St Ives in Cornwall is a great place to go with small kids for seaside sandcastle holidays; it’s also a great place to visit for a grown-up get away. A place of art, culture, restorative views, walks, surfing, tiny streets for exploring and great food. St Ives is a town of myths, legends and stories.
After a visit last year I was discovered the story of Alfred Wallis, a fisherman who became an artist but died a pauper. He lived all his life in Cornwall and his last 20 years in St Ives. I visited 3 places that play large in the Alfred Wallis story – the Tate gallery, the Leach pottery and Porthmeor beach (below).
Wallis was a fisherman for 25 years. He lived with his wife Susan a stones throw from Porthmeor beach, in a squat little cottage of thick stone with a very small doorway. When Susan died he gave up fishing and took up painting. He was completely self taught. Wallis painted on anything he could scavenge – drift wood from the beach, even cardboard. As he had very little money, he painted with paint that he could get for as little outlay as possible – marine paint, which was appropriate, for he mostly painted boats. He painted what he saw and remembered, rather than what was there – he was spotted by the influx of ‘new’ artists Ben Nicholson, Christopher Wood and Barbara Hepworth. Thereafter Wallis’s paintings were appreciated and celebrated for their naivety and his unique sense of perspective, but he made very little money from his art. He died in poverty in the Madron workhouse in Penzance, a place he had always feared ending his days in.
When Wallis died, Bernard Leach the potter couldn’t bear for this remarkable man to be buried in a paupers grave, so organised a collection that would enable them to honour one of their most well known citizens. Made by Leach with ceramic tiles, using the earth tones of Wallis’s work, his grave can be found in Barnoon graveyard overlooking Porthmeor beach. Today, as is fitting, Wallis paintings are displayed in the Tate ( below, a glass panel in the Tate).
St Ives was also home to Barbara Hepworth the sculptor; there is currently an exhibition of her work at Tate Britain called Sculpture For A Modern World, it’s open until October. Hepworths’ St Ives studio and tropical garden doted with her works are open to the public. The Leach pottery is equal parts museum, photo gallery,workshop and shop. St Ives is also good for shopping, charming beach side cafes for lazy lunches and restaurants galore for dinner.
Writing this I realise it’s the perfect place for knackered mothers who need a little bit of R & R!