Looking inside ‘The House of Belonging’: remembering artist Sheilagh Jevons

House of Belonging detail i

The following is the account of a conversation I had with Sheilagh in 2014, a year before her death. She is sadly missed.


I thought it was time I welcomed good friend and artist, Sheilagh Jevons, to this blog. She lives a few miles from me along Wenlock Edge, in the little village of Easthope. There, and in her studio not far away, she creates arresting work that explores the sense of belonging that people have with landscape. From time to time she and I have involving conversations about the creative process – the stumbling blocks, the sources of inspiration, the way we work (or in my case, don’t work).

A few weeks ago she came round for coffee. I wanted to ask her about a painting I had seen in her studio. I had thought it striking and mysterious, and wanted to know what she meant by it. Besides which, it is hard to resist the opportunity to grill an artist when you have one captured inside your house.

The header image is a small detail from a work called The House of Belonging. This figure has appeared in Sheilagh’s other works and represents women artists. Some of their names are written on the smock, artists perhaps not well known to the general public. Here she pays homage to their work, but also alludes to the fact that, overall, very little work by women artists is to be found in museums. The writing of names and of repeated key-words and equations is characteristic of many of Sheilagh’s pieces. It was one of the things I was going to ask her about. But first, the painting.

House of Belonging ii

It is a large canvas, some 4 feet (120cm) square. The next photo gives a better sense of scale. Here it is hanging in Sheilagh’s studio:

Shelagh 003

I asked Sheilagh how the work began. She told me that some years ago the idea of belonging had become very important to her. As she says on her website:

Our ‘sense of belonging’ ripples out from our homes to our village, street, town, county, region and country and help to shape our identity…

Key, then, to her work is a sense of connection to land and how that relationship defines us. This in turn has physical expression in community repositories, the places where we keep artefacts, our history, the knowledge of ancestors – all the familiar things we recognise and which tell us something of who we are. In other words, the museum, or as Sheilagh describes it: the house of belonging. The script running down the left-hand margin of the painting in fact repeats over and over the words ‘the museum’, the house of belonging’. The repetition reflects the strong political stance of Sheilagh’s work.

To me this is ‘the writing on the wall’, a statement of collective ownership; The House of Belonging staking a claim. Its contents are manifestations of how humans have interacted with their landscape and the place they call home. Sheilagh also says that adding text creates a certain texture; that the sense of a hand moving across the work creates a connection with her, its maker. The wheeled blue structure, then, is the House of Belonging. The words written inside say ‘everybody’s knowledge’. This is written twice so there can be no mistake. It feels like something to stand up for, a rallying call.

It is also important, Sheilagh says, that the House can move across the landscape to where the people are, rather than the other way round; this makes it more egalitarian. Inside the House are images and artefacts, symbols of creativity. Some of them are stereotypical of ‘heritage’ and therefore instantly recognisable. For instance, the chess pieces (centre left in the painting) are derived from the Scottish Isle of Lewis Chess Set in the British Museum. The set dates from AD 1150-1200 and suggests Norse influence or origins.

House of Belonging Detail ii

Sheilagh copied and simplified the images from a sales catalogue that specialises in heritage reproductions. The placing of the queen in the central position is also significant. She says she feels bound to redress an imbalance: the fact that in most of our media women only occupy centre stage when they are being commodified in some way. And then there is the mathematical equation painted in red beneath the red tree, centre right of the painting. 100_5291 The presence of equations in Sheilagh’s works adds a further layer meaning for her, and although she doesn’t think it necessary to explain them, she is always very pleased when people recognise them. This particular one refers to mathematical research by American academics in the 1920s called The Geometry of Paths. The appearance of equations in Sheilagh’s paintings also has more personal origins. She tells me she started to include them some years ago – after she had been helping her daughter revise for her Maths and Physics A’ level exams. It is another connection. There are many more signifiers in the work: motifs that have links and resonance with Sheilagh’s other works. The red tree above the equation is a symbol of timelessness, indicating ‘forever’ in human terms.  House of Belonging ii - Copy The red arrow in the top right creates a sense of energy and direction; a ‘look what’s here’ sign. There is the sense of a force field, drawing people to the House of Belonging. 100_5294

Finally, we talked about the overall composition. Sheilagh says that she began the work some years ago after she noticed that a small building denoting ‘museum’ often appeared in her landscapes. This time she wanted it to have it as the main subject, and to make it both an enticing and a mysterious place. At this point she also created the friezes at the top and bottom of the picture, these in order to suggest other layers of reality behind the surface painting. The top frieze is the wider, timeless landscape of which the museum is also symbol. The bottom frieze is deliberately ambiguous and suggestive; it invites the viewer to consider what might lie behind.

House of Belonging ii And having created the work’s essential structure, the painting was then abandoned. It was only some fifteen months later, when Sheilagh, looking for a large canvas to start another work, returned to it. She was fully intending to paint over it, but when she looked at it again she suddenly knew how to proceed and completed the work very swiftly. She says it probably is not quite finished, and suspects that something may still need to be added. In the meantime she has been occupied with a large body of work relating to Scotland.

*100_5111 100_5110

Notes and reference materials from Sheilagh Jevon’s studio

© 2014 Tish Farrell

Only One Ogunquit: the little gallery by the sea


Seated Bear by Bernard Langlais 1973, Ogunquit Museum of American Art


Ogunquit Museum of American Art

Last year when we were in Maine we went to Ogunquit, to the Museum of American Art. As the guide books have it, Ogunquit is an Abernaki word  meaning ‘beautiful place by the sea’. Some also say that this small art gallery is the most beautiful in the world. I think I must agree. It is certainly in the most stunning location. As you enter the main hall your eye is drawn, not so much to the works of art, but to the east wall that is entirely glass (a picture window if ever there was one), and looks out on the great Atlantic.


Photo: copyright 2013 Ogunquit Gallery of American Art


Places of pilgrimage

Of course, not for all the world would I be without the world’s great art galleries. To simply speak their names: the Tate, Met, V & A, Hermitage, Rijksmuseum, to name but a few in my particular hemisphere, induces in me feelings of awe, reverence, and even that childhood sense of bursting expectation at opening Christmas tree presents. I may never visit most of them, but somehow it is enough to know they are there. Their palatial chambers may ooze worthy academicism and the particular brand of nineteenth century paternalism that was intent on informing the masses while keeping them firmly in their place, but these monumental repositories are indeed our treasure houses. And not because of the monetary value of the works they contain, but because the quiet spaces filled with marvellous pieces of human craft and ingenuity are true resorts: places of pilgrimage, edification, solace, joyousness, meditation. People come there to commune with the spirit of creation and creator, each according to their inclination. 


The museum sits not so much in ‘grounds’ but in a lovely seaside garden with art amongst the plants.


Art without blisters

But for me, there is something altogether more beguiling about a small gallery. It is less physically arduous for one thing; you need not leave, as you can well do from the V & A or the Met, feeling cross that after many hours spent hiking up and down marble corridors and staircases, there was something important that you missed, but were simply too foot-sore to look for.

There is none of this at the Ogunquit Museum. It is definitely small-scale, and  its mission clearly defined: the art it shows is exclusively American art. In particular, the collection includes works by Ogunquit’s art colony that was founded by Charles Woodbury in 1890. The theme, then, is simple. The visitor’s mind and gaze is immediately focused.  The setting is intimate too, for once you tear yourself from the view of the sea in the main hall, the display spaces are of domestic scale. Only missing is the cosy arm chair and somewhere to put your tea tray. Wise omissions nonetheless; otherwise you might not ever leave.


‘An artist’s paradise’

When Bostonian, Charles Woodbury, visited Ogunquit’s Perkins Cove in 1890 and declared it ‘an artist’s paradise’, the seed for the Ogunquit artists’ colony was sown. He opened a school for his student followers, providing board and lodging in converted fishermen’s shacks along the shore. From the late nineteenth century Ogunquit’s reputation as a place for artists grew. Some of those associated with the colony include Edward Betts,  Hamilton Easter Field, Robert Laurent and Walt Kuhn. But many other American artists later lived or spent their summers here, including Edward Hopper, and their works are also included in the Museum’s collection.

It was  Henry Strater, artist and friend of Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway, who in 1953 founded the Ogunquit Museum. He sited it above the rocks on Narrow Cove where many artists used to congregate – a perfect fusion of place, building and content, or, for that  matter, of nature and culture. The three-acre garden is a rambling, blissful place with hidden corners and unexpected vistas and sculptures perfectly placed.


Cabot Lyford’s Otters above Narrow Cove.



Narrow Cove below the Museum.




Antoinette Prien Schultze: Life Entwined 1988, Vermont marble.




Sixty works 60 Years

This year, then, the OMoAA is celebrating its sixtieth year with a show of works from its permanent collection.  The pieces have been chosen to illustrate the Museum’s collecting trends from the days of Henry Strater to the most recent acquisitions. If you are in Maine you have until October 31st to see it, along with the accompanying exhibitions. The programme of events is here. And if you are not in Maine, then make the OMoAA the reason to go there. You will not be disappointed.



You can find the Ogunquit Museum of American Art at 543 Shore Road, Ogunquit ME, on Facebook and the website links below:

https://www.facebook.com/OMoAA            http://www.ogunquitmuseum.org/

Related article:

Henry Strater’s Ogunquit Museum of American Arthttp://www.someoldnews.com/?p=440


Frizztext’s OOO-challenge

And some other entries:

© 2013 Tish Farrell