Built circa 1600
Maison Blanche is the home of writer, artist and quiet activist Emma Wallace. It is a three storey stone farmhouse with walls two foot thick and great oak beams. There are red terracotta roof tiles that occasionally blow off in a storm. There is a chimney, woodburning stove and a larder that has mice from time to time.
Scattered over the three floors are several bedrooms, bathrooms and living spaces. There is a kitchen built from a wheatsheafing machine and a lot of pots and pans that hang from the ceilings. The kitchen tap has never sat correctly but I like to pretend it is one of those fancy restaurant ones that moves about. Several visiting men have tried to fix it. I tell them this is not possible, but they try anyway and then give up.
In the winter it is cold so we sit by the fires or put on more woollen jumpers - slippers are recommended. In the summer it is cool inside and provides the perfect conditions for a siesta when the temperatures head into the 30's. Sometimes there are flies, so be careful not to walk into one of those sticky fly-catching devices that hang from a drawing pin.
There is a tradition (or plain old habit) in this village to name the homes after their residents. The House of Blanche was the home of Blanche Rapidel until the 1990's. The Rapidel family have been landowners in the village of Fosse since the late 1600's. They still are. One of them grows a crop of potatoes each year in an allotment by the communal bins but he is quite an illusive creature. I wouldn't recognise his face. I swear he comes under cover of darkness.
The Early Years. We moved in to the house in 2010, it was April and the spring that year was long and warm with an abundance of red sweet cherries. There was no furniture for several weeks. A mattress on the floor and a kitchen table acquired from a neighbour carried through the kitchen window. It was a strange and unusual handover. We were interviewed and selected before this house could be passed down, woman to woman. Someone, who shall remain nameless, relieved themselves on the hill. A piece of vine wood taken from the hillside stayed in my car and on the kitchen windowsill from the moment I stood on that land until it was ours.
This was my home. This land had called me. This land was dreaming me.
I have watched the world stage change dramatically in those last seven years - the calling to create this place and the need for it only becoming stronger and stronger. The formative years have presented great challenges and great joy. It has been a true initiation of fire.
On the difficult days I seek great comfort and encouragement in the words of Vanessa Bell. When her and Duncan Grant were establishing Charleston it was 1916, the times were turbulent and surrounded by a political context of war, pacifism and conscientious objection. It is testament to their committed devotion that amongst the grittiness of daily life and the domestic challenges of making Charleston a home, their presence in a place brought together some of the finest and most radical hands, hearts and minds of the twentieth century.
(NB. On the days were I think "I am just so done with this place" it helps to be reminded that they were from the 'Upper Classes' and happened to have a large inheritance, a cook, a cleaner and an occasional gardener and I give myself a pat on the back, make a cup of tea and take a deep breath.)
Here's to creating, and living, a genuine beautiful and true work of art.
“This household is absolutely frozen… the cold is simply appalling. The only consolation is that it is light. I sat and shivered, painting, as long as I could stand it all week, then had to warm at the fire, then another shiver. The only thing to do is paint the mantel pieces, so I have done the one in the studio.” Vanessa Bell to Roger Fry, 1916