Generation Cornish Modernists
Polly Wilkinson flits between many hats : designer, stylist, aesthete, plantswoman, property flipper extraordinaire, rental do-er upper, landlord and mother to Velvet and Herb . One might also add an unflinching eye for detail and sublime (understated) taste to the CV.
Her dizzying creative energy she attributes to an idyllic countryside childhood where all types of artistic expression - which included drawing on the walls at home - were not only allowed but fervently encouraged by her alternative and freethinking mother who lapped up interiors, design and art with an unrivalled passion. It explains why Cy Twombly-esque drawings by Polly’s children adorn the walls of her dining room in the Sennen vicarage in Cornwall she moved to two years ago with her husband, Ben Weller, a photographer.
This new chapter has allowed her to explore her many creative urges but she also discusses the joy and challenges of starting a life far from the capital.
What are the current projects you are working on?
My creative projects this week are working on a local architect to build a cabin who is salvaging from all over – a floor from Port Curno and some sash windows from another old building. It will be my studio where I will have a kiln and a potting shed. My background is silk screen printing and dyeing and I’m hoping to be able to work with plant dyes from some of the plants I grow myself and make pottery.
I hope to open a tiny shop at our holiday let, Carnacalla. And there are also all sorts of furniture and upholstery projects on the boil. I try to have deadlines which are as broad as possible otherwise I’ve found that it can stifle creativity. I do think people have learnt to wait though, and as a society we are less ‘now now now’ and we are learning to enjoy the process. Craft has become the biggest luxury and I think we are learning to attach more value to things which have a rarity.
What was it like settling into a new community?
We did know a few people before and I’ve learned that not everyone in life is going to like you - I’m not out to win a popularity contest. As long as you are respectful, especially to the people who are from here.
It’s been interesting as there is a younger community of people who are finding ever innovative and creative ways of carving out a business. So there’s lots of creativity here, also many artists.
Was it easy to make friends?
Making friends is always a daunting thing but I found that it was easier when you were doing things you love. Having hobbies encourages you to meet like- minded people. You instantly have something in common.
So I’m a member of two surfer groups and there is a lot of art down here so if you go to the same galleries and exhibitions, you end up seeing the same faces each time.
You moved from the hustle and bustle of London Fields in East London. What advice would you share with anyone thinking of moving out of the city?
Think carefully about where you want to move to. If you are moving to the countryside, have a good think about whether you really like being outdoors and nature. I found there were people who arrived in Cornwall and don’t like sand. Here it is about sailing, surfing, walking, kayaking but friends who love mountain biking for example, moved to Wales.
Also remember, it’s a long way from everyone; they won’t always be visit. And be prepared to take your time. Your first year anywhere is just tough. It takes a while to acclimatise and settle into new routines.
How do you cope with days when the weather is ropey and feel interminable with young kids?
Coming out of lockdown made it much easier. We found coffee shops where you could take the kids otherwise it was a case of lighting the fire and candles and getting cosy in woolly jumpers and sheepskin slippers and just watching nice movies and not giving yourself too hard a time about it. Equally we also put on wet weather gear and romp around outside. You do have to enjoy doing that, you do need that resilience.
My husband, Ben hadn’t factored how windy it would get. You really need the right kit: oil skins, really good boots, the kids need that too, lots of layers. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong attire.
A trick that a friend taught me when we go surfing is taking a hotwater bottle- although I should stress here, not making it too hot -and then wrapping your towel around it, the makings of a guerrilla tub.
That way, when you’ve been open water swimming or surfing, you can flush yourself under your wetsuit with the hot water so that it instantly warms up your body. You will then be able to get your wetsuit off as as it’s not so freezing and then wrap yourself in your warm towel. I also always carry with me a flask of tea. Or actually, a girlfriend of mine and I take chocolate with a shot of rum.
Photographer Ben Weller
Shot on iPhone