My first post of 2020 and my last. . .

Seven years capturing the creative highlights for Somerset Art Works and it is time to step aside. When I took this role on in 2013, I had no idea that I would be ‘resident’ for quite so long! There have been different voices featured on the blog this past year which we hope you have enjoyed, an aspect that is due to continue as I hand over authorship and editorial duties to SAW Festival Coordinator, curator and artist Paul Newman. Paul is of course a familiar face with many of you and this time last year we headed out into the damp woods of Horner to discover what informs and motivates his work. It was a memorable walk and set 2019 on a suitably creative path.

I had thought that my farewell post would be an easy task, one where I could simply select a handful of my favourite projects and most memorable moments, but when I started delving into the seven year archive of writing and photography so many events shone out, all as varied as the rich mix of artists and disciplines that make up the dynamic SAW Festival. So, after losing myself for sometime within this inspiring realm I have selected a few to share here. The first is aptly one of my very first posts, and I have chosen it because I feel it captures a core essence of SAW, one of artists collaborating, of being inspired by a shared love of landscape to create a body of work for Open Studios, inviting the public to view and interact culturally within a rural setting. The venue for this collaboration was Westcott Farm, home of artist Lyn Mowatt whose generosity and enthusiasm are infectious. She invited ten artists to talk, eat, walk and explore the landscape of Westcott and they responded with prints, paintings and installations set within the outbuildings and orchard. It was a delight to be invited on these walks and spend time with all the artists involved. I particularly admired the simplicity of Lucy Lean’s swallows created from Westcott mole hill mud, suspended from the soft worn skeletal beams of Lyn’s barn. We had hoped to re-display it during a more recent Art Weeks but the delicate and transient nature of the medium means that it exists no more. . .

My son accompanied me on many early outings, he is now fourteen and less keen to head out on the road with his Ma. His sheer joy and energy interacting with many of the exhibitions we attended makes me smile and I just adore the vibrancy of him dashing through Leah Hislop’s Labyrinth that she created as part of The Abundance Garden Trail. It was literally a golden September day and is a golden memory.

Colour and vibrancy are certainly key elements within the SAW portfolio, and the most technicolour filled day has to be when I joined thousands of women on the streets of London to mark the centenary of the first Votes for Women. Dorcas Casey is a vibrant, energised artist, the ‘jelly crocodile’ that she created for MUSE: Makers in Museums, was an installation that grabbed your attention, here was something refreshingly unique and invigorating. The banner that Somerset students created for Processions under her guidance was just stunning and so professionally produced, it captured the power and celebration of strong voices, of woman past and present, and it was an honour to march alongside them that June day.

SAW has a strong legacy of working within the community. Beccy Swaine is skilled at building relationships across educational and community groups, drawing arts and non-arts partners together. The Great Crane partnerships enabled the community of The Somerset Levels to actively embrace and take personal pride as this lost bird gradually formed its home once more in their landscape. I love this connection of art, nature and landscape, so infused they become inseparable. It was a damp, muddy evening when I watched the striking images of light created by Sean Harris pulsate into the darkness of the Levels. SAW has a great aptitude at creating surprising events in unexpected locations, where wellies are often a must, this is Somerset after all. However, we know artists can mingle amidst all levels of society and SAW can do glamour too and party shoes can be worn on occasion!

Food often plays a vital role when stimulating memory and two of the most colourful, playful and tantalising meals I have enjoyed were at events organised by SAW. In 2013, as befitting the Abundance theme, artist Tasha Tucker – Vallecillo and chef Damon Palmer created a sustainable feast that was served in the beautiful setting of East Lambrook Manor Gardens, while more recently Forde Abbey hosted SAW’s first Craft Supper, where even the plates were ccommissioned especially for the occasion by ceramicist Christina Vezzini. And then there was the stunning setting of Lytes Carey! Somerset may be thin on the ground when it comes to established, traditional gallery spaces but that has made its community of artists far more versatile and inventive when seeking out suitable venues, and the visual result often more surprising – the fort at Brean Down springs to mind.

I may be stepping to one side but SAW will of course continue to nurture and support Somerset’s artists, providing a valuable network that empowers them to create inspiring events across the county for all to enjoy. Next week I shall be walking and talking with Paul Newman once more and am intrigued to hear what he and the team have planned for SAW as we enter a new decade. I would like to thank all the artists who have welcomed me and my camera to their homes, studios, exhibitions and workshops these past seven years, you all contribute to making Somerset the creative haven and inspiring county that I love – long may it continue as I know I am not alone. Preparations are already underway for this year’s event and if you are considering opening your studio doors this autumn registration is open now until the end of March.


WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY by Davina Jelley

Published on January 17, 2020 // Davina Jelley