Review: Hilles Studio Collective by Leah Grant

Images by Leah Grant

You may already know of Hilles House. Perhaps you are vaguely aware of its location, conscious that it was once the home of esteemed fashion journalist and icon, Isabella Blow. Maybe you even know a little of its 100-year history, that it was designed by Detmar Jellings Blow in the Arts and Crafts style in 1913, that the architect lived by the principles of the Arts and Crafts movement and built the house with these principles in mind. You might even be aware that the Hilles estate contains an artist’s studio and that the views from both the house and this workspace offer a breath-taking panoramic of the beautiful Gloucestershire countryside.

I’m ashamed to say I knew very little of the property or the family who owned it when I visited on a sunny Saturday afternoon during SITE Festival’s Open Studios. What greeted me and what remained long after my visit ended, was the unassuming nature of Hilles House (despite its awe-inspiring location and illustrious interior) and the wonderful way in which the historic paintings and candid family photographs that are a permanent fixture in this beautiful home seemed to complement the contemporary art pieces produced by the Hilles Studio Collective for this special exhibition.  

From Sheridan Jones’s surreal self-portraits to the haunting figurative works of Nick Twilley, the pieces on display here are as thought-provoking as the house itself. Featuring artists (including Amaury Blow, grandson of Detmar Jellings Blow), designers and craftwork associated with Hilles, this inspiring exhibition is not only artistically progressively, but touchingly sympathetic to the area and its history.

Images by Leah Grant

Wandering through such an inspiring setting, it becomes easy to draw narrative connections between the artworks on display and the history of the Hilles estate. Perhaps the evocative pieces created by Amaury Blow touch on the house’s relationship to its surrounds, to the natural world that exists beyond the house itself. Possibly Saffron Knight’s rich fabrics take inspiration from the friendship between Detmar Jellings Blow and the celebrated 19th century textile designer William Morris; and maybe the bespoke knitwear produced by Redheart England is a nod to the house’s strong links with the fashion industry (owing to his friendship with Isabella Blow, the renowned fashion designer Alexander McQueen was a regular visitor at Hilles). Though these parallels may not have been intended on creation, they add a new level of depth to an exhibition that is already multi-dimensional.

There is obvious passion here, not just in the house and its selection of contemporary artworks, but in those overseeing the exhibition. I was kindly given a potted history of Hilles and an enthusiastic precis of the artwork on offer from Julian, the brother of Sheridan Jones who lives in a cottage on the Hilles estate. His keenness to promote Hilles was, and remains, infectious and needs to be amplified; we should all be aware of the house’s rich artistic heritage, of its links to some of the country’s finest designers and craftsmen. Hilles House is very much a staple of the Stroud Valleys art world and we should feel proud that it exists within our artistic community. Let’s hope that this beautiful estate continues to nurture and inspire local talent for many years to come.

Leah Grant is a writer and photographer with a keen interest in art and literature. On her blog, Bellyful of Art, you can find reviews of exhibitions, installations, dance performances and literary events as well as her own lovingly created pieces of short fiction