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Munnings Art Museum installs a very different work of art

27 Jul Munnings Art Museum installs a very different work of art

The Munnings Art Museum has unveiled an unusual and highly practical artwork in the gardens of the former home of the artist, Sir Alfred Munnings.

As part of an Arts Council England community project, coordinated by Ipswich-based Arts La’Olam organisation, an artist-designed, handcrafted bench made by Tim Germain was commissioned as an outdoor quiet space for visitors to sit alone and think, or enjoy talking with others.

“The idea for our new bench was first mooted prior to the Covid pandemic affecting the UK and prompting the first lockdown,” explains Munnings Art Museum Director, Jenny Hand. “Despite the subsequent lockdowns and the museum having to close as a consequence, local community members, artist advocates and our indefatigable team of volunteers developed the initial designs via Zoom conversations, until they came to fruition in a seat shape inspired by the surrounding landscape of the Dedham Vale and Stour Valley, as so famously painted by John Constable and, of course, Sir Alfred Munnings himself.”

Local furniture maker Tim Germain distilled the various conversations and ideas into a solid design for the seat, which echoes the meandering nature of the River Stour at Dedham.

“Tim’s concept for the bench also reflects the simple pleasure of being beside or on the river, as Alfred Munnings often was. To this day, the Stour continues to inspire plein air artists, walkers and canoeists alike,” Jenny adds.

Tim made the new bench in his workshop in the idyllic Suffolk village of Stratford St Mary, using oak from storm-felled trees taken from parks in Ipswich. Germain spent months painstakingly crafting the individual pieces which combine to resemble a particular section of the Stour that sharp-eyed nature and art lovers will recognise as the bend by Fen Bridge, a feature painted by Constable (1776-1837) and later by David Muirhead (1867-1930).

Tim says: “My benches are never straight, as no-one likes chatting over their shoulder. I have no idea why nearly all the world’s benches are straight but mine are designed curvy, to draw people in and encourage them to linger longer out of doors. And when they are sitting, the alignment of different sitters gently opens up the possibility of a conversation and simply because there is too much loneliness in the world. With each bench I create, I workshop the original design for each one with the local community, so that it means something to them and builds a sense of ownership of the finished object.”

“The bench is a beautiful object in its own right and a wonderful addition to the Museum’s tranquil garden. Now it is installed, it will allow generations to come to sit and reflect.”