would be correct to say that I have always had an interest in the eighteenth-century, alongside my undying love of rural England, but I had previously thought that my interest in English society would tend more towards the Victorians rather than the Georgians. Now, that position has completely reversed. For my undergraduate, which was an interdisciplinary degree combining English Literature and History, I decided to tackle my three biggest interests when writing my dissertation: Jane Austen and her world, sociability and gossip, and how novels can be used to study history. The Morrab Library, with its archive and special collections, was the primary way that I was able to turn fiction into reality, though perhaps one could say that fiction may come from reality. Through investigating their catalogue, I was able to travel back to Penzance of the 1790s and become a part of this wonderful town’s life in a unique and intimate way.
With Lisa’s help and guidance, I had the privilege of meeting Catharine Tremenheere, nee Borlase, and through her letters I attended balls at the Penzance Assembly Rooms in 1792 and 1793. I would describe her as a slightly more sensible version of the immortal Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, their minds seem to have been in a similar place though Mrs Tremenheere showed a bit more gentility than dear Mrs Bennet. Alongside Catharine Tremenheere’s letters, which are numerous and a treat to read, I used the 1791 Penzance Assembly Book, which recorded all the accounts and details of the social seasons from 1791-1794, to find out who her neighbours were and how often they saw each other. In addition to her records of balls and assemblies, Catharine Tremenheere also writes about dinner parties, visits to the theatre, and even about riots in Penzance around the time of the French Revolution.
Through her eyes, I saw just how vibrant the Georgians were and that the events in Jane Austen’s novels were not as unrealistic as one may have thought. That is the joy of researching the past and reading books, is it not? The drama and sensibility we find in novels, and think so silly as a result, may not be too far-fetched as we originally believed. Catharine Tremenheere records all sorts of novel-like happenings in Penzance society and in such an endearing way that by the time I reached the letter where her son Walter tells his brother Harry Pendarves that their mother is dead, I was near to tears. This intense journey, both intellectually and emotionally, would never have happened without the Morrab Library and its archive.
From all this foraying into Penzance’s past, in this fantastic setting which we all are a part of, my life has now taken a turn towards making the eighteenth-century its gravitational centre. Soon I shall begin a masters course in eighteenth-century studies to continue my research into the function of assembly rooms in rural society and, hopefully, turning that into a PhD once I complete the next step. All this stemmed from two deeply important sources: my love of Pride and Prejudice and the ability to see how the world Jane Austen wrote about still exists in delightfully large quantities all around us through the archive at the Morrab Library. Certainly, it has been a journey of love and passion through discovery and investigation.
The Trustees of Morrab Library are proposing a significant change in its governance arrangements which will be presented to members at an Extraordinary General Meeting on 13th November – we hope you will be able to attend. In tandem with this exercise, we are looking to appoint a number of people to strengthen the Board of Trustees.
Our priority is to find a new Treasurer. In recent years we have improved our financial systems and we seek someone with experience in finance to take over this essential role, to provide financial oversight and planning. Further information on this role is available here: The Morrab Library Treasurer
We are also seeking people with skills and attributes to complement other Trustees in the following areas:-
- fundraising and reputation management
- building maintenance and development
The Trustees meet monthly, either by Zoom or in person. Sub Committees are in place to support the Board – and working groups are occasionally formed for specific purposes.
More information about the Library and the current Trustees can be found here: https://morrablibrary.org.uk/trustee/
If you are interested in joining us, or if you know someone who might be, we should be delighted to hear. Please send a short CV (no more than two pages) together with a covering letter of application outlining what you can contribute and why you wish to serve as a Trustee.
Responses should be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible. If you would like an informal discussion with one of the Trustees before expressing an interest please write to the same email address with a brief summary of your relevant experience.
If you use social media and can share this information with your followers to help us expand the search please share the links you’ll find on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.
Harry Spry-Leverton, Chairman, on behalf of the Trustees of Morrab Library
We need to share some important news about car parking over the next few weeks. The Honorary Health and Safety Officer, on behalf of the Trustees, has arranged for the external building to be painted and redecorated over the summer. This means that scaffolding will be erected around the entire building for the duration of the works.
As typical of works involving scaffolding, we do not have an exact date for the work commencing, but we have been informed that the scaffolding could be put up as early as the 23rd of June, but more likely the week beginning the 26th of June. Until it is up, we won’t know how much of an impact it will have on access to all of our parking spaces. Some may be restricted for the entirety of the project, but we do not know as yet.
We do know for now that the painters have recommended that while they are refurbishing each side of building’s front that parking be avoided for that period, to reduce the risk of your car getting a new coat of paint! We know the work to paint commences from 3rd July, but we do not have any indication of how long it will take to finish each of these sections. We will provide updates as we find out more.
The work is estimated to take up to two months in total before the scaffolding is subsequently removed.
Ideally, it would be very helpful if you could avoid parking at the library entirely during this period if possible, so we can ensure those who need it the most can be guaranteed access.
But at the least, may we recommend throughout this period that you phone ahead if you need a car park to access the library and we can inform you of the state of play on the day you require it.
We’re sorry we can’t be more definitive at this stage, and we hope to have more of a steer as the work commences, but we wanted you to know in advance of potential limitations and inconvenience the works may cause.
So please get in touch with any queries, and we will do our best to accommodate and support your visit. At the end of this, the library will be looking beautiful and refreshed! Thank you for your support, as always.
Best wishes from the library team and Trustees.