Chipping Campden Arts and Crafts, Gloucestershire
Chipping Campden was famously a centre for arts and crafts in Edwardian England.......
Chipping Campden's links with artistic excellence are well known. In 1902, Charles Robert Ashbee, architect, designer, silversmith, disciple of the 19th-century Arts and Crafts movement, and founder in 1888 of the Guild of Handicraft in London's East End, came to live there. He brought with him about forty craftsmen and their families; they acquired several historic buildings, and set up workshops in a former silk mill, built 1790, that had variously made ribbons, gloves and stays before it closed by 1836. These were influential artists and craftspeople who made furniture, bound books, shaped metal, created jewellery and made all manner of artefacts in a spirit of individuality and excellence. They had chosen this rural Cotswold town, long in economic decline, in order to continue working in a way that was not influenced by what they saw as the aesthetic decline brought about by the Industrial Revolution and the lowering standards and declining opportunities in the Capital.
Arguably, Campden's best-known artist is the internationally acclaimed Sean Bolan, who specializes in painting the past. Sean's painstakingly researched representational images are accurate to the minutest detail, and he specializes in military and railway subjects. Typical are the two paintings, commissioned by Swindon's STEAM Museum, where they now hang, of the town's junction station as it was in the 1840s and 1850s. The station at these times was not previously represented in any visual form other than on the original plans. His haunting picture of soldiers passing through Ypres in 1917, towards a new dawn, won him Best in Show 2006 at the Bank of England Arts & Photographic Society Annual Exhibition. Currently, he is working on commissions from private collectors in America, South Africa and Japan, on paintings for the Grenadier Guards, the Welsh Guards, and the Royal Welsh Regiment, and has a considerable list of commissions for paintings of railway stations and locomotives as they would have been between the 1920s and 1950s.
The original Guild workshops only operated in the Silk Mill until 1908, by which time their rural experiment had effectively failed in the face of cheaper, mass-produced products. The building they occupied as workshops is still there, in Sheep Street, and is one of the places of pilgrimage for those who come looking for Campden's arts and crafts past. A direct line with the founders, and the spirit of the movement have been kept alive by Hart's goldsmiths and silversmiths, who took on the premises in 1908 and work there today. Martin Gotrel, working in the main street, is also a designer and maker of fine jewellery in the established Campden tradition. Now, more than a century after Ashbee and company set up there, a new co-operative of artists and craftspeople is at the mill. In their own words, they are 'breathing new life into his dream'.
This is The Gallery at The Guild, now home to some twenty-two contemporary and traditional craftspeople: artists, calligraphers, ceramicists, designers, furniture makers, photographers, sculptors and textile artists. They come from around the Cotswolds, and quite a number of them also live in Chipping Campden. Also, there are parallels between members of the new co-operative and Ashbee's original Guild. Several gallery members have turned their backs on urban life and fast-moving careers 'to focus on quality of life by moving to the countryside with their families and devoting their time to work which they truly enjoy'.
There is currently a growing dislike for cloned town centres, and a move towards supporting independent retailers of whatever commodities. The ethic of this may also be seen as a parallel with Ashbee's Guild's aesthetics, and both strike chords in modern-day Campden. It is a town of specialists; a town of independent retailers; a place where the wonderful Robert Welch studio shop - contemporary tableware, kitchenware, etc - epitomizes the quality and individuality that the town has long been about. Campden's artistic renaissance, in the hands of The Gallery at The Guild, neatly meets both criteria: the distinct trend towards bespoke, handcrafted items; and a town that plays no fiddle to cloning. The range of professional artists and craftspeople who live in Chipping Campden and are represented at the The Gallery at The Guild is very wide-ranging indeed.
David Birch is of Campden descent, has been a professional artist since 1974, and his work is collected worldwide. He is also a detailed wood engraver. His was the holding exhibition, put in place at the Silk Mill in 2005 whilst the co-operative was getting up and running. He typically works in pen and ink, and watercolour, and describes his style as showing 'spontaneous freedom and enthusiasm for the moment'. At one time, David worked in Broadway and London for the art and antique dealer H.W. Keil, all the while forming the enduring preoccupation with landscape and architecture that epitomizes his work. This frequently requires him to work on location under different weather conditions, although currently his star attraction at the gallery is a studio piece of old Campden House as it would have been built by Sir Baptist Hicks, based on the remnants of the building and ground measurements taken on site.
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Beautiful pieces in museums and country houses, the work of William Morris, and small-workshop furniture makers of the nineteenth century in the south Cotswolds, all inspired cabinet maker Jeremy Green, who trained with Oliver Morel at Moreton-in-Marsh. He believes that furniture, looked after and treasured, lasts longer than anything else we make, often outliving a succession of houses into which it is put. There are some fine pieces of his in the gallery. One is an inlaid seat trunk mainly of local English walnut, but which also features boxwood from Chipping Campden, Fenland bog oak, cedar of Lebanon and French oak in the drawers, a back of walnut, and an underside in English oak. Jeremy likes to maintain close contact with the raw materials of his craft and the natural environment that produced it. He works with trees that are either standing dead or have been blown down, which he then cuts into planks and seasons - perhaps for upwards of twenty-five years - before it is used. Jeremy is currently working on a commission for a dining room set of a nine-and-a-half-foot-long table and ten chairs made out of walnut from two trees that blew down in Worcestershire twenty years ago.
In 1997, Paula-Jayne won an award from The Prince's Trust for her painting, and has since worked as a professional artist. Much of her output is also available as limited edition prints, in hand-painted mounts. These include her well-known 'Splendour of Campden' watercolour, which depicts the town as seen from the top of the church tower, and has been the inspiration for a series of similar works of different places that are currently in development. Much of her work depicts Chipping Campden, often by night under artificial light, which she is very accomplished in capturing. Her preferred medium is a mix of pastels and watercolour, and she uses 'under-painting techniques in watercolours and acrylic, creating layers of optimal mixes and interesting depths of light and colour'. Paula-Jayne specializes in commissioned animal portraiture, nudes, architecture and landscapes.
Surrealism has been the hallmark of Jane Friend's paintings since she was influenced by the work of Salvador Dali, when she was a teenager. A move to the Cotswolds five years ago, and pressure from her family, encouraged Jane to take up painting again - albeit this time with more sedate expression and along more traditional lines. This has resulted in still life watercolours. Her painting of the Lords Pavilion was commissioned by Graham Gooch, of Essex and England, and the most prolific scorer of runs in top-class cricket. He auctioned the original at a private dinner at Lords in support of his scholarship fund, and signed fifty prints; many of these have been donated to charities, where they have raised thousands of pounds at fund-raising events.
Jackie Stringer has a wide range of textiles for sale at the gallery. A former microbiologist and senior scientist working in the public health service at Collingdale on hospital infections in neo-natal care, she always felt that her years of training and study and those of high-tech scientific research deprived her from exploring the intrinsic artistic interests she had realized from an early age. Once retired, she took up creating clothes, handbags, scarves, etc., from natural fabrics such as wool, linen, hemp and calico. Her work combines the vibrant colours of Spanish wools with the nubbly textures of English tweeds and pure wools. Her tweed bags are made of tweed that is spun and woven at Filkins Mill near Burford.
Someone else who left London and a successful career, to pursue a more artistic dream, is Paula Lingard, photographer. For the last three years, she has been using digital art and simulated darkroom techniques to manipulate her original photographs, thereby creating finished images with elements of expressionism and surrealism. By these means, Paula draws out features that might not be apparent from a conventional picture. Her work is then printed on canvas or fine art paper, and is framed and mounted.
Louisiana Chapman is extraordinarily well qualified in art and design, jewellery and silversmithing. She designs contemporary-style wall pieces, sculpture and jewellery in mixed media; has a large, mounted, intricate papercut on sale at the gallery; and also dyes and decorates shoes. Her work mixes colour into jewellery, and includes ribbons, beads, enamel, plastic, crystals and epoxy resin. Much of what she produces is inspired by nature, and she uses the way in which we have altered the environment to underline more recent work that mixes rural and urban sources.
Decorating silk with surface colour has been an obsession with Mary Day since her art college days of the early 1970s. She has lived in Campden since 1978, and had studios there from the mid '80s, where she specializes in silk painting, making silk paper, silk marbling techniques, and quilting. She will have her own exhibition at the gallery in June. Mary was greatly influenced artistically by her time spent living in China, and teaches silk painting 'hither, thither and yonder'. She has featured in several television programmes, made a silk painting teaching video, and created the syllabus for the City & Guilds Creative Skills Certificate for Silk painting. She is a luminary of the Guild of Silk Painters, and is a widely regarded teacher in the craft.
Diane Fine says that her works 'arrive at a symbiotic harmony of colour, form and texture' and her art 'expresses her zeal and curiosity for life'. She works in mixed media collages and acrylic-based paint, producing results that are 'neither totally abstract nor totally representational'. Diane uses bright colours to create images that are mostly conceived in her imagination, and which she always hopes will engender an emotional reaction in the viewer. 'Every day of my life I've done something artistic,' she asserts. 'I have always been consumed and driven by what I do. I just see a shape and that starts things moving.' Much of her work has moved into private collections in Europe.
Art and ceramics teacher Liz Allchin runs adult painting classes, and works in acrylics, oils, watercolours and mixed media. She has been a professional artist for about a decade, has worked on landscape paintings in the Chilterns, the Cotswolds, and abroad, and also paints still life subjects. Liz's style is exuberant and impressionistic; she calls it 'putting the excitement into painting'. She considers herself to be a colourist, much influenced by light and colour, and by the shapes and patterns made by elements in the landscape. Following trips to South Africa and Ithica, she realized that, long after her return, she continued to infuse her paintings with the vibrant colours prevalent in those places. One of Liz's favourite places to work, and where she keeps returning, is above the Vale of Evesham. Collectors as far afield as Australia and North America have bought her paintings.
John Limbrey, Freeman of the Goldsmiths Company and of the City of London, is a link between traditional craftsmanship in Campden and the new Guild Workshops. John worked with Robert Welch on the top floor of the Silk Mill from 1958. He designed contemporary cutlery, whilst also painting watercolours of landscapes, buildings, mountains and marine subjects in a way that he describes as 'stylizing the subjects and extracting the basic linear designs'. The Cotswold landscape, seascapes and coastal scenery form the main body of his work, usually painted from sketches made on site, for he only photographs if he cannot find a good place from which to sit and draw. He now lives in a nearby cottage and, although officially retired, continues to design and paint, and exhibits his work at the annual exhibitions of the several local artists' groups to which he belongs.
Campden's past, and that of the Arts and Crafts Movement generally, will be highlighted when a dedicated exhibition and study centre is opened elsewhere in the town, scheduled to take place in June. The Guild of Handicraft Trust, which is responsible for the project, was set up in 1990 to enhance and encourage the legacy and history of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the north Cotswolds, and to encourage present-day crafts and design. Its showpiece of the Movement will be the 18th-century Court Barn in Church Street, set within an area that includes the ruins of Old Campden House, its pavilion or banqueting house, the curtain wall and Jacobean lodge gates, the famous 'wool' church, and the 17th-century almshouses. The barn has been undergoing a �1.34 million programme of internal remodelling and refurbishment. The Heritage Lottery Fund gave �890,000, and the rest has been raised by the Trust. When completed, it will have a permanent exhibition of the work of leading designers and craftspeople, space for changing exhibitions, a mezzanine area for storing archives, and adjacent study rooms. Some of the exhibits will be lent by the V and A, and the National Portrait Gallery, and the collections will include the entire working archive of Robert Welch.
The Trust's archives also include Ashbee's architectural drawings of historic buildings in Campden, and a large collection of glass photographic negatives taken by Jesse Taylor between c1895 and the 1930s. There will also be material about architect, engraver and conservationist Frederick Griggs, who co-founded the Campden Trust in 1929; furniture maker Gordon Russell will be represented, as will Michael Cardew, the potter of Winchcombe. Other individuals or workshops that will be illustrated in the exhibition area include the Broadway bookbinder Katherine Adams; Paul Woodroffe, the stained-glass artist and illustrator; Guild of Handicraft member Alec Miller, who was a wood carver and sculptor; and the Hart family of silversmiths, who are still in the Silk Mill.
Campden does not currently have as many galleries as it did a few years ago, but there is still the Campden Gallery, which specializes in contemporary works of art, and the Alexandra Churchill Gallery, which is well known for sporting pictures and those of animals. The 6HQ photographic gallery was opened in 2005 by Christine Kingsmill 'with the aim of persuading people that photography is a collectable art form'. Much of what she exhibits in her themed exhibitions was taken by photographers working in the area, and many of the images are quite stunning. She also sells cards and trays that have photographic images printed on them, picture frames, and books on photography.
Campden is a small place and, although Court Barn and the Silk Mill are effectively at either end of it and neither is on the high street, there is only a short walk between each. Visitors will be much interested by the experience, and both venues are well worth seeing.
SOME PLACES TO SEE
Chipping Campden is all about old buildings, and there are a good many of them to see as you seek out the town's arts and crafts venues.
Almshouses, Church Street. Built by Sir Baptist Hicks in 1612, this lovely flight of paired, gabled dwellings is stepped up and walled off from the road.
Church of St James, Church Street. With its 120ft, panelled tower and soaring nave built of locally quarried stone, this is one of the best of the 15th-century Cotswold 'wool' churches.
Cotswold House Hotel, The Square. Tel: 01386 840330. A converted Regency house, with a faade of recessed windows, a flat portico with fluted, Tuscan columns, and, inside, a fine staircase.
Court Barn, Church Street. Next to the remains of Old Campden House, and close to the church and almshouses, the 18th century building is being restored, and its original beamwork preserved, as an exhibition venue and to house the collections of the Guild of Handicraft Trust.
Dover's Hill, annually on the Friday and Saturday after Spring Bank Holiday, when the Scuttlebrook Wake and Cotswold Olimpick Games take place there and in the town. The hill is on the Cotswold Way long-distance footpath.
Eight Bells, Church Street. Tel: 01386 840371. Campden's oldest inn is made out of two dwellings that were said to have originated in the 14th century as lodgings for masons working on the church, and as a place to store the bells. It has old oak beams and a priest's hole.
Ernest Wilson Memorial Garden, Leysbourne. 'Chinese' Wilson's birthplace in High Street is marked by a plaque; this secluded garden, opened in 1984, is the town's tribute to him.
Grammar School, High Street. The mid-15th-century grammar school, rebuilt four centuries later, has been a self-contained hotel suite. It features a large chimneypiece containing the classical, 17th-century bust of its founder, John Fereby.
Grevel House, High Street. William Grevel's 14th-century residence has a two-storey bay window with stone mullions, cinquefoil lights, arched doorways, gargoyles and a sundial.
Kings Arms Hotel, The Square. Tel: 01386 840256. An elegant 18th-century town house of three bays and three storeys with classical doorways, string courses, a moulded cornice and a plain parapet.
Lygon Arms Hotel, High Street. Tel: 01386 840318. This 16th-century coaching inn still has its arched carriageway above a cobbled floor. The lunette windows are a feature of the plain front.
Market Hall, High Street. This shelter for the town's provisions market was erected in 1627 at the expense of Sir Baptist Hicks. On two sides, it has three gables above two bays with semi-circular arches, and two bays and two gables at either end.
Noel Arms Hotel, High Street. Tel: 01386 840317. A private house in the 14th century, it became a coaching inn during the 19th and acquired its present name in the 1820s. The faade is Georgian, the interior has a medieval feel.
Old Campden House. Built 1613-19 and substantially burnt down by Royalists in 1645, but there is still the pavilion, as well as some outbuildings, the gateway with its shaped curtain wall, and Jacobean lodges with ogee-shaped roofs.
Police Station and Magistrates Court, High Street. Built in 1871, closed in 1999, it now houses the town's Visitor Centre, some small retail craft businesses, and is also a community venue.
Silk Mill, Sheep Street. The mill beside the waterway now houses craft workers and The Gallery at The Guild.
St Catherine's Roman Catholic Church, Lower High Street. Built 1891 in Perpendicular style; the nearby priest's house is by F.L. Griggs, 1935, and has an exterior carving by Eric Gill.
Town Hall, Market Place. Originally built in the 14th century, most of the fabric is Victorian, and the porch was put up in 1897 to commemorate Victoria's Jubilee. F.L. Griggs's memorial cross stands nearby.
Woolstaplers Hall, High Street. Put up in 1340 by wool merchant Robert Calf. Here, wool was graded, and purchases made for markets abroad. Charles Ashbee lived there from 1902 and he also restored the building, which has a nice oriel window with stone mullions.
Words and photography by Mark Child