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A Woodstock Gallery Glitters for Christmas

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Esther Lafferty

This month, the Oxfordshire Craft Guild (OCG) brings together an array of extraordinary talent in a glittering exhibition at The Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock (free admission). It is a Christmas stocking of temptation for those who love the stylish and the unusual, teamed with quality craftsmanship.

The handmade offerings on show have been created from all manner of materials – elemental iron and clay, silver and sumptuous textiles, wood and glass in the joyful bold colours of Christmas decorations. Each piece – whether a necklace or a treasure box, a bowl or a clock picked from the cheerful scattering of stars and robins, the reds of holly berries and glowing greens – is resplendent with skill, design and innovation. It’s the perfect twenty-first century line-up when glitzy gold, frankincense, and myrrh now often give way to an appreciation of the love and individual industry required for a homemade Christmas. These designer-makers put into shade any ordinary person’s attempt at a handmade Christmas gifts, and visitors wonder how on earth a mere mortal has created some of the things on show.

There is certainly a celestial influence in some of the collections – this year’s OCG Audrey Blackman prize was chosen by Sarah Whitely, chair of The Arts Society Oxford and Esther Lafferty, festival director of Oxfordshire Artweeks and regular OX contributor with Joanna Foster CBE, past chair of the Crafts Council.

“The winning piece was created by new OCG member, Loretta Dwane,” explains Esther. “Her stunning collection of silver jewellery is constructed with intersecting orbits and tiny accents of gold that are surely planets. Each ring, necklace, or pair of earrings could be a fusion of the fascinating astronomical pieces in the Oxford University Museum of the History of Science and the magic of Harry Potter! All three judges were enchanted by the series, galaxy which has a touch of mysticism combined with delicacy, design flair and unmistakeable craftsmanship. We chose a ring that seems to bring together all the elements of the whole collection in a single piece of wearable art.

Judging such different creations is always challenging – and somewhat subjective too. On the judging panel, Sarah is sophisticated and elegant with a preference for classy organic hues while I’m an unashamed colourist with a magpie’s delight in a touch of sparkle. It could have been fisticuffs in the gallery, but fortunately there was plenty to keep us both happy under Joanna’s expert eye. The collections of most of the designer-makers had something to please us both – for example glass artist Pam Fyvie’s sparkling azure splash bowl was bold and lively whilst a plate by the same artist in delicate shades of seasonal browns with textured edging offered a great contrast. Interestingly both the second and third placed pieces tie together these opposing enthusiasms in different ways.”

In second place, the judges chose a glass piece by Michael Berger. Known for his meticulous precision, often teamed in the past with primary colours to pay homage to Mondrian, this month he softened his palette to embrace iridescent royal blues and purples with organic golds and browns of a duck’s feathers, the texture and shine of his platter sparkling in the light.

“The dish consists of 50 pieces of glass fused together,” explains Judith Berger, chair of the Oxfordshire Craft Guild. “The 49 small squares have to be cut into precise matching squares. The vertical cut is also important, so each is ground flat on all four sides, preventing warping when they are fused. The final piece of glass is a large square onto which the 49 are fused together. Once fused, the piece is hand finished and then the flat dish goes through a ‘slumping’ firing in a mould to get the final shape.”

A textile bag by Helen MacRitchie was chosen as the runner up. In wedgewood blue with an arresting geometric design in grey-brown and a touch of dove pink, an unusual surface embroidery added contemporary style to the age-old craft of felting. Also commended were newcomers to the guild, Kate Hipkiss, who exhibited a pair of tiny architectural papercuts including the Radcliffe Camera, and Robyn Hardyman whose select collection was stunning in its simplicity, each piece perfectly proportioned and placed with the purity of Japanese art.

The colourful selection by Graham Lester is a perennial favourite, the vibrancy of the plastics he uses to create crisp modern bowls and vessels set against wood to great effect. Above, a second string to his bow of many talents, the station poster paper sculpture has an undeniable wow factor for anyone who hasn’t yet discovered his wall art.

Other pieces to catch the eye include a peach-pink vase flecked with gold by glass artist Anne Arlidge that oozed glamour on a plinth. Proud above the rest of the display like a million-dollar film-star sashaying along a red carpet, the lip of the vase a stylised collar from a vintage catwalk. There are animals and birds aplenty, in media from delicate embroidery to a veritable menagerie in clay by ceramicist-sculptor Jill Collier. In particular, look out for giant jugs by Jeanne Jackson and Andrew Hazelden of Yarnton Pottery, their respective toucans and bold orange octopus offer a touch of the rainforest or Atlantis for your living room.

It’s a glittering line-up of some of the best craft and design Oxfordshire has to offer, and while Shakespeare’s oft quoted as saying ‘All that glitters may not be gold’, it’s often perfect treasure none-the-less!

The exhibition runs until 29 December 2019 at the Oxfordshire Museum. Opening times are 10am to 4.45pm on Tuesday-Saturday and from 2pm-4.45pm on Sundays (closed Mondays).

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