Shed Stories #2 ‘Rosehip November’

November is traditionally one of my busiest months of the year and I’m sure it will be the case for many craftspeople, artists and galleries caught up in the maelstrom that is the run up to Christmas.

For many years I was fortunate to be selected to exhibit at the prestigious, Hereford Contemporary Craft fair, which was a wonderful event full of high caliber makers of all variety of crafts. (Like so many arts’ events it has sadly fallen by the wayside.)

Contemporary craft fair 2005

Doing a fair or exhibition where you are standing by your work for several days, constantly meeting people and talking about your work, needing to sell enough to cover costs, and hoping to actually make some money, is probably one of the most challenging and exhausting things you will do as a craftsperson or artist, or anyone selling their wares.

Not only is the event itself exhausting but you will most likely be setting up when you are already completely wrung out from weeks of making and building up stock. When exhibiting at a fair, one must always have enough work to make your stand look great even as pieces sell and are taken away. This was an incredible challenge as I was always exhibiting at galleries so had a fairly set amount of weeks to create a considerable body of work.

Contemporary craft fair 2012

This was where Mike and I had managed to dovetail in our two peculiar careers. He ran his greenwood chair making courses from early May until late September, during which time I had pretty much full responsibility for everything else; the children, (all school related stuff and any out of school activities), the shopping, cooking, washing, pets, dog walking, gardening, family, holidays etc. Housework never stood a chance!!

Then when Mike was ‘back from the woods’ he would take over the shopping and cooking and we’d share responsibility for everything else (we pared it right down!) except dog walking which has always been important for me to maintain my sanity.

Chair course June 2008

At this point I would be working flat out in my workshop doing 10-12 hour days 7 days a week in the run up to the Contemporay craft fair. Friends and wider family fell by the wayside and I holed up in my workshop making, making, making. Yes, it was stressful and hard work just as working to any deadline is, but I also loved it to a point. For years I didn’t have a mobile phone. I just went up the garden into my workshop and cut myself adrift and sailed off into my world. And once the hour changed it would be dark early and there is a certain peacefulness that the dark brings.

Workshop, full moon

And while the kids were at school it was useful to have a set routine for the year but as their lives began to take off in other directions I found that I didn’t have the same drive to undertake the same exhibitions and shows. Our daughter, Nettie left for uni and then our son Dougal, and I think this second departure
coincided with us paying off our mortgage and, finally, a time when we weren’t scratting about for every last penny in order to eat well and live the life we wanted. (Not that we have ever been all about money but lack of it certainly leads to stress and anxiety.)

I don’t often have that level of focus now and certainly don’t have the stamina and energy required to sustain that level of work. I miss the Hereford Contemporary Craft Fair but it’s important as a self-employed creative person to do what you can to keep things fresh and ring the changes. This year has been very different for me. Because of other non-work commitments that suddenly reared up and took precedence, I have spent very little time in my workshop this November. My two remaining galleries, Old Chapel, Pembridge and Seven Fables, Dulverton, have been very understanding. We are friends of old now and have wonderful relationships. Never stay with a gallery that you can’t get on with however prestigious it might be. Personal relationships are so important.

So, for the first time in about twenty years, I have discovered that the month of November is not just a few weeks wedged between Halloween and the deepest depths of winter.

In between my duties and work I have been out and about absorbing the full effect of this berated and under rated month. This year it has been a month bursting with childish moods; one moment all glowering dark clouds, the next we are bathed in the full, golden glory of the sun’s rays, and of course, rainbows aplenty. Sometimes it feels as if days on end are nothing but repetitive grey skies, dullness, flattened horizons, and then for a couple of hours the sun breaks through the clouds and suddenly the gentle subtle landscape of duns and browns is lit up with the scarlet and crimson gleam of berries, the flaming copper of oak leaves, the pale glow of seed heads. The whole landscape is like a beautiful cloth to be worn, to be wrapped around oneself on a frosty morning.

Strange Beauty

And if colour weren’t enough to inspire a person, everywhere are the forms of things; the striking structures of trees, each now exposing its character, its lineage. On the hills the woods and coppice look like soft upturned brushes against the wintry skies, and the paintings of Ravilious and John Nash are brought to mind. My eyes devour it with my own awe but also the love of these artists who captured so perfectly the sense of the British landscape. Through them I feel a past and connection that I wasn’t here to witness but which anchors me further in to this landscape.

The view from the hill

I walk very locally, straight from the door. I welcome the fieldfares back. I watch for the hare, the fox, the roe deer, the piggy-like muntjac, the jays and the ravens. We sometimes host red kites but mostly the buzzards still rule the hill and the tawny owls call at night outside our window.

The beauty and the beast of winter is the dark. It is so special to watch the sunset and feel the light gain power in the mornings. And winter is so good for the moon and stars. They are there up and at us before teatime. No wonder it is a time of wonder and magic.
Our ancestors would have been absorbed in these rhythms. They wouldn’t have been aware of larger events outside of the local area but today we are submerged in world events, horrors and tragedies. We count our blessings for the moody greyness of our surroundings, the lack of drama, the dullness of the quietude. But we cannot turn away. We feel guilt in our inaction but helpless at the same time. There are petitions to sign and charities to send money to but still it does not seem enough.
I was therefore grateful when my great friend, inspiration and colleague Jackie Morris asked me if I could contribute something to her fundraiser for MSF-Medecine Sans Frontieres or Doctors Without Borders. I leapt at the idea. Both to help an incredibly important cause but also to get back into my somewhat neglected workshop. I managed to make three pieces. Two small ones were sold, along with a print, through Jackie’s website and raised £550. Then, with the help of my son Dougal, I ran a raffle for the remaining piece of stained glass and we raised over a £1000 in donations to MSF for that. So a good week’s work!

Tiny Dove of Hope

I also managed to finish off several pieces of work for Old Chapel Gallery who have been waiting since the beginning of November, so if you can make it over to Herefordshire the gallery won’t disappoint you. It is a treasure trove of beautiful things made by British artists and craftspeople.

Work for Old Chapel Gallery

And of course, now as we move into December some of us will be filled with that childlike wonder that heralds the Winter Solstice, Christmas or Yule. It is that moment when the earth draws breath, the hiatus at the turning of the year and the return of the light.

For me (like many) I shall also be rereading Susan Cooper’s book, ‘The Dark is Rising’ and perhaps listening to the Radio 4 adaptation (available on BBC Sounds). This year we will be releasing my print ‘When the Dark is Rising’ for a limited time – just during the month of December. I made the main part of the panel this time last year but this autumn Robert Macfarlane inspired me to finish the panel and give it as a gift to the author herself, Susan Cooper. Robert was kind enough to oversee the handover and take some photos, and Susan was delighted. I wanted to thank her for creating her stories, which have been such a powerful influence in my life, and it was a rare opportunity to do this.

Susan Cooper opening my stained glass

I hope you all have a cosy and enchanting month ahead and embrace the weather in all its guises. It is true, there is no light without the dark and we only appreciate the warmth when we have been out in the cold.

The evening sun