A friend in need

There is a different feeling in the air this week. It does feel now as though the first shock of the pandemic is over, and one can begin to look ahead at what comes next. Not just this: having adjusted our own oxygen mask satisfactorily, we can now assist others. Therefore from this week, and for the next three months, Cambridge Imprint will be donating a portion of profits to help save Charleston Farmhouse in Sussex.

Last year we had a really marvellous time coming up with some designs for the Charleston Trust. The Trust asked us to make papers inspired by the exuberant Bloomsbury interiors of the Sussex home of Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell. In January 2019, the depths of winter, we had the privilege of being allowed to explore the farmhouse during its annual closure for cleaning and conservation. Then we spent a very enjoyable spring thinking about the glorious palette and wild improvisation of the decoration in that bohemian house.

Messing about with paintboxes and brushes and generally having a ball, we came up with three designs which we launched successfully in September 2019. We were looking forward very much to a repeat performance which would expand the range from three patterns to six this autumn. That plan has been paused for the time being, not least because Charleston is in quite serious financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic.

The lovely old farmhouse, standing alone on the East Sussex downs, was the home of the unconventional household formed by the artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant in 1916 and the Bloomsbury writers, artists and intellectuals who were their frequent long-term visitors over the course of the next sixty years.

Virtually every surface of the house was decorated by Bell and Grant—walls, doors, furniture—and every object within it, including all the paintings, drawings, ceramics, carpets and textiles, was either made or carefully chosen by them. The influence of Italian Renaissance frescos and post-Impressionist painting is unmistakeable, but the exuberance and freshness of the colour and gesture, the creation of the completely coherent domestic space, are in the end something wholly distinctive.

The Charleston Trust, which preserves and maintains the farmhouse and its equally glorious garden, receives no public funding. Until the pandemic struck, they got by very nicely through ticket sales for guided tours of the house, revenue from their rather wonderful shop selling all things Bloomsbury, their delicious café, and the annual Charleston Festival, which would have been starting tomorrow. Now that’s all stopped. Government schemes are helping to continue to pay staff, but there is a big hole in their finances.

Charleston have launched an Emergency Appeal to save the organisation from going under. We’re very keen that this incredibly exuberant, inspiring and generous house should weather the storm, so we’ll be contributing one third of all profits from online sales of the Charleston range to the Emergency Appeal for the next three months. And during that time we’ll be busy with our paintboxes again, creating some new designs against the reopening that we hope will come sometime in the summer.

There is a silver lining to this cloud. A free online version of the Charleston Festival, the Charleston Festival At Home, will launch this evening, as originally scheduled if not as originally conceived. At 7pm playwright Tom Stoppard will be in conversation with Patrick Marber about Leopoldstadt, which he wrote and Marber directed, and which was having its first run at Wyndham’s Theatre in London when the plague stopped play. One of us had the exceptional good luck to see the production before it was forced to close and we’re looking forward to this conversation very much. You can see it on Charleston’s Youtube channel here, and you can see the rest of the Festival programme, which run for the next ten days, here. And if you would like to make a contribution directly to the Emergency Appeal, you can do that on the Charleston website here.