Tamar Valley Spring Exhibition 2018

Bringing the Tamar Valley’s produce to life through art

From daffodils and bluebells, to strawberries and apples – the Tamar Valley’s rich market gardening heritage is being celebrated in an exhibition by artists who live and work in the valley.

The exhibition, entitled ‘Growing in the Valley’ is organised by the Drawn to the Valley group of professional artists in partnership with the Tamar Valley AONB and runs from 10-18 March at the Tamar Valley AONB Centre at Drakewalls near Gunnislake.

A section of the exhibition is dedicated to the valley’s famous daffodils, to coincide with the AONB’s Heralds of Spring Project. The project, which was awarded £10,000 of National Lottery funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), is finding and mapping the historic varieties of daffodil that can still be found dotted around the valley.

Last spring, over 100 old varieties were located, and volunteers are out and about again this spring, looking for more. Quite apart from the survey work, the project is also highlighting the emotional connection people have with the spring spectacle of daffodils in the valley.

Daffodils once covered huge areas of the Tamar Valley, all neatly grown in rows and packed off to markets across the country. But when the fields had to be converted to grow food during World War 2, most of the daffs were pulled up and thrown aside. Many were tossed into nearby hedgerows and woods, which is why you see so many cropping up in seemingly random places.

Drawn to the Valley artist Tessa Sulston, who runs Callington School of Art, can often be found wandering the valley, taking inspiration from the surroundings. It was on one such day that she discovered a daffodil wood not far from her home: “It was a few years ago and I stopped to take a photo of it,” she recalled.

“I was struck by the strong perspective. It looked a bit like a Hockney painting. But it was only recently that I looked at it again and thought I should paint it. I’ve used a lot of gold and silver and, like most of my work, it’s mixed media,” added Tessa, who taught at Magdalen College School, Oxford, for 20 years before moving to Cornwall to set up her own school of art.

Tessa’s ‘rediscovery’ of the photo has led to her doing some digging into the history of the daffodil wood. She has traced the owners and discovered that it’s called Treragin Wood. Most of the daffodil varieties are actually quite modern but there also some older Tamar varieties that the owners are hoping can be accurately identified.

Tessa has also used her photo to create other pieces for the exhibition, as she explained: “I was in Japan recently and I found this wonderful, hand-made, textured paper. You can see and feel the threads of wood and they look just like Cornish lanes meandering through the countryside.”

Tessa digitally converted the photo to black and white and printed it onto the paper – to stunning effect.

A few miles outside of Callington, meanwhile, another Drawn to the Valley artist has also been busy using art to capture the area’s market gardening history. Kathy Lovell lives near Cotehele, so it’s no surprise to learn that her smallholding is home to an apple orchard boasting local varieties.

Kathy hand-makes unique pieces of jewellery using very fine copper and silver. She’s also a photographer. Examples of her apple-inspired work will be at the Spring Exhibition – including the apple earrings she makes from the metals.

“Our little apple orchard has been very inspirational for my work,” said Kathy. “The orchard was already established when we moved to the Tamar Valley about 12 years ago, and one of the trees had an apple that I thought was beautiful in every sense of the word, colour, taste and smell.

“I took it to be identified at a National Trust apple day at Cotehele and was thrilled when Mary Martin at Cotehele said that it was an old Tamar Valley variety called Devon Crimson Queen, quite often referred to as Queenie.”

Kathy will have some of her apple photos at the exhibition, as well as the earrings.

For the Tamar Valley AONB, it seems only natural to join forces with local professional artists to showcase the area’s history and natural environment. Charlotte Dancer from the AONB said: “One of the reasons the Tamar Valley was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1995, was due to its high visual quality and artistic appeal,” she said. “So it’s great to be involved with this exhibition, especially as our daffodil project is taking place at the same time.”

Spring exhibition