Abstract art to become major visitor attraction at Yorkshire country estate

PIC: James Hardisty
PIC: James Hardisty
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It might have been inspired by an early 18th century painting, but architect Charles Holland’s version of a giant parrot is an unashamedly abstract work of contemporary art.

Standing 30ft tall and made from brightly coloured timber, the piece, affectionately nicknamed Polly, houses a camera obscura and is the centrepiece of the new Folly! trail which opens today at the Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal estate in North Yorkshire.

Mr Holland, who has previously collaborated with Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry, said: “When John Aislabie inherited Studley Royal in 1693 he set out on a mission to create one of the most spectacular Georgian water gardens in the country. As part of that, there was an emphasis on introducing the exotic and not just when it came to the architecture. They borrowed much from the flora and fauna of foreign climes and my homage to that was sparked when I came across Jakab Bogdany’s painting Parrots and Lizards in a Picturesque Park.

“The camera obscura will also give visitors a very different, 360 degree view of the estate, one that they will have never seen before.”

Mr Holland is one of a trio of renowned designers who have each created installations which are modern interpretations of one of Studley Royal’s original follies. Ornament by Lucy and Jorge Orta sees a giant chrome ball suspended outside the Banqueting House were a classical temple once stood and Pascal Bronner and Thomas Hillier, aka Fleafolly, have created their own nod to the historic bath house, which echoes to the sound of dripping water.

Justin Scully, who was appointed general manager of the National Trust estate 18 months ago, said: “When Folly! was launched four years ago, the first commissions were housed in existing buildings, but the intention was always to bring works outside and into the landscape. We know that a lot of our visitors come to see the abbey ruins and never really fully explore the rest of the grounds. This event is a way of drawing attention to the whole estate.

“The reason we were awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status is because of the grounds and these works I hope will help tell the story of both Studley Royal’s past and its future.”

The estate attracts around 420,000 visitors a year and while the National Trust hasn’t set a target for this year, the Folly! event, which runs until November, should boost that figure by an estimated 12,000.

Mr Holland added: “What I love is that depending where you are on the estate you get a very different first view of Polly.

“I heard one woman say that it didn’t look much like a parrot and when I explained it was an abstract interpretation she told me in no uncertain terms that she would be the judge of that.

“It’s lovely to hear what people think, even if it’s a typically blunt Yorkshire reaction.”