FEATURE: Contemporary artists drawn together for Suffolk Art Society's summer exhibition in Long Melford
The beauty of one of Suffolk’s most impressive churches is taking on an extra dimension, as hundreds of works by 21st century artists take their place alongside its medieval glories.
Suffolk Art Society is staging its annual summer exhibition in Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford.
The society, which began in Lavenham as a tiny art club 65 years ago, now has members from all over Suffolk, as well as Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire.
Its last show in St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Lavenham sold more than 90 works.
“Because members go through a selection procedure, it’s up to them what they exhibit,” said society chairman Clare Powell, from Poslingford.
“We show pictures that appeal to all different sorts of people ... every subject you could think of, some abstract, some very traditional, which makes a very good exhibition.
“Lavenham and Long Melford churches are very beautiful and so popular with tourists and local people. Because we have successful exhibitions there, we’re able to give them quite generous donations.”
The society takes 25 per cent of sale prices, which goes towards the donations and administration costs. There are 80 members and new applicants are always welcome.
Clare, who grew up in South Africa and studied fine art at Capetown University, is one of the many artists exhibiting in Long Melford.
In her early 20s, she came to live in England where she enjoyed a glittering career ... promoting diamond jewellery for De Beers.
Having once aimed to be a botanical artist, she particularly enjoys painting flowers and landscapes.
“I used to do a lot in oils, but, more recently, it’s been watercolours,” she said. “I do love the challenge of watercolour.”
Fellow exhibitor Anne Foster’s eye for detail drew her to botanical art – she says that, if she painted a landscape, she would be “putting eyelashes on a donkey in the distance”.
“I love working with plant forms, trees and bark,” said Anne, who also performs in plays with Sudbury Dramatic Society.
She comes from a family of talented artists and has always drawn and painted, while working first as a medical secretary then an image consultant.
Anne is the society’s secretary – a role she has fulfilled, alternating between that and chairman, since joining in 2003. She and Clare agree it is difficult to find people willing to take on such roles.
“It’s a very innovative society. We have some brilliant artists and the standard is very high. We are keen to attract new members – we do need some new blood,” she said.
Driving instructor Ailsa Lynn is a self-taught artist aiming to turn the wheel towards a full-time career in art.
“I’ve always drawn, and started using watercolour in the 1980s,” said Ailsa, who lives in Sudbury.
“In recent years, I’ve been adding self-painted paper to my pictures, which gives more strength and takes it more in an abstract direction. I love the landscape, architecture and different textures.”
She also does painting workshops, tutors groups and gives demonstrations. “Being a driving instructor is totally different, but the hours complement each other,” she said.
“It’s quite rewarding teaching people to drive and, with art, it’s nice seeing people who think they can’t draw realising they can.”
Ailsa also creates collage-decorated clocks, mirrors and books.
Eleanor Mann did not start painting until her young son was given a set of watercolours for Christmas.
“We sat down together to try them out ... and, when he was long gone, I was still doing it,” she said.
That was more than 20 years ago. She is now a full-time artist and art tutor. “I taught myself,” she said. “I used to go to the library and get books to help me, and I’ve now written an e-book teaching people how to paint.
“I paint anything and everything, but, time and time again, I come back to the local scenes in Suffolk and near my home in Sudbury. I love the big open skies and amazing architecture.
“I’m still using watercolour. I think it’s the most challenging medium and I like to do something that isn’t easy. Most of all, it likes to do its own thing, and gets that real luminosity.”
Pat Stoten has painted all her life and joined the society six years ago.
Her favourite style – vibrantly-coloured watercolour collages – grew out of wanting to economise at a time when money was tight.
“I had to tear up all my rubbish pictures and use them,” she recalls. “Collage is my passion, although I work with other mediums as well.
“I make them from watercolour paper I have painted myself. I tear mostly rather than cut because it gives a softer feel.
“I use my colours very thick, sometimes straight from the tube because I love the intensity of the colour.
Pat did art at school and was encouraged by her parents at home. “When my youngest child started school, I did a foundation course at art college. Once you sell your first painting, there’s no stopping you.”
When she paints, she likes to be alone. “I love being with people, so it’s quite contrary to my nature in some ways,” she adds.
But she does like to share her knowledge with others. She has run classes, and also enjoys painting with her five grandchildren.
Margaret Colman, who joined the society almost 25 years ago, traces her love of art back to an inspiring teacher.
“When I was at school, all the teachers were quite elderly,” she recalls. “The only one who was young was the art mistress – she was like a breath of fresh air.”
In 1985, Margaret went back to school – joining sixth formers to do an art A-level. “We all got on really well, and I wasn’t the only mature student there,” she said.
“I hope that when I do a landscape, I can lead somebody through the picture, and they will go beyond what they can see.”
Reg Siger was already a professional artist when he moved to Suffolk in 1980. “I fell in love with the architecture, and the history of it. I have a real feeling for that,” he says.
“I’m discovering things all the time. Before, I was doing portraits, murals, all sorts of things,” added Reg, who was born in Brussels and moved to England in the 1960s.
“Suffolk doesn’t have a dramatic landscape, but, when you see it after going anywhere else, it’s a sigh and ‘this is home’.
The exhibition runs at Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford until Sunday, August 11.