Cirencester's creative collective
PUBLISHED: 11:00 06 January 2014 | UPDATED: 11:04 06 January 2014
Cirencester's craftsman's market is a thriving hub of creativity, with craftspeople ranging from silversmiths and leather-workers to furniture-makers and fine artists meeting fortnightly to showcase their work. Words by Candia McKormack.
It’s no secret that in the Cotswolds we are surrounded by many talented artists and craftspeople. We have a strong heritage of makers and designers in the form of the Arts and Crafts movement, with the likes of William Morris, Ernest Gimson and CR Ashbee making the Cotswolds their base in which to live and produce their work. And in the ensuing years creativity has found a natural home here, with some of the world’s finest talents being inspired by the landscape and the flow of energy between blacksmith and furniture-maker, architect and garden designer, potter and painter. The natural synergy that can be seen when truly creative people meet is a wonderful thing to behold.
At the hub of the area’s creativity for nearly 40 years is Cirencester’s fortnightly crafts market, run by oak furniture-maker and designer Colin Clark.
“The market was originally established in 1975 by two leatherworkers from Tetbury, Val Michael and Neil MacGregor,” says Colin, who joined shortly after, in 1977. “It was set up to give people the opportunity to buy and commission crafts direct from the makers, so that anyone who comes into our market will get the chance to meet the person who actually makes the item – we don’t allow people to bring bought-in goods.”
This is one of the wonderful things about a craft market, of course – the opportunity for the public to meet and talk with the person who has created the object they are thinking of bringing into their home.
“It’s great for the craftspeople to get the feedback about what’s popular and the public get to know the process of how things are made,” says Colin. “And by being regular, you get to build up a rapport with the people you’re selling to. Often people will come in one day and won’t buy there and then, but will make a mental note about something and perhaps return later in the year to buy it. In fact, the longest I’ve had to wait for a customer to come back is 16 years,” laughs Colin. “The couple lived in Switzerland and they remembered this box I had made, so the lady got back in touch with me and asked if I would make one for her husband’s 50th birthday.”
When Val and Neil left, Colin was asked if he’d like to take over the running of the market, along with potter Clive Barrett and Sally Goymer, a basket maker. In 2007 both Sally and Clive retired from the market, but Colin, together with wife Sue, continued to run the show.
“We have all types of crafts: calligraphy, leatherwork, pottery, sculpture, artists…” says Colin, “We try to make sure that the quality is kept at a high level.”
Silk artist Patricia Chicharro has been part of the market for 12 years now and, although only based in Cirencester for the last nine or ten months, she previously travelled all the way from her home in South Wales to Cirencester to exhibit, such was the appeal of the market.
“I found out about the Cirencester market from fellow craft worker Sue Pickard [who works with mohair] as we used to exhibit together at a craft market in Abergavenny,” says Patricia. “I’ve known Sue for over 20 years, and she said to me I should try out Cirencester. The rapport and interest from the people both exhibiting and visiting the market was just so great that it didn’t compare with other craft markets I’d been going to.”
“We actually have craftspeople coming from all over the place,” agrees Colin, “we have a silversmith that travels down from Yorkshire, and so it’s not just locals. If someone has a quality craft to offer, then we’re happy to take them on.”
As the craft market’s now been going for nearly 40 years, it’s almost definitely one of the country’s longest-running regular markets.
“Since the start, the markets have always been fortnightly – every first and third Saturday – and we’ve always offered free admission; we’re there to sell, so we don’t believe we should charge people to come in.”
Colin’s inspiration comes from the Arts and Crafts tradition, and he creates new pieces in oak as well as restoring old items of furniture. Some of his pieces feature copperwork from Wiltshire-based blacksmith Hector Cole, and he has also created a piece featuring a carving of a Sophie Ryder-inspired hare, commissioned by the artist herself.
In a similar vein, one of Patricia’s latest silk paintings is of a leaping hare, the original of which was sold to the mother of a three-month-old boy who wanted to buy something that he could appreciate for the rest of his life. “He slept through the whole transaction of buying his very first original piece of art,” she laughs.
Hares are, of course, topical this year with the Cirencester Hare Festival coming up at the end of March, so I try to encourage Patricia to produce more of her beautiful paintings with a hare theme. And, although the original of the hare painting has already gone to a new home, she produces limited-edition prints of many of her pieces, so that others are able to enjoy them too.
Patricia uses the batik method to produce her silk art, though she says she “pushes it to the limit”. She studied batik at A-Level in Milton Keynes as a mature student, and was in the Upper Sixth while her son was in the Lower Sixth at the same school, which must have been a challenge for both. “I got an ‘A’ in A-Level Art and the examining board asked if they could hang on to my work for a year and use it as an example,” she smiles. “The next year, when my son was in the Upper Sixth, my work was brought out in his Art class with the tutor announcing that it was the only ‘A’ last year and it happened to be by a mature student. One of the students in the class piped up, ‘yeah, well what else did she have to do?’, and my son defended me by saying ‘excuse me, that’s my mother, and she has four kids to look after!’” Her son also got an ‘A’ grade in Art, fortunately, and is now a successful designer, working between California, France and the UK.
The diversity of crafts on show at the market is wonderful, and this certainly hasn’t come about by accident, with many of the exhibitors making recommendations to Colin and Sue about who and what should be considered for inclusion.
“We do try to have as many different crafts as possible,” explains Colin. “We limit the number of same-style crafts we have in and, though we may have a few different artists displaying, we like their styles to be very different.
“We have a very good reputation and want to protect that so do insist that everything on display has been handmade by the craftsperson. Also, although there is a core of people who have been part of the market for some years, there’s also a healthy turnover of people taking part to keep things fresh.”
As it does have such a good reputation, there is a small waiting list of craftspeople wanting to be part of the market, but Colin says they’re always looking for new people.
So, I ask, are there any crafts which aren’t currently represented at the market that they’d like to see there?
“We don’t have a glass engraver at present, so that’s something I’d like to see,” says Colin.
Talented glass engravers, apply now; everyone else, pop along to the Corn Hall to find a wealth of creativity and a warm welcome from the craftspeople of the Cotswolds and beyond.
The Craftsman’s Market is held on the first and third Saturday of the month at the Corn Hall, Market Place, Cirencester, GL7 2NY. Call Colin Clark on 07931 836423, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.originalcraftsmansmarket.com
This article is by Candia McKormack, from the January 2014 issue of Cotswold Life.
For more from Candia, follow her on Twitter: @CandiaMcKormack