This is how Kate’s studio looked in mid-May, set up for what I thought of as a year-end assessment. Various workings and notebooks are on the table in front of her, as the students were advised to ‘show evidence of process’. On the white wall behind her, a print-out of two Strange Bundle sequences (Studio 2 and Silver Sisters) together with a noticeboard filled with flyers and posters of the shows Kate’s contributed to since beginning the MFA last September. And on the red wall - as it says right at the top of the area of paint that I volunteered to apply because Kate had been suffering with a bad right shoulder for months - ‘An introduction to art’, which is, for the most part, the formal fruit of our April trip to the Wirral.

Actually, by writing this on July 22, 2013, hot on the heels of writing the Brancote Lodge page on July 17, I’ve got back to something like the intensity of discovery that we experienced at the beginning of April when we were on location doing the research.

In the photo below, Kate, wearing shades and her trilby, can be seen high up in a tree in her print of
Hunters in the Snow holding the same print in front of her. The crudely cut out image of herself had been stuck on the glass using Blutak. I wondered if she would redo this in a more ‘finished’ way, but clearly she’d decided to keep that aspect of the piece informal and low-key. It might as well have been another image of her, stuck elsewhere in the composition.


Hunters in the Snow should also be visible in the video, as part of the ‘film-set’ in Andy’s back-garden that features towards the end of the Brancote Lodge page on this site, but Kate was having difficulty getting this to play. She knew the set-up worked, at least it had done the previous day. But sometimes a video/monitor set-up needs a bit of fiddling with. Especially if someone else had got it to work in the first place when you have been concentrating on other issues.

Anyway, the piece, consisting of the found print and the video, is called
Hunters in the Yard. In May (and a few days ago), I enjoyed watching the two of us sitting there in our tweed coats surrounded by orange wood. It reminded me of the weird time that we’d had on the trail of Kate’s childhood haunts and her Gaga. Just Kate’s childhood haunts? My childhood haunts too, effectively. Many people’s childhood haunts, one step removed.


Also in ‘An introduction to Art’ was the audio piece that Kate first showed at ‘Invocations’. The story that Gaga long ago told Kate of her trip to a Dutch art gallery when she was pulled up for touching a Vermeer. Seeing the two pieces in conjunction today (July 22) makes me see a link. I don’t so much mean the Dutch Master connection, as, on the one hand, Gaga touching the Vermeer, on the other, Kate climbing all over the Breughel. Making it hers, on the basis that it was put into her mind when she was at an impressionable age and that it’s there to stay. Of course, she’d rather it stayed there on her terms. And I think she’s achieved that.

The rest of ‘An introduction to art’ involved an exploration of the Lady Lever Art Gallery which is located in Port Sunlight, the model village set up by Lord Lever, a Nineteenth century industrialist and philanthropist, who built his empire on the Wirral just a few miles from Bomborough and Bebbington.

The third piece in ‘An introduction to Art’ is/was the most complex. It’s called ‘My Lady Lever Collection’ and it consists of the objects in the photo below. The framed print of Kate touching
Ballet, a small shelf incorporating an image of Dante Gabriel Rosetti’s Pandora, a ginger jar standing on a fur stole (supported by a stool) and two similar looking booklets (also on a stool).

In the framed image near the top of the photo immediately below, Kate is strolling through the Lady Lever Art Gallery on the point of touching
Ballet by Laura Knight. That was a best-selling print in its day and Kate’s mother bought one. Kate also adored the painting, she imagines it fed her aspirations to be a ballet dancer, aspirations that we explore in the Dancing with D’Arcy page on this site.


After our visit to the Gallery in April, Kate asked her mother if she still had the print. Gina did. She said she’d kept the print for Kate and that she would now send it to her in the month of her own 90th birthday. According to Kate, Gina had always been the world’s best packer of parcels, but sadly (and inevitably) the glass broke in the post, scarring the surface of the picture. Hence the use in ‘An introduction to art’ of a photograph taken in April of this year, rather than the vintage print.

Below is the cover of the older of the pair of booklets that feature in the above photograph.


A found object? Well, yes, but also the property of Gina, Kate’s mother, as inside she has written her name ‘Georgina Chrimes’, and her address, ‘228 New Chester Road, Port Sunlight’. I’ll come back to those details in a minute. But, during my visit to Kate’s studio in May, I wasted no time in opening the newer booklet, which apes certain aspects of the older one.


Kate provided the content of the book - verbally, and by providing paragraphs of text - but she asked me to put it together as a piece of writing. Actually, the text went back and forth between us several times. How does the final version start again? It begins with the image of
Pandora that used to adorn the wall of the Lady Lever Gallery, though the picture was in storage on the day of our visit and Kate had to make do with a postcard, which is what’s reproduced in our little book. Before saying more about Pandora, I want to remind myself of what we said by way of introduction to My Lady Lever Collection. I’ll transcribe the words just below this picture of the book itself.


‘This descriptive guide makes no attempt at being comprehensive; it is simply intended to point out a few of the more noteworthy items in the vast collection housed in My Lady Lever Art Gallery, the principal sections of which would each require a volume to do them anything like justice. Consequently many hundreds of interesting items are left unmentioned, and the visitor is advised to make a careful survey of the contents of each gallery through which she passes, and by no means to limit her attention to the comparatively few exhibits mentioned in this guide. Also, it may be
My Lady Lever Collection but I’d like it to be yours too. Please feel free to look, read, touch, think, look again, doubt, reject, smell, stroke, open and embrace…’

The section below that, on
Pandora, I’ll paraphrase:

Kate imagines that Pandora, holding her box, held her mother’s gaze when she was growing up in the 1930s in Port Sunlight - the model village that was designed around a soap-making factory.

Kate sees her mother, as a young woman, connecting to the mysterious sensuality of
Pandora, and then later revisiting the painting in mourning, after the death of her first husband, Ken Chrimes. For a few months her mother lived with Ken in a flat in York while working in an insurance office, but after he had been reported missing, presumed dead, during the Second World War, Gina had to come back to live with her grandparents in Port Sunlight. The signature in the old book meant it dated from before 1949, when Kate’s mother married her father.

Pandora held Kate’s gaze too, the text tells us. First, in her teenage years, when she lived with her parents in a white house in Bebbington, near Port Sunlight. She looked at Pandora, interpreting and absorbing her brooding look and mysterious box. The painting continued to fascinate her after she’d left the area. In the 60s, when she was an art student with long, hennaed hair and an Afghan coat, she bought a decorated
papier maché frame from a second-hand shop in Brighton and used it to mount a black-and-white cutting of what she took to be a ‘hippy’ version of Pandora. She has hung it in her various bedsits and houses since, later discovering this was Rossetti’s first painting of Pandora, the original of which hangs in a private collection.

In May (and today), I looked up from the book and took in the
papier maché version of Pandora. Which I guess is the one that Kate most fully relates to nowadays.


OK, back to the book. But to which of its 20 pages? I look again at ‘An introduction to art’ in order to try and see my way. Ah, yes, the ginger jar. Its pale blue contrasting with the bright orange of the ginger jar that stands on the fur stole. In several ways the booklet echoes or complements the display of actual objects. In other words, the book is not quite designed to stand on its own (though it could do with minimal adaption) just as the book - its paragraphs of text and its images - is an important (essential?) element of the gallery display. I suppose the booklet relates to ‘An Introduction to Art’ in the same sort of way that this website relates to Kate’s MFA practise. Well, no. Strange Bundle may be able to stand on its own with minimal editing once Kate’s MFA is done. But Strange Bundle is not essential to her MFA. How could it be?


Back to the ginger jars. Let me paraphrase what Kate and I ended up writing between us:

‘A prunus jar from about 1700 is on display in the China Hall. Such jars are made of K’ang Hys blue and white porcelain. The graceful sprays of the white prunus blossoms against intense vibrating blues are intended to convey the suggestion that winter is passing away and spring arriving.

Winter passing away and spring arriving: Kate liked to think that’s what her mother experienced, though it was two long winters for Gina, first when Ken was lost in action and then when George, her second husband, Kate’s father, left her.

Prunus jars are known as ginger jars in Britain. Kate has one which belonged to Gaga who died in 1974. Kate rediscovered the jar in the Eighties, filled it with
pot pourri and placed it on the mantelpiece of the house she was living in at the time. She thought of the pot pourri as being Gaga’s ashes. She’s not changed the contents since but, she assures the reader and exhibition visitor, it stills smells sweet.


In the last year of her life, when she’d been put in a care home, Gaga greatly missed her affectionate cat, Ginger George, not to be confused with her son, George, who was less attentive.

In a letter to Kate, her concerned mother (though George had left her by then, so strictly speaking Gaga was no longer Gina’s mother-in-law) explained that the matron at the nursing home would not even allow Ginger George to be taken along for a visit. So Gina was arranging for a ‘big blow-up photograph' to be taken of the pet. Recently, Kate’s sister, who was still living with their mother at the time, told Kate that Ginger George wouldn’t be put in a cat box to be taken to the photographer, so the photographer had to come to Ginger George!

Ginger George or Gaga – whose ashes are in the ginger jar awaiting the coming of a new spring? When Kate next gets a chance she’ll open the jar and take a sniff to see who comes to mind. Anybody else can too, remember: look, read, touch, think, look again, doubt, reject, smell, stroke, open and embrace.


Kate (the text reminds me) recalls in her adolescence finding the above image - The Tepidarium by Lawrence Alma-Tadema - sensual. She thinks because of the tension between the nakedness and what she took to be the security of the girl’s solitude.

The figure is lying on fur, surrounded by marble surfaces and sumptuous cushions. A flowering bush adds colour and, Kate presumes, scent, to what she took to be a Roman bath-house. The girl or woman has an ostrich feather in one hand but what is she holding in the other?

A new guidebook to the Lady Lever Art Gallery tells us that ‘the girl holds in her right hand a strigil used for scraping the skin after soaping and oiling it.’

The nearest Kate came to enjoying such luxury was in the Turkish baths at Harrogate. These days she has access to a sauna at the local swimming pool she uses. She takes off her swimming cap and goggles before entering the room, which she only does if she has the place to herself. She lies on the wooden bench resting her head on a slatted pallet. She rolls down the top half of her swimming costume and soaks up the heat. There is an hourglass which she sets, but she doesn’t know how long it’s set for because she’s always out of there before the sand runs through. She supposes her tepidarium is more of what the Romans called a caldrium.


I was getting on well with this little book in this ‘Introduction to art’ context. So I turned to another double-page. The soap powder called Omo was manufactured and packaged at Lever Brothers soap factory until the mid 1970s.

In the summer of 1966, when Kate was sixteen and had left school, she worked in the factory for six weeks. She would clock-in and make her way to the distant Omo factory (shed 7), where she operated a non-automated machine designed to fill the boxes to the brim. She was encased in a metal contraption with a belt running either side. She picked an empty box from her right, making sure the flaps were folded outwards, placed it under the shoot and with two (mind just two!) presses of her foot-pedal the white powder filled the box. Folding the box flaps down she placed it on the belt to her left and it trundled its way through a sealing process to be expertly packed by women on the line. As she recalls, they would lift six packets at once between their hands, dropping them into a box and then turning around to pick up the six that would complete the dozen. Those female workers were savvy, working-class girls who Kate had respect for and was in awe of in equal measure. They would tell dirty jokes that the younger ones - like Kate - didn’t get.

“O Mo, O Mo, O Mo, O Mo, O Mo, O Mo, O Mo, O Mo, O Mo, O…”

In an eight-hour shift there were two 15-minute breaks, which just wasn’t enough. Occasionally – only once deliberately - she would put in a third step on the pedal, drenching herself in the white - soon to be sticky - powder. Cue buzzes and whistles signifying a problem on the line, and a welcome non-scheduled fag break for the confident, cackling women.

Later in life, Kate knew a woman who was having an affair whilst being in a long-term partnership. When she was free to have a visit from her lover she would put a packet of Omo in the upstairs window so that it was visible from the street. Code for ‘On my own’.

Screen shot 2013-05-07 at 17.46.27

And suddenly we’re there. Or at least I am. The above image brings to mind a vision that also draws from the photo of Kate standing with her arms crossed looking at what had once been Gaga’s bungalow, post-Brancote Lodge. In this vision of mine, blocking all the windows (memory of the photograph suggests there were two) are packets of OMO. Gaga is on her own and going crazy. Gaga is on her own and filling the bath with soap powder. Gaga is on her own and she is LONELY. Kate marches up to the door and knocks. The figure who answers the door is suddenly a young bright Gaga. She is OVERJOYED to see her granddaughter. Their eyes smile into one another’s and they press the palms of their hands together as they kiss.

“I knew you’d get my message,” says Gaga. “I knew you’d come back and see me one day.”

They finish hugging and go inside. Gaga asks Kate if she is OYO and Kate has to admit that she’s not. She has a partner, despite the fact that ‘
never get married, Kathy,’ is one of the pieces of advice that Kate has carried around in her head ever since those times she spent talking with Gaga in the bungalow and at Brancote Lodge.

Kate watches Gaga filling a ginger jar with soap powder from the bath and then suggests that they remove the packets of OMO from her windows, stacking them in a cupboard instead. “Remember when you used to fill these at the factory?” asks Gaga. Kate tells her she has forgotten none of the blessings of her earlier life. She then announces that she’s brought Gaga a present. Soon it’s out of wrapping paper and mounted on the wall.

“Oh, Kathy! You’ve brought home the Breughel from Brancote Lodge!”

Kate doesn’t say anything. What else is there to say?


But let me say something more. Kate felt she owed her grandmother. And though Kate only realised this when she was a grandmother herself, it turns out that it was not too late to thank her forebear and to pay her back. Pay her back, not with her company and her love in her last year as would have been ideal, but with travel, process, feminism,
Pearls, Hunters in the Yard and, last but not least, ‘An introduction to Art’.