Petersfield's Flora Twort
PUBLISHED: 16:12 14 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:02 20 February 2013
Nestled in amongst the town's quaint streets is the Flora Twort Gallery, Liz Barnett steps inside to find out more about this iconic Petersfield figure
As I entered into the market square from the modern delights of the supermarket car park it was like the small adjoining arcade had acted as some sort of time portal. Never have I seen such a comparison between old and new as I took in the beautiful architecture which seemed to remain virtually untouched against a backdrop of towns people, tourists and school groups. This was clearly the place to be and for a minute the eye-catching wares and intriguing boutiques almost distracted me from my real reason for being there.
What I was looking for wasnt so much the aesthetics of Petersfield but more the body and soul, and for this I had to head towards the church to find the home of the iconic Flora Twort. Sadly I am over a decade too late to meet the lady who put Petersfield on the map before her death in 1985, but luckily for me I am greeted warmly by a lady that has dedicated her time to Floras memory and in fact Petersfield as a whole.
Sara Sadler is the curator for both the Flora Twort Gallery and the Petersfield Museum and I am relieved to see that she has brought a key with her; the gallery is closed to the public from December to February each year and so I felt very privileged to have my own private showing. Ducking to enter this quaint cottage I immediately felt a warm and welcoming presence, when Flora passed away she left her home and her artwork to Hampshire County Council (HCC) with the wish that it was turned into a gallery to showcase her own work and that of the local community. HCC followed these wishes as best they could, leaving the space upstairs that would have been Floras art studio as a gallery, but converting the first floor into a fine dining area, which was sublet to a restaurateur.
In safe hands
Then, in 2000, the Petersfield Museum was opened by the Petersfield Museum Trust Ltd and it was no secret that the Trust was very interested in combining ownership and taking over the running of the gallery as well. Sara explains: It has always been thought that Floras work and her gallery is a part of the towns existence and should be run by people who work in the town. So in January 2009 the Trust was finally able to come to an agreement with Hampshire County Council and the gallery was passed over to them. They immediately set to work renovating Floras home into what can be seen today. The gallery still remains on the first floor but is now joined by a second, temporary gallery; there to showcase local talent and community groups. But its the ground floor that has undergone the biggest change; the kitchen has been ripped out and replaced by a smart office and meeting room and the sound of clattering plates and lunchtime conversations are no more now that the rest of the restaurant has been transformed in to an historic costume gallery dating from 1720, over 100 years before Flora was born.
Names to faces
Sara shows me into the office where she talks more about the museum and what its transformation has brought to the local community. Building the links between Flora, her work and the local knowledge we have with the town museum has really helped us to place certain figures from the town, for example, in the last year we have started putting names to faces as we cross-reference information we have from the town museum with Floras paintings. Weve around 60 volunteers working with us who have lived in the town and know the people and the characters and were beginning to get the back story behind much of her artwork.
But its not just the local people that can benefit from the Flora Twort Gallery, Petersfields animated vibe and infamous markets attract visitors from the rest of Hampshire and beyond. Now that the gallery is tied to the museum, coach trips and school groups alike can take a tour through the towns architectural and social history, something that Flora would have been immensely proud of.
As the Trust moves into its second year of ownership, Sara talks about what she feels has been done to depict Floras life and the people that have helped her to build an image of what she was truly like: We now have an oral history programme running with one of our volunteers who is an excellent oral historian, she has been going around capturing peoples memories of Flora, so weve got the little girl who got painted as a young girl by her who found her very strict and stern and then weve got the
other end with people who were a bit older and saw the arty and bohemian side of Flora. Its so nice to hear all the different impressions of her and eventually we will have these recordings playing upstairs as people walk around the gallery so they too can hear about the real Flora Twort.
Even after Floras death it is clear that she still remains an integral part of Petersfields local community, when she was alive she would often give paintings as payment and youll see much of her work scattered around the local businesses and homes. She was a fascinating woman who
brought the town of Petersfield alive and the gallery and museum are the perfect representation of her life.
While youre there
Visit Petersfield Museum. If youre thinking of taking a trip to the Flora Twort Gallery then why not visit the museum at the same time, to find out more visit petersfieldmuseum.co.uk.
Wander around Petersfield Market. The markets are held every Wednesday and Saturday and are a great way to support local businesses.
Discover the Taro Fair. This traditional fair is held on October 6 every year, scenes of which have been regularly painted by Flora and can be seen in the gallery.
Marvel at the Physic Garden. This beautiful space is a reconstruction of a 17th century herb garden set out in a geometric pattern with reference to John Goodyear, a famous botanist that lived in Petersfield.
Flora took up painting when she was four years old.
She studied at the London School of Art, the London Polytechnic and the Slade School of Art.
At the end of the First World War she moved to Petersfield and opened a bookshop at 1 and 2 The Square. She used the top floor as her studio and painted a plethora of scenes of the life of the town and its residents.
In 1948, Flora moved to a new studio in Church Path and eventually retired at 81 years old.
Some of her works were hung in many London galleries, including the Royal Academy.