Not just any old gallery

Artwork by Vickie Heaney (who makes handmade prints for pictures, cards and China

Artwork by Vickie Heaney (who makes handmade prints for pictures, cards and China - Credit: Archant

Lesley Double visits the Phoenix Craft Workshops and Gallery and discovers a thriving artistic community on the Scilly Isles

At first glance it seems strange to find an art and craft gallery in the middle of an industrial estate. Surely somewhere more picturesque or on a busy street in the centre of town would be more normal? However, Phoenix Craft Workshops and Gallery on Porthmellon Industrial Estate, St Mary’s, is not just a place to view and buy the work, but a thriving hub of industry.

Sub-divided into several rooms, artists and craftsmen do their own thing, whether it is stained glass, jewellery making, oil painting, lino cuts or prints. Visitors are welcomed, but are under no illusions that they have entered just another shop, as the artists continue with their work whilst chatting and serving customers.

Oriel Hicks opened Phoenix in 1991, specifically as a space where she could make her stained glass windows, glass giftware and jewellery. “I didn’t want to employ people to fill the rest of the rooms,” says Oriel, “So I became a sort of ‘landlady’. Artists pay rent to use a room and as long as it pays the mortgage, I’m happy. I think it helps small businesses who couldn’t find somewhere to work.”

Landlady and tenants admit to being very fussy who uses the rooms. “We all have to get on with each other,” continues Oriel, “And we all help one another too. If one of us is away, we know we can trust the others to look after and sell our work in our absence.”

Apart from making glass coasters, wall hangings and dishes, and smaller items such as key rings, earrings and Christmas decorations, Oriel makes various leaded-light commissions which can be seen in settings both on the islands and the mainland. She is currently making a stained glass window for the church on St Agnes, and last year completed a window for the Cornwall Children’s Hospice, Little Harbour. “I had so much fun making that, as I included lots of tiny creatures which children were encouraged to find, like a stained glass ‘Where’s Wally’ picture,” says Oriel. “I also made a stained glass window for St Mary’s Parish Church, depicting St Christopher. The saint is in the likeness of my father and the child he is carrying is my son.”

Others working at Phoenix include Scilly Scarves and the Scilliest Thing, who share a studio. Julia at the Scilliest Thing creates individual hand-printed home accessories inspired by the natural beauty of the islands. You will also find lovely unique hand-painted 100% silk scarves and ties by Liz at Scilly Scarves. If you would like to try your hand at producing a fabulous scarf or a piece of magical fabric, Liz and Julia run courses throughout the year.

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Two very different artists use two other rooms: Imogen Bone paints in oils, capturing the colours of the Scilly landscape in an impressionist style. She also makes unique jewellery, which is carved from sea washed pot-buoys found on the beaches. Similarly inspired by Scilly, Vickie Heaney makes cards and pictures from lino-cuts, the pictures also being transferred onto mugs and tiles.

Oriel’s daughter, Erica Swain, who has been teaching in Cornwall, decided that the pull of the islands was too strong and has decided to return with her husband Wez. Her skills are in leatherwork, but she wants to pursue several other craft avenues once she has found her feet. In the fourth studio is the new doctor’s wife, Victoria Carter who makes and sells beaded and silver jewellery. Victoria also runs classes for anyone who wants to have a go.

As if this were not enough, customers are invited to visit the upstairs gallery where they can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee whilst perusing a varied selection of Scilly arts and crafts.

Phoenix Craft Workshops and Gallery is quite an adventure, and it is easy to spend several hours wandering from room to room, chatting with the artists and watching them work. The only problem is choosing what to buy, as there is so much beautiful and varied art and craft work on show.

Phoenix Craft Workshops and Gallery, Porthmellon Ind. Est., St Mary’s, IoS