A look ahead to the 2019 Derwent Valley Art Crawl

John McDonald at Banks Mill, Derby

John McDonald at Banks Mill, Derby - Credit: Archant

Suzanne Parnell and Kelly Nixon recently launched the second edition of this guide to artists residing near Derbyshire’s famous river

Hannah Bennett Sculpture Garden, Eyam

Hannah Bennett Sculpture Garden, Eyam - Credit: Archant

There are many different facets to the Derwent Valley – that part of Derbyshire which runs from Ladybower Reservoir in the north, only a short drive away from Sheffield, to Great Wilne in the south where the Derwent joins up with the River Trent. There’s the industrial heritage of the Derwent Valley Mills that emerged from Belper in the 18th century; the bustling city of Derby and the grand old houses of Chatsworth and Haddon as the Derwent winds its way through the Peak District.

But what about Art? Many people will know of Derby’s famous artistic son, Joseph Wright, and some people will be familiar with the many splendid galleries and arts organisations dotted around the area. But now an art lover can find all this information in a single place and discover the arts in the Derwent Valley at their own leisurely pace.

Last year saw the debut of the Derwent Valley Art Crawl, a handy and informative A5 booklet that provides an annual guide to the artists, studios, galleries and creative spaces in the Derwent Valley. It is the brainwave of two Belper artists, Suzanne Parnell and Kelly Nixon.

For five years Suzanne and Kelly have organised and run the Belper Arts Trail, which last year featured 140 artists in 48 venues in the centre of Belper over the May bank holiday weekend. Having run a gallery and also ventured into printing they are turning their hand to promoting art and artists in a variety of novel ways. Knowing the number of artists in and around Belper and armed with a wider appreciation of the Derwent Valley, they reasoned that there must be a wealth of art in the area – which has proved to be right.

Derbyshire in the mist, photograph by Ian Daisley, Via Gellia Mills, Bonsall

Derbyshire in the mist, photograph by Ian Daisley, Via Gellia Mills, Bonsall - Credit: Archant

The second 2019 edition of the Art Crawl was published recently. A beautifully designed 24-page booklet, it features 60 artists, studios, galleries and creative spaces that range from Jenny Mather in Bamford to the Long Eaton Art Rooms. The criterion is simple – anyone participating needs to be close to the River Derwent.

Suzanne says: ‘It was quite a logistical exercise to research artists, galleries and studios... Obviously we started with a strong base knowing so many people in Belper and the first publication did have a lot of Belper artists but as the Crawl expands we would like to think that the spread will become a lot more even and this has proved to be the case in the second year.’

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Looking through the booklet it displays the details of an artist, studio, gallery or space – a statement and contact details – and a thumbnail image of their work. Some artists or venues can be visited just by dropping in whilst others ask that you make an appointment. The guide is designed to follow the Derwent from north to south and arranged in sections – Derwent Valley North, Carsington Area, Wirksworth Area, Cromford Area, Matlock Area, Derwent Valley East, Belper Area, Derby Area and Derwent Valley South – with a central map.

Suzanne and Kelly have also developed a website, www.derwentvalleyartcrawl.co.uk, with extra details about the artists, more images and links to their websites and social media.

Mary Smith, fine artist

Mary Smith, fine artist - Credit: Archant

Kelly is the brains behind the website: ‘It took some putting together, but we got there and we like to think that the artists appreciate what we are trying to do for them. Some will sell directly through being on the Crawl whilst for others it is another means of promotion.’

The artists and venues are many and varied. Wildlife artist Richard Whittlestone, who has a studio and gallery at Pilsley, is looking forward to this year’s Crawl and says, ‘I have had many, many people find me because I am part of the Crawl and the brochures I had were snapped up long ago.’

Jonathon Abbot, who with Thomas Petit produces Lumsdale Glass near Matlock, is another keen supporter of the Crawl. ‘It’s a brilliant little brochure, something I would pick up myself if on holiday – ever!’ And Roger Waterhouse, a member of Peak District Artisans and a woodturner, took the Crawl brochure to The Great Dome Art Fair in Buxton last year. He says: ‘They flew off the shelf. I could have done with at least three times as many.’

As well as promotion of the artists and venues, the booklet aims to connect people with art, whether they’re locals eager to learn more about the talented people on their doorstep or visitors to the area.

Ray Gridley, Baslow Pottery

Ray Gridley, Baslow Pottery - Credit: Archant

So where did the inspiration come from? ‘We were on holiday in Canada a couple of years ago,’ says Suzanne, ‘and we came across the Sunshine Coast Art Crawl which was actually a week-long event involving artists and studios. But they also had a leaflet people could pick up and use throughout a year. We loved the name and felt it was something to try at home.’

The Crawl has also been taken under the wing of The Derwent Valley Trust – a charity organisation headed by Derek Latham. The Trust has a vision to see the Derwent Valley become a major tourist venue attracting people from around the world. This will include walking, a multi-million pound cycle way, canoe trail and bridleway. ‘Much of the Trust is aspirational at the moment,’ says Derek, ‘but what we saw in the Art Crawl was something which totally complemented what we are trying to do and, importantly, had already delivered something for the Derwent Valley. We hope that by aligning the Trust and the Art Crawl we can help Suzanne and Kelly expand and build the Crawl. In return they both have much to offer as the Trust continues its journey.’

The number of copies printed has been increased this year and it is being distributed along the A6 corridor, throughout Derbyshire and in Tourist Information Centres. Kelly and Suzanne have taken into account feedback from last year’s copy and have also included new artists.

‘One thing we wanted to do,’ said Kelly, ‘was to give more space to the artists. This has meant a bigger brochure and we have broadened the reach to include other aspects of artistic creativity.

Ruth Gray with an art class, Belper

Ruth Gray with an art class, Belper - Credit: Archant

‘As a result we have captured some amazing new contributors, including Chatsworth House, Hannah Bennett’s Sculpture Garden, Derby Art Gallery & Museum, The Level Centre and Carsington Water Sculpture Trail.

‘For the future we are looking into producing an even bigger booklet and probably distributing even more copies. We are looking at supplementing the artists’ entries with a selection of places to eat and places to stay in each of the areas to add to the appreciation of the area as a whole.

‘We are also starting to look at signage. Initially this may just be window stickers but the long-term aim is to have an integrated set of signage linking the various aspects and trails in the Derwent Valley Trust remit. We would like the Crawl to be at the forefront of that,’ Kelly said. ‘Plus, we have a germ of an idea for an event – watch this space!’

It looks as if the Derwent Valley Art Crawl has made quite a splash and is here to stay. So put some time aside and head off into this wonderful part of Derbyshire where there are so many artistic hidden gems.