Last Sunday was a perfect day for an autumn photo walk. The fog was settling in and the bright fall colors are out in force, so I put on my coat and scarf, grabbed my camera, and trekked up to beautiful Hampstead in North London, where I was joined by my friend and Ava Gardner co-author, Anthony, and his partner Tony.
This is the second time in recent years where I’ve had to blow cobwebs off this website. Why have I let myself go so long in between updates? It’s not for lack of things happening (there’s almost too much going on right now).
- In January 2015, I moved to a town near the border of California and Oregon called Redding to take a position as Archivist for the estate of photographer James Abbe. I lived in a nice little house on the Sacramento River and had the best neighbors I could possibly have asked for. It was peaceful and quiet, interesting work, and just the thing I needed to be able to make peace with myself and the future after a long period of high stress and anxiety. I miss that place.
- But I moved back to London in September to rejoin Robbie and our cat Lulu and continue where I left off in 2014. I’ve gone back to school to get a second MA in Museum Studies at University College London. I’m really enjoying it so far!
- I and my dear friend Anthony Uzarowski were contracted by Running Press to do an illustrated biography of Ava Gardner. It’s due out next year and will be similar to Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait in style. I am enjoying learning about this ballsy Southern star!
- I’m currently working on a chapter for a new collaborative anthology about Vivien Leigh, to be published by the V&A and Manchester University Press. Look out for that one next year, too!
- One of the reasons I applied for the Museum Studies programme at UCL is that they provide work placements – essential for people trying to break into the museum industry this day and age. I’ve become fascinated by the history of medicine and medical museums over the past year, so I am currently doing a curatorial placement at the Bethlem Museum of the Mind is Bromley. Bethlem is the oldest psychiatric facility in Europe and I am assisting with an upcoming exhibition that looks at the history of the Bethlem archives, which will be juxtaposed with stories of current hospital services. I’ve also got an archives placement coming up at the Wellcome Trust that I’m really looking forward to.
- The final and biggest piece of news is that my boyfriend Robbie proposed to me on Valentine’s Day while on a weekend getaway in gorgeous Cornwall. As he said over dinner, ‘I guess we have to be grown-ups now.’ I guess! I said “yes.” How do you even plan a wedding?
So lots going on at present. But I’d rather be busy than stagnant. As an update to my Photo Diary posts, here are some snaps I took recently in Cornwall (St Just, Land’s End, St Michael’s Mount). I still take pictures basically everywhere I go, whether it’s with the DSLR or my phone (hello, instagram)!
This autumn, Vivien Leigh fans the world over are celebrating the British actress’ 100th birthday. The tributes have kicked off in the cozy village of Topsham in Devon, where several of Vivien’s personal possessions are on display as part of the “Vivien Leigh: A Century of Fame” exhibit at the Topsham Museum.
“Vivien Leigh: A Century of Fame” highlights the connection between Vivien and Topsham, and includes items that explore her image as a film and stage star, as well as the woman behind the star image. The building itself was the former house of Dorothy Holman, the museum’s founder who also happened to be Vivien’s sister-in-law from her marriage to Leigh Holman. Vivien visited Dorothy in Topsham on several occasions. Her daughter, Suzanne, lived with Dorothy for a time during the war before being evacuated to Canada, and still has ties with the museum today.
I went down to Devon with Robbie and my friend Marissa on Saturday. We were met at the museum by director Rachel Nichols, who gave us a lively tour of the exhibit. On display are items from the museum’s permanent collection, including the dress Vivien wore to the premiere of Laurence Olivier’s film Richard III in 1956, and the nightgown she wore as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. The exhibit has been supplemented with items borrowed from the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, the Bill Douglas Centre and Bristol Theatre Collection. Suzanne Farrington has also loaned some personal items, including family photographs and my favorite, a wooden model theatre purchased by Laurence Olivier in 1945 – believed to be German in origin – containing a small doll depicting Vivien Leigh as Sabina in Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth. It’s a small, but intimate space that allows visitors to get an intimate view of these treasures.
I was really glad to hear that the exhibit has attracted large numbers of people to the museum. It just goes to show that Vivien’s allure has transcended decades and generations. The items on display have the effect of making Vivien seem alive and current. Topsham is a beautiful place and I’d highly recommend going for a visit. “Vivien Leigh: A Century of Fame” runs until October 31. Admission is free.
All photos © Kendra Bean, 2013.
Portrait of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, at Chatsworth House
I’ve been MIA from blogging for the past couple of weeks. Sorry! It’s just that some freelance writing and editing work came up and has kept me busy. We’ve also been regaled with the fantastic news that Vivien Leigh’s grandsons have sold her archive to the Victoria and Albert Museum, so there’s a lot going on as we head into autumn.
Two weeks ago Robbie celebrated his birthday, and last weekend he and I drove up to Chester to visit his sister and her boyfriend. Whenever I travel around the UK, I usually take the train, but it’s great to rent a car and get a different feel for the landscape. The only problem with driving is, of course, traffic. It took us over an hour just to get out of London! On Saturday, Louisa and Alex drove us over to Wales. This was really exciting for me as the Bean side of my family is Welsh, and my dad always asks me if I’ve met any of our people (answer: no). Our destination was Conwy, on the north coast. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Conwy is known for the military garrison Conwy Castle and the city walls built during Edward I’s conquest of Wales in the 13th century. Only English citizens were allowed to live inside the city walls, and the Welsh were relegated to living in the surrounding areas. Conwy Castle is really interesting in that it remains much more in tact than a lot of the other castles I’ve visited while living in the UK. It’s largely a stone shell, but you can still climb to the tops of the towers (watch your step) where the views of Conwy Estuary and the surrounding town and hills are breathtaking.
After lunch at the vistor’s center, we explored Plas Mawr, a preserved Elizabethan house once owned by the merchant Robert Wynne. Not only did we get a glimpse into middle-class life during the Elizabethan Era, we also learned about things that affected all citizens during that time, like diseases, water supply, etc. There was an interactive board where visitors couple tap a “symptom” and have a doctor say what we could do to “cure” that particular ailment. My favorite was a woman asking how she could tell whether her husband was bewitched. The answer? “Look into your husband’s eyes. If you can see your reflection, then he is not betwitched. If you cannot see your reflection, then he is probably betwitched.” *Science*
The Herstmonceux Castle Folly – a Victorian facade that served no purpose other than to decorate the landscape.
Romance is when your partner plans surprise get-aways to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. This is what Robbie did for me over the weekend. I knew we were going to the seaside, but had to guess the town before he’d reveal the exact location.
On Saturday morning we caught a train from Victoria Station to East Sussex where he had a whole day planned out. One thing I love most about living in England is the focus on preserving national heritage. It’s just not something we see as much of back home in the States. Stately homes and castles are at the top of my list of places to go and practice photography (two of my favorite destinations are Castle Howard in Yorkshire, and Notley Abbey in Buckinghamshire) because of the opulent architecture, beautiful gardens, and history seeping out of every stone and crevice.
Our first stop was Polegate station where we hailed a cab and drive to Herstmonceux Castle. Constructed in the 15th century, Herstmonceux was one time the largest private home in England. In the 1520s, the castle was seized from the Dacre family by King Henry VIII, only to be given back under the rule of Elizabeth I. The Restoration period in the 17th century saw renovation and rejuvenation, but also the bankruptcy of Lord Dacre who was forced to sell the castle in 1777. By the 19th century, the castle was in ruins and became a popular tourist attraction for Victorian holiday-makers visiting Brighton and Eastbourne. Herstmonceux took on new life in the early 20th century and is now a part-time wedding venue and hosts international students studying at Queens University.
The grounds at Herstmonceux are stunning and include ancient chestnut trees, an Elizabethan garden, a folly (a house that serves only as decoration), lakes, and sprawling fields.