This month sees the launch of a new Arts and Crafts Trail in Dersingham, which seems to be a veritable magnet for local artistic talent. Bel Greenwood talks to the people behind the idea
Dersingham is a vibrant village. It sits in the lee of the Sandringham Estate nine miles from King’s Lynn with its own sculpture trail already testimony to local vision and skill. Its houses built of dark carrstone line up with gardens flush with colour. Beyond the village, the roads are stitched into the landscape like grey ribbons and woodland, heath and sky draw the eye. Gilded by the sun, it’s a warm, friendly, open place and full of a surprisingly large number of professional artists and craft workers.
For the first time this June, a group of Dersingham Artists are creating an Arts and Crafts Trail around the village. It forms part of Norfolk Open Studios, where participating artists throw open the doors to their studios and homes and let people come in to see a huge diversity of work for free.
For organiser Stephen Martyn – who paints haunting, atmospheric watercolour landscapes – it’s an opportunity to get Dersingham on the arts map of the region.
“I hope in the future that Dersingham, like Castle Acre will become very much a centre for the creative arts,” he says.
Part of the arts trail experience is the excitement of being able to watch artists at work, to be inside a studio with the creative atmosphere and energies of the individual artists and their art forms. There’s nothing quite like coming across works in progress, seeing something taking shape or an incomplete canvas with the beginnings of its completed self. There’s nothing like being surrounded by the tools, smells and textures of painting, textiles, sculpture or pottery. It brings arts and crafts to life.
In Stephen Martyn’s wooden studio in his garden there are carefully spaced paintings and a plethora of prints. The melancholy of Morston Quay is captured along with deep, dark skies over deserted scenes. His work includes an expansive watercolour of a single view in a triptych of surfaces – it’s a finely captured landscape and unusual to see watercolours executed on such a scale.
Down the road and round the corner is photographer Jo Halpin Jones. Her photographic world starts at her front door. Don’t miss anything! The walls of her hall are covered in an eclectic collection of strongly-defined and beautifully-captured images. On the left is a lion taken while travelling with her husband in South Africa, on another a striking colour print capturing the sea and sky of the Norfolk coast.
Her work is exciting in its range of place, colour and tone. It is transformative in that it captures the patterns of the natural world, plays on the shade and light of a scene or captures a symbolic figure. Always there is colour, diffuse and delicate or strong and dramatic.
“I just have my eyes open,” she says. “Everything comes together. It’s about light and shade, colours, patterns. It’s sometimes quirky, occasionally symbolic and colour, colour, colour.”
It also charts journeys. There are photographs taken from countries all over the world from Morocco to Iceland with a restless camera like a questing eye.
Cross the village and enter the gallery shop of Potter and Dibble. It has a large, open shop interior with high ceiling and workshop space at the back. It’s full of beautiful, handmade crafted objects and art, but the shop does more than display product and sell. It also runs workshops in a range of crafts, from dry felt-making to lino cut printing which draws in a community of artists with work to sell and the local community to share in the pleasures and challenges of making.
Six of the area’s local artists and crafts professionals will have their work on show. Angela Le Strange Meakin (who owns the shop) is dividing the space in two for the period so all the artists’ work can be seen easily. Potter and Dibble is opening for seven days a week during the Open Studios period.
“The wonderful thing is that I don’t have to look far for my suppliers,” says Angela. “There are 30-40 artists here and a big, strong weaving community.”
It’s a welcoming place to browse.
“People love coming in and having a rummage,” Angela adds. “More than 80-90% of everything in the shop is British-made and about 60% of that is East Anglian. I have such a better relationship, for example I go to Swaffham to pick up some pottery, when I’m selling that pottery I’ve seen the studio and know the artist.”
It gives the opportunity for flexibility in ordering and making.
As Angela is quick to point out, the participating artists are all “amazingly talented” – they include the woven textiles of Heather Wells, soft, muted colours in a beautiful-patterned weave who lives a step away.
The paintings and prints of Wendy Long are also on show, close-up detailed evocations of the natural world, including a number of prints featuring sheep.
Rachel Simpson’s silver jewellery and Mark Jordan’s wood turning feature alongside the pretty, vintage-styled country character of Carolyn Coe’s pottery.
Jean Mulligan is an artist whose practice spans dry felt-making to wood carving. She did a fine art course in Newcastle which was fantastically unstructured and gave her the freedom to experiment. Her inspiration is the seasons, the seduction of seeing and looking.
“Most art needs to be seen and shared,” says Jean. “It makes life more enjoyable.”
In the exhibition in the shop gallery, she’s showing her felt-making work – textured landscapes of coast and country – but she also carves wood and loves the physicality of her work.
“We know the interest is out there,’ continues Angela Le Strange Meakin.
“It’s making art accessible. An awful lot of people think it’s either expensive or they’re not going to ‘get it.’ What we’re about here is showing someone that this is hand-crafted and not mass-produced, but still the same price as high street prices or less.”
Jean Mulligan is looking forward to the opening of the trail – not only because people can share in their work but because it brings other artists out too, and in Dersingham that’s really quite a number.