Helen Sutherland and "Her Magic Circle of Friends" at Cockley Moor

On Tuesday evening we enjoyed a very interesting talk about Helen Sutherland and her amazing circle of friends, at the University of Cumbria, in Ambleside. The talk, by Dr Lizzie Fisher, is part of the Cultural Landscapes series, which explores notable Cumbrians and the impact they have made on the cultural landscape of the county.

Helen Sutherland was an art collector and wealthy patron; she didn't paint herself, rather she enjoyed the work of others and the stimulation of the company of artists, poets, musicians and writers. Her house at Cockley Moor was a haven and hub for friends and acquaintances.

Winifred Nicholson Easter Monday

Helen Sutherland moved to Cockley Moor in 1939 and over the next 30 years she gathered round her an impressive number of artists and writers. Regular visitors to Cockley Moor were Ben Nicholson and his wife the painter Winifred Nicholson; sculptors Naum Gabo and Barbara Hepworth; poets Kathleen Raine, TS Eliot, and Norman Nicholson; David Jones, who was both poet and artist; and the pianist Vera Moore, amongst others.

Winifred Nicholson Cheeky Chicks

 Time spent at Cockley Moor could be exacting and exhausting. "One had to contribute," wrote her friend Nicolete Gray, historian of inscriptions and lettering, "to be beautiful if possible and wear beautiful (not necessarily smart or conventional) clothes, to join in the conversation (and Helen was ruthless to those whose contribution was foolish or trivial)." Weekends with Sutherland, Gray admitted, could be "something of an ordeal."

But in spite of this friends came back again and again, and stayed for long periods of time.

I love the description of Sutherland's approach to collecting: "she made of dull cash a playful fountain". In her words "nothing was so soulless as ‘dull cash’ and unthinking cheques. Art without friendship was a prize not worth having".

I love Winifred Nicholson's work, in particular, as well as the poetry of Kathleen Raine (who lived fairly close by) and Norman Nicholson. It is these relationships which made the talk most interesting for me.

A really interesting talk about a fascinating woman.