Cambridge Days

Kettle’s Yard

Just north of the Cam, past Magdalene College, is Kettle’s Yard. From four 17th and 18th century cottages, Jim and Helen Ede built foundations for a single house, and a singular home.

It’s an art museum, now – though I suspect Mr. Ede (himself the curator of the Tate in London, once) would agree that the scale and setting make it something altogether different. Above all, Kettle’s Yard remains a home: you tug on the doorbell to enter, and once inside, you can grab a seat anywhere, even pull a book from the shelves. And that’s how it went for us, yesterday afternoon.

Of course, art is the big draw: when you’re a networked fellow like Mr. Ede, I suppose it was easy to gather up pieces from sundry ‘artist friends’ like Ben Nicholson, Gaudier-Brzeska, even Miro and Brancusi. However, the personal authenticity of the collection is what impresses the most – knowing that behind every piece was afternoon tea or a handshake, the ties of friendship and patronage.

You can feel how the house was slowly assembled, built – not simply bought at Sotheby’s. In that sense, Kettle’s Yard reminds me of Jim Thompson’s house in Bangkok: an organically-produced shell of an extraordinary life. That, and then there’s the fun of traipsing through the tiny bedrooms, hallways, and winding staircases, so unlike the squared halls of most museums.

Best of all? At Kettle’s Yard, it’s the arrangement and selection of every piece which matters, not cash value; some of the most important features are pebbles, plates, and lemons (just ask), each item placed properly, and just so.

Oh – and it’s free. Next time it really rains, I’m heading back.

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