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Devon’s Sculpture Park

Over the border we go (eek!). Well, why not when it's the UK"s first newest open-air gallery. It's urban and edgy, and well worth a nose-round. Shall we?


The UK’s newest open-air gallery has just opened its gates in Devon, set in 100 rolling acres of Capability Brown landscape gardens, tucked away in woodland at Mamhead, near Exeter. Artist and owner Philip Letts, who’s known in the art world for his abstract photography from New York to Beiruit, has created two exhibitions: one indoors and one in the grounds.

Head through the wrought-iron gates at the bottom of the slope and follow the hand-written sign to the exhibition which takes you down to rough grassland and mowed paths through the conceptual art. Themes reflect his interest in human’s clash with Nature, with painted and treated pieces of weathered wood found on the estate and mannequin-like figures dotted round the grounds, (and a helpful explanatory sheet) asking you to reflect on very current worries: climate extinction, rising water levels and deforestation.

People who know far more about art than me have described this seated figure musing over the rolling hills and Exe estuary as like Rodin’s The Thinker. Is he working out what to do about our current climate mess or being apathetic and just enjoying the nice view while it lasts? How do we work best with nature? There’s never been a more urgent time to decide.

Up behind the orangery, Letts has  put together a mixed media indoor exhibition of conceptual urban art (which is crying out to be in my house if only I could afford any of it), called Textures created with paint, peeling tree trunks and found materials, including rusted wire and sheep skulls.

The colours and shapes conjure thoughts of parched landscape – it feels quite apocalyptic.

What I know about art you could fit on a miniature, but after overcoming an initial bout of curmudgeonly cynicism I totally bought into it. New culture coming to Devon is always a reason to celebrate, but more importantly, the climate-change message is timely for adults and kids alike. It’s a fascinating and thought-provoking project, so go – it’s well worth a nose-round, or book yourself on one of the guided tours with Philip. He’s an inspiring and charismatic guide.


Further up is a Robert Adams Orangery hewn from Bath stone serving home-made light lunches, coffee and cake, and a terrace where wild flowers and weeds grow up between the flagstones – not because the sculpture park founders Philip and Kara are lazy, but because this is one of the UK’s few re-wilding projects, where nature is allowed to take over and live in harmony with itself without us humans going in and mucking everything up. (Think the recent reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park in the States.) It’s a great idea if you hate weeding, but not so easy if you’re trying to grow veg as you’re not allowed to water, or manage pests which makes it trickier to get a crop.


Dogs on leads are welcome, as are the littlies (without leads obvs), but no touching the installations please.

Devon Sculpture Park, Mamhead Park (South) Exeter, EX6 8HE. Cost: Adults £12: children £6. Open Weds – Sun 10am-4pm. 

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