An art group on a mission to showcase the artistic side of Newbiggin are drawing from their experience in a newly-opened exhibition at Woodhorn Museum in Northumberland.
Moving On features the work of local collective KEAP Creative, formerly based in an 11th-century church, which has been working hard to put the town on the artistic map and it’s this that feeds into the mix of paintings, sketches, ceramics and photographs on show.
Eva Hartley, member of of KEAP which derives its name from the initials of its founders, said they started out as a group of friends with the aim of “bringing art to the people of Newbiggin” and boosting its regeneration by laying on an artist trail of attractions to encourage visitors.
They set up studios in the nearby 11th-century St Mary’s Church, commonly known as Woodhorn Church, and Eva’s 20 oil paintings for this new exhibition, the group’s third, are mostly inspired by the three years spent there.
The 59-year-old explains: “We were looking for studio space and asked if the church was available as it had been empty for years although it had been a museum for a while.”
The de-consecrated church, which is in Woodhorn village at the edge of Newbiggin, was owned by Wansbeck District Council, which let them lease it but this ended when ownership transferred to Northumberland County Council.
“It’s a beautiful church and I was really keen to be in there as I’d been baptised in that church,” says Eva.
“We also made sure it was open to the public and every week on a Sunday anybody who was interested in art or who wanted to see the church could come in. A lot of people are interested in its history.”
She says of her work for the exhibition: “I found the imagery in the church quite inspiring and the building itself inspiring.
“It’s meaningful to me and I wanted to work it through my system. I had a very privileged three years in the church and I wanted to record something of how that made me feel and also I want people to come to the exhibition and feel something of the atmosphere for themselves.”
Her husband Pete Seddon, a retired art teacher, has contributed sea-inspired ceramics to the show, including a series of abstract panels inspired by Newbiggin lifeboat, while a mix of work comes from fellow group members Alan and Pip Driver, Alan Vinters, Pamela Shears and Dennis Inglis who all capture the influences and developments in their own lives since their group formed, including time spent in the church. Now they have separate studios. Eva works from the attic of her home: “Doing big paintings is a bit more difficult with not being in church as I can’t stand far enough back!” And Pete has a kiln in their garage for his ceramic work.
The couple used to live in Cheshire but returned to Eva’s hometown on her retirement from her social services job. “I was born by the sea and missed it. When I retired I said ‘we’ve had 25 years of hills, now I want the sea’!”
She adds: “I’m the only member of the group who is not art-trained.
“When Pete was working I was very much involved in the art world but I was a bit nervous and inhibited about doing anything.
“But when I came back here I thought ‘it doesn’t matter, I might as well have a go’ and it became part of my life.” KEAP hit upon the idea of having an artist trail on realising visitors were coming to see Sean Henry’s well-known sculpture Couple at Newbiggin Bay, then immediately leaving. Now, specially-made sculptures linking areas of interest and information about the two-hour trail will be on hand during the exhibition.
One of the group’s three previous group shows was hosted at Woodhorn and this time around visitors are set to be impressed by the range of artistic talent on show, from Alan Vinters’ terracotta hearts, made from years-old rock carving impressions, and Pamela Shears’ popular floral studies to photographs by Dennis Inglis, known to many as landlord of The Coble Inn and The Old Ship in Newbiggin, who has been documenting the group’s community work, and life drawing studies by Alan and Pip Driver.
Eva herself has also contributed work inspired by the Lindisfarne Gospels and Fukushima earthquake disaster.
“They’re completely different,” she agrees. “I can only do things which are meaningful and real to me. I can’t just paint a flower. It comes from the heart.”
Moving On runs at Woodhorn until May 11 and Liz Ritson, the museum’s events and exhibitions officer, said: “I am sure visitors will once again enjoy the collection prepared by KEAP.
“We were delighted with the feedback we received last time – fantastic, vibrant, contemporary exhibition – and “I’m sure our audiences this time will be just as excited by the wonderful artwork on display.”