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Michael Claydon builds collection of art artefacts

PUBLISHED: 16:46 18 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:35 20 February 2013

At Newark Park, Michael Claydon has built a collection of art and artefacts that spans all styles and tastes.

Paintings, from modern sketches to Oriental murals, cover every wall. The circular frame of a magnificent, yard-wide clock on the wall of the Garden Room has the colour and sheen of beaten copper and brass, but is made entirely of wood. In an alcove, a life-size figure in primary colours reveals itself to be a robot, geometrically constructed from 1200 paper tetrahedrons. Climb the stairs and you pass colourful wall hangings, brass lions, old portraits in oils and modern ones in watercolour. In a quiet gallery upstairs, a collection of silver sugar tongs sits a few feet from an array of fossilised sea creatures.

It would be hard to imagine any collection of art which spans a greater variety of styles and tastes. And it is all here in one place and on view to the public, thanks to the efforts of one man - Michael Claydon, the tenant of the National Trust's Newark Park.

It is 25 years since Michael moved to Newark, a 16th Century Tudor hunting lodge in 700 acres of grounds which became a stylish Georgian home with one of the finest panoramas in Gloucestershire. It all started in 1982, when he came to Newark to spend the weekend with a Texan friend, Robert Parsons, who was the tenant at the time. He never left.

It was Bob Parsons who began the Trust's work at Newark when he took the property on in 1970, more than 20 years after the Trust acquired it. Until then a string of tenants had occupied the house, but Bob was in it for the long haul. Over the years that followed he breathed new life into what had been little more than a gloomy empty shell.

By 1970, the garden had long been lost to nature; Bob found it again. Thanks to his work, it is now a natural woodland garden with beautiful views - particularly in spring - through bluebell-clad glades and vistas across a peaceful lake. Bob even added a walled garden on the east side of the mansion.

When Michael joined him, he initially took his lead from Bob. But within a few years he felt sufficiently at home at Newark, and sufficiently confident in his own judgment, to begin collecting works of art for the house on his own initiative. Although his background is in the theatre - he worked for a time at the Royal Opera House - he began to develop an interest in art. It is hard to believe that such a rich and fascinating collection of furniture, artworks and artefacts has been talent-spotted and brought here by the same man; a proper study of the contents of Newark would take days. An expert evaluation would require a roomful of specialists.

One is reminded of the extraordinary collection put together in the early 20th Century by Charles Wade at Snowshill in the north of the county (also a National Trust property), though at Newark the emphasis is more on art than artefact. Paintings, sculptures, drawings, cultural icons, tapestries, ornaments, stained glass, wall hangings, relics, tribal tokens, weaponry, silverware, clocks - the list seems endless.

Michael has a particular interest in what artists refer to as non-western art - primarily antipodean and African - and there are some eye-catching works by the New Guinea artist Mathias Kauage and by the Warlayirti aboriginal art community of Alice Springs in the heart of Australia. A spectacular 6ft high Chinese needlework panel on one wall has a colourful history - it was looted in 1860 when the British sacked the Summer Palace in Peking in revenge for the murder of a Times journalist. Over a century later, Bob took the chance to buy it.

Not all the pictures are from the other side of the world; many British artists are represented. There are several pictures of Bob Parsons at various stages of his life by the well-known artist Leslie Hurry, who was a friend of Bob's. There are also a few acquisitions from the Fusion Gallery, down the road in Wotton-under-Edge.

Bob Parsons died in 2000 at the age of 80, but Michael has continued his friend's work. In the past few years the collecting has continued unabated. He has taken to visiting Affordable Art fairs, where everything costs less than 2000.

Are any of these hundreds of works by Michael himself? "I can't paint or draw to save my life" he says. "I tried a few times in the past, but failed dismally. If I want a painting of a particular subject I can always commission it." At Michael's request the versatile Gloucestershire artist Rob Collins has taken on one or two of these assignments, including pictures of the house.

To have amassed such a fascinating collection must have taken a great deal of work and planning, surely? Apparently not. Michael has no strategy, no agenda and no shopping list. He simply opens his eyes and his mind and goes hunting. What he likes, and what he feels is right for the house (and, of course, what he can afford) he buys. He has only one rule - never to attempt to buy for investment.

A particular attraction for spring visitors is an exhibition of calligraphy by the county- based Glevum Scribes, which runs in the Gallery Room on the top floor until May 31.

Though all the works are Michael's own property, he derives enormous satisfaction from sharing them with visitors - and these days, that's quite a job. Until a few years ago Newark was open only a few days in the year. Now you can visit on any Wednesday or Thursday until May 31, while from June 2 it will be open on Saturdays and Sundays as well, from 11 am to 5 pm. Last year 13,000 people discovered Michael's eclectic collection, and this year the figure is expected to rise appreciably.

This year there will be more reasons to visit Newark - in addition to new links to the Cotswold Way; there is now, for the first time, a National Trust shop.

Newark Park is on 01793 817666 (Infoline) or 01453 842644
Admission: adult 5.30, child 2.70, family 13.80

Opening: Wednesdays and Thursday until May 31, Wednesdays, Thursdays Saturdays and Sundays from June 2. Open 11 am-5pm, last admission 4.30pm


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