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IMG_7950Most of us, I suspect, do not think of ourselves necessarily as “community artists”. We work in our communities, yes, but we pursue our artistic endeavours and objectives in a somewhat separate sphere. We paint, we sculpt, we draw; we put things on show in local art galleries, take part in local art shows and post stuff online; we go to local art meetings and go with friends to exhibitions; we may offer paid-for workshops, or run courses – but too few of us go much further outside that well-defined circuit of professional practice.

This is a real shame. Artists and other creatively-minded people are an important and valuable resource for the wider community. Many of us say we are “too busy”, or “not experienced enough” to do “community art”. Yet, over the past few years, I have discovered that it takes very little either time or experience for professional artists make a huge difference to the creative life of a small community.

The Hillfort Creativity Group – which includes a number of long-term members of Inside Out – has recently started doing creative activity sessions at Oswestry Library. We spend three hours once a month at the Library, making and creating with kids and their parents – gluing, painting, drawing, colouring-in. The kids absolutely love it – as do the parents. For some of the kids, this is the first time they have ever done anything like this before – and you can see it sparking their imaginations and opening up a whole new world of possibilities for them.

All of us leading these activities are professional, practicing artists, exactly the sort of artists who usually say they are “too busy” or “not experienced enough” to do this kind of community art work. But you know what? It turns out we’re not too busy, and we are experienced enough. We all – every one of us who paints, draws, photographs or sculpts – have what it takes: every professional and practicing fine and applied artist has the creativity required to help out with sessions like these.

In a time when arts provision is rapidly vanishing from schools and from the landscape of childhood, the failure of professional artists to support community art by not getting involved is very close to being the final nail in the coffin of creativity in this country. As artists, as creatively-minded people, we have a responsibility to ensure that “art” and “creativity” are supported and valued in our communities at the most basic, grass-roots level. In fact, it’s more serious than that: if we don’t, then it’s clear no one else will.

I realise now that if I’m being an artist and not also giving back to the community, then I’m being selfish: I’m part of the problem, not part of the solution. This is why I’m now actively helping out with these Oswestry Library sessions, and it’s why I’m trying to convince as many other artists I know to do the same. So you’ve never done anything like this before? Don’t worry about it: it’s not difficult, the kids are lovely, and you’ll have an immensely rewarding time.

Lots of things are in danger of going extinct these days – let’s not sit back and let creativity be one of them.


You can volunteer at the Hillfort Creativity Group “Creative Saturdays” at Oswestry Library just by dropping-in and helping out. Check out the HCG Facebook page for dates and times, or contact us here via a comment.

Sven Evans: Cyanotypes

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Haunting – evocative – otherworldly – extraordinary. 

If you see one photography exhibition this winter – see this one: Sven Evans’ exhibition of cyanotypes up in The Heritage Gallery in Oswestry this month. Cyanotypes were developed by the astronomer Sir John Herschel in 1842, and are a way of producing blue – cyan – coloured photographs, using the sun to create the exposure. The photographs are really extraordinary – both soft and crisp at the same time, unearthly and haunting.

This is a remarkable exhibition: the images themselves are exquisite – landscapes, flowers, ships, views of Brittany – rendered ghostly and not-quite-real by the cyanotype process. But the photographs are remarkable also for their technical accomplishment: Sven has revived an 180-year-old process, giving us an extraordinary insight into the artisanal skills and specialist knowledge of real photography.

These are photographs worth seeing – photographs as artefacts, not just pretty pictures on social media. Do yourself a favour when you’re in town for your Christmas shopping: stop by the Heritage Gallery and see the exhibition for yourself.

Sven Evans/Blue Moon Photography: Cyanotypes. Heritage Gallery, Oswestry – through December

Shropshire Libraries Consultation

Over the years, all of the art groups in Oswestry have made good use of Oswestry Library. The Hillfort Creativity Group, the Inside Out art group, BVA, OsMakes – all of us (and more) have benefitted from the Library’s open and supportive attitude towards local artists.

Shropshire Libraries is now carrying out a consultation about the future of all libraries in Shropshire. This is about money, of course – saving it: cutting library funding yet again because it’s seen as a soft target.

But this consultation is a chance for all of us community artists to make our voices heard and say how important the library is for us and our work. Take the online survey and let Shropshire Council know YOU feel about Oswestry Library.

Claire final touches

Hopefully everyone has seen the posters for our two exhibitions – at Oswestry Library and at Qube – up on Facebook and around town.

You are all cordially invited to an “Open Evening” at our Qube exhibition. This will be an opportunity for us all to have a look at what the various members of the group have been working on, creatively speaking. It will be an informal evening, and everyone – group members, friends, family, rival artists and curious passers-by – is welcome.

The Open Evening will be at Qube – Oswestry Community Arts, onThursday Oct. 10th at 6:30. Refreshments will be served!

HCG Qube Oct 2019 poster

Creativity Group in the ‘Tizer

HCG_HOD_1A nice set of photographs and a writeup in this week’s Advertizer on the Hillfort Creativity Group and our contribution to Heritage Open Days. Good work, everyone!

 

A big thank you to everyone who helped make our Heritage Open Days events such a success! We had a lot of families come through the Library to take part in our activities, and a lot of happy faces as a result. Indeed, the event was so successful that we’re thinking of doing something like this more regularly – watch this space! Thanks to Diana for the above photographs – we should also be in the Advertizer this week, too.

And for those of you visiting the Library this week and next, the results of Dzintra’s weaving activity, along with even more examples of historical weaving, are up on display at the moment. Do go and have a look – and yes: she was wearing that iron age dress on Saturday. (And Dorothy was wearing her iron age trousers, too, but I’m not sure whether anyone caught that on camera!)

The hillfort mindfulness walk on Sunday was also a great success, despite the wet and windy weather. We’re putting that walk together as a small booklet, which will be part of our upcoming exhibition at Oswestry Library next month. In addition to the walk itself, the booklet will also include new illustrations, including linocuts of the hillfort done by Designs in Mind artists.

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“Old Oswestry Hillfort” linocut by Kevin Gibson, 2019

 

Just a reminder to everyone that the Hillfort Creativity Group will be meeting this Wednesday, July 31st at 11am in the Oswestry Library Meeting Room. We’ll be focusing on the hillfort-related art activities we’re going to run for Heritage Open Days in September. We’ll be talking table-space, time slots and equipment, plus discussing any contribution we can make to related HOD activity ideas, such as the Designs in Mind “Mindfulness Walk” around the hillfort. Dzintra is also going to use us as guinea pigs for her historical weaving activity which she’ll be doing at the Library during the HOD weekend. I’m not sure of the details, but we’ll get to try various traditional and historical weaving techniques. I also think Dorothy may be bringing in some fired results from our flatback session last month. Plus, we may have an opportunity to hear some hillfort-related poetry while we work – or, if not, a reading from a recent Oswestry-related historical novel about Saint Oswald.

See you there!

The Hillfort works in the Willow Gallery Nature Exhibition July 2019

Beautifully displayed works in the Willow Gallery

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A Staffordshire flatback commemorating the Death of Nelson (c. 1835-1875)

Another excellent meeting yesterday in the Dunbabin Room at The Willow Gallery. We kicked off with some organisational stuff about the upcoming Oswestry Nature Festival exhibition at the Willow. We have the whole of the wall by the rear entrance (opposite the kitchen door and loos) for the duration of the exhibition, and will be hanging it “salon style” (ie: works as close as possible) so as to maximise our presence.

 

Because we will be using the wall (and only that one wall), knowing what we have to exhibit is crucial. Please send Debbie your application forms and measurements of the piece(s) you wish to enter into the exhibition this week. We will be drawing up a plan of the wall to give to Anthony as a guide to hanging, but we must know sizes of pieces in order to do this. All work must be delivered to The Willow Gallery by June 29th at the latest in order to be included. You must have completed your Willow Gallery artists’ statement and application form (copies available from Debbie if you do not already have one), and attach a luggage-style label to the back of your work(s) with your name and title of the work. There will be Old Oswestry Hillfort Creativity Group stickers with Anthony behind the main desk at The Willow in a marked envelope. When you drop off your work(s), stick one of these stickers onto the luggage label with your name/title on it; this will ensure it gets hung in the right place (John will be delivering these stickers to The Willow from next Wed., so if you deliver your work before then, stickers won’t be available, but let me know you’ve done so and I will find your work and stick a sticker for you next Wed.).

We then had a quick discussion – that turned into quite a brainstorming session – about the Heritage Open Days Events in Oswestry Library in September. This event replaces the originally-proposed exhibition idea in Oswestry Market during HOD. Instead, we are now going to run a series of creative activities at tables throughout Oswestry Library on Saturday September 14th, between 10am-2pm as part of Heritage Open Days. From our discussion, the following activities were suggested:

Diana – papier mache hillforts

Rob – drawing iron age tools

Dzintra – historical weaving

Dorothy – bronze and iron age pot-making

John – drawing and colouring: hillforts/etc.

We will also have something about butterflies, moths and other insects on the hillfort, making use of work Dzintra has already done, plus things that Diana has from a previous workshop. More activities would be welcome, so if anyone has any ideas, bring them along to the next meeting. Something word-related would be good – Dave/Penny/or any of our other word-smiths: poetry/creative writing/…etc? If we have more activities than the Library has room for, we shall use that happy occasion to approach Mark Hignett at the Museum and see if we can use the Courtroom for overspill. We can talk more about that next meeting.

Enough talking – time for making! Dorothy kindly brought along clay and some photographs and a book on Staffordshire “flatbacks” – mantlepiece ceramics which were popular eighteenth and nineteenth century decorative/commemorative items. We all had a go making flatback trees, based on the examples she brought. Although we only had 45 minutes to play, even those of us who had never worked with clay before made great progress! Dorothy has kindly offered to fire and glaze our finished pieces, so sometime before next Friday, take them to the Library and put them on the windowsill above the BVA display area (with newspaper, poo bag and a bit of bubble wrap if you have it) and she will collect them and complete them. And if you’re interested – and I think a lot of us were – Dorothy has offered to do a much longer clay workshop, perhaps half-a-day? (Dorothy hasn’t confirmed this yet, so don’t quote me!). Get in touch if you’re interested and we’ll start making some arrangements. We’ll need to find a room (although the Dunbabin worked well, I thought), and work out a time, so nothing has been set in stone (or clay, ha-ha) yet. 

Discussion both during and after the session touched on the idea of commemoration and memorialisation. I’m interested in the idea that “craft art” objects like flatbacks can actually sometimes do a better job of bringing commemoration of places and events into the home than “fine art” objects. Think about all the tourist souvenirs people have in their homes that commemorate visits to important or significant places. I’ve got plenty of “real” art and “real” craft from around the world at home, but I’ve also got a resin replica of the Romulus/Remus/Wolf mother statue I bought in Rome on my desk, which probably does more to make me say “Ah, Rome – I should go back there some day” than any other Rome-related art object or book I have. It made me think about snowglobes, picture-frames, fridge magnets and other kinds of tourist tat: do they do a better job of connecting people to historical places than “fine” or “high” art reminders? Perhaps what Old Oswestry actually needs are Old Oswestry snowglobes, fridge magnets and other forms of modern-day “flatbacks”?

Anyway, we can fight about that at a later date! Speaking of which, we didn’t set a date or location for our next meeting. July is a bit complicated for a number of people, but so far we’re looking at the very last Wed in the month – the 31st – as a possibility. Get in touch with myself or Debbie to let us know if this might suit, and we’ll fix a date and be back in touch within the next week or so.

Dragonflies at The Willow

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Dzintra’s next workshop at The Willow Gallery in Oswestry is coming up at the end of this month. It’s a creative, drop-in session between 11-2pm, so stay for as long as you want. Great for kids – but parents need to stay and supervise. And if you’re wondering how this connects to the Hillfort, check out the most recent BioBlitz report from Turnstone Ecology detailing the extraordinary range of species the hillfort supports. There are plans for English Heritage and Turnstone Ecology to work with the Hillfort community group to do another full-scale evaluation report in eighteen months’ time, but anyone interested in the ecology of the site should get in touch with the community team via Facebook and find out about art and creativity can contribute towards interim recording projects (like Graham Mitchell’s “Hillfort Watch“).

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