Henrietta Graham Treasured Possessions | 451life

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Henrietta Graham Treasured Possessions

To come up with five treasured possessions I would save vexed me for a little while. I am not by nature a hoarder: a mantra of ‘if in doubt, chuck it out’ has served me rather well. I dislike stuff. In order to paint I like to keep my surroundings minimal. In life in general too much clutter adversely affects my thought process. However on closer inspection there are certain objects I have clung on to with a very profound attachment.

My wooden easel. I have forgotten precisely what I was yearning for as my 12th birthday loomed, but it certainly was not a full size adult oak easel. I am embarrassed to recall I was very disappointed indeed! I have always painted and therefore the gift from my mother was a perfect choice, but the maturity to realise this eluded me at the time. However 30 years later it easily tops the list of my treasured possessions. I always return to my easel; it has been the most constant presence in my life.

My maternal South African grandmother was a cultured and inspirational figure. Her very grand home was full of beautiful art, sculpture and classical music was always playing. I was struck by a bronze bust of her father; the plaque on it read: ‘Brigadier Henry Lenton, Post Major General of the Union of South Africa 1926-1943’. Enough to fire up my imagination on every level! When she died no one seemed to have the slightest interest in the sculpture and so it came to live with me. Sometimes I look upon it and wonder how this great politician might feel perched on a driftwood shelf in a medieval Cornish net loft, but he gives me a sense of my family history and indeed love of art.

My charm bracelet was a gift for my 21st birthday from my mother. It had a single coin charm from Germany – my stepfather is German. My brother gave me two more charms; a rocking horse – I had a deep love of my rocking horse as a child – and a Scottish Bagpiper; I am Scottish on my fathers side. It stayed just so until I met my husband who started to add to my charms. He has given me a frog, so I might leap over adversity; a miniature fruit machine, to keep me lucky; and a fish, as I love to swim. The last charm added is the first I have bought; when my portrait of James Martin was selected for The BP Portrait I wanted to mark the occasion and I found a beautiful Silver Buddha charm which felt just right. I think there is something magical about a charm bracelet, that you can add memories onto throughout your life. I have a few spaces left!

My mother fell in love with a man who was not my father when I was six. She stayed married but kept her lover. I knew all about it, however it was never discussed. They had a secret love ring, a solid gold snake with diamond eyes which my mother always wore on her right hand. When I was 14 they ran away together and subsequently married. Many years later out of the blue my mother gave me the ring, again no conversation. It feels important in a way words can’t really express.

My sister is my best friend. She is a truly remarkable woman; we talk for hours every week. There are huge parallels with her work as a psychotherapist and my figurative painting. I think we are both pulled into a fascination of the human psyche. We have also both studied religion; she is working on a part time doctorate at Cambridge University. Both being raised in the same Catholic boarding school has had a massive impact on us. When she was Head Girl she was invited to talk about Mary Ward (the founder of the nuns who ran the convent) in front of Pope John Paul II at The Vatican. I was and am so proud and this photograph is so special. My husband always says my HQ is Rome!