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den 18 maj 2010

En engelsman ser på Västernorrland

David Adshead är arkitekturhistoriker och verksam som head curator vid National Trust. Han har huvudansvar för historiska byggnader i England, Wales och Norra Irland och var en av de medverkade i programmet vid Träakademiens konferens i Härnösand för en tid sedan. Museichef Bengt Edgren ställde två frågor till honom om intryck från konferensen, byggnader i länet och vad han tar med sig tillbaka till sina kollegor i England.

Här en kort sammanfattning på svenska följt av frågorna och de fullständiga svaren.

Bild på David Adshead
Arkitekturhistorikern David Adshead vid sitt besök på Murberget.
Foto: Björn Grankvist

David Adshead berättar att här blivit fascinerad över att se hur ansvariga representanter för olika sektorer, samlats för att samtala om kulturarv, hantverk och media. Han skulle gärna se ett liknande gränsöverskridande möte mellan sektorer i sitt hemland.

Han konstaterar också att mycket är sig likt i Sverige och England, frågor om bevarande av både byggnader och hantverkskunnande liksom den stora frågan om hur det ska vara möjligt att konkurera med andra lockelser och nå ut till många människor i dagens samhälle med kunskap om kulturarvet.

David Adshead berör också faktum att det i Sverige finns ett stort statligt engagemang i kultursektorn. I Storbritannien är det inte så. National Trust där han själv är verksam är en fristående välgörenhetsorganisation som grundades för 115 år sedan. Den startade som en liten verksamhet driven av amatörer och är numera en organisation med 3,7 miljoner medlemmar och är huvudfinansiär för tillgängliggörande av landets kulturella rikedom och naturliga skönhet.

Från sina dagar i Härnösand tar han med sig en påminnelse om å ena sidan den unika kvalité som finns i varje regions kulturarv, och å andra sidan den likhet som finns hos människor som handlar om en strävan efter att bevara vad förfäderna lämnat efter sig och att anta utmaningen i att förmedla detta.

David Adshead berättar till sist om sin uppskattning av landshövdingen i länet som inte bara visade stort intresse i konferensen utan också höll mottagning i det vackra residenset på kvällen.

Bengt E: You have been part of the seminar that was arranged by Träakademien in Härnösand. What do you bring back with you from the seminar and what will you tell your colleagues at home of the day in Härnösand?

David A: It was fascinating to be part of the seminar in Härnösand and to see senior, national and county representatives of different sectors - from heritage bodies, television and radio, and technical and academic institutions - coming together to share their thoughts on the three themes of culture, craft skills and the media. Sadly I don't speak Swedish but by concentrating as hard as I could and being attentive to every scrap of information that language, gesture and image offered I found that I could follow the gist of each presentation and something of the debate.

The concerns were familiar - how best to care for the country's built heritage, how to keep craft skills alive - important in themselves and essential for the on-going, authentic repair of historic fabric - and how to excite the public about history and culture when there are so many other distractions and seductions in the modern world. The scope of the seminar was perhaps rather broad, but had it been narrower the day might not have been so stimulating or productive; it is all too easy for every discipline or profession to talk to its own, and in the cultural historian Maja Hagerman we had a very lively moderator who was able to make connection and to challenge fixed ideas. I would like to see this sort of cross sectoral debate in the United Kingdom.

Sweden has a tradition of greater state involvement in the cultural domain that does Great Britain and I was invited to the seminar to help explain something of the origins and workings of the National Trust ( England, Wales and Northern Ireland), a charity independent of Government that is now some 115 years years old. Remarkably the National Trust, although starting as a tiny amateur-run body now has 3.7 million members and is a major provider of access to the country's cultural riches and natural amenity. Its success has depended on a strong founding vision, legislation that confers unique powers to hold land inalienably, in perpetuity, a critical mass of population from which support flows, and the development of a volunteering culture.

The debate in Härnösand touched on the question of whether or not the establishment of a National Trust in Sweden would help with the conservation and promotion of the country's patrimony. The circumstances of every nation are of course different and the varied experiences of the many members from around the world of INTO, the International National Trust Organisation should prove very informative - that in terms of what has worked well or not so well, where and why.

What did I take away? A reminder, on the hand, of the special and unique qualities of every region's or country's cultural traditions and legacy, and, on the other, of the similarities between peoples, their common urge to create and express, to preserve and share, and that as far as trying to transfer to our successors something of our own values and those of our forebears we encounter pretty much the same challenges and opportunities. Throughout I was shown every kindness as the only non-Swedish speaker - there are advantages to being the only alien sometimes. It was tremendous too that the County Governor took such an interest in the day's proceedings and hosted a reception that evening in the elegant landshövdingeresidenset for all the participants.

Bengt E: Travelling around in the country of Västernorrland you saw a lot of buildings and sites. What will you specially remember and why?

David A: It was a great privilege to be whisked away, in expert company , on a mystery tour to see such a variety of buildings along the shores of the Ångermanälven, skirting the southern edge of the famous High coast World Heritage site. A foreign tourist travelling alone could never hope to gain such an insight into the life and culture of a region even after weeks of exploration, or to understand the historic importance of its forest and mineral wealth, its fishing and agriculture. We saw manor house of the 1770s; the late 19th century streetscape of Sollefteå; a turn of the century sanatorium, high in the cold, clean air of the hills; a timber merchant's house in Bollstabruk with a beautiful first floor saloon, its walls decorated with panoramic paintings of harbour scenes; and the late 19th century brick-built Villa Merlo, the ambitious first work of the architect Isak Gustaf Clasons which now houses the archive of the paper manufacturing company SCA.

All were fascinating and I particularly enjoyed seeing the National Romantic style court house (1904) in Sollefteå with its exuberant Viking decoration and splendid furniture designed en- suite, and happily still in -situ though the building's use has recently changed, but the highlight for me - and it is an experience that I shall never forget - was seeing the interior of the extraordinary church at Ytterlännäs. The metalwork animal mask handle with a great ring in its mouth on the ancient door is remarkable enough, but inside the astonishingly well preserved late 15th century wall paintings - biblical scenes on the walls and marvellous, animated patterns on the ribs and vault of the ceiling, the colours still vibrant - are next to miraculous. The imagery somehow escaped the liturgical changes brought about the Protestant reformation, and later those of a changed aesthetic which also encouraged the liberal application of whitewash. In the mid 17th century, I understand, the local vicar claimed to be unaware of Martin Luther's catechisms when quizzed by church commissioners!
The preservation of the church has been well served both by the dry cold and its remoteness.

But the architectural experience at Ytterlännäs got even better, even richer. Squeezed into this modest space, first in the 1650s and then with additions in the 1730s, in order to accommodate the burgeoning congregation, is a wildly marbleized timber gallery, more reminiscent of theatre architecture than anything, and to climb up the vertiginous wooden stairs in shadowy natural light to this magical eyrie touches all the senses. Floating above, only inches away from one's eyes, is marvellous renaissance decoration, saints with their attributes surrounded by curling vines and flowers. In order to bring light to the back of the gallery a brave decision was taken: to hollow the wall to either side of a behind one of the vault's ribs to create an arch-headed window, so leaving a curving decorated structural element as a sort of bizarre mullion. Altogether this architectural marvel offers a quite extraordinary mixture of period, style, pattern and colour - jumbled together in a way that any designer today could never contemplate - the whole is a glorious reflection of changing fashions and use which once you see it makes exhilaratingly perfect sense.

The National Trust is a registered charity - charity number 205846. Our registered office is Heelis, Kemble Drive, Swindon, Wiltshire, SN2 2 NA.

 

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