Issue 211
Winter 2019/2020

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Feb 19, 2020

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ArtWork Newspaper Issue 211
Winter 2019/2020 (6.12MB)

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From the fleece market to the PechaKucha Night

ArtWork's Northumberland correspondetnt reflects on a hectic life in the sticks

IT'S A QUIET LIFE out in the sticks, away from the sophisticated buzz of the metropolis. City friends wonder how we survive in such a cultural desert. Well, they're right in one way. There's so much going on it's tricky keeping up, let alone seeing and hearing everything.

Take October. Monday morning and I'm off with the North Northumberland Spinners (luckily my wife Ana is a member, so I count as an approved attachment!) to a British Wool Depot at Galashiels, (pictured right) to see how fleeces are graded. One in the national network, it takes in thousands of fleeces, sorting for quality, then baling for auction.

The market is steady, with China taking around a quarter of production, prompting a new British Wool office in Shanghai. To really be in the money, breed Wensleydales. Their fleeces fetch up to £6 per kilo, some ten times more than the best of the rest. Their long staple is particularly favoured by hand knitters, felt-makers and weavers.

A good fleece has a sound staple – the length or the fineness of the wool. It takes three years to train to grade fleeces, checking staple, cleanliness, colour, smell, texture, moisture, lanolin, and freedom from foreign bodies or chemical residues.

We saw wool destined, via the Stornaway ferry, to be woven into tweed on the famous looms of Harris. Fascinating.

Then back to Berwick for the opening of youngest daughter Kittie's show at Foldyard Gallery. Entitled 'Breaking the Surface', her charcoal, pastel and pencil drawings are inspired by "the liminal and the littoral, journeys made to the sea, birds watched at the coast, shifting tides and changing light." Being a dedicated open water swimmer her perspective, at the surface, makes for a very different point of view.

Next up is Berwick's Literary Festival, and a chance to hear Ursula Buchan, one of John Buchan's grandchildren, speaking about his life, and the research that went into her new biography, Beyond the Thirty Nine Steps.

Timely, as I'm re-reading A Prince of the Captivity in which the reluctant hero, Adam Melfort, survives all manner of privations by escaping into dreams of his favourite Hebridean island of Eilean Ban.

Over in Tweedmouth, Dockside Gallery has something special, a miniature scale model gallery and dolls' house with 200 tiny pieces by sixty artists, to bring some winter magic.

Earlier this year Berwick-upon-Tweed signed up to be a PechaKucha Night host. This global initiative brings together creative people and provides a simple format for presentation of work – twenty slides, twenty seconds each. After three events attendance is up to 70, and the newly revamped Tweedmouth Radio Rooms provide the perfect buzz for them.

The impressive line-up for the next one, on Tuesday, November 26, is: Tod Hanson, painter, graphic artist, and space-changer; Lucy Baxandall, specialist paper maker; Tania Willis, graphic designer and illustrator; Brita Granstrom, artist and illustrator of children's books; Chloe Smith, an artist working with dance, theatre, film and live performance; Charlie Poulsen, artist and sculptor; and Jonny Hannah, printmaker and illustrator.

Jonny is just starting work on "Northumberland Folk", four exhibitions to be held at Woodhorn Museum, Morpeth Chantry, Hexham Old Gaol, and Berwick Museum, from May 2020, inspired by local folklore.

PechaKucha nights are arranged by the newly formed Berwick Creative Guild. Now it's planning an Arts Trail next spring, a chance for artists to show their work in different spaces and places, perhaps even some extras like street parties and pop-up happenings.

A recent visitor to Berwick is artist Javier Rodriguez, whose "Standart Thinking" looks at relationships between art, design and agriculture. Too early to say where this is going yet, but, possibly an initiative bringing together artists, gardeners, smallholders and farmers, so something to do with growing more local food I suspect!

Meanwhile, if you are able to get to County Durham, exhibitions and a trail continue into the New Year to celebrate the centenary of the artist Norman Cornish. He was a member of the 'Pitman's Academy' at the Spennymoor Settlement, an arts community established in the 1930s "to cultivate creative powers in a friendly atmosphere".

There's more Cornish at the Mining Gallery in Bishop Auckland, where a spectacular new visitor centre for Auckland Castle has just opened too. North again to Alnwick and Bailiffgate Museum's 'Watch the Birdie'. On until December 15, it shows photographic portraits from 1845 to 1915

Looking ahead, articles on the radar for next spring include reports from dark-sky country near Kielder Forest, where Visual Arts In Rural Communities (VARC) organises artists' residencies, exploring the relationships between nature and culture. Plus a look at Blyth's Tall Ship project, keeping traditional boatbuilding and sailing skills alive as well as, through the Williams Expedition, recreating pioneering voyages to the Antarctic.

Time for a relaxing city break now I think, after all this fresh air and culture-side!

berwickcreativeguildon Instagram


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