Student Commission and Residency at Cherryburn
Earlier this Spring, current Fine Art Graduate Diploma student Phoebe Connolly was awarded the prestigious Cherryburn commission and residency, supported by The National Trust and The Society of Wood Engravers. Holding off strong competition, Phoebe secured the chance to spend time at the Northumberland birthplace of renowned artist, wood engraver and naturalist, Thomas Bewick, over a period of five months, giving her a unique professional opportunity that will feed into her ongoing studio practice at West Dean.
Cherryburn is an unassuming house nestled in the Tyne Valley, yet the surrounding environment was a constant source of inspiration for Bewick and it featured repeatedly in his writings and illustration. Phoebe’s award is the fourth contemporary arts project based at Cherryburn, designed to offer a chance for artists to develop their practice within a unique setting, rich with history, with huge potential for collaboration with local communities. The project involves Phoebe planning and delivering educational workshops with local school children, getting them engaged with Bewick’s work, introducing them to a variety of engraving techniques and the importance of wildlife conservation and the infinite resource of local ecologies.
This year the Cherryburn commission and residency also celebrates the centenary of the founding of the Society of Wood Engravers, an organisation founded in 1920 (by a group of artists that included Philip Hagreen, Robert Gibbings, Lucien Pissaro, Gwen Raverat and Eric Gill), and which continues to promote and sustain wood engraving and other forms of relief printmaking.
Phoebe’s practice is fundamentally concerned with the experience of place and in the closely observed details of the natural world. Her meticulous and delicate approach to drawing, as well as her passion for traditional and experimental engraving techniques, means that the commission’s setting, and its historic links with Bewick, suited her interests perfectly. Phoebe was already passionate about Bewick’s illustration work and a talented engraver. In 2019, she was awarded the Society of Wood Engravers' ‘Young Engraver of the Year’. Moreover, much of her work has been inspired or informed by the wild and cultivated landscapes of the South Downs. As quoted in the Newsletter of the Society of Wood Engravers (Number 125, March 2020), Phoebe explains that it was her “love for fine press books, printmaking and illustration” that initially led to her studying at West Dean College, where she began refining her technical skills and reflecting on how best to use them. Phoebe also states her long-term ambition for a career as a full-time artist/illustrator specialising in engraving, hoping that the work at Cherryburn will both strengthen her skills and bring her work to a wider audience.
Informed by the local landscapes and wildlife in and around Cherryburn, over the five-month period, Phoebe will make numerous visits to collect research materials, make drawings, and develop ideas for the work, before returning to the studios at West Dean. There she will produce a new body of work based on the process of engraving onto different substrates, including wood, glass, and metal. Plans for an installation of multiple glass sheets within the exhibition rooms at Cherryburn have been steadily developing, as have designs for an artist’s publication.
The final installation will be displayed at Cherryburn in winter 2020. Although the plans for the work and the exhibition have been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, Phoebe continues to work from home, staying in regular touch with her tutors and peers within the Fine Art department at West Dean in order to continue and complete her Graduate Diploma, as well as liaising with her mentors provided by the National Trust and Society of Wood Engravers for the Cherryburn project. It will be exciting to see how the project develops and to visit the show when it is finally installed.