Health, Wealth & Subtleties

Health, Wealth & Subtleties (detail), Kathryn Parsons

In 2013, Kathryn was selected for Fresh Take at Burghley, an innovative arts residency and exhibition at Burghley House, Lincs.

Kathryn created two pairs of shoes made entirely from sugar modelling pastes. They tell the tales of two women who lived at Burghley, woven together with historic uses of sugar and very architecture of the building.

Burghley House, Lincs

Just a year before the exhibition, Burghley learnt that the Tudor turrets on the roof at Burghley had been specifically built as places for the family's most important guests to go and eat sugar! Sugar sculptures, known as ‘subtleties’, would be carried up the stone staircase that runs from the kitchen to the roof. Over the centuries, the shoes of servants, visitors and family have gentle worn away these old stone steps.

Health, Wealth And Subtleties, Kathryn Parsons

In Tudor times, sugar was very expensive. As well as a treat for the gentry it was regarded as a health food for children! However, it wasn't always effective and just before a visit from Queen Elizabeth, Ann Cecil, the daughter of the house, become ill with smallpox. The white shoes tell of her illness and Tudor medical practices (blood letting & wrapping in red cloth). The Queen changed her plans and never returned to visit the House. The child survived.

In the late 1790s, Henry Cecil fell in love with and married Sarah Hoggins, a Shropshire farmer's daughter whilst staying with the family (possibly hiding from debtors and recovering from the departure of his wife). A few years later he became Earl of Exeter and Sarah his Countess! The two (by now legally married) moved to Burghley House. Though it sounds rather like a fairy tale, Sarah struggled to settle and find a home this aristocratic environment. The golden slippers were created to comfort her. From the outside, they look like what a Countess ought to wear. Inside, her toes would be nestled amongst familiar wildflowers - daisies, forget-me-nots and violets - to remind her of home. According to John Gerard's Herbal, violets mixed with sugar ‘comforteth the heart’.

Health, Wealth & Subtleties (detail) Kathryn Parsons

Fresh Take at Burghley was developed and led by Art Pop-Up with Burghley House, Lincs. Supported by the Arts Council, Creative Peterborough, Metal and Art in the Heart.

Health, Wealth And Subtleties, Kathryn Parsons

Images copyright of Art Pop-Up or Kathryn Parsons

The design of Burghley's Golden Gates is referenced on the toes of Sarah's slippers.