As the Kettle’s Yard gallery reopens, the art critic Richard Cork pays tribute to its visionary founder Jim Ede
The relaunch of Kettle’s Yard, enlarged and renovated with flair, is a very exciting event. It takes me back to arriving as a young Cambridge student in autumn 1965. My appetite for modern art was expanding every day. So I grew eager to visit this astonishing house, and Jim Ede was the first art collector I ever met. After ringing his doorbell, I felt apprehensive. Why on Earth would he want to be bothered by a restless teenager? But Jim could not have been more friendly. I became a regular visitor, thankful to find a haven where the act of looking was such a luminous pleasure.
Jim Ede loved his collection with an infectious passion, displayed it with imagination and welcomed undergraduates. In 1965, Kettle’s Yard was still a private house belonging to Jim and his wife Helen. No exhibitions were held there, and Leslie Martin’s extension had not yet been built on the modest yet beguiling 18th-century premises where Jim lived among the objects he cherished.
With hindsight, I can now see that my friendship with Jim added up to an invaluable formative experience. He conveyed enthusiasm for all the work in his charge (he once wrote to me exclaiming that ‘anyone could come in and draw!’). Kettle’s Yard was his special place, clearly created around the art and reflecting his very single-minded awareness, where a matchbox-size Ben Nicholson relief nestled with polished seashells, and a Gaudier-brzeska carving on a tree trunk was carefully counterpointed by a bowl of smooth pebbles. The highly idiosyncratic space he evolved there, allowing a Brancusi bronze to lie unperturbed on a piano-top, amounted to a sympathetic environment for the images on view.
Jim showed me that art could be cared for and enhanced in ways I had never encountered before. Art and life slipped into each other at Kettle’s Yard with an air of contemplative calm, thanks to this remarkable man, a gentle yet persuasive aesthetic missionary with a limitless ability to renew his delight in the works he admired. www.kettlesyard.co.uk
left: a henry moore head, among the treasures at kettle’s yard. above: the gallery’s founder, jim ede