Artistic talent in the High Peak, Derbyshire

Mike Smith discovers a wealth of artistic talent in the High Peak on an art trail from Hayfield to Whaley Bridge via Glossop and New Mills

For anyone with an interest in art Hayfield, Glossop, New Mills and Whaley Bridge are great destinations, because they possess a surprising number of galleries and open studios. Each exhibition space offers a unique experience and the range of artistic styles and techniques on display across the region is remarkable. In this High Peak area of Derbyshire, there is art to suit every taste.

For the past 16 years, Dawn Holmes has lived above her studiocum- gallery in the main street of Hayfield, a village that is almost entirely enclosed by the highest hills of the Peak District. Those hills are a constant source of inspiration for Dawn, who says: ‘I’ll never be able to complete all the paintings I want to make of them in my lifetime because their appearance changes every day. For example, when the sun reappears after a summer storm, the colour of the hills changes from dull-green to lime-green, but when wild skies envelop the heather-clad moors in autumn, the dominant colours are purple and pink.’

Dawn paints her atmospheric pictures at an easel placed next to a large window that faces onto the street. Although many of the paintings that hang on the walls of her Hayfield Studio are large, wide angle views bathed in vibrant colours, a display on the window ledge includes a small painting that depicts an isolated hillside copse known as ‘Twenty Trees’. Dawn has painted this distinctive landscape feature many times and in all weathers, because she has a daily view of it from her bedroom window.

As well as selling her own paintings and a range of sculptures and ceramics by other artists, Dawn markets prints that look like original paintings because they are photographic copies of her work on canvas. She also responds to commissions for portraits and gives one-to-one painting lessons in her studio. She says: ‘I never show my students a particular way to paint. I simply encourage them to use their eyes to look properly and to ‘free up’ so that they can express their personality through their pictures.’

Paintings by professional artists who are adept at ‘freeing-up’ are to be found in the Cornerhouse, an attractive new gallery at the foot of Hayfield’s main street. One of the featured artists is Colin Halliday, a Cumbrian-born painter. Since moving to Derbyshire in 2005, he has produced a series of landscape paintings in which his energetic application of paint reflects the power of nature. Another featured artist is Sue McCall, who is not only a parish councillor and leading figure in the Hayfield community, but also a trained, award-wining painter. Her pictures are vivid representations of the space and light of the high moors. Although Sue is adept at interpreting her direct experience of the High Peak, the most striking example of her work in the gallery is her large, semi-abstract painting of Arran Light.

The Cornerhouse was founded by David Richardson, who heads a department for intervention with disaffected children, and Chris Jackson, a business consultant. The pair grabbed an opportunity to fulfil a long-held ambition to open a gallery when the shop on the ground floor of the premises where they live became vacant. As well as creating a bright, white exhibition space for paintings and sculpture, they have converted a second room into an area for jewellery, photographs and a range of unusual gifts.

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Another superb exhibition space is to be found in the upper rooms of the former stables of the Cooperative Society on Oak Street in Glossop. This is the Ghislaine Howard Studio Gallery, which is open to the public for special exhibitions and by appointment at other times. The exhibits are spread over several rooms and include scores of powerful paintings by Ghislaine Howard, as well as pictures by her daughter Cordelia, her husband Michael and artists such as Harry Ousey, Eileen Cooper and Ian Mood.

Some of the tastefully-furnished rooms also serve as accommodation for people attending weekend courses, which not only include painting sessions, but also inspirational trips to the High Peak, home-cooked meals, music, poetry and talks on art history. The guests are in expert hands: Michael Howard is a lecturer in art history at Manchester Metropolitan University and the author of books on Lowry, Monet and Van Gogh; and his wife is a prolific painter who has a remarkable ability to depict energy, tenderness, suffering and fortitude by means of a few vigorous and bold brush strokes.

Many of Ghislaine’s artistic ventures are highly original. Her experience of being in London on the day of the 7/7 bombings triggered a year-long project called ‘365’, during which she produced a series of paintings inspired by daily news pictures in the Guardian. After tracking her own pregnancy in another series of paintings, she became the first ever artist-inresidence in a maternity unit. Among the resulting images are graphic depictions of the moment of birth, including delivery by Caesarian section. Some of Ghislaine’s work is on a large scale, especially her paintings of the Stations of the Cross, which have been exhibited in cathedrals throughout the country, but her ground-floor studio is crammed with small preliminary sketches for her current projects, which include a series of paintings that celebrate walking and several images of the High Peak, based on rapid sketches which are made in the hills and then worked up in the studio until a memory of being in the landscape re-emerges.

Many other works by talented local artists and photographers are to be found in the basement gallery of Gifted, an enterprising new card and gift shop on Glossop’s main street, and at New Mills Original, which is run by a community interest company and featured in our March issue. The gallery also displays work by schoolchildren who have worked with Amanda Whewell and stages shows by guest artists who are established in their careers. The guest artist for June is Pauline Townsend, who is not only the publicity officer for Peak District Products and an indefatigable supporter of other artists and craftspeople, but is also a very talented and highly successful painter in her own right.

Pauline has worked as a professional silk painter for the past 13 years and is now recognized as an expert practitioner of her art. She contributes articles on the subject to magazines, runs courses in the large studio in her Buxton home, exhibits widely and has permanent exhibitions in the Macclesfield Silk Museum and in Buxton’s Gallery in the Gardens, where her vivid paintings are supplemented by hand made cards and a range of beautiful hand-painted and dyed silk scarves. Silk painting appeals to Pauline because it satisfies her love of textiles, surface pattern and, above all, colour. She achieves a depth of colour by building up layers of paint and then fixing her paintings by ironing if she has used silk paints or by steaming if she has employed silk dyes. Although she is best known for her colourful flower paintings, she is equally adept at applying her technique to depictions of buildings and landscapes, as is illustrated by two of the works she is exhibiting at New Mills Original.

A painting entitled ‘Tranquillity’ shows the Peak District hills in a new light, quite literally, with the blues and purples of distant moors forming a backcloth to the greens and pinks of foreground fields. Her painting of Buxton Opera House is best described in Pauline’s own words. She says: ‘The Opera House is the heartbeat of Buxton and my favourite building in the town. I painted it in my favourite range of colours – blue, turquoise and green – and set the painting at night, which is when most people see it.’

Buxton artist Lyndsey Selley developed her artistic skills when she was employed as a designer of a tableware range at Denby Pottery and as a figurine painter at Royal Crown Derby, but her breakthrough as a painter came when a French publisher asked the pottery studio to provide illustrations for two wildlife books for children. Lyndsey was given the responsibility of fulfilling the commission and was so successful in doing so that 14 books were produced in all. This gave her the confidence to leave the pottery and take a job as an illustrator, before becoming a freelance painter of wildlife pictures.

Initially, Lyndsey used illustrations in books as her source material, but then began basing her work on her own photographs taken in wildlife parks. Eventually, she travelled to Africa, where she took photographs that gave rise to some very successful paintings of animals in the wild. On one occasion, she waited for five hours for migrating zebras to cross a stream in Kenya.

Her patience was rewarded when no fewer than 5,000 zebras made the journey across the river. The amazing images that she obtained gave her the basis for a work of art which sold for a very large sum at Christies in New York.

Lyndsey has also found source material closer to home. At the Chestnut Centre, near Chapel-en-le- Frith, she encountered an Asian otter called Pickwick, who was hand-reared and lived with a pet Labrador for four months until he was strong enough to mix with the other otters. The paintings and prints that resulted are very popular, but it is the proceeds from that marvellous zebra painting which enabled her to open the Jarva Gallery in Whaley Bridge as a place where she could paint, run her framing business, show her own works and exhibit the work of talented local artists. As my tour of the High Peak has demonstrated, there will never be a shortage of fine works to hang in her splendid exhibition space.

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