P1010397I don’t know what this plant is, but I do know where it came from.

For many years we have visited a gallery in St Ives called the Penwith Gallery.  Here we have admired, puzzled, lusted over and on the rare occasion bought a piece of art.  At each visit the same lady guarded the front desk, holding sway over the exhibits and those who came to view them, diligently collecting the 50p entrance fee.  She was an exotic creature with black hair piled high, extravagant jewellery and voluptuous gowns; undoubtedly the holder of secrets.  Equally as predictable as her presence was her polite indifference.  There was no hard sell, no attempt at small talk, certainly no recognition of our loyalty.  That is until last year when, buying a few artists postcards, I asked her about the scattering of potted plants about the room.  It was as if her dial had been turned from “ennui” to “enthusiasm”; her striking features softened and we chatted about the joy her plants gave to her and the love of her woodland garden.  When I praised one particular plant she carefully prised a piece out of the pot, I feared for her manicured nails, and wrapped it carefully in tissue.  Several days later I potted it up and feared the worse, but it rallied.  Last month on our annual pilgrimage I stopped in my tracks to see the sign “open after refurbishment” and feared that the inevitable current of change had reached this previously force-fielded corner.  The walls were freshly white-washed, there were no paintings piled against the walls, no plants and no lady.  She had died in her sleep last September.  Every time I look at this unnamed plant, I remember the glamorous and generous woman, Kathleen Watkins, who was curator of the Penwith Gallery for 46 years.  And I thank her.



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17 responses to “Penwith

  1. How sad that your exotic lady is dead.
    I am intrigued by your plant. It looks like a Haemanthus. Does it bloom?

  2. It could be a massonia

  3. Michelle - Germany

    What a lovely post Gill, thank you! xx

  4. I am so sad to hear she’s passed away. We visit every year and your description is spot on. We noticed the gallery was shut in January but thought nothing of it. I bought a number of paintings at Penwith, including two by Michael Praed. This made me smile as I always thought he was an actor in Dynasty and not a noted artist! I can’t imagine the gallery will ever be the same without her, but it sounds as if she went peacefully, along with a lifetime of stories.

    • Our lives in parallel continue, our first ever real grown up painting was bought from the gallery. It was a Michael Praed. I also thought he was an actor. That was at least twenty years ago and I love it just as much. (bluey greeny boat and harbour)

  5. petra van den bos

    How nice to have this plant from a gallery owner: it resembles what we in Dutch call “poederkwast”, which means powder brush. Beautiful brushes it will give you within a year! Haemanthus albiflos, Royal Paint Brush…..
    Outside in spring and summer, bloom in autumn, paintings in winter??
    I wonder if this is the same plant.
    Thank you for nice daily glimpses of Britain!

  6. diversifolius

    I guess it will always remain a Penwith for you, even after it flowers and you find out its true identity.

  7. lovely post …and a lasting memory….

  8. Duibhne Gough

    That’s lovely, Gill…
    She was an amazing lady!

  9. This plant must be a favorite of artists as I bought one last year at a gallery in the woods of Vermont! It is indeed a Haemanthus albiflos! Mine hasn’t flowered yet either but I’m so looking forward to seeing its little ‘paint brushes’ soon!

  10. Lovely post–I could see the gallery and the curator in my mind, and the painted nails digging into the potting soil.

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