September has been a vibrant month here at Rook Lane Chapel. We’ve been lucky enough to host The Painted Garden, an exhibition of the work of Ruth Phelps, who passed away last year. Ruth was an inspiration to many in Frome, working tirelessly in support of the arts organisations in the town, in particular Rook Lane Arts and the Black Swan. The exhibition was curated by Ruth’s daughter, Catherine Phelps, with paintings donated by friends and family members.
The opportunity to see such a collection of Ruth’s work was unique; after the show, pieces were returned to their private collections. The exhibition was a celebration of Ruth Phelps’ life and career in the arts.
Catherine Phelps, with the support of family and friends, curated the exhibition to reflect significant areas of Ruth’s practice; subjects and themes that she returned to time and again over the years. In the café, we saw vivid portraits of friends and family members. In the chapel, Catherine curated as series of Ruth’s dream-like garden paintings, with otherworldly figures merging in and out of the foliage. There were rich depictions of her love of gardening, and still lifes in the form of resplendent nasturtiums and lilies.
Many who knew Ruth remarked upon the paintings she had made of Shawford Mill, where she designed stage sets and costumes for the opera that was based there. In a text submitted for the exhibition, Ian Burton – a former colleague of Ruth’s at Shawford – described “…a magical atmosphere of seriousness and play, during what seemed like endless sunny days by the river.” – an atmosphere which seems to be expertly captured in Ruth’s paintings.
We have welcomed hundreds of visitors to Rook Lane Chapel over the past two weeks, many of whom knew Ruth personally, but many also who did not. All of remarked on the poignancy of this exhibition and the beauty and vibrancy in her work. As Ruth was one of the founding trustees of Rook Lane Arts Trust, we are very privileged to have hosted the exhibition. It has become a celebration of Ruth’s life and work, and a testament to her dedication and to her talent.