March 23rd, 2016

Knife Making in the Alde Valley

Two years ago The Artists and Bronze Casters of Butley Mills Studios brought a mobile foundry to White House Farm for the 2014 Alde Valley Spring Festival. Watching glowing liquid bronze being poured into moulds in the back farmyard prompted the question of whether bronze casting had ever taken place before in the local landscape, many centuries ago. We found some supposedly bronze age soot / scorch marks in subsoil on the farm a few years ago, so it is a possibility.

Knife making is another ancient craft and it has been very exciting to be able to create a new forge at the farm for Tobias Ford. He has launched into knife making alongside his main practice as a sculptor. The first designs for kitchen knives were impressive, combining comfort and balance with strong blades and finely crafted handles.

Working with Tobias, the Spring Festival has commissioned a set of bespoke “Great Glemham” GG kitchen knives. Tobias will also be selling his own designs during the Spring Festival.

For more information about his knives, please email the office : enquiries@aldevalleyspringfestival.co.uk .

March 23rd, 2016

A Family of Ball Back Side Chairs

There must have been some collective name in Suffolk dialect for a large set of matching Ball Back chairs. One of the curiosities about the Spring Festival’s Suffolk Chair Collection is that there are no makers’ marks on any of the chairs. Another is that there seem to be very few surviving sets of matching chairs. Ball Backs appear at auctions and in antique shops in ones and twos; very occasionally a set of 3 or 4 matching chairs may appear; and once every few years locally a set of 5 or 6.

Were the ones and twos once part of larger sets of chairs ? If so, what has happened to all the others ? Have they been split off, to become single chairs elsewhere ? Or have many chairs been discarded or thrown away after a major breaks in legs or a cracked seats [a common condition in Ball Backs] ?

In the absence of large sets of matching original Ball Backs surviving from the 19th C, it has been very exciting to see a commission for 14 new Ball Back side chairs come to a close with all the chairs completed and delivered.

The aim of The Suffolk Chair Collection is to celebrate and promote the chair making heritage of East Suffolk. It does this in threes ways :

1. by offering a re-editioning service whereby clients can create their own unique design of Ball Back by blending design features from the archive collection of original 19th C chairs;

2. by promoting and selling contemporary chairs made by selected Suffolk chairmakers;]

3.  by commissioning new Festival Chairs each year when the company’s finances allow it.

The recent commission for 14 chairs used a design that integrated  details from three or four different 19th C original chairs. They were made by Jim Parsons using Suffolk elmwood. It may be the largest collection of matching Ball Backs to have been made in the county for several decades.

 

March 22nd, 2016

Heritage Skills in the Alde Valley and East Suffolk

In the autumn of 2015 the farm launched a series of small pop up studios in association with Suffolk Heritage Skills – a consortium of local artisans and makers who specialise in traditional heritage skills : green oak framing; sign writing; stained glass work; chair making.

For Spring 2016 the farm and Spring Festival are hosting a collection of Pop Up Open Studios during the Festival’s four week season in some of the old buildings in the farmyard. Recipients of Studio residencies for 2016 include :

* Jim Parsons [chairmaker];

* Owen McClatchey [cabinet maker / joiner];

* J0nny Briggs [green oak timber framer];

* Raymond Hopkins [bench, table and stool maker];

* Otis Luxton [guitar maker];

* Tobias Ford [knifemaker];

* Stewart Goldie-Morrison [chair and stickmaker];

* Dan Hussey [chairmaker];

* Nienke Jongsma [designer and bag maker].

All the Pop Up Studios will be open from 10am – 6pm at weekends during the Spring Festival. The idea is to offer visitors a glimpse of how these different crafts and heritage skills are useful today – both as professions and pastimes. All the participating makers will have work for sale, either in the Festival Exhibition or Festival Shop.

March 22nd, 2016

Tourist in Transit

The Tourist” by Craig Hudson was the key exhibit in the first Summer Show last year. The aim of this project is to highlight the work of up-and-coming artists from East Anglia. Each year a selected artist is offered a curated solo show in June to promote their work to a wider audience.

The Tourist” was Craig’s largest sculpture to date. A plaster version was exhibited in the inaugural Summer Show in 2015. It found a new home at a beautiful apartment in London and was delivered during the winter. New works by Craig Hudson are on the way to the farm for this year’s Spring Festival Exhibition – including a Neptune, Stride, Tobias, Look at Me Now, Sink or Swim I,II,III and Surely It’s not that Bad.

March 22nd, 2016

The Eye of Achilles ~ Echoes of Suffolk Punches in the Land

In the late nineteenth century there were several tens of thousands of Suffolk Punch horses in the county. They worked the land and carried crops. It is probably no exaggeration to say that they trod almost every acre of productive farmland in Suffolk, and helped make the land what it is today. We owe these animals such a lot: but so few remain.

Many Suffolk farms still bear the signs of horses. Some old stables still have harness posts jutting out of walls; others may have hay racks and chewed mangers tucked into the quiet corners of shady rooms; in a few, rotting collars and harness hang from hooks and posts. Huge rust-encrusted horseshoes occasionally turn up in ploughed fields and on some farms; and on others, the names of the last Punches to work the land or haul the carts are still remembered, like the denominations of a redundant currency.

The fact that we measure the power of internal combustion engines in ‘horsepower’ reveals the full extent of our previous dependence of horses in our daily lives – and their contribution to our development. “The Eye of Achilles” is an ongoing project that integrates the practice of drawing living Suffolk Punches at Hollesley [the home of The Suffolk Punch Trust] with local oral history.

March 22nd, 2016

Return to the Howgills ~ Jan 2016

I returned to the Howgills in late December 2015 to stay for 2 weeks in Kelleth. This was to spend some quiet time on Spring Festival planning and to embark upon a longer period of drawing. My focus was the northern flanks of the fells, running from Harter Fell, Knoutberry, the Knott and Greenbell round to Weasdale, Hooksey and Bowderdale. I preferred to draw in the rain and also at dusk. Rain softens the paper and adds ‘bite’ to the graphite, allowing marks to both spill around and penetrate the surface of the paper to produce an etched or lithographic effect. Drawing at dusk as the light falls can be a fascinating time of day to be outside: as detail fades away, the landscape becomes softer, reduced to silhouettes and shadowy forms. It was also cold, which can help add to concentration – as ones fingers become numb, the marks have to become stronger and more strident.

The appearance of the fells from a distance – from across the Lune Valley – was often dramatic. At times the tops were shrouded in shifting mists and clouds. When there was sunlight above, the boundary of the mist sometimes  seemed illuminated from within – it was as though the hidden volumes of water vapour somehow held on to light within themselves, dropping it on to the hillsides.

On the last afternoon of the last day of drawing something at last shifted and I made some sketches of Harter Fell that seemed both loose and light – the paper wetted with water from a small spring that gurgled through rushes along minute, muddy gulleys in the soggy peat.

March 22nd, 2016

Drawing in the Howgills

The Howgill Fells are tucked between the Lake District and North Penines. One of the most beautiful approaches to them is from Richmond through Swaledale and over the top of the moors beside Nine Standards Rigg – making sure to stop at Muker to visit the Swaledale Woollens shop and the adjacent pub.

The rivers and valleys that frame the Howgills have striking names : the rivers Eden, Rawthey and Lune – and their myriad tributaries – all flow off and around the fells, carving out rivulets, becks and rock-strewn rivers through an otherwise surprisingly soft landscape. Unlike the Lake District, there are very few rocky outcrops. The Howgills themselves rise like a pod of whales out of the surrounding river valleys – soft-backed and silent. They have a grace to them; a quiet beauty that is very much their own.

In October I drove north to join friends, including writers Hugh Thomson and Jasper Winn. They were traversing the north of England from coast to coast with a mule called Jethro, seeking out old bridleways and pack horse routes. Sadly, few survive : the old ways are largely disconnected by new highways and the conversion from bridleway to footpath. But a few do remain. Of these, one of the most striking is a route that straddles the Howgills, almost bisecting the fells between Cautley Spout and Sedbergh to the south and Kelleth to the north.

The photographs show preparations and an afternoon / evening exploration of this ancient packway, moving in from the north side along the sides of Bowderdale. The valley is breathtakingly beautiful, flanked by the steeply curved toes of the surrounding fells : Hooksey and Weasdale, then Green Bell and Randy Gill Top on the east side. Hugh, Jasper and Jethro moved on out of the valley as the light fell, whilst I carried on until dusk to draw the pack route and hills as the final light of the day slipped away – in rapidly lowering clouds and a driving storm from the south west.

April 9th, 2015

Chairs by Jim Parsons

As ever, it is a pleasure to be showing some of Jim Parson’s beautiful chairs in the 2015 Spring Festival Exhibition. We will have two Wenhaston carvers on show together with some Sandling side chairs, a Cransford stool and a Hoo carver – all made by hand using Suffolk ash and oak.

The photographs show a completed Wenhaston and Sandling together with images of Jim at work in his studio – photos taken by Becky Munting.

April 9th, 2015

Painted Furniture & a new Hall Chair

The painted furniture in the 2015 Spring Festival Exhibition takes inspiration from the work of Tessa Newcomb together with early painted chairs and chests from Pennsylvania in New England. There are many intriguing connections between the easter seaboards of north eastern United States and East Anglia – and, in particular, between Suffolk UK and parts of Massachusetts.

Back at home here in the UK, Tessa’s paintings have been part of the Spring Festival and Easter Exhibitions since the latter started in a small cottage in Great Glemham in 2003. They are distinctive and beautiful – full of Suffolk scenes. For 2015 Tessa has been exploring themes of footpaths and “dropping down” in the landscape to observe and watch. The phrase was used by Ronald Blythe in his book of essays “At Helpston” about the Suffolk poet John Clare.

The 2015 Festival Exhibition includes a selection of chairs and other original pieces of furniture painted by Tessa. One is a new prototype Suffolk Hall Chair, based upon the remains of an early 19th century chair brought to the farm by Raymond Hopkins. It carries on the hall chair tradition, using local oak – but with the contemporary addition of painted panels by Tessa – the latter a reference to early painted furniture from New England.

 

April 9th, 2015

Glemham Hedge Chairs

Glemham Hedge Chairs are made at the farm’s workshop by Raymond Hopkins using small sections of oak, ash, hawthorn, elm and yew from hedgerows and woodland growing nearby. Other prototypes have been produced by Jim Parsons. The Glemham Hedge Chairs borrow designs and ways of making chairs from Irish and Welsh chair making traditions. The seats are made with side cuts of oak and elm – often the off-cuts from milling. The legs and spindles are made from ash and yew, while the top rails or arms are constructed from curved lengths of oak, chestnut, yew and other timber. The latter are most easily found in old hedges – hence the name – but also in the old tops of stag-headed oak and chestnut trees. They are made to order. The Spring Festival also commissions a selection of Glemham Hedge Chairs from Raymond each year for the annual Spring Festival Exhibition.

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