Archive for the Margate Category

Animal Misfit, Thomas Grünfeld

Posted in Art, Margate, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2013 by mysearchformagic

Back to Margate again this week, this time to an exhibition at the fabulous new Turner Contemporary Gallery. This smart, airy art space is currently home to a show entitled Curiosity, which brings together a group of diverse objects inspired by the idea of a 17th Century Wunderkammer. There’s all sorts in there; natural, scientific, artistic, eccentric, much of it distinctly magical. I was fascinated to see Dr John Dee’s crystal and scrying mirror, and enchanted by the delicate glass models of weird and wonderful sea creatures created in the 19th Century by Rudolph and Leopold Blaschka.

But my absolute favourites were two works by German artist Thomas Grünfeld, whose speciality is creating bizarre chimeras from taxidermy animals. This one, which joins the top half of a peacock with the bottom half of a penguin, features in Curiosity.

Misfit (penguin/peacock),Thomas Grunfeld, 2005 © DACS 2013

Misfit (penguin/peacock),Thomas Grunfeld, 2005 © DACS 2013

I am not sure what you would call this strange creature. A peaguin perhaps? Or a pencock? Another example in the show melds the body of a collie dog with the face of a sheep. Strange and unsettling, yet familiar and funny, these sculptures were the highlights of an intriguing exhibition. It’s an experience that will expand your knowledge, but entertain you in the process. Fascinating stuff, and not to be missed!

http://www.turnercontemporary.org/exhibitions/curiosity-art-and-the-pleasures-of-knowing

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The Shell Grotto, Margate

Posted in Caves, History, Legend, Margate with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2013 by mysearchformagic

In 1838, workmen digging in the garden of the Belle Vue Cottage on the outskirts of Margate came across a stone slab which covered a narrow hole. On removing the slab they discovered that this hole led down to a tunnel. But this was no ordinary tunnel, for what they had found turned out to be the dome of what the Kentish Gazette described at the time as a ‘kind of Aladdin’s cave’. The complex of tunnels underneath the garden were lined with incredible shell decoration, the like of which had never been seen before. The mysterious Shell Grotto in Margate has been attracting visitors ever since, and indeed this strange attraction is still open to the public today.

The stairs down to the Shell Grotto, Margate

The stairs down to the Shell Grotto, Margate

A visit to the Margate Shell Grotto begins with the small museum at ground level, which gives some of the background to the discovery of the tunnels and the diverse theories that have emerged as to their origins. Next comes the really exciting part. The Grotto lies down a flight of stairs and at the end of a narrow rock-cut cave which descends into the darkness.

The rock-cut tunnel leading to the Shell Grotto, Margate

The rock-cut tunnel leading to the Shell Grotto, Margate

Once inside the grotto proper, every inch of the tunnel walls are decorated with elaborate symbols and patterns, a mosaic created from millions of tiny shells. The effect is breathtaking, particularly in the central roundel which is lit from above by an open dome. The amount of time and effort which went into building this grotto is immense; a similar but much smaller shell grotto created at Goodwood in West Sussex during the 1740s took seven years to build, and that has a floor space of only four square meters, while the shell mosaics in the Margate grotto cover seventy feet of tunnels. Even the task of collecting the many shells would have taken years, because although Margate lies on the coast, the nearest beach which could supply such large quantities of shells is located over six miles away.

Inside the Shell Grotto, Margate

Inside the Shell Grotto, Margate

What is even more strange about the Margate’s Shell Grotto is that noone knows when, why or by whom it was built. Many theories have been put forward over the last century and a half, ranging from the eccentric to the utterly unbelievable. Many have compared it to other 18th Century shell grottoes, but if it had been built during the 1700s then why would it have been blocked up and totally forgotten by the mid 19th Century? If it was an extravagant folly like the example at Goodwood, then why did noone know about it, and why would it be located on what was previously undistinguished farmland? The strange symbols and patterns used in the decoration of the grotto are largely unique, and give few clues to their age. Some have suggested that this is a Roman temple, some believe it to be related to a possible Phoenician trading post, while suggestions that it can be attributed to Minoans, Hindus or Mexicans seem entirely fanciful.

The central dome, Margate Shell Grotto

The central dome, Margate Shell Grotto

Attempts to carbon date the shells have proved fruitless, as the rudimentary lighting used in the grotto in the 19th Century has coated the shells in carbon deposits, and extensive restoration over the years means that analysing the mortar and shells is probably only going to confuse matters further. The map given to visitors attempts to interpret some of the symbols on the walls as a skeleton, an owl, a god and a goddess amongst many others, but the interpretations require a vivid imagination and are frankly rather subjective. It seems then that the Margate Shell grotto is destined to remain an intriguing, magical enigma for many years to come.

To be honest, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

P1000549

http://shellgrotto.co.uk/