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Suffolk festival to go online this summer

PUBLISHED: 12:30 15 April 2020 | UPDATED: 12:30 15 April 2020

Jason Gathorne-Hardy, curator/director of the Alde Valley Spring Festival, is taking the event online this year to provide some artistic cheer to people in lockdown Picture: JASON GATHORNE-HARDY

Jason Gathorne-Hardy, curator/director of the Alde Valley Spring Festival, is taking the event online this year to provide some artistic cheer to people in lockdown Picture: JASON GATHORNE-HARDY

Jason Gathorne-Hardy

One of Suffolk’s leading events, the Alde Valley Spring Festival, refuses to be put down by Coronavirus outbreak and has transformed its showcase into a digital platform.

Jason Gathorne-Hardy with artist Tessa Newcomb one of the key figures in the development of the Alde Valley Spring Festival Photo: Sarah Lucy BrownJason Gathorne-Hardy with artist Tessa Newcomb one of the key figures in the development of the Alde Valley Spring Festival Photo: Sarah Lucy Brown

You know that summer is just around the corner when The Alde Valley Spring Festival unveils another astonishing display of creative talent at Great Glemham’s White House Farm. Unfortunately the Coronavirus outbreak has meant that organizer Jason Gathorne-Hardy and his team have had to make some changes – cancelling some events like the Farm Suppers but moving the bulk of the exhibits and open studio events online.

Jason said that for a festival that had long celebrated traditional skills and crafts, as well as the natural world, they also embraced the positive way that digital technology could spread the experience of the festival to people trapped in lockdown.

This year’s festival will run from this week to June 20 and will include a festival exhibition, open studios, poetry events, and a series of talks about the craft customs, flora and fauna of Borneo as well as a discussion about the life and work of Cherry Ingram – The Englishman who Saved Japan’s Blossom with author Naoko Abe.

This year’s festival exhibition is entitled: On a Turning Wing – A Celebration of Birds, Flight & Migration and will feature a new work from Maggi Hambling, ‘Cormorant with Struggling Fish, 2019’.

‘Cormorant with Struggling Fish,’ 2020 by Maggi Hambling form the centrepiece of the Alde Valley Spring Festival exhibition which focuses on birds and migration  Photo: Doug Atfield,  ‘Cormorant with Struggling Fish,’ 2020 by Maggi Hambling form the centrepiece of the Alde Valley Spring Festival exhibition which focuses on birds and migration Photo: Doug Atfield,

Maggi said: “I habitually scan the North Sea, or the Thames, in anticipation of a Cormorant’s sudden presence. These horizontal dive-bombers, scudding the waves at high speed, are an endless source of wonder.”

Jason added: “It is a tremendous honour to be able to welcome this remarkable painting as a central piece for this year’s Alde Valley Spring Festival Exhibition. Painted in response to the Festival theme “On a Turning Wing”, it brings a sense of immediacy to the exhibition as a whole – of a cormorant semi-immersed and seeming to merge with the sea water, its natural habitat. The painting is a highlight of the Festival Exhibition, which explores the importance of birdlife to our own human lives through the work of Maggi Hambling and a selection of other leading UK artists.”

Other artists exhibiting in what is now an online show include: Tessa Newcomb, who will be displaying new work created during a spring residency at the farm; Perriene Christian, who will be showing beautiful drawings, paintings and etchings inspired by Bawdsey’s “indefinite shore”; Emma Green, who will be exhibiting cherry blossom paintings from the Hedge Hut residency in 2019 and Beatrice Forshall, who will be exhibiting beautiful hand coloured engravings which not only illustrate the migratory birds that can be seen in Suffolk but also ones which are currently on endangered lists around the world.

In addition to paintings, Tobias Ford, Marcia Blakenham and Jennifer Hall will be presenting 3-D and sculptural work. Tobias Ford has created a collection of steel sculptures illustrating the variety of raptors to be found in the skies of Suffolk. The exhibits will include a Barn Owl, a pair of Merlins, a Buzzard, a Marsh Harrier and a White-Tailed Eagle.

Prunus Avium (Wild Cherry) by Emma Green, part of the Alde Valley Spring Festival exhibition which focuses on birds and migration  Photo: Emma GreenPrunus Avium (Wild Cherry) by Emma Green, part of the Alde Valley Spring Festival exhibition which focuses on birds and migration Photo: Emma Green

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Tobias said: “I made these works based on a long-standing fascination with birds of prey. I can remember falconry displays and bird sanctuaries as a child filling me with joy. Just the sheer pleasure of watching the aerial acrobatics of these majestic creatures inspired me even back then to draw and paint.”

Jennifer Hall is contributing a series of bronze nests, cast from abandoned nests found in trees and hedgerows, while Marcia Blakenham offers up a series of earthenware, ceramic sculptures of birds nesting. This is part of a strand which seeks to highlight a campaign to ‘re-wild’ or ‘re-bird’ the landscape, providing homes for indigenous birds in the Suffolk countryside, helping farmers protect their crops from pests by using natural predators; a theme echoed by Becky Munting and her oil paintings of hedgerow birds.

But, birds aren’t just static creatures, waiting to be painted or admired, they are most often seen on the wing, swooping, diving or, in the case of kestrels, hovering. Jason Gathorne-Hardy will b contributing a series of ‘action’ drawings of seagulls in flight.

A Hedge In Winter by Tessa Newcomb part of the Alde Valley Spring Festival exhibition which focuses on birds and migration  Photo: Tessa NewcombA Hedge In Winter by Tessa Newcomb part of the Alde Valley Spring Festival exhibition which focuses on birds and migration Photo: Tessa Newcomb

Jason said: “ I have drawn seagulls in flight for almost 30 years. I had been aware of them overhead since childhood, noticing them on the coast and also – perhaps more memorably – flocking around tractors as they ploughed arable land miles from the sea. They were part of rural and coastal life: a feature in the sky, much as planes are now.

“The true grace and elegance of their flight – and occasional mystery – is only really apparent when you watch them when standing beneath a full arc of sky. It is then that you can see their true freedom. They are like fish, flitting about in water: skipping, twisting, darting and skimming through a medium that for us is so thin that all we can do with is inhale it, whilst seagulls swim in it, coasting along.

“One of my favourite places to watch and sketch gulls in flight is Slaughden, just south of Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast. Another is a field called The Walks at White House Farm, where gulls often pass overhead, both singly and in larger flocks. With the skies so empty of planes recently, I have noticed that I look up when I hear the gulls now – much as I used to if I heard a plane overhead. The gull’s cry is now audible as the cloud-thundering roar of jet planes has subsided. And the attraction of drawing them? I think it is to somehow be with them in flight : to try and capture the line of their wings and the eddies of air as they slice and drift and bank and dive and soar through the sky – to be with them in flight through drawing.”

But, birds don’t just make interesting shapes in the sky, their distinctive song is an essential part of their interaction with our own lives. The Alde Valley Spring Festival has commissioned a sound installation to accompany a painting of Cherry Blossom by Emma Green.

Gold Crest by Becky Munting part of the Alde Valley Spring Festival exhibition which focuses on birds and migration  Photo: Becky MuntingGold Crest by Becky Munting part of the Alde Valley Spring Festival exhibition which focuses on birds and migration Photo: Becky Munting

The sound installation, composed by Dide Siemmond and Charly Jolly, weaves recordings of bird song made at the farm with their own compositions. Jason observed: “Bird song enliven and embellish the landscapes we live in. They bring it to life. It is reasonable to assume that from earliest stirrings of human history we have drawn inspiration from the music of birds – and sought to weave some of it into our own. Perhaps where we have failed – or are still largely deaf – is in our understanding of the intricacies and origins and meanings of birdsong: it is a thin, delicate mantle of language that laces our landscape which we more often perceive simply as sound, rather than as pure song or long-reaching, eddying communication.”

There will be an extensive selection of crafts people and makers offering unique items such as jewellery, ceramics, furniture, woodwork, textiles, leatherwork and pottery. As a result of the Coronavirus crisis 10% of all income from sales in the Festival Exhibition and Open Studios will be donated to three charities: East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices, The Suffolk Red Cross and NHS Charities Together.

You can join the virtual The Alde Valley Spring Festival at their dedicated website


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