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Behind the Scenes at the Museum

The word ‘curate’ is becoming like the word ‘icon’ – overused and misunderstood. So to meet a proper curator – no inverted commas necessary – was a real treat. Twenty plus West Cornwall DFAS members had that privilege when we went ‘behind the scenes at the museum’ in Penlee House.

Being a gallery or museum curator is a dream job and we were all a little awestruck, not just by the role, but by the astonishing paintings of Ithell Colquhoun which form the current exhibition. Louise Connell the Director of Penlee House Gallery, has, together with her team, put together a fascinating exhibition of paintings by this little known 20th century painter who had strong connections with West Cornwall and who lived variously in the Isles of Scilly, at Paul and eventually in Lamorna. Colquhoun was initially a follower of surrealism and pupil of Salvador Dali. She was a poet and writer as well as a painter of great technical skill and bizarre imagination.


Born in India in 1906, Colquhoun became deeply involved in the various forms of occultism that flourished in the years after the First World War. She studied at the Slade and was widely exhibited in both the UK and in Germany from the 1930s onwards. She moved away from surrealism as her interest in magic and the occult developed and, like many others, she was drawn to the ancient prehistoric sites of Penwith.

Louise gave us a real insight into how the exhibition came about and how she chose the pictures for it. We discovered that chance conversations and keeping your ear to the ground play an important part in what can be a very long lead time before an exhibition is mounted. Making partnerships and friendships with other galleries, art professionals and institutions is an important part of any curator’s job.


We learned about the precarious funding arrangements for small local museums and galleries and how much time and energy goes into thinking about keeping these vital aspects of local history and culture going. The Art Fund is an important source of support for galleries like the Penlee and enables them to continue to add to their collection and keep it relevant to their local community.

Louise showed us round the exhibition and then took us to what we all wanted to see, which was the store cupboards where the items not on display are kept. We saw the impressive racks of paintings, the boxes and boxes of 10,000 photographs and, most excitingly, rows of Crysède dresses and blouses all hung in acid free storage bags.


It was an excellent evening, made even more so by the glass of wine we all enjoyed and the excellent organisation by Jenny Fitton and of course Ray, our bar man for the evening.

Click here to see more photos from our night at the museum.

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A Tour of Two Local Churches

More than 20 West Cornwall DFAS members spent a delightful day today touring Madron Church and Zennor Church with historian Dr Joanna Mattingly (Jo).


We started the day by fortifying ourselves with cappuccinos and lattes at the café at Trengwainton. From there, we made the quick journey up the road to the lovely Madron Church. Here, Jo took to the pulpit and gave us a brief history of the church, pointing out some of its most important features.


We heard the early Madron Church may have had only lean-to aisles, and we learnt about the wooden sash windows with which the Georgians replaced the medieval tracery from the church’s windows.

After a good wander around the church, we then set off for Zennor and a good pub lunch at the Tinner’s Arms.


We walked to the church in bright spring sunshine!


Inside Zennor Church, Jo gave us another ‘sermon’ before exploring the church with us and answering all of our questions.  We saw the granite columns and compared them with Madron’s decorative limestone columns; this is one of the ways we know Zennor was a relatively poor parish compared with Madron.


Though very different from each other, the two churches are both beautiful. We all appreciated Jo’s insight and knowlege and learnt so much we hadn’t known before!

Click here to see more photos of the day.

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A Christmas Visit to Buckfast Abbey and Totnes

The last West Cornwall DFAS trip of 2015 earlier this week, saw 21 intrepid members braving wind and water for their cross-border excursion. No, this was not the English Channel for a trip to France, but a horribly blustery and rainy day for a visit to Devon: Buckfast Abbey and the Christmas Market at Totnes.

The foul weather unfortunately ruled out a stroll round Buckfast Abbey’s beautiful gardens for all except the most stout-hearted (and waterproofed!), but the venue nevertheless offered plenty to engage us. The abbey itself — rebuilt in the 1880s after the original mediaeval building was left to decay following the dissolution of its monastic community by Thomas Cromwell — remains an oasis of calm and beauty with some glorious examples of modern stained glass. Elsewhere, the bookshop, gift shop or restaurant provided less spiritual forms of satisfaction before we re-boarded our coach for the short drive to Totnes.

Totnes Christmas Market_December 2015As the skies darkened and the lights came up in the market stalls on both sides of the hill which is Totnes’ main street, the atmosphere was truly magical. Surrounded by rich aromas from the food stalls of all kinds, and music from the various performers around the town, we were able to browse for Christmas presents, sample the many sweets and savouries on offer or simply find a dry, sheltered spot for an afternoon tea with friends.


Enthusiasm undampened by the persistent rain, our last port of call on the way home was Waitrose just outside Saltash. The whole day was a lovely foretaste of Christmas and much enjoyed despite the weather.

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A Great Day for the Spice Girls

Baklavas, oozing syrup-drenched pistachios, filled a dozen baking trays at the end of a sumptuous Lebanese Cookery Workshop with Basma Ashworth in Marazion last week.

The kitchen of the community centre wafted mouthwatering aromas as cook extraordinaire, artist and scientist Basma demonstrated her mama’s favourite dishes including stuffed chickens, vegetables and vine leaves with savoury rice, using an exotic blend of Middle Eastern spices.


All 12 members got stuck in, preparing their lunch as well as dishes to take home, while discussing the ISIS and ISIL crisis in Basma’s homeland, as well as her family traditions. In the afternoon, the focus was on sweet treats – and tastings. In the next room to the group’s cooking extravaganza a slimming club was meeting … and during the day quite a few envious faces appeared at the door!

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West Cornwall DFAS Does London

A band of excited West Cornwall DFAS members had a happy and cultured time on our recent London trip. The formula of ‘make your own arrangements for travel and accommodation’ worked really well.

We kicked off with the Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Royal Academy which had something for everyone; it was touching, beautiful, tragic and amusing. Ai’s mantra of “speaking truth to power” found its expression in the names of earthquake victims which were transcribed on the walls around hundreds of steel rods which had been rescued from the debris and laid out on the floor as a memorial.

03_Straight_Ai Weiwei

We ate a delicious supper on Piccadilly and then hastened to the Theatre Royal Haymarket for a performance of Mr Foote’s Other Leg written by Ian Kelly and starring both him and Simon Russell Beale. We were ushered into the private Oscar Wilde room for pre-performance drinks, and after the show we were taken backstage to meet the star and the author. Some of us were a little starstruck! It was a real privilege to meet one of the greats of British theatre and chat to him about the performance.


On Thursday morning we met up for The Fabric of India at the V&A. What an exhibition! We drooled over fabulous textiles and were fascinated by some of the techniques which were illustrated by video and accompanying photographs.

Thursday evening saw us in Covent Garden for a ‘NADFAS at Night’ lecture on Scandal in Modern Art, an insider’s view of some of the seamier and more shocking aspects of the art world. It was a real treat to be in The Club for Acts and Actors which has remained virtually unchanged since the 1940s. The evening ended with some delightful acapella music from the students of Imperial College and Royal Holloway.

23_Club for Acts and Actors_Covent Garden_NADFAS at Night

On Friday morning we appeared in court, or rather in the grounds of Middle Temple, where we were treated to a fascinating tour of this Inn of Court. We touched a chest made from the wood of The Golden Hind and ate our lunch in the great hall where Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I were both present for the first ever performance of Twelfth Night.

32_Middle Temple_Golden Hind hatch

Our guide Diane Eccles was delightful and well-informed and we felt as though we’d been given a real insight into another world. After a hearty lunch with the legal profession we parted company, some of us to return to Cornwall and some to stay in town a little longer.

Everyone had such a good time. It was a lovely thing to do. We’ll be sure to do it again, that’s a promise

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Summer Drinks at Trereife … I mean, Montmartre

Our lecture on Gertrude Stein in the early part of this year’s season proved the inspiration for this year’s West Cornwall DFAS summer drinks party.

Montmatre Trereife

Fifty or so members took up to the invitation to spend ‘An Evening in Montmartre’, some of them taking the suggestion to dress appropriately very seriously indeed. There were a number of Gallic onion sellers, art patrons and models present and the fancy dress shops must have seen a run on feather boas! We were picking up loose feathers from the terrace at Trereife all evening.

Montmatre Trereife

The liquid refreshments were devised by the wonderful Samme Charlesworth who as usual produced a cocktail fit for an evening with Picasso and Matisse. The refreshments, apart
form the Proustian madeleines made by Liz Woods, were provided by the lovely ladies of
the Newlyn Cheese shop. They also set up a small stall to sell their delicious wares and members took the opportunity to stock up on quantities of Comté and other French cheeses.

Montmatre Trereife

Music was again provided by La Roulotte, whose selections of French café songs introduced just the right atmosphere.

Montmatre Trereife

As ever, the star of the show were the enchanting gardens at Trereife and West Cornwall DFAS owes so much to Liz and Tim Le Grice for their continuing support for what has become the highlight of the West Cornwall DFAS social calendar. Many thanks also to Peter Le Grice for letting us trespass on the territory of his B&B guests. We hope they enjoyed the music as much as we did!

Montmatre Trereife

Click here to see more photos of the night. All photos by Simon Cook Photography.

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West Cornwall DFAS members sent to Coventry!

A group of members spent an enchanting midsummer morning in three clifftop meadows at Coverack, where sculptor Terence Coventry, who is collected on every continent, talked about the practicalities of making and moving monumental concrete and steel works.


He also produces smaller bronzes, and the sources of his inspiration are mainly animal and avian, after a lifetime of farming on the Lizard. Members walked along the coast footpath from the village to view his sculptures.


To see more photos of our day out, click here.


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The First Annual West Cornwall DFAS Art Prize

Abbie Trevorrow, 18, of Towednack, who has just completed her Art and Design Level 3 Diploma at Penwith College, is the recipient of the first West Cornwall DFAS Art Prize.

(Photo by Simon Cook Photography)

(Photo by Simon Cook Photography)

Judges Liz Le Grice, Tim Wayne and Samme Charlesworth selected the work from a Golowan Festival exhibition of college course projects held in the Art Marquee at Penzance Harbour.

Abbie’s winning oil studies of her nieces, Arwen, four, and Andi, 11 months, portraits based on work by Michael Mann, will now be submitted to the Royal Society of British Artists as part of a NADFAS initiative, to be considered for inclusion in its 2016 exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London.

The gull-wing sculpture prize awarded to Abbie was designed and carved from granite by West Cornwall DFAS committee member Zoe Kovacs, and mounted on Portland stone by Joe Hemming, who has a workshop near St Buryan. Joe cut the letters and sculpted and attached the acanthus leaf symbol of the National Association of Decorative and Fine Art Societies, on slate. Abbie also won £100 donated for the Art Prize by an anonymous West Cornwall DFAS member.

(Photo by Simon Cook Photography)

(Photo by Simon Cook Photography)

Lucy Maggs, vocational and community leader at Penwith College, said: “The college is overwhelmed at the support from the West Cornwall DFAS and so grateful for recognising our students’ talent and potential.” Penwith College principal Martin Tucker agreed with our judges and pronounced the displayed work “exceptional”.

The exhibition will be on display every day through Sunday 28 June in the marquee in the Harbour car park in Penzance, so do pop in to have a look if you haven’t yet!

Click here to see more photos of the prize judging and award ceremony.

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20th Century Sculpture Study Day Held in Truro

study dayYesterday West Cornwall DFAS organised a Study Day on the topic of Twentieth Century Sculpture, at the Alverton Hotel in Truro. A hall full of DFAS members from all over Cornwall (and beyond!) turned up to hear lecturer Linda Smith.

We were treated to three fantastic sessions throughout the day, including discussions of Cubism, Russian constructivism, British post-war sculpture and contemporary organic sculpture. Linda explained everything so lucidly and without any notes! One member said she felt as though she’d had all the things she thought she knew about sculpture finally explained to her in a totally cohesive way Some of the works we were told about during the day were challenging, others were simply beautiful, but all were thought-provoking.

Those of you who were lucky enough to be at the Study Day, as well as those who have heard Linda lecture in the past, won’t be surprised to hear that we’ve had lots of positive feedback from those who attended.

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