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Thursday, 13 October 2016 11:41

Buy Local This Christmas… and Forever at The Witham!

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The concept of Teesdale Christmas Art Fair, which will take over The Witham between 8 and 20 December) came about as a consequence of a conversation between The Witham’s Executive Director, Katy Taylor, and local artist Ann Whitfield. Ann remarked that opportunities for local and regional artists to exhibit together in a showcase of fine art talent were few and far between. Katy did a bit of research, and realised that this ought to be addressed, particularly given The Witham’s pivotal location with Barnard Castle in County Durham a stone’s throw from Scotch Corner, and so close to Cumbria and North Yorkshire. 

In short, it was realised that the concept of Teesdale Christmas Art Fair presented a fantastic opportunity to put The Witham’s new visual arts strategy at on the map.

Since starting work at The Witham as Visual Arts Coordinator a couple of months ago I have been incredibly busy researching regional artists, I’ve been to open studio events, exhibitions, and art fairs galore. I’ve gone back through press releases I’ve received and articles I’ve written for the Darlington and Stockton Times reviewing exhibitions across the region. I’ve drawn up innumerable lists of exhibition ideas and artists whose work I’d like to present to audiences at The Witham.

It’s been an intense and nerve-wracking period. Turning what has previously been a ‘room for hire’ into a carefully curated programme of exhibitions that presents some of the best, more innovative and exciting fine art that the region has to offer. The process has required introductions, and explanations, which, given The Witham’s long history, will inevitably continue for some time.  

However, the past couple of weeks have been nothing short of thrilling. To receive so many emails and phone calls from incredibly talented artists eager to exhibit at The Witham is filling my heart with joy. Many of these artists exhibit nationally, some internationally, yet are excited to find an ambitious, commercial gallery on their doorstep. I've heard from several artists whose work I’ve long since admired, and  also fantastic artists whose work I’ve never come across before. As a curator, art critic and artist myself, the latter really puts a bounce in my step. I have always felt passionately about offering regional audiences access to first class art (some of which will hopefully be new, and some at times challenging), and now I can see that happening at The Witham as I put together the Teesdale Christmas Art Fair and programme for 2017.

Oak Leaf Frieze by Sarah Robley

A few years ago I interviewed the Director of Modern Art Oxford, Paul Hobson for a newspaper article. Paul spent his formative years in Ampleforth, North Yorkshire before going on to study at Oxford University and carving out his career in the arts. He joined Modern Art Oxford from the Contemporary Art Society where he had worked as Director for six years. The Contemporary Art Society is a charity that purchases important works of art to place in collections across the UK; in interview he spoke at length about the importance of developing the economy and ecology of art in the regions.

What I’m getting at is that Paul knows only too well what rural means, and he also knows only too well the importance of providing a platform for artists to display their work, and providing a shop front for people to buy artists work. That may sound trite, but if we (by which I mean you, me, our friends and neighbours etc.) don’t invest in original works of art, we won’t have artists, and what a dull world we’d live in without artists to seduce our senses. Plus, what’s more exciting to own, an original work of art created by an artist who lives down the road with all the visible, smudges, smears, precision, time care and attention at its very core, or a pixelated print picked off the shelf in a generic department store owned by a multimillionaire whose funds are safely stowed away in a tax-free off-shore bank account?

Buying local doesn’t just apply to cheese and chutney, it's about supporting the local economy, and artist and cultural tourism play a part in that… make Teesdale Christmas Art Fair a date in your diary this Christmas – I guarantee something to delight everyone!

by Sarah Mayhew Craddock
Visual Arts Coordinator

Wednesday, 05 October 2016 14:29

Around the Dales Photography Exhibition

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Around the Dales is an exhibition of work by members of Middleton Hall Retirement Village Photography Group coordinated and curated by photography enthusiast Keith Rowland. The exhibition opened in the Gallery at The Witham on Wednesday 5 December and runs until Wednesday 19 October 2016.

Middleton Hall Retirement Village is located in Middleton St George, just outside Darlington and prides itself on being an innovative leader in services for older people. In April 2013 Middleton Hall Retirement Village Photography Group was established as a consequence of the keen interest of residents and staff who wanted to learn and develop their photography skills. Keith Rowland, local amateur photographer, volunteered his help and guidance to the residents. Keith’s enthusiasm, patience and guidance has been core to the group instilling confidence and inspiration that has opened up an entirely new level of seeing and in turn enabled members to enjoy and “look at their surroundings in a whole new, different light.”

The Photography Group consists of seven members, all in their 60s and 70s, and none with previous photographic training. The group meets weekly to learn new skills and share ideas; the members have employed the various skills that they have acquired to the work produced for their exhibition, evident in the techniques and finishes seen in the work that hangs on the walls in the Gallery at The Witham.

A recent American study of over 200 people aged 60 lead by Dr Denise Park showed that by learning something new and developing a new skill, such as digital photography, improves long term memory and keeps the mind sharp.

Around the Dales invites visitors to take a journey from the high Dales to the low Dales, through the sheep farming lands of Swaledale, to majestic Teesdale, and on to the captivating ways of life in Wensleydale. This photography exhibition portrays and celebrates real Dales life. It offers candid snapshots of local people and their beautiful, if often harsh, environment. Keith Rowland commented,
“Around The Dales, came about from holding exhibitions within Middleton Hall. It was suggested the group photograph areas of the Dales as a number of residents lived there, and it would be good for them to see how things have changed, also bringing back lots of memories.

“The 45nr prints you see on display are only a snap-shot from an original 68nr that were displayed in the Hall earlier this year. Each member was tasked with taking pictures that they thought would be of interest, at the same time putting their own individual mark on them.”

Whilst exploring the region through photography in the Around The Dales exhibition you will be greeted by Pat Webb’s image, Mystical Woodland, a verdant and golden canopy beneath which the crunchy layer of fallen, autumnal leaves are almost tangible and audible. David Gaskell’s image, It Got Away!, of a fisherman in waders next to a waterfall show’s a moment of perspective and contemplation.

A stone’s throw from the Swale is Culloden Tower, photographed for this exhibition by Ken Boston. Built in around 1746 the tower was originally called the Cumberland Temple, it was built by John Yorke as a monument to celebrate the victory of the Duke of Cumberland's army over Bonnie Prince Charlie near Inverness in April 1746. Cared for by the Landmark Trust, and photographed against a stunning bright blue sky and encircled by skeletal trees Ken Boston has captured Cumberland Temple at its most resplendent.

The gushing veins of peat stained water flow over the rocks in Jean Rowland’s image of Low Force shows the relative composed majesty of this 5.5m high set of falls in the Tees Valley.

Elsewhere in the exhibition Ken Boston has captured the elegance and splendour of another architectural landmark, the Ribbledale Viaduct. Delving further still into the region’s heritage photographer’s Sonia Wade, Pat Webb, and Keith Rowland reflect the region’s industrial and manufacturing past and present in their images of rope making, and lead mines.

Whilst there are many charming images to enjoy in this exhibition, the most delightful to my eye is Jean Rowland’s photo entitled Round Up. This image shows a farmer out on his quod bike on a fine day with his sheepdog by his side, together herding sheep up an idyllic country road. It is the timeless relationship between man, dog, and sheep, and their intrinsically linked relationship with nature that I find so pleasing about this particular picture.

Exhibitions at The Witham are free to visit, prints of the photography displayed in this exhibition are available to buy through The Witham’s Box Office Shop. A4 images cost £15, and A3 images cost £25 per print.

By Sarah Mayhew Craddock
Visual Arts Coordinator at The Witham


The Owl and the Pussycat is a new project by Kitchen Zoo that is being supported by and will preview at ARC, Stockton and The Witham, Barnard Castle in March 2017. 

The show is being created for 3-7 year olds and their families. Kitchen Zoo is made up of Bob Nicholson and Hannah Goudie. The creative team for our week at ARC also included Laura Lindow as Director and Jeremy Bradfield as Performer/Musician. We thought that it would be wonderful to get together with the creative team well in advance of making the piece in order to EXPLODE the poem and play with all sorts of ideas. The week was made possible by the support of The Sunday for Sammy Trust. 

The week began as all weeks should with tea and biscuits in the ARC cafe.  It’s a lovely thing to have a week to explore such a well known poem with wonderful creative people. We spent the first day of the project exploring the poem, reading it, singing it, thinking about the worlds that the characters visit and playing with recycled materials. As we worked Laura noted ‘nice things’ including the many positions we created while thinking about the poem. It was a joyful morning with huge amounts of laughter and silliness which I think reflected the entire week. There was a gathering of ARC staff at lunch time and we shared more tea and cake together and chatted about the project. It’s lovely to share first thoughts at the start of our development and then be able to invite people to see how the work has evolved over the week. Later we revisited our recycled Owl and Pussycat, exploring movement and sound. Asking ourselves what identifies an Owl and a Pussycat? We enjoyed improvising as the Owl and the Pussycats human characters accompanied by Jeremy’s beautiful stringed music.  

The morning of day two had been assigned for meeting the turkey who lives on the hill. Bob puppeted a creation made of a gardening glove, red cloth and some feathers with kazoo vocals. We tweaked, adjusted, added legs, created an enormous cardboard tale, tried various eyes and pondered about the finer details of the bird for a full morning. The time snuck past as we scratched our heads and attempted to master the creation of the bird. It was a useful morning but often easy to think in hindsight ‘gosh we spent too long on that!’ But while doing it we had many beautiful revelations and I think that one of the gifts of a week’s research and development is to allow yourself time to get lost in exploring characters, perusing narrative potential and creating beautiful things that may not appear in the final piece.  (One such wonderful example which may or may not appear in the final piece was the creation of Mrs Atkinson, the Owl’s landlady who came from a long line of sea explorers!)

We spent the afternoon on our feet, singing and dancing. Laura shared with us a song called ‘Tonight you belong to me’ and Jeremy taught us ‘Thanks to the Rolling Sea’ and a song about a shrimp! It’s a wonderful thing to sing together as a company and we enjoyed figuring out harmonies and Ukulele chords. There was definitely a consensus that music and song would play a strong part in the piece and a joke about creating and Owl and Pussycat inspired band called ‘The Runcibles’….who knows, this may still happen!

Whilst at ARC we found that Luca, a friend of ours and fellow theatre maker was in residence at ARC and running a lunch time story project for young people. She kindly invited us to attend story sessions and brought us drawings and ideas from the young people she worked with. It was great to have an injection of input from our expected audience. When asked by Luca to draw turkeys this was our favourite response, a turkey on a dish, a logical and genius response. Amused by this we briefly revisited our turkey puppet and played with her living on a silver platter, something we all very much enjoyed.

We spent the afternoon exploring what a runcible spoon really is...but that one is a secret, you'll have to wait to find out! All we will say is that it's not quite what we expected! A Miniature Adventure Laura challenged us to create the entire show in 60 minutes, we sprang to action and created a miniature theatre for our characters to explore. Bob created a rolling sea from scraps of fabric and fashioned a pea green boat for two miniature explorers. Hannah created 5 miniature chapter headings and set about lighting the set with torches and Jeremy created sounds of the sea with a tupperware box full of water and a microphone. It was a raucous retelling of the classic poem with fun and mad ideas.  The challenge to present the entire poem in such a short time flagged up sections we had avoiding exploring or making decisions about and drove us to bravely make choices about. It highlighted moments we collectively enjoyed and things from the week that we wanted to include. 

On Friday we invited ARC staff and our fabulous creative team of Ailsa Dalling puppet maker and Alison Ashton our wonderful designer to join us as we shared the weeks creation. Celebration Saturday (as named by Jeremy)

Saturday was a wonderful opportunity for the three of us, Bob, Hannah and Jeremy to reflect on the sharing and condense ideas. It had been a fast paced week so it was wonderful to pause over a bacon sandwich and share thoughts on the piece. What we had particularly enjoyed, what stood out as moments to keep, what were our thoughts moving forwards. This led us to revisit the music of the week and play with ideas of rewriting a song about the shrimp for the Owl and the Pussycat.

The afternoon was spent with a fabulous photographer Jonathan Ackley capturing a few rehearsal and action shots. And the celebration Saturday ended as all R&D weeks should with two scoops of Ice Cream! What’s next… …we may seem quiet but we are busy script writing with the wonderful Laura Lindow, puppet planning with the fabulous Ailsa Dalling and designing the set with the amazing Alison Ashton so that when rehearsals begin in February we are ready to go.

Follow us on twitter @kitchenzoo_ or facebook to see what we are up to or pop along to our Drama Workshops at The Witham on 27th October 2016. The Owl and the Pussycat will be touring in March and April 2017.




Tuesday, 13 September 2016 13:24

David Gibbon Wildlife Photography Exhibition

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Just wow! The new exhibition in the Gallery at The Witham reveals the true meaning of the word awesome...

David Gibbon’s work really brings the expression ‘fly on the wall documentary’ to life in his still images of wildlife shot in their natural surroundings. David’s images are sensitive and serene, and his subjects are sublimely at one with their natural surroundings. Quite simply, David Gibbon’s wildlife photography is stunning.

Based in County Durham, David and his partner Louise Gibbon take inspiration from the beauty on their doorstep whilst also traveling extensively in their quest to capture the natural world and secure the perfect shot of specific animals within it. David remarked,
"Louise and I only photograph truly wild animals. A few years ago we made a vow never to capture anything that is captive, it just doesn't feel right.”

(above is a photograph of a Brown Bear taken by David Gibbon in the Boreal Forest, Finland)

Having always been interested in photography the couple’s interest peaked in 2009 when the RSPB opened a flagship £7 million nature reserve, Saltholme on Teesside, shortly after which they switched off the ‘auto’ setting on their cameras and began taking photos by setting the ISO, aperture and shutter speed themselves.

David and Louise Gibbon are now widely published, the duo have won many accolades for their work, and their work is now represented by image agency Robert Harding and press agency Rex Features. Visit the Gallery at The Witham to see David's Puffin image, which he captured on the Farne Islands in Northumberland. This fun and incredible image picked up an award at the prestigious CEPIC Stock Photography Awards in Croatia in June this year.

Visit the new exhibition space, the Insight Gallery at The Witham, to see examples of David’s work in various publications, to listen to an interview with him on local radio, and to get a glimpse of the process behind his carefully choreographed photographic adventures. For the duration of David’s exhibition visitors will find a pop-up hide, a mosquito suit, scrim, and thermal layers of clothing in addition to photos from behind the lens revealing David laid in thick snow photographing a Mountain Hare around the mountains of Findhorn Valley (Britain’s Arctic Tundra) in the Scottish Highlands amongst others.

This widely celebrated photographer, whose work is collected and coveted by many, is a kind, gentle and patient man (prerequisite traits for achieving such images, I suppose). His passion for wildlife photography knows no bounds and his generous spirit will see him, and Louise, in the Gallery at The Witham on Saturdays throughout the exhibition sharing their knowledge and demonstrating their photographic equipment.

Click this link to learn more about David and Louise Gibbon and hear them discuss their work and their exhibition at the Gallery at The Witham in an interview on Bishop FM.

David Gibbon Wildlife Photography Exhibition continues in the Gallery at The Witham until Saturday 1 October. Admission is free and the gallery is open daily from 10 am - 4 pm except on Sundays and Mondays.

Prepare for your toes to tingle and for the hairs on the back of your neck to stand on end!

By Sarah Mayhew Craddock
Visual Arts Coordinator at The Witham

Saturday, 03 September 2016 11:30

My Week of Matilda Madness

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This summer, as part of Summer of Stories, The Witham offered a week long musical theatre summer school, starting on Monday 8th August. On Saturday 13th, we produced an all singing, all dancing, 20 minute version of the West End show, Matilda. Speaking as one of the 14 young people (aged 8-12) lucky enough to have participated, I can say that the week was enormously tiring but probably one of the best experiences of my life.

Having been given a copy of the script and songs, Monday was spent getting to know each other. Auditions were held on Tuesday morning and by lunchtime we knew our roles. Wednesday and Thursday were spent running through the play as well as learning choreography for the chorus numbers. The tech and dress rehearsals brought much excitement on Friday, and before we knew it, Saturday was upon us. To get us into spirit we did some busking on the streets, singing songs from the show. At 2pm, in costume and having calmed any last minute nerves, we were ready to begin. The performance went very quickly, but was so much fun. When it was time to say goodbye, a few tears were shed after such a wonderful week.


On behalf of the whole cast, I’d like to say a massive thank you to the team behind it: Sarah, Maddy, Lotte, Laura, Grace, Katy and Tom. Without you it couldn’t have happened. When I spoke to the cast afterwards, they all said they would definitely come again next year – I know I will!

By Evie Brenkley


Thursday, 25 August 2016 00:00

Planning ahead with Visual Arts at The Witham

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As it’s a grey day today I don’t feel too bad telling you that I’m planning ahead with the Visual Arts programme at The Witham and looking to Christmas.

I’ve spent the last few weeks drafting a Visual Arts Strategy for The Witham, and a big part of that is aiming to develop the economy and ecology of art in Barnard Castle and the surrounding area. 

With the help of the team here at The Witham I hope to achieve that by supporting, facilitating, and promoting the work of emerging and mid-career artists, designers and makers from County Durham, Yorkshire, Cumbria, and the north east of England. In doing so helping to retain artistic talent in the region, and drive cultural tourism to the region.

The first step on this ladder is the birth of the Teesdale Christmas Art Fair, which will take place at The Witham from Thursday 8 December to Tuesday 20 December. The event will present an exciting opportunity for visitors to buy unique works of art created by some of the most exciting, regional fine artists just in time for Christmas.

The inaugural Teesdale Christmas Art Fair will show a variety of work, from painting to sculpture, by artists working in or inspired by County Durham, Cumbria and Yorkshire and the north east of England.

In order to keep quality high, and the balance of work on display right, involvement in the Teesdale Art Fair is by selection. Artists wishing to express interest in exhibiting in the Teesdale Art Fair should send an artist statement and images of, or a link to, their work to

Please help me on the first rung of the ladder by spreading the word about the Teesdale Christmas Art Fair amongst regional artists, friends of The Witham, and visitors alike.

Exciting times!

Many thanks, and look forward to hearing from artists out there,


Sarah Mayhew Craddock

Visual Arts Co-Ordinator


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