Tea at The Kilns
This last post about the events in London and Oxford for the memorial of C.S. Lewis’s 50th is especially dedicated to Lanier Ivester, Sarah Clarkson, Devin Brown, Richard Platt and Carolyn Curtis. This post is also offered with a very special thanks to Stan and Jean Mattson of the C.S. Lewis Foundation who very graciously opened up The Kilns, and to Debbie Higgens, Resident Director at The Kilns, who generously gave of her time to put on a tea for a small group of Lewis friends and tribe.
The wonder of the day for me, and probably those with me, happened upon our arrival at The Kilns coming back from lunch in Headington. We knocked on the green door of the house to come in thinking that Debbie or perhaps one of the residents would answer. Suddenly the door opened and we were greeted by none other than Douglas Gresham himself, with the lovely greeting “Welcome to The Kilns!” I cannot think of anything that could have surprised or delighted me much more!
Douglas invited us into the dining room to talk for a few minutes before going into the library and that experience allowed Peter an amazing opportunity to talk with Douglas directly, asking a few questions and generally feeling more invited into the life stream of the “Lewis tribe”. Douglas regaled us with tales of some of his early memories of life at The Kilns, with Lewis and Joy, Douglas’s mother. It was something he did not have to do and was something utterly un-looked for from us. I felt that kind gesture from Douglas was a gift from God for both of us personally.
I love this image of Diana marvelling at the surprise presence of Douglas Gresham. Diana and I share many of the same loves and her company gives me a very grounded sense of having a compatriot in these endeavours. She is someone I love dearly.
Lovely Nan Rinella, faithful member of the C.S. Lewis Foundation staff, fellow travelling companion to many of these events, and host of a wonderful website encouraging writers joined us for Tea at The Kilns!
Douglas had already had a long few weeks of media and public speaking events regarding his recollections and thoughts about C.S. Lewis and his legacy, yet he generously shared his time with us at Tea, visiting with many and generally bringing a hearty presence of warmth and good cheer.
The image above of Douglas Gresham is one that I have wanted to make for more than a decade, and it represents a fulfillment of a heart’s desire for me. He has such a beautiful face from a photographer’s perspective – compelling eyes, strong, well-defined features that are on good terms with light, and he has an open way of allowing someone to see him, which is especially difficult for someone who must often live in the public eye. I was deeply thankful for the gift of that encounter and for his generosity to us as a group of friends. Everything about it had a such a feeling of God’s good fingerprints on it.
Another person of great significance to me, and frankly to most of us doing Lewis studies and who have been blessed to visit The Kilns, is the marvelous person of Aidan Mackey, renowned expert on G.K Chesterton. Aidan Mackey has graciously given his time and company to many visitors at The Kilns over the years and it has been my privilege to hear him several times. To this day, I am not able to tell some of the stories that Aidan Mackey has told me without crying, they affect me so. The image above of Aidan Mackey and Diana Glyer portrays two remarkable scholars – both brilliant minds who have steadfastly held the ground of intellectual integrity and excellence and done so with grace, charity, and goodness.
Much to-doing occurred over the beautiful cake made for the occasion by Lewis-friend British actress Barbara Whatley.
Will Vaus was one of the guests at tea and Will and Nan took a moment to share a photo op with me.
Steven Elmore is the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s Vice-President of Events and Communication. Given the weight of his responsibilities, Steven is not always able to attend the events that he so ably works to create for us. It was a great joy to have Steven present with us for this one!
Nick Haddad is Assistant to the Warden at The Kilns. Bright and capable, Nick is also very funny.
The library at The Kilns houses a lovely collection of books, and this particular set I found irresistible.
The library is the largest room at The Kilns and it served to give us a delightful ambience for our gathering and celebration. It was great fun for me to see different conversations going on throughout the spacious room, like finding these two lovely ladies – Martha and Diana – enjoying tea and their own good company.
Douglas Gresham carefully read all the quotes on the cake for us and set it on the buffet table to be served.
This was a delightful table and one of my great enjoyments was the truly fabulous Turkish Delight served by Kilns scholar in residence, Anthony Scibbua. I have never found Turkish Delight worth eating anywhere outside of Oxford (Of course, that is simply my own personal experience, and yours may well be different.) But this Turkish Delight took the cake! (pun slightly intended.)
While I am often the only photographer at a given event, it was my delight to have someone else there shooting it all along with me. Jonathon Kirkpatrick is a remarkably skilled and gifted photographer and it was an honour to shoot alongside him.
Jeanine King , the lovely wife of Lewis scholar Don King, is someone I have had the good pleasure of meeting at Lewis events on more than one occasion, and having a chance to visit even for a little bit was wonderful.
And it was especially lovely having my good husband shoot something of me too at the event. Having Peter there in person was my single greatest joy.
Anthony Sciubba, delightful server of Turkish Delight, and scholar-in-residence at The Kilns.
I love this image of Aidan Mackey talking with guests at tea. What a wise, long-suffering face.
Sparkly Debbie Higgens, peaks over Will Vaus’s shoulder at me, while Will was talking with Kallistos Ware.
Debbie is not only the Resident Director of The Kilns but a new author. Read more about her book “Anglo-Saxon Community in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings here.
This is one of my favourite images of Diana Gyler at The Kilns. I love how she balances the teacup and saucer on her beautiful long fingers and has such a twinkle in her eyes as she listens to Martha Linder. Her capacity to listen to others is one of her great beauties.
And of course, I love this image of Michael Ward listening to Debbie Higgens. Michael’s smile is one of my favourites in all the world and I was so happy that he could join us knowing what a busy schedule he has had. It was such a great honour to have Michael with us. He is someone I hold in high regard. And for all his genuine importance as a scholar and speaker, he brings a certain kind of merriment with him that I always appreciate.
I have had a difficult time explaining to some people who are of the old-school persuasion that the best images are not simply those that are fully in-focus. I do not labour under the expectation that good images or portraits have to be always sharp, always crisp and always perfectly lit. Life isn’t like that and neither is the heart. The best images are the ones that capture a sense of someone’s spirit as well the ambience of their surroundings in that given moment. That kind of portrait does not always lend itself to perfectly focused, stock still expressions, in well-lit rooms. I love this image of James Conlee who is the founder of C.S. Lewis Daily, the Twitter account that has grown from zero to nearly a million followers in four years. I love his expression in the image because it reminds me of how he was when we met – warm, generous, and welcoming. And animated! One of the amazing benefits of attending the C.S. Lewis Foundation events is getting to meet highly creative people one would likely never meet any other way.
Here is one of my favourite images of the ever beautiful and kind Katie Hornell. It is always an honour to be around her, and a blessing.
Peter, Don King, Michael Ward and Holly Ordway chatting over tea. What a remarkable circle of people! I so enjoyed the laughter that permeated the room from various conversations and that priceless music of happy conversation among so many people. It is the hallmark of a great gathering and this one was filled from beginning to end with it.
Fascinating people at every turn! I did not get to meet the man that Katie Hornell is laughing with, but Will Vaus (with his back to our view on the right side of the image) is talking with Tim Stead, the Vicar of Holy Trinity, the parish church that C.S. Lewis attended.
And here are two our intrepid leaders of the future generations of Lewis scholars and friends. Yes, friends. They are wearing tea cosies on their heads as mitres. Sigh. I did not participate in this. I merely recorded it. You can come to your own conclusions.
Lovely Hannah Thomas! Hannah has just released a beautiful Christmas album “In the Bleak Midwinter“.
Barbara Whatley and Debbie Higgens, enjoying a warm moment in the kitchen at the end of a successful event!
Peter and I left that night heading back to our B&B happy and full-hearted, and I suspect everyone else did as well. What a beautiful experience and truly what a happy way to close the events commemorating Lewis’s legacy. I think he would have loved the fact that we closed not with a ceremony or formal event, but with a warm gathering of friends in his own familiar home, a circle of people sharing much of what he loved and by similar conviction carrying that forward together with affection, courage and gratitude.
Click here for Part 1 of this series.
Click here for Part 2 of this series.
Click here for Part 3 of this series.
These images are courtesy of me, Lancia E. Smith, and used with my full permission for Cultivating. The image of me talking with Jeanine King is by Peter L. Smith and used with his permission for Cultivating. Thanks so much for reading along! Many blessings to you always.
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is passionate about disciple making. Reflecting an irresistible calling to the intersection of faith and the arts, she is the Founder and Executive Director of Cultivating, and of The Cultivating Project, a discipling initiative for Christians engaged in the arts. She is President and CEO of a thriving environmental consulting and construction firm based in northern Colorado which she runs with her husband Peter. They are parents to seven children, and are grandparents to a beloved flock of grandchildren. An inveterate book collector and giver, Lancia loves website and garden design, beautiful typography, David Austin roses, Marvel movies, road trips and being read aloud to by Peter. She cherishes every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.