Art and Fashion Enchant an English Palace

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Enchanted_palace_kensington Before embarking upon my recent trip to London with one of my best girlfriends, she told me she really wanted to visit a palace. Though Buckingham Palace does offer tours, it’s only during certain months, and it wasn’t available to us during our 3 days there, so I checked out what Kensington Palace had to offer.  I was so excited with what I found!

Not only do they offer tours through the State Apartments, but a theatre group called Wildworks  has been brought in to bring the rooms to life, not as it was, but an enchante d version that lets you get a *feel* for the lives of the seven princesses that once lived there. The Enchanted Palace is what Kensington Palace has become, through the fashion and art installation that tells their stories. 

(Image from http://ireallylikedaisies.blogspot.com/2010/10/enchanted-palace-seven-princesses-in.html)

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We started our visit with afternoon tea on the terrace of The Orangery, an 18th century building commissioned by Queen Anne (reign: 1702-14)  with French floor to ceiling windows overlooking a manicured garden.  “The building was supposed to serve as greenhouse for over-wintering exotic plant and citrus trees that ornamented the gardens in summer. Its accomplished interior decoration reflects the Orangery’s other uses as a ‘summer supper house’ and a place for entertainment.” 

The only hints toward the Enchanted Nature of what awaited were: 1) the design printed atop a chocolate tea cake and 2) the whimsical archway at the garden entrance.

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048-5-21-EnchantedGarden(click any photo to enlarge it)  

As soon as we entered to pay our admission, we could see that this was not to be an ordinary historical or architectural tour–there were tree branches coming from the ceiling, threatening to take over.

We were given a pocket guidebook with a dance card to note the order of our time with each princess as we came upon them. 

The guidebook also encouraged us to “BE CURIOUS, EXPLORE, ASK QUESTIONS” of the various “Explainers” we’d find wandering the halls, a hint at how interactive this tour would become.

Enchanted_palacebeginnertree 

(Photo from Wildworks)

Up a tightly twisting staircase we went, into The Room of Beginnings, where the rest of the tree we saw below could be found.  With numbered pointing hands on the tree and our trusty map in hand, we entered the first room, The Room of Royal Sorrows. Here, a bed, the sound of weeping and hundreds of small “tear-catcher” bottles with handwritten tags on strings with stories of the last time someone cried, surrounded us.  A book of poetry told the story of the princess who became queen, but could not produce an heir to the throne. (Read all the poems here.)

Enchanted_palace-RoyalSorrows 
(Photo from Wildworks)

Though this dress was not there when I visited, this video shows a bit about the room and tells more of the story.

 

From there, the Room of Enlightenment was a bit like walking into an observatory in motion. The guidebook says “A chamber of Significant Thoughts; surrounded by Philosophers, Theologians and Scientists, Newton expounds on his theories of time, motion and the Clockwork Universe.”  You could hear him, too. Apparently it was Queen Caroline who was a fan. 

Enchanted_palace-seatofPower 
(Photo from Wildworks)

The Seat of Power was made of soft, pillowy parts with an empowering banner to contemplate from the throne. "Sit here and feel your power. Your WORD can change lives — SPEAK OUT! Be careful what you wish for…"

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(photo by ME! Malayna Dawn. Click to enlarge. I'm sure those bubbles are ghosts!)

The Room of Flight featured a Vivienne Westwood gown (there seem to be several that rotate) seemingly flying down a grandly decorated spiral staircase. The poem describes the tragedy of Princess Charlotte, who married for love and then died in childbirth — “She was running towards love and dancing with death all her life.”  Light installations at the edge of the balcony allow you to see the princess watching you from the corner of your eye. 
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(Photo from Wildworks)

The Room of Palace Time is full of clockwork cogs and unraveling timepieces.  The guidebook tells us, “This clock doesn’t tell time, it makes it.”  Oooohhh…..  Check out this video !


   

In The Room of the World, the World in a Room, there are, of course, maps and globes.  But the room also honors Princess Caroline’s predilection for collecting curiosities and precious things. The centerpiece of the room is the amazing Cabinet of Curiosities from the Sea.  This piece is haunting and beautiful in a different way from the rest of the Enchanted Palace. Instead of fairytale things in a gorgeous antique cabinet with drawers and openings on all 4 sides, you can see behind glass collections of very real things from our modern world that have washed up on the beaches of Cornwall. Things like doll parts, colorful plastic fishing line and net, plastic lobster pot tags and seedpods from South America.  Peep into one opening and you’ll see film footage of crashing waves.

(Photo from Wildworks)

Enchanted-cabinet

 The Enchanted Palace website tells us, 
“Cabinets of curiosities emerged in Renaissance and Enlightenment Europe as a way of making sense of the unknown world. For their creators they were also things of beauty and wonder, to be marvelled at and enjoyed….” but this cabinet, along with the other work done by the artist, Jane Darke, also helps us to understand where our trash goes, and how it impacts the world’s oceans.

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(photo from Jane Darke's website)

 

The Room of Royal Secrets is where the guidebook explains “Peter, a feral child, was kept as a pet.” It’s reminiscent of the film Greystoke, The Legend of Tarzan but this is more than a legend.  Peter, The Wild Boy, was found living in the forests of Germany.  You can read more about him in this Guardian UK story, but the display for the Enchanted Palace was slightly disturbing (though not the only disturbing work…) with the the mix of nature and what could be found in a palace, like these fox furs.   

Enchanted_palace_creepy fox furs 
(Photo from Wildworks)

The Rooms of Lost Childhood and the Room of the Sleeping Princess were both haunting for the same reason—the magic and promise of childhood trapped in a gilded cage.  Described as “precious but not always loved,” by the guidebook, an “explainer” described the life of a royal child to us. 

Enchanted_palacedollhouse 
(Photo from Wildworks)

Beyond being “seen and not heard”, they were kept in a small room to play quietly, not necessarily with other children.  Recordings of quietly singing, whispering, lonely sounding children played in a dimly lit room with beautiful décor and ornate toys. A piece of furniture showed the words trapped inside the children, longing to be heard. 

Enchanted_palacewritingtable 
(Photos from Wildworks)

Tall Bed-vid 

The sleeping princess’ bed was reminiscent of The Princess and the Pea, piled high with plush mattresses.  But dead leaves and moss strewn across the bed and floor tried to answer the question, when free to roam in her dreams at night, “what do Princesses dream of?”

Enchanted_palace-dresses2(Photo from Wildworks)

The Room of Dancing Princesses depicted the life of glamour and fashion outside of the palace walls with two dresses–one worn by Princess Diana and the other by Princess Margaret (the current queen’s sister). Behind glass with messages that appear in black light, they shimmer against the black tree branches that fill the rest of the room. You can see better in this video:


 

There was a Gallery of War and Play with zillions of army men (not my bag, baby), a Room of Fish and Beer where royals dined privately and comfortably, and The Room of the Quarrel where a fight between best friends changed the map of Europe.  The best friends were Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill, who was an extremely powerful influence… until she pushed things too far.  You get to eavesdrop and imagine the scene in the nearby paper doll puppet theater.  (Read more about these ladies here.)

Enchanted_palacedancingshadows (Photo from Wildworks)

The final stop is the long Gallery of Dancing Shadows, where you’ll find portraits of the seven princesses and a bit more of their stories.  Then you’re ushered down to the shop where you can learn more in one of several books about the palace and find fabulous souvenirs! 

The spell cast over me by The Enchanted Palace is still not broken, more than two months later.  After writing about the experience, I am even more inspired by the fabulous storytelling, and hope you are encouraged to take the journey yourself! 

The palace will continue to be Enchanted until June of 2012. Find out more at The Enchanted Palace official website!

Written by Malayna Dawn for her Symbolic Themes blog. Read more about her travels at Women on World Excursions.

For more fairy tale insights from Malayna, read The Truth in Fairy Tales, and Wandering Through Wonderland.

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