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Village Art & Literature

Inspired by secret garden

Posted on February 22 2014 at 1:41:12 0 comments

One of Sara's abstracts

Hopwood-based artist Paula Hamilton meets Winterbourne’s resident artist.

Am I the last person in the West Midlands to know about Winterbourne House in Edgbaston with its amazing secret garden? I feel sad that I haven’t discovered this treasure before but delighted that I know about it now, and I want to tell everybody about it! 

The blurb on the website ( describes Winterbourne House as “a unique heritage attraction, restored to its Edwardian Arts and Crafts splendour.”

So we are talking William Morris wallpapers, rocking horses in the nursery, chamber pots under beds, lots of beautiful wooden floors and all with a homely feel, and at the same time quite magnificent.

John Nettlefold, who lived at Winterbourne House with his wife Margaret and their six children, was a wealthy metal manufacturer and huge local employer as well as a pioneer of town planning and social reform.

Just as gorgeous as the house itself are the seven acres of beautiful botanic gardens. Even in their dormant monochrome winter tones, Winterbourne Gardens are very special and I can’t wait for spring and summer to reveal the colours and textures of “over 6,000 plant species from around the world.”

It is suggested that we “wander along the woodland walk, stroll through the hazelnut tunnel, cross the 1930s Japanese Bridge or simply soak up the tranquillity of this perfectly English Edwardian home.” 

The first exhibition at Winterbourne House and Garden this year is an exhibition of work by artist in residence Sara Hayward.

Now living in Worcester, Sara may well be known to some readers of The Village as she is a former resident of Barnt Green, attended St Andrew’s C of E School where she sang in the choir, sailed at Barnt Green Sailing Club and played tennis at the club on Bittell Road!

Sara later studied at King Edward VI High School For Girls and went on to Bournville School of Art before studying for a degree at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art at Oxford University. Finally she took a masters in printmaking at the Royal College of Art, London.

“Printmaking still informs the way I work,” says Sara. “I like to build up layers of paint like a silk screen print.”

As artist in residence, Sara worked for 10 months during 2013 in a studio at Winterbourne producing sketchbooks, more than 20 paintings and a short film.

The exhibition has three elements. Firstly, in the main house, visitors will come across Sara’s portraits of the Nettlefold family in virtually every room.

Sara has sketched and painted all eight family members – John, Margaret and their children, Nina, Lois, Beatrice, Ken, Valerie and Evie – using small black and white photographs as source material.

“The idea is that it will appear as if they had just stepped out of the room and I hope these portraits will remind us of the family who first lived in this beautiful house.”
A trail of “The Winterbourne Portraits” for families to follow around the house is available.

Secondly, displayed in the stunning but intimate Coach House Gallery, are a series of large scale semi-abstract paintings inspired by the garden. With Sara’s sketchbooks on display showing the viewer how drawings develop into final pieces, this is exciting work.

Sara says of her drawings, “What you leave out is as important as what you put in.” And by leaving some detail out and developing these relatively sparse images, semi-abstract forms are revealed.  Sara’s use of colour is exuberant! Lots of purples, reds, pinks, blues and yellows – these paintings feel richly summery.

Thirdly, showing in Winterbourne’s hay loft studio, is an enigmatic short film: “Remembrance of Things Passed.”  This is a collaboration between Sara and Parul Punjabi, an International Film Studies scholarship student at Birmingham University, filmed on location in and around Winterbourne last June.

The film stars Winterbourne gardener Phil Smith and Sara’s daughter, Sylvie, wearing costumes from the museum’s collection.

Sara sums up her 10 months by saying: “Winterbourne is a magical place, just a stone’s throw from the centre of Birmingham, and I found the residency really inspiring.”
And I found Sara’s interpretations of Winterbourne inspiring and hope that some of you will visit and be inspired too, and by Winterbourne House and Gardens. 

Sara Hayward’s exhibition is on until April 9. Her residency was funded by the Leverhulme Trust. See more of Sara’s work at and read her blog at

Please get in touch if you would like me to write about an art event near you. Contact me via The Village or at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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