DYCP: Residency at The Hide Artist Retreat

For the last two weeks I have been based at The Hide Artist Retreat in Stroud, fully funded by my DYCP (Developing Your Creative Practice) Arts Council grant. While only 45 minutes drive from Bristol, it feels like another world here: verdant woodland licked by Hart’s Tongue ferns and carpeted in wild garlic; rolling hills tumbling down towards Stroud town and nearby villages; stone houses nestling in the crook of the valley. I walk most days on the wildflower common, awash with fireworks of dandelions, hopeful upturned buttercups and purple flashes of wild orchids. The long-lashed cows have recently returned to graze the common, and share the space rather accommodatingly with golfers, dog walkers and fellow wanderers under a sky often criss-crossed with swallows.

My studio is a light-filled oasis at one end of Alice’s beautifully renovated mid-century bungalow, beyond my lovely bedroom, bathroom and kitchenette. Three walls of colossal windows frame the ever-changing landscape of the garden as it seems to bloom in front of my eyes, the rooftops of Nailsworth below and opposite wooded slopes of the valley just visible beyond. Expressive artwork from Alice’s collection graces the remaining wall and beautiful mid century furniture welcomes you into the space.

For the last two weeks this sanctuary has provided a welcome change from regular routine, allowing space to reflect on new themes emerging in my practice and uninterrupted time to think, wonder and work - in no particular order. As part of my DYCP funding I planned this residency as a bespoke experience which I could shape and develop myself - part of what the Arts Council suggests are residencies which are not ‘off the peg’. When writing my application I provisionally proposed some rough dates to Alice and agreed on a programme of 4 sessions together: 2 mentoring / crit-style conversations and 2 creative play / making sessions to reflect, discuss and activate. To have this provisionally confirmed as part of my application helped to plan my year and make the case for time in a neutral space to work on my own artistic development - where the funding covers the accommodation, the mentoring sessions and a fee for my own time. I feel extremely privileged to be here, and would highly recommend writing this residency into applications for creative development.

This time and space has included creative wandering… playing with new ideas and picking up things to experiment with. Finding unfinished quilt patches in a local charity shop led me to continue to sew more into the piece, exploring intergenerational care, hidden women’s labour and continuing to reflect on ideas around the domestic and medical birth experiences. Continuing experimenting with quilts as a medium, collages have emerged of quilting block patterns made from paper pieces of vintage cookery: the housewife kept in her place, creative expression constrained to the attractive zig zag cut around the edge of a lemon slice, the many ways with aspic, a just-so ring of prawns, an iced occasion cake. I later experimented with installations with quilts, laying them over chairs or wrapping them around cushions and strapping them around their soft and vulnerable middles with black leather belts, the smell of the maker’s laundry powder releasing as the buckles were tightened. A connection, an honouring, a removal of power. They sit in the studio with a new presence, they bear witness, they watch.

A neolithic stone sits in a field a short drive down the road. I visit it and fall in love. I sunbathe and watch clouds pass over its ancient head. I write next to it. It feels caring. We swim in the nearby lake one evening, a vast mirrored surface surrounded with firs and hazels, ringed with lily pads and cut across by occasional drifting geese. The soft, cold water is energising and wonderful. Alice leads a drawing session in the garlicky woodland, charcoal smudges capture and dissolve light and form, the dogs unhurriedly scout the surroundings and flop down amongst the white flower stars of the garlic.

Quilted patches, new writing, photographs of play and experimentation, thinking thinking thinking. I will take these home and into my new studio, bringing new works to life.

With huge thanks to my wonderful friend, inspiring artist and host Alice Shepard Fiddler.

Photo: Alice modelling for experimentation in new photographic work.  

Find out more about The Hide Artist Retreat here.