John Oldham and Terence Bacon

For one couple in lockdown in Yorkshire, isolation doesn’t mean being cut off from the arts – their home contains hundreds of works. Now they have bequeathed 100 of them to the Hepworth Wakefield

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Could you tell us a little about how you first started collecting?
It all started for us completely by chance, whilst holidaying in St Ives, Cornwall, where we spotted a display of beautiful pots for sale by Lucie Rie that stopped us in our tracks. After a great deal of discussion, we took the plunge and bought two wonderful bottle forms. I believe they touched us so profoundly because we unconsciously recognised something intrinsically beautiful, which we had unknowingly been looking for. It sounds dreadfully pretentious but in a funny way it feels as though they chose us. A real life changer!

What drives your collection? How do you decide what or who to collect?
We buy only what touches us – if we can afford it and perhaps sometimes even when we can’t – and what we know we want to live with. Everything is bought with the heart, not the head. There truly is no underlying strategy to the collection – it’s just a great thrill to discover pots, paintings, sculpture and a few ethnic bits that we know will enhance our lives. For us it all seems to sit comfortably together. We really don’t define ourselves as collectors. We just buy what we know will give us pleasure.

How do you discover new work for your collection?
Invariably by accident. We first came across John Ward’s glorious work at Amalgam in Barnes, London, completely by chance. There was a wonderful tactile pot of brilliant form and decoration which we just couldn’t leave behind, so we splashed out and it has been a joy to live with ever since. Ward’s work then became a bit of an obsession and we now have 43 pieces. We are still on the lookout for two more to finish off our John Ward wall. This is the informal way we find things: they usually sneak up and bite us on the bum! It makes life interesting.

What is your most treasured piece of work?
That’s really like asking which of your children is the favourite! Almost all our pieces have back stories and some hold particularly wonderful memories of the artist. Craigie Aitchison was a very dear, eccentric friend. We would never part with his paintings, not just because they are fantastic works, but because they are physical reminders of him and the brilliant times we had together. I’d [Terry] save Craigie’s Donkey with a Shaft of Light first if we had a fire. John would grab a portrait by Craigie entitled Pilar – of course after we had saved Dolly, our dear little Bedlington terrier.

You have recently promised to gift your collection to Wakefield’s art collection. What motivated this decision?
Our collection is hugely important to us and we particularly wanted the John Ward pots to be kept together as a collection as they are quite representative of his career. Being based in Yorkshire we have visited and supported the Hepworth Wakefield as patrons since its early days. The gallery hosts international quality exhibitions, while also exuding a welcoming community feel. It’s usually buzzing with children having fun, being creative and being exposed to wonderful things of the soul. We never get the feeling of academic superiority and separation from us punters. We felt from the beginning that it embraced our own outlook on what interaction with the arts should be about. We thought who better to take care of some of our bits and pieces when we fall off the perch? We’d take them with us if we could but it would be far too hot where we’ll probably finish up!

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