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Special show marks 10th birthday of Tamar Valley artists' group

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 26, 2013

  • Nicola Crabb with her blown-glass sculptures inspired by the way fungi overpowers a tree infected by ash dieback disease, at the 10th anniversary show for artists' group Drawn to the Valley Pictures: Emily Whifield-Wicks

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With its views from Cornwall across the river estuary towards Plymouth, historic Mount Edgcumbe makes a fitting place for a show by artists who live and work on both sides of the Tamar Valley.

The Drawn to the Valley group – a support group for artists working away throughout the valley from its source near Bude all the way to the sea – are marking their tenth birthday with an exhibition at the stately home's Barrow Centre, which runs until tomorrow afternoon.

On display, with many pieces available for purchase, is work by past, present and future members. With space limited, the exhibition has been carefully curated to give an overview of work by past, present and future members.

Professor Andrew Brewerton, principal of Plymouth College of Art, is among the curators who made the selection of work in wood, metal, textiles, jewellery, paint, print, ceramics and mixed media.

Textile artist Tessa Jane, who lives and works at Bere Alston, further upriver on the Devon side, is among members with work on display.

She draws on her beautiful surroundings to create abstract work mingling light, colour and texture, with a shimmering beauty which often suggests the foliage at the edge of the river.

In the Mount Edgcumbe show, she is showing off the intricacy of one of her fabrics as the upholstery on an antique chair she rescued from being thrown away.

"We have got an amazing history in this area, and a diverse landscape – beautiful woodland, marshes and moors – and the group reflects that diversity in the artwork we produce," she says.

"My work is called 'making tracks', it is about how people have literally dug their way out of the ground through market gardening and mining in the valley."

The group, founded in the wake of the foot and mouth crisis to encourage visitors in the valley, is still going strong, with 150 members.

"We had our best-ever open studios event this year, with 101 artists taking part," adds Tessa. "There are these little pockets of artists all over the valley, and Drawn to the Valley connects these people together and gives them a network of support, because as an artist working from home you can feel very isolated."

The show, the finale in a year of events held to mark the group's tenth birthday, has been made possible by local sponsors Charles Steevenson Wines, Deltor, Heard's Design Partnership, Moorland Garden Hotel and the Tamar Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) partnership.

"We sought support from other companies so that the artists had an opportunity to exhibit without it costing them anything, as a kind of birthday present," says Tessa.

One of the "future" members showing work is glass artist Amy Whittingham, of Plymouth, whose glass kiln-fired skulls are adding a certain punk-chic to the historic surroundings.

Amy, who teaches experimental glass at Plymouth College of Art, is also showing a wax skull, with a pewter dagger, a maquette of the hollow glass skull she plans to cast in a kiln.

"That one is still a work in progress," she says. "It is going to be a perfume bottle, with the dagger as the stopper, and you'll use the dagger to apply the perfume to your wrist!"

Amy decided to join Drawn to the Valley after meeting fellow artists at the group's open studios event earlier this year.

"I think for me getting to see other artists and their work has been really inspiring," she says.

Melanie Guy, of Stoke Climsland on the Cornish side of the Tamar, sculpts in the soft metal pewter. Winner of the Patricia and Alexander Neish Award at the annual Pewter Live event in London in 2011, Melanie is a longstanding member of Drawn to the Valley. She is showing an early pewter sculpture inspired by the river, called Slump.

"The exhibition is called 'past, present and future' and this is the first piece of mine that became a sculpture back in 2006," she says.

"Slump is to do with the banks of the river. All my sculpture is about rivers and the sea.

"I spend a lot of time on the river because I go rowing with the Cotehele club, so the river is a great influence.

"The valley is very precious, it is so unique and it is not overcrowded like other areas. With the outlook to the sea and all the tributaries, like the Lynher, there are so many opportunities to find different characteristics within it."

Glass artist Nicola Crabb, who learned her craft at Plymouth College of Art, took up a challenge from Drawn to the Valley artist Nick Viney of Yelverton, to create multi-layered blown glass sculptures, inspired by the theme of ash dieback, and the way the fungus kills ash tress from the inside. The final work of her project, called Inside, can be seen in the Mount Edgcumbe exhibition.

"I build up the layers of different glass and then I twist the colours together, and the twists represent the fungus," she says.

As a newish graduate, she enjoys support the group offers to artists trying to get established.

"They organise events like this one, and artists' walks and drawing days, where you can go and meet people. That's how I met Nick, and she asked me if I would do a project reacting to the ash dieback."

Painter Richard Sunderland has taught at Devonport High School for Girls for 35 years, but as far as Drawn to the Valley is concerned, he's a newcomer, having joined in the past year.

"I consider myself an up-and-coming artist because even though I'm quite old, I'm still developing my own style," he says. His atmospheric paintings of Plymouth are the result of early morning and evening walks through the back streets, recreating what he sees in monochrome studies in paint and ink.

"In the exhibition I'm showing three of my more dramatic street scenes and some of my abstract landscapes," he says. "What is interesting to me is how much I see of Dartmoor in them, you get that wildness in the street scene."

He said there was as much a need as ever for the support offered by the Drawn to the Valley group.

"The fact that this year is the 10th anniversary shows that the group has maintained its vibrancy. It is amazing how many artists there are down here."

Drawn to the Valley 10tth Anniversary exhibition: past, present and future can be seen at the Barrow Centre, Mount Edgcumbe, from 11am-3.30pm today and 11am-2pm tomorrow. Visit www.drawntothevalley.com.

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