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Christmas craft exhibitions at MAKE Southwest in Devon

Ceramics by Jo Lucksted
Ceramics by Jo Lucksted

Beside the river in Bovey Tracey, a beautiful converted mill building is home to MAKE Southwest, Devon’s leading venue for exhibitions and education in contemporary craft.

Founded in 1955, and previously known as Devon Guild of Craftsmen, the organisation aims to promote the best in regional craftwork. Today it shows the work of over 300 makers in its lovely retail shop and its two exhibition spaces, along with a regular selection of work by guest artists.

For art lovers, and for fans of exquisite objects in general, it is a wonderland of ceramics, jewellery, basketry, feltwork, handmade print, glass, sculpture, woodwork, textiles and books on every conceivable form of craft.

From November, MAKE presents a dazzling choice of gift ideas for Christmas shoppers, from handmade stocking fillers to paper and ceramic decorations, alongside really special works of contemporary craft including tableware by the South West’s leading potters and woodturners.

Great British Life: MAKE's beautiful craft retail space featuring Louise Scammell and Anne Selby. Photo: Dom MooreMAKE's beautiful craft retail space featuring Louise Scammell and Anne Selby. Photo: Dom Moore

MAKE describes its seasonal exhibitions as offering, ‘a mindful shopping experience, where each purchase supports a maker in the Southwest’.

As a craft education charity, every sale at MAKE Southwest funds its public exhibition programme, its craft workshops, events such as artist talks and, crucially, supports an upcoming generation of makers in the region.

‘All our artists are selected based on the quality of their craftsmanship, their use of materials and their personal “voice” as makers,’ says exhibitions manager Flora Pearson, who has been a key member of the organisation for 20 years.

‘Recently we’ve also introduced environmental considerations too, and we have a particular interest in supporting endangered and heritage crafts.’

For its annual Christmas show, Flora explains that MAKE aims for ‘an informal “craft fair” feel, and we ask our artists to create works in the £20 to £200 range because we know that our Christmas shoppers will be buying for more than one loved one.’

Great British Life: MAKE's beautiful craft retail space featuring Terry Gilding and Philippa de Burlet. Photo: Dom MooreMAKE's beautiful craft retail space featuring Terry Gilding and Philippa de Burlet. Photo: Dom Moore

This year, alongside a wonderful collection of works in its shop, stocked with crafts by members from across the South West, MAKE brings you two festive exhibitions.

In its Riverside Gallery space, the Around the Table exhibition is laid out on a luxuriously decorated central table and includes a gorgeous array of handmade decorations, candlesticks, tableware, textiles and glass, with the perfect festive interior in mind. 

‘This exhibition has a really cosy feel,’ says Flora. ‘It is a celebration of winter gatherings, of home, family and friends, and Christmas storytelling.’

In the adjoining Jubilee Gallery, MAKE’s annual Christmas exhibition, Under the Tree, features work by guest designers and makers from across the UK.

This huge collection gives visitors the chance to buy exceptional work from artists outside the region, all displayed with imagination and a great deal of Christmas flourish by the team at MAKE: ‘We have gone super Christmassy!’ Flora says.

There is also a programme of activities and events on Saturdays throughout December, which invites visitors to make gifts and cards, watch craft demonstrations and meet some of the talented makers on show.

Great British Life: MAKE's beautiful craft retail space feturing Alex Finburg and Taja. Photo: Dom MooreMAKE's beautiful craft retail space feturing Alex Finburg and Taja. Photo: Dom Moore

Exeter-based printmaker Steve Manning is the subject of MAKE’s winter Showcase. ‘We are so pleased to be exhibiting Steve’s work this Christmas.’ says Flora. ‘His landscape studies are a celebration of Devon’s natural beauty and have a crisp, winter-morning feel which we think will chime wonderfully with the rest of our Christmas offerings.’

If you’ve not yet ventured into MAKE’s Riverside Mill, treat yourself this December and take a look.

Fans of contemporary ceramics will find stoneware by Nix Hawkins, hand-thrown porcelain by Philippa de Burlet, curious ceramic sculpture by Amanda Popham, Jenny Southam and Jo Lucksted, tableware by Jodie Crook-Giles and Helen Harrison, and beautifully decorated vases and pots by Tiffany Scull and Jill Fanshawe Kato.

If you have a passion for artisan jewellery, MAKE’s stunning wall of display cases are filled with contemporary silver and gold designs by Jo Irvine, recycled beach plastic and eco-silver jewellery Sarah Drew, tourmaline and diamond pieces by Anna Pope, enamel work by Harriet St Leger, pebble jewellery by Emma Mogridge and glass and silver earrings by Penny Carter.

Great British Life: Torus wall hooks from Jo Weaden's Studio Arvor Torus wall hooks from Jo Weaden's Studio Arvor

Particularly delightful, and of a size and price that makes them perfect for gifting, is MAKE’s collection of little handprinted artworks by artists such as Hilary Paynter, Mike Tingle and Ruth Broadway, or for something truly weird and wonderful, Becky Crawford’s fabulously coloured kinetic mobiles are hard to resist, and would enthral a child just as much as a fully grown art collector.

All these exhibitions and collections are open to the public throughout December and into January, and then, if you are looking for something inspirational to brighten your new year, MAKE will be presenting Pulp, a unique exhibition by artists working in paper.

On show from January 20, it is made up of works by international artists and will showcase the huge variety of applications and techniques in use across the world in contemporary paper making and paper art.

Pulp is just the first in MAKE’s 2024 schedule of exhibitions, and Flora tells me everyone is invited to Riverside Mill to browse, buy, or simply admire the works on show whatever the time of year.

‘A lot of people pass by us here at MAKE,’ she says, ‘but have never been inside before. We hope that if they haven’t yet dropped by, they will make this Christmas the first of many visits.’


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