It’s time again for one of my favourite times in the Dorset calendar – Dorset Art Weeks. The county seems to be crammed with painters, sculptors, ceramicists, photographers and artists of all flavours, and the next two weeks are when we, the general public, get a little window on their world.
Officially it’s an ‘open studios’ event, but in reality venues vary from home studios, town centre galleries, pubs, shops, farm buildings, gardens and all sorts of beautiful places you would never usually get to see, with artists exhibiting in every medium possible.
A few years ago I made a minimal effort and made it to two or three venues. All were within a mile and a half of my house, and it was so worth it. I met some lovely people, saw some great work, and discovered some beautiful places. My first stop was Brian Rice & Jacy Wall in Holditch. Brian is a painter, printmaker and sculptor, whilst Jacy works in textiles and print (I’ve suddenly got shy about describing peoples’ work in more detail, as I’m no art critic and I don’t want to do anyone a disservice! You’ll have to visit and find out for yourselves). Their studios are in their fantastically tucked-away farm, overlooking the Axe down towards Forde Abbey, and their warm welcome and generosity in sharing their art makes it a great visit. Just less than half a mile up the road is Amanda Popham, a ceramicist with a very loyal DAW following. Her vessels and sculptures are fascinating, often pulling inspiration from literature and traditional storytelling.
This year, my hit list includes several friends whose work and studios I can’t wait to see in the flesh, including Helen Lloyd-Elliot, a painter, and Bonfield Block-Printers, both based in Thorncombe. Bonfield’s was the old village stores, left empty for years and almost falling down until it was bought and very lovingly and skilfully brought back to life by Cameron Short and Janet Tristram, who now run it as a block-printing studio. I will also make sure I catch Rose Richards at Higher Hewood, who is a first-timer, and if I do that, it makes sense to pop into Lower Hewood Farm next door, as they have a group show – you can see how it builds up!
The beauty of Dorset Art Weeks is that it really is everywhere – if you look out for the little red & yellow signs, you never know where you could end up. You could make a whole day of it, especially as many of the venues are also cafes and pubs, or simply pop in somewhere when you’re passing. Opening times vary so check the website for details, and many offer refreshments, or are hosting additional events, so do check the map or listing to see what’s on offer.
DAW is very important for the artists – by opening their studios and homes they can appeal to a whole new cross-section of people, who may never otherwise have gone looking for them in a formal gallery setting. Also, although they all create for the love of it, there is also a commercial side to the event. It is a chance for many to sell their art without renting expensive gallery space or bearing heavy expenses, and with prices ranging from thousands of pounds for an original sculpture to under a pound for a post-card, it is a chance for the public to buy something truly unique. Every time you walk past that painting, sculpture, vase or print, you will remember where you found it, the conversations you had, the artists you met and quite possibly the cakes you consumed on the way!
Even if you only manage one venue, I implore you to try to find time to get out and have a look this year. We are surrounded by such clever, creative people, it’s a treat to be able to get out and see what they all get up to, tucked away in their beautiful little nooks & crannies of Dorset.