The buccaneering Sir Francis Drake, who liked a bit of gold and glitter, would undoubtedly be pleased to know that the great barn at his old home, Buckland Abbey in Devon, is once again full of wheat – this time towering golden stalks stretching up towards the medieval roof timbers, installed by the artist Andrew Logan.
The real jackdaws perched in the stone windows chatter their delight at the piece, which incorporates giant mirrored butterflies suspended from the rafters, and tiny shimmering field mice climbing the swaying stalks.
The exhibition of Logan’s work, threaded through the house and grounds of the National Trust property, officially opens on 1 July. However, once installed in the huge barn his Goldfield is impossible to conceal: visitors are enchanted, returning repeatedly to sit on the benches and just watch the piece change with the light and shiver in every breeze.
Logan’s sculptures, paintings and jewellery are in many museum and private collections, including the National Portrait Gallery, but his own most famous invention, the camp and glittery Alternative Miss World contest, staged at irregular intervals since 1972, has overshadowed his career.
“Grayson Perry once said to me it was finding his dark side that made him so successful,” Logan said. “Unfortunately I don’t have a dark side.”
New and old pieces including winged horses, thrones, a three-metre-long Excalibur, giant crosses, a mirrored portrait of Drake and a life-size sculpture of the ballerina Lynn Seymour rising from a sea of pearls, twinkling with stained glass, pieces of mirror and ceramic, fake jewels, and oddities including figurines, badges and shells which he has collected by the crate load.
His Goldfield was first exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 1976, and although the pieces have travelled with him from one studio space to another – finally to Wales, when the cost of working in London finally forced him out of the city – it has not been fully assembled and exhibited since. “It’s a joy to see it again, looking so much at home here,” he said fondly.
The Art of Reflection, which will run until spring 2018, is one of the most ambitious collaborations between the National Trust and a living artist.
“As soon as a I saw a photograph of Goldfield, I knew Andrew was the man for us,” property manager James Breslin said. “There’s something very moving about having the barn full of wheat again. When Andrew came here he just got the place immediately, not just the wonderful buildings but the relationship with the surrounding landscape, and the sense of spirituality which brought the Cistercian monks here in the 13th century and has drawn people ever since. It’s a very special place.”
After the dissolution of the monasteries Buckland became a rambling private house, with structures including the monks’ barn, one of the largest in England, surviving unchanged. Drake bought it in 1581, the year he was knighted by the Queen on board the Golden Hind after returning from circumnavigating the globe, and seven years before his part in the defeat of the Armada. By then he was wealthy after capturing Spanish treasure, allegedly once returning to England using silver coin as ballast in his ship. He was buried at sea in a lead coffin in the Carribean, after dying of dysentery.
Logan admires the restlessness of Drake’s adventurous spirit: “some say he never really lived here, because he was always away travelling the world”. The new portrait includes a jewelled Tudor pendant, in which the artist has incorporated a rather battered badge, picked up somewhere on his own endless travels, reading “all our hearts beat as one”.