Stories and insights on excellent education.
Fine Art and Secret Staircases: Success Academy Goes to Chatsworth House
Imani Johnson – January 23, 2018
This November, my classmates and I from SA High School of the Liberal Arts were invited to visit a home in Derbyshire, England. This was no ordinary house. Chatsworth House is a vast estate, built in the 16th century. Today it’s home to the 12th Duke of Devonshire, Peregrine Cavendish. It’s also home to famous works of fine art by the likes of Michelangelo and Da Vinci, a 1,000-acre park, and beautiful sculpture gardens. And thanks to Sotheby’s, Chatsworth House, and Success Academy — we got an inside look at the home that very few people get to experience.
While leaving the country and taking a plane for the first time was intimidating — it was totally worth it! We saw British history up close and personal and learned from true experts in the field. This trip furthered my desire to travel the world and learn about different cultures everywhere. What we saw taught me more than any 67-minute history class.
Want to learn more? Step inside our journey to England and find out more about our experience at Chatsworth House!
We arrived at Heathrow Airport at 2AM EST, with smiles on our faces — and new stamps on our passports! I was so happy to have arrived safely — my first time on an airplane was a little intimidating!
One of the first things we did was a team-building exercise on the grounds. This helped us realize that Chatsworth House is really still an active, living property with so much to explore and learn from the land. We made shelters in the woods and had a competition for who could create the best, most watertight structure. The judge? Simon Shaw — our personal guide on the tour — and the co-head of Impressionist and Modern Art Worldwide at Sotheby’s! Our prize? The students who won the den-building competition earned the right to turn off a massive fountain on the estate at night! It was so cool to watch all the water disappear at the same time. My team got second place with first place going to team Camouflage!
Arriving at Chatsworth House was overwhelming! We toured the beautiful sculpture gardens, pictured here. The estate includes a 300-room house and even a farmyard. England’s landscape is so beautiful and felt much less crowded than my hometown of New York City! My favorite sculpture was the Left Handed Drummer by Barry Flanagan — I loved its abstract appearance and beautiful craftsmanship.
During our visit, we were able to view rare documents from the Chatsworth House archive. Head Archivist James Towe even showed us a handwritten note by Queen Elizabeth I! It’s amazing to think that a document over 400 years old can still be read and interpreted today by historians.
Charles Noble, Chatsworth’s curator of fine arts, showed us drawings that included work by artists like Titan, Michelangelo, and Da Vinci. My favorites were Da Vinci and Michelangelo’s unfinished or incomplete sketches. I learned that although these artists were inspired by the same religious stories or political events, they portrayed those stories or events in different ways, each highlighting the points that they thought were the most important.
On our last night at Chatsworth House, our principal, Mr. Malone, challenged us to represent what we had learned during our time there through any medium we wanted — and present it in front of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire! My friends Briana, Sofia, Assatta, and I all participate in step dancing at Success Academy — so we thought this would be the perfect way to reflect on our time at Chatsworth House. We had only three hours to create and practice our routine, but when we presented it the Duke, he was so impressed! One of my peers, Kayla, wrote and sang an amazing song about Chatsworth House — and he was equally impressed by her work. Our routine was inspired by a sculpture about the Roman God Hermes rising up to white clouds which reminded my peer Briana and me of a step routine we know as Cloud 10. I had lots of fun teaching and performing it even though I was nervous.
After our presentation to the Duke, we attended a private reception in his personal library — off limits to most visitors! The Duke was very friendly and spoke with all of us. One of my friends had heard a rumor from a guide that there was a secret staircase hidden in Chatsworth! When The Duke overheard us, he immediately lead us all to a secret staircase where we ascended to a beautiful balcony with a view of the estate. It was a magical way to end our trip to Chatsworth!