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Oxfordshire Artweeks in winter

Festival Director of Oxfordshire Artweeks, Esther Lafferty, on the unique, original and local artwork you can treat yourself to this Christmas
Oxfordshire Artweeks

"When you’ve found something to treasure and carried it home, you add another story of your own."

It’s Christmas shopping season – as the TV rolls out the superstore adverts, delivery men are delivering identikit gifts to home after home across the country.


However, those who value individuality and creativity can avoid the hustle and bustle of the High Street and still contribute to the local economy as they shop for magical Christmas gifts during a gentle afternoon out.

In November and December, artists and designer-makers across Oxfordshire are opening their homes and studios and gathering together to host pop-up exhibitions. There’s a wealth of places to visit and unique creations to discover.

There’s something special about an original piece of art, jewellery, pottery or wood which is truly one of a kind, hand-crafted with a rare imagination and skill – you will never see another just like it.

Elaine Allender


And yet choosing an original needn’t be expensive, and not only does the piece personify the individuality of the artist, your own character shines through in your choice as well.

Furthermore, as well as carrying away a picture or piece that’s captivated you, by buying directly from an artist, you also carry away a trilogy of tales: the story of its inspiration, of its creation, and of how you found it and were charmed by it.

Philip Pullman described local novelist Sara Banerji’s view of the world as “completely original and vivid”, and in her London Place home in East Oxford, her resplendent sculptures are every bit as entrancing. They’re quirky, colourful and bursting with character, each upcycled from old building materials, wood, wire and The Times newspaper. One example of her work is a rotund lady of a certain age, sporting a blue-green top, pink skirt, and jaunty yellow hat, sitting astride a rather chunky horse. Another is a lady of similar girth who typifies a certain Oxford eccentricity; also larger-than-life with her nose in the air, she’s perched on a bike with a sleepy bulldog in the basket, as she enjoys life at a gentle pace.

Visit Iffley painter Elaine Allender and she’ll describe to you her love of the glint of early frost on bare seed heads when the low winter sun catches the stalks exposing a natural architectural beauty.

Learn how she builds up each of her small wintry paintings in layers, starting with a cool sky to which she adds memories of local countryside or craggy Lakeland fells, softened by a blanket of snow. Then in the foreground she uses both ink and paint to suggest the bare stalks of the wildflowers and grasses, these serving as a reminder of summer stories past, be it a walk, picnic, or playful afternoon.

Across the city, Cumnor artist Sue Side enjoys capturing the striking seasonal murmurations or exultations of starlings, as tens of thousands of birds flock together creating balletic spectacles in the sky. “It all started when I listened to Elbow’s ‘Starlings’ and I was intrigued. I had to explore this explosion of drama for myself,” she explains. “I often find autumn inspiration amongst trees and winter woods, and then one day I looked up beyond tree tops and saw them, magical and breathtaking. The starlings just swept into the sky and performed the most complex acrobatic displays with such ease that it left me speechless. That’s why my ink pen comes in handy!

“My murmuration pictures,” the artist continues, ‘are intense, with thousands of individually-drawn birds overlapping one another again and again. This creates depth, pattern and puts the fluidity of the aerial display onto paper and captures the joy of homecoming on darker winter days. From a distance they seem abstract, so you should step right up and look closely at the details and that’s when you really see the pattern, the purpose and togetherness of these starling flocks.”

For something with more colour, a trip to Lisa Marie, a designer goldsmith in North Leigh near Witney, can take you all the way to the Lightening Ridge Opal Mine in Australia, from where she returned with an extraordinary selection of stones containing every colour of the spectrum, like the Australian landscapes themselves: from deepest and clearest blues and iridescent greens, through to golden orange, red and fuchsia; in hues that are both pale and delicate, and dark and brilliant. “Due to its structure,” Lisa says, “opal may contain any combination of an infinite number of patterns and may reveal itself all at once – glorious from all directions – or it may be quiet and surprising, showing its greatest brilliance only during flashes of movement.”

And inspired by the Lot-et-Garonne area of France and its mountain-top villages, Ann Batchelor, who is exhibiting in November with the Artists of Letcombe Regis, creates textile pots with wonderful colours and warmth. Gathering fabrics that catch her eye in the local brocantes and flea markets, she uses rope to create a coiled effect, and a trusty sewing machine with which she always travels. This region is largely undiscovered by tourists but was much travelled by pilgrims between Spain’s Santiago de Compostela and the Vatican in the past. It was also a favourite of Van Gogh who loved the strength of the colours there.

“You can’t help but feel cheerful there,” says Ann, “and that’s the essence I’m capturing in my pots and bowls. This, which I created from a pinky-red French scarf,” she laughs, reaching for one of her newest pieces, a lidded pot, “reminds me of drinking French red wine in the sunshine! For my Christmas creations, I’m adding bells and other decorations.”

When you’ve found something to treasure and carried it home, you add another story of your own. As well as the stories it came with, you’ll also have tale of how this particular piece came to rest in your own home – perfect for a dinner table conversation.

“It was a dark and stormy afternoon. Armed only with the Artweeks Christmas Season Brochure and a Sat Nav…”

For more information on the above artists and the dozens of other Artweeks venues you can visit, see artweeks.org.

- Esther Lafferty


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