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Visitor Services Manager and Volunteer Coordinator, Lilja Addeman, shares some reflections on Kettle’s Yard for Pride this month.

This pride month I wanted to share some reflections on a few aspects of Kettle’s Yard that, as a queer person and member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I find especially interesting.

The three objects I’ve chosen to write about are not the only pieces of queer history we have, nor are they the only objects that can be viewed through a queer lens, so I want to encourage visitors who are interested in this topic to please ask questions of the Visitor Assistants the next time you come through our doors. Queer history is all around us all the time, and it’s not just for LGBTQIA+ people. As visitors to Kettle’s Yard soon discover, art is very much about seeing the world differently and sitting among a diversity of lived experiences. Kettle’s Yard is perhaps an untapped treasure trove of queer history waiting to be discovered.

Wood Ephemera (undated)

Location: The Kettle’s Yard Archive

Christopher Wood is one of the most notable artists associated with Kettle’s Yard. Though he had romantic relationships with lovers both male and female, this scrap of fabric, Wood Ephemera, represents an altogether different kind of queer relationship, one less often represented in historic collections: friendship. When Wood died tragically young in 1930, the loss was felt deeply by many of his close friends, including Jim Ede. Jim acquired some of Wood’s possessions after his death. One of these possessions was a monogrammed shirt, which Jim wore himself like mourning jewellery, and when it became unsuitable to wear, he kept this square of fabric for the rest of his life.

Wood left his family home in Huyton, near Liverpool, for Paris when he was still just a teenager, and like many young LGBTQIA+ people now, who leave a sheltered life at home for the freedom and camaraderie of University, Wood experienced a whole new culture of queerness that was previously separate from him. In this allegory I imagine Wood like a young queer Art Major who attends his first Queer Art Theory lecture, or LGBT student union meeting, and realises for the first time that he is not alone. That he is in fact part of a community.

Christopher Wood, ‘Flowers’ (1930) at Kettle’s Yard

Stories of queer friendship are often overshadowed by those of queer sexual desire and love, with the latter perhaps being a more ‘romantic’ notion for sympathetic heterosexual audiences. But queer friendships are powerful things, and should not be ignored in the stories we tell about our collections. For an LGBTQIA+ person to have a friend or groups of friends that we don’t have to explain our haircuts to or fashion choices to is surprisingly liberating. That freedom to be ourselves, unhidden and unqualified, can be a basis for many cherished friendships and allow us as queer people to define ourselves by more than our attraction, but by a community that we belong to. I believe this scrap of fabric was a memento of that friendship between Jim and Christopher Wood, and the loss of that friend was felt sharply by Jim until the end of his life.

If I can be a bit cheeky, I have a fourth item I’d like to add to conclude my reflections, and that is the House itself. Queer people are often responsible for making their own safe spaces. This is why gay and lesbian bar culture has been so significant in LGBTQIA+ culture, because they are brick and mortar safe spaces for us to meet and gather with people like ourselves and have a community. The thing I most appreciate about Kettle’s Yard is that it is a queer space, and like so many queer spaces it is open to everyone. Jim opened his home, not to a few art world elites, or just his close circle of friends, but to anyone who rang the bell.

Kettle’s Yard House, photo: Paul Allitt