Beaverhall Art Studios began early last year (Issue 212), and have since become home to what their publicity describes as an 'eclectic range of creative individuals and small businesses'.
To everyone else, it's a wonderful airy muddle: an unpredictable melting pot of talents, temperaments and cross-fertilising ideas.
On the first and second floors of the former Duncan's Chocolate Factory, you'll find painters, ceramicists, photographers, sculptors, textile and fashion designers, illustrators, designers and small charitable set-ups – all of them benefiting from generous spaces with gallons of natural light and some extraordinary views over Broughton's fast-transforming post-industrial roofscape.
Spurtle visited yesterday afternoon on the second day of BAS's open weekend. We immediately fell for the beautifully decorated glassware of Jane Raven, achieved via delicate stencils re-creating natural forms, followed by good old-fashioned violent sand-blasting. Words cannot express our relief at having left without accidentally breaking anything.
Raven also inscribes Scottish pebbles with initials or longer, sometimes enigmatic, phrases – much of the interest emerging from the contrast between inscribed and eroded forms, and understated but intriguing tilts at timescales, records, permanence and human fragility.
Next on our tour we met Chris Donnelly, ceramicist and master safe-cracker.
No, that last bit's made up. The photo above shows him beside the impressive green kiln of Cyan Clayworks. Below is a small sample of his work.
The other presiding spirit here is Fiona Thompson. The work she was showing yesterday explores themes to do with tourism, but far from being kitsch or gaudy is achieved with subtle animal motifs in a palate of softly coloured overlays.
Sally-Ann Provan and Alistair Clark were sharing the quiet of a sun-filled studio on the west side of the building when Spurtle arrived. Clark is a commercial, craft, portrait and landscape photographer. (That's some of his work on the wall.) During Spurtle's taking of the picture below using a new camera, he had the decency not to react as we meticulously caught our ear-hair in the shoulder strap and feet in the autofocus.
Provan makes hats and accessories, and shares Spurtle's wish to know more about Beaverhall House's extraordinary street-facing Egyptian mural. Despite many locals having worked in the former Duncan's factory, none has yet answered calls to help date or explain the designs. Provan now has an Egyptologist contact who, she hopes, may at least establish whether the hieroglyphics make sense. Below is some of her fascinating millinery.
Studio 1 on Floor 2 is an enormous studio space which, we understand, will shortly be available for rent. This weekend it was a gallery space, featuring the theatrical fashions of award-winning Judy R. Clark. Readers will be astonished to learn that Spurtle is not responsible for the ably framed, exquisitely lit and pinpoint sharp image below.
This beautiful and enormous, Miss Havisham-esque dress hung on a supporting pillar of the central hall.
Also exhibiting in Studio 1 was Hatti Pattisson (top-right), dressed in a Clark creation which – by some miracle, Spurtle correctly identified as having been modelled on a 19th-century riding coat.
Pattisson featured with a canvas on page 1 of Issue 224, but yesterday she was prioritising her work with textiles. Three of her designs cascaded from ceiling to floor in delicious, light-suffused falls of fabric. They are based on her paintings, but involve additional, hand-applied and intensely time-consuming processes in their own right.
David Martin's was the smallest of the studios we visited, but this proves no disadvantage as he seems somehow to have laid claim to the walls everywhere else to display his work. From what we saw, his paintings explore big themes on a large scale to do with civilised decay, cartography, palimpsests, and enigmatic young women.
Martin is currently organising the Hidden Door exhibition involving 100 artists in 24 Market Street Vaults in March 2014. It is a project for which the phrase 'herding cats' could have been invented. The administrative joy of the task perhaps explains his cheery expression here.
Beaverhall Art Studios may not be accessible every weekend, but they are certainly open at other times by appointment. For more information, visit their Facebook page here.