For a while we wander down the hillside, pointing out the strange shapes beneath the trees: an archaic stone circle rooted in long grass, a mysterious figure frozen in the green cathedral nave formed by slender trunks, and two gigantic, oscillating feelers caught in a shaft of sunlight. Down at the bottom where the trees thin out and the meadow begins, is a thicket of slender stone columns of varying height, with what looks like a canoe of wood balanced on top.
The brainchild of collectors Wilfred and Jeanette Cass, who live here, the site is a showcase for new British sculpture. The first piece we encounter is a demonstration of the philistinism such work can attract: Lynn Chadwick's 1959 bronze is the oldest in the collection (though this is a recent cast); originally commissioned for a terminal at Heathrow, her winged figure was vehemently opposed by the Guild of Airline Pilots and Aviators, who perhaps considered it unluckily earthbound and unaerodynamic.
The grumblers in our group, fingering their price-lists, would probably agree with the aviators. "He's on to a good thing, isn't he?," moans one as we follow Andy Goldsworthy's "Herd of Arches" (pounds 30,000) through the trees. Everyone likes Steven Gregory's "Paparazzi": a pack of stalking, clawed Cyclops, with cameras for heads. Laura Ford's witty "Nature Girls" - a bush, a conifer and a tree stump whose short human legs end in bright red children's shoes - are both scary and funny: are they little girls hiding or malevolent imps? Four powerful, masked Elizabeth Frink warriors stride down a grassy avenue, their eyes on the horizon. If I had a spare pounds 49,000 I'd be well tempted by Ian Hamilton Finlay's shattered frieze: "The World Has Been Empty Since the Romans".
"Are we allowed to walk on it?" asks someone of Richard Long's circle of slates. "I don't know, I just live here," says a new voice. Wilfred Cass himself, a sprightly septagenarian, materialises and falls into step with the party. Together we pass through William Turnbull's stainless steel gate, and it doesn't seem altogether fanciful when Ann Elliott, the guide, says: "We will all be transformed on the other side." Listening to Wilfred's account of his collaboration with the sculptors in the creation of this enchanted wood, and, later, visiting his dramatic house with its vistas and beautiful art collection, is to feel that great patrons are rarer and even more wonderful than great artists.
We find another great patron, albeit of a different order, at a converted church in Portfield. When you first peer down the aisle of the Mechanical Music and Doll Collection, you think: "Oh, a room full of old stuff," for the walls are covered with objets d'art, trophy heads and old pictures. But a short acquaintance with Clive Jones, who looks and sounds like a genial farmer, is enough to fill you with wonder. He has devoted his life to a great passion: collecting musical boxes, barrel organs and mechanical music devices of all descriptions, from the earliest clockwork juke-boxes and mechanical pianos for bars, through to magnificent "orchestrinas" and an entire mechanical band in a case: saxophone, drums, pipes, piano, xylophone and organ. He even restores, or rather has found a way to replace, the worn-out metal music discs.
Clive accompanies us up and down the aisle, discoursing on the mechanics of suction, pressure and plucking, and giving demonstrations. "This one's loud," he warns, as "Ain't She Sweet" bellows up and down the nave. Maybe I've seen too many horror films, but this is the sort of noise which tends to accompany distorted laughing faces in extreme close-up and women getting axed by maniacs in clown masks. Now this unholy din rings round the ears of the pallid Christ who gazes serenely down on us from his gothic canopy.
There's more sacrilege in store for us later on. "If my orthodox Jewish grandfather could see me now," says Larry Adler in mock-horror. Grandfather's not the only one who'd be dismayed. We are in Chichester cathedral, listening to Larry parp his way through the work of the Gershwins, and despite the presence of many beaming clerical types, it still seems spiritually risky to sit with one's back to the altar; like walking widdershins round the kirk.
Adler does his best, but there's no concealing the fact that we'd all be better off in a smokey jazz-club. The sequinned Issy Van Randwyck drapes herself round frail Larry and coos lustily, the band make a strange, fuzzy din which is lost in all this stone, but Larry's sublime mouth-organ still catches painfully on that hook in the human heart. It's been a day of diminishing obsessions: Wilfred Cass with the whole of contemporary British sculpture for his domain, Clive Jones haunted by a century of lost music, and dear old Larry with his mouth-organ. Long live the eccentrics.Reuse content