How long have you lived in Lewes, and what first brought you here? A man! I moved from Brighton at the end of 2007, and have lived here ever since with my husband and daughter. I was kicking and screaming at the prospect – I’m an urban creature, and even Brighton seemed a bit small after Berlin, where I’d been living before. But my friend, the late Robin Lee, took me on a tour of Lewes, and showed me it would be fine. He was right: I love it. It’s steeped in history, so very beautiful, and small without being small-minded. The liberal spirit of the town is very important to me, and it’s so creative.You’re an Art Historian, and work as Curator at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.
How is that? Curatorial jobs are few and far between, so I feel incredibly lucky to work for this unusual, historic building. The job literally takes me round the world. The Pavilion was built by King George IV, and is reminiscent, for me, of the German palaces of King Ludwig – which provided the blueprint for Disney fairy-tale castles.
You also have a glorious book on colour coming out next month. What is it about colour that compels you? I applied for a scholarship to do a PhD on the history of colour in the Pavilion – I got it, and colour has become my specialist subject. It’s universal. It runs through science, philosophy, history, art history, and of course art. It’s a prism through which you can talk about almost anything – and it’s led me to all sorts of projects and collaborations. I particularly like writing about women colour theorists – the first, Mary Gartside, published her work in 1805: a serious work on colour, presented under the soft cover of a painting manual for ladies.
You’re German by birth. How are you feeling at the prospect of Brexit? I’ve felt in limbo for the last two and a half years. It’s been particularly painful for me as someone who came here because I loved British culture, and grew up feeling free to work and live anywhere in Europe. Personally, I’m lucky to have been picked for a pilot scheme, and awarded my ‘settled status’ quite early. I still feel welcome and at home in Lewes and Sussex, but the bigger picture is awful.
What do you like best about living in Lewes? The indie shops, especially the antiquarian book shops. Bow Windows rang me once, early on, to say they had one of the rarest books on colour: was I interested? This was the 1821 colour nomenclature that Charles Darwin took on his Beagle voyage in the 1830s (not the same copy, you understand). When I started collecting colour books, I walked into A&Y Cumming and said “I’m interested in giraffes in the 1820s, and Regency colour theory.” We have just the thing, was their response, before reappearing with an extraordinary book on colour by George Field; and another written in 1829 featuring George IV’s own giraffe!