Category Archives: Arts and Culture


Somerset Arts Works, in partnership with Halsway Manor, are pleased to announce a new and final Somerset Art Works commission as part of ‘A Landscape of Objects’ funded by Arts Council England.

Somerset visual artist Andrea Oke will take up a residency at Halsway Manor, National Centre for Folk Arts, deep in West Somerset. With parts of the building dating from the 15th century and with a mention in the Domesday book, Halsway Manor is imbued with a rich folk heritage that encompasses dragons, devils, murder and Odin’s ghostly blacksmith. Yet much of this folk history is now forgotten creating a borderland of shadows and concealments. Through the combination of traditional craft and digital media Andrea will reanimate Halsway Manor’s landscape by exploring some of the forgotten people and the stories that shaped the bedrock of this place.

In the ‘Shadowland Project’ Andrea says “By creating a visual landscape of folklore and placing Halsway at its centre I hope to start new conversations that prevent both the stories and the storytellers from being lost to us forever.”

During the project Andrea will be researching the folklore and history of Halsway and its immediate surroundings, utilising resources from within Halsway’s library collection and Somerset’s Heritage Centre, as well as talking to people and visiting local sites. The research will inspire and inform a pop-up exhibition of original artwork at Halsway Manor that can be visited as part of Somerset Open Studios (Thu 27 – Sun 30 September, 10am – 5pm. Admission free). There will also be opportunities to meet the artist (Sat 29 September, 2pm) and participate in family friendly workshops (Sun 30 September, 10am-12noon and 2-4pm. £10 per family. Places should be booked in advance via Halsway Manor – 01984 618274).

Crispian Cook, Chief Executive of Halsway Manor said “We are delighted to be hosting Andrea Oke here as Artist in Residence. It is particularly exciting that she is here at a time when we are undergoing changes with our restoration project and widening our creative engagement. Andrea’s work here will enrich what we are doing and provide a wonderful chance for members of the public to experience an artist at work during Somerset Open Studios 2018.”

Andrea is keeping a blog throughout her residency, visit to follow her progress.

Shadowland Project is the final commission of Somerset Art Works project A Landscape of Objects, funded by Arts Council England. A Landscape of Objects has consisted of a series of site-specific commissions, residencies, bursaries and curated shows, including new work from local to international artists, during 2017-18. This is a major artistic programme by SAW to encourage research by artists into the spirit of the place, local identity and rural context in the making and presenting of contemporary arts and craft, investigating innovative and imaginative uses of important man-made landscapes and our relationship to them.


The countdown has begun and very soon Fringe TheatreFest will be back in Barnstaple animating venues across the town in a riot of theatre, dance and live performance. Featuring over 60 shows from across the UK, from Thursday 30 June until Sunday 1 July, TheatreFest has been boosted this year by a very welcome grant from North Devon TAP Funding. The grant of £2,605.73 will be helping to kit out some exciting new venues including The Castle Centre and The Southgate who are coming on board for the first time in 2018.

Fringe Theatrefest Artistic Directors, Bill Buffery and Gill Nathanson, are delighted with the way this year’s festival is taking shape. Gill says, “The tap funding couldn’t have come at a better time with these new Fringe venues. Both spaces need complete kitting out to make them perfect for Fringe audiences to enjoy the fantastic programme that we have on offer this year.”

The full line-up for inside shows on offer at Fringe TheatreFest 2018 can be viewed online at

Tickets will be on sale online via the website from 1 June.


Bridgwater Choral Society will be performing the world premiere of Benedicite, a composition by their Conductor Iain Cooper, during their May concert. The work is a short piece for choir, brass quintet, piano duet and timpani, which Iain says is “bright and cheerful and written in an accessible style with some lively, syncopated rhythms”.

Handel’s Coronation Anthems and Faure’s Requiem will complete the varied programme for the concert on Saturday 12 May 2018. It will be performed at St Mary’s Church, Bridgwater. The recently upgraded building now offers better lighting, access and seating. The soloists will be Andre Soares (baritone), and Mary Morgan (soprano). The orchestra will be led by Brigid Kirkland-Wilson, and the conductor will be Iain Cooper.

Tickets are £12 (unreserved) and are available via the website or on the door on the night.

PHOTO: by Ken Grainger.


Simonsbath Festival returns on Bank Holiday Monday May 7 with May Day celebrations for all the family on Exford Village Green and an exciting mix of classical, jazz, opera and world music concerts, talks, walks and an art exhibition which take place in the village of Simonsbath in the heart of Exmoor over the following six weeks to Midsummer.

Full details of the programme are available on the website and you can follow the festival on Facebook and Twitter.

To receive a full colour, printed festival programme, email or to find out about becoming a Friend of Simonsbath Festival and enjoy ticket discounts and priority booking while also supporting the festival, email or just call 01643 831343.

Simonsbath Festival is a non profit making community venture which celebrates the cultural heritage of Exmoor, while inviting top musicians from abroad to celebrate theirs in the six weeks between May Day and Midsummer. The festival also offers a variety of other events and activities including walks, talks, classical music, jazz and opera and an art exhibition.


Reader Lewis MacDonald is an aspiring artist who got in touch with us to ask if he could tell his story and show us his embroidery of the Minehead Hobby Horse. This piece of work is quite astonishing (like Lewis’ own path so far), so what better day to tell it than May Day itself! Over to Lewis…

“Don’t study what you love, studying has a habit of making you grow resentful of the subject. So, my advice is to pick the thing you like doing the most and keep it as a hobby, that way it never gets boring.”

This was the advice my late father gave me as I was attempting to decide what to do at university. I couldn’t decide whether to do history or art.

My name is Lewis MacDonald, I am 24 and currently an aspiring textile artist. My focus right now is Free Motion Embroidery, also known as Thread Painting. This is a technique where you take a standard sewing machine and ‘drop the feed dogs’ (this is the term for lowering the little teeth on the base of a sewing machine which feeds the fabric in one direction whilst sewing). If you drop the feed dogs and swap a standard sewing machine foot for a ‘free motion quilting foot’, you have full control over the fabric and can create any design you wish. The best way I find to explain what it is like, is by saying that it is like painting, but instead of moving the brush you move the paper. Each embroidery takes me many hours of focused creativity and precision.

Lewis MacDonald's sewing technique

It’s been a long journey since I first found out that I had a talent for Free Machine Embroidery, unusual as well in that I am male. Many events have also taken place, both good and bad, which have forced me to push back getting into my art.

When I was in Sixth Form, at the West Somerset Community College, I wanted to copy a design that I saw on a collection of Alexander McQueen’s autumn fashion which was military inspired. The lapel on one of the coats had an oak leaf pattern in gold that fitted well with my theme for that term. Unfortunately, the CAD/CAM machine that normally makes these patterns was being used by another student. Impatient, I decided to attempt to make the design myself on a standard sewing machine by setting it up in the way that I have described above. It worked amazingly well, and so I went home that day and attempted something more detailed like a family photo. From that point on I continued to test and improve my skills.

In 2014 my work was part of a WW1 Centenary Exhibition held in St Andrews Church Minehead, which raised money for the Royal British Legion. And in 2015 I was one of the winners of the Marshwood Vale Art Competition and had my work displayed in the Bridport Art Centre. I decided to study history at university, on my father’s advice, and not to ruin my love for art. So, I had to focus more on education than embroideries. Still, all was going well for my art and my life until September of 2015 when I crashed my motorbike travelling home from Exeter University. After this I suffered from a bout of depression and anxiety, complicated by my ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder). This drastically worsened in October 2016 when I learnt of my father’s diagnosis of cancer and then had to cope with his death only a few months later. 2017 was a difficult year. But with counselling and determination I am finding myself at a new beginning (I hope). I am working on my art, myself and my health, all in the hopes of becoming a better person.

So now you are up to date, what am I doing, and what are my plans?

Currently, I am trying my best to ‘get my name out there’. I’m looking for commissions as well as working on pieces that can be sold. I have discovered that I can replicate most things with very intricate, detailed accuracy. I particularly enjoy sewing images of pets. I’m not too bad at humans either.

Also, on the subject of animals but perhaps more topically, I’ve always had a love of the Hobby Horse. For me, it heralds a time of happiness and celebration in Minehead, especially with its crazy dancing and music, that I only wish it could be a bigger event.

One day, I would like to see the Minehead Hobby Horse not just as a small march around the town, but expanded into a whole festival for a day, with markets, music and fireworks. It could be a big tourism event that would draw people from all around, as does the Padstow ‘Obby oss.’ But anyway, I also enjoy sewing the Hobby Horse as a challenge, it is such an intricate thing to be able to get right, particularly with the massive variety of colours and its movement of the dance.

Happy May Day!

Lewis MacDonald

You can read more on Lewis’ website:


International folk legends Blowzabella celebrate 40 years with a festival weekend at the picturesque Halsway Manor in the Quantock hills, alongside special guests Naragonia (Belgium). The festival weekend is now sold out but tickets are still available for a public Concert / Dance on Saturday 12 May at 8pm.

At a typical Blowzabella gig there are songs, dance music, and songs you can dance to. The variety of the arrangements and the mixture of unusual and more usual instruments provides plenty to enjoy whether you’re out there dancing or sitting on the sidelines listening.

Blowzabella play dance music composed and arranged by the band for a variety of English and European traditional dances. The dances are easy to pick up and you don’t have to be an expert to get involved, just have a go. Many people choose not to dance and come along to watch and listen – and that’s fine too. The band have done gigs like this for donkey’s years so you’re always in safe hands.

Blowzabella is a genuinely unique band that makes an inimitable, driving, drone-based wall-of-sound played with a fabulous sense of melody, rhythmic expertise and sheer feeling. They compose their own music which is influenced by English and European traditional folk music and song.

Blowzabella are: Andy Cutting – diatonic button accordion; Jo Freya – vocals, saxophone, clarinet; Paul James – vocals, bagpipes, saxophones; Gregory Jolivet – hurdy-gurdy; David Shepherd – violin; Barn Stradling – bass guitar; Jon Swayne – bagpipes, saxophone.

Many of their tunes are “standards” in the modern British/European folk repertoire and are played by people all over the world. Bands across Europe who experiment with folk music often cite Blowzabella as a major influence. Much loved and respected, there is no one else quite like them.

Halsway Manor, National Centre for Folk Arts, has been established as a Charity since 1965. Nestling at the foot of the Quantock Hills Halsway Manor provides a year-round programme of events and activities in traditional folk music, dance, song, storytelling, folklore and related arts and crafts. Parking, a bar and camping are all available onsite.

Tickets are priced £15 / £6 for under 18s. Tickets with camping & breakfast are priced £30 / £21under 18s. Buy securely online:



Halsway Manor, National Centre for Folk Arts, is delighted to have received a grant of £387,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The National Lottery grant, along with £57,600 from the Country Houses Foundation and £100,000 from supporter donations, will allow the charity to restore the Manor and library collection, and to deliver a creative learning programme in local schools and across West Somerset.

Halsway Manor is a Grade II listed manor house situated at the foot of the Quantock Hills in West Somerset. It has a fascinating history dating back to the fifteenth century, with a mention of the Halsway Estate included in the Domesday Book. Since 1965 the Manor has operated as the National Centre for Folk Arts, providing opportunities for thousands of people to discover, learn about and enjoy traditional folk music, dance, song, folklore, crafts and more. It houses a nationally important collection of books, recordings and artefacts relating to English traditions.

After over fifty years of heavy use, there is essential work needed to preserve the buildings and valuable library collection. The project will repair and conserve the Manor’s historic building fabric, upgrade dated electrical and water systems and provide more efficient heating. This work will be carried out between April and August 2018 by Somerset firms Jonathan Rhind Architects and heritage building company Ellis and Co. Alongside the restoration will be a far-reaching creative learning programme working with local schools and communities to use the folk heritage of Halsway and the surrounding areas to stimulate creative workshops, residencies and new work.

Commenting on the award, Crispian Cook, Chief Executive, said, “We are thrilled to have received this grant thanks to National Lottery players, and a huge thank you goes out to all our supporters who have donated their own money to the project. This project will ensure the Manor – and its library collection – will be available for future generations to enjoy, providing opportunities for countless people to learn about our diverse folk heritage.”

Nerys Watts, Head of HLF South West, said: “Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players this historic building and its fascinating collections have a secure and exciting future. Creative and community focused, this project will enable even more people to explore the centuries old story of Halsway Manor and English folklores, customs and traditions.”


Anna Barriball, John Brown, Mary Griffiths, Mikhail Karikis, Mary McIntyre, Mariele Neudecker, John Newling and George Shaw are the eight artists exhibition in the show ‘Cultivation: Points of Advantage’ which is on at Hestercombe Gallery now and runs until  1 July 2018.

Using landscape, space, place and time as inspiration, this exhibition attempts to unearth the unique perspectives and pathways that artists take in responding to the world around us.

Abandoned landscapes link the work of George Shaw, Mariele Neudecker and Mikhail Karikis. Shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2011, George Shaw paints meticulous and rich evocations of place and memory using Humbrol enamel paint, a medium reminiscent of childhood Airfix kits. Shaw’s ‘The Next Big Thing’ presents a landmark no longer there, empty of any clues as to the particular time and place.

Similarly, Mariele Neudecker’s sculpture, ‘Everything is Important and Nothing Matters at All’, presents us with an abandoned, decaying dwelling, emphasised with glimpses of verdant nature, while abandoned villages in an area of Italy known as Devil’s Valley create the subject for Mikhail Karikis’s video and sound piece. In the film, local children reanimate these silenced villages through play and sound.

Mary McIntyre and John Brown both use photography, in differing ways, to present the viewer with notions of ‘Romanticism’, beliefs and landscape. Engulfing mists and twilight scenes evoke the feelings of longing and melancholy as McIntyre examines the relationship between the individual and nature, while Brown attempts to explore Chinese calligraphy and transcendentalism through grass images. John Newling uses the land and horticulture itself to explore time, currency and value. A pioneer of public art with a social purpose, his works explore the natural world and the social and economic systems of society.

Traces of time and materials link Anna Barriball and Mary Griffiths, who are both interested in the relationship between two-dimensional drawing and three-dimensional space, and the ways in which drawings, in these cases using graphite, might be seen as objects.

‘Cultivations: Points of Vantage’ runs until 1 July and has been supported with loans from the Arts Council Collection. Founded in 1946, the Arts Council Collection is a national loan collection of modern and contemporary British art. Operating as a ‘museum without walls’, the Collection includes important examples of the UK’s prominent artists acquired at an early stage of their careers.


From 19–21 April, Waterfront Theatre Company takes to the stage at the Regal Theatre in Minehead with their latest production –  Dr Watson & The Enigma Of Mary Kelly, written and directed by Fred Owen.

The year is 1901 and Whitechapel is gradually recovering from Jack the Ripper’s 1888 Reign of Terror. The new Whitechapel Art Gallery has opened on the High Street and the great and the good are in attendance to toast its success, including Dr John Watson who runs a clinic nearby.

Watson bumps into his old friend retired Inspector George Lestrade, who is attending the launch with William Wiggins, a reporter. Wiggins claims to have sensational information obtained from the stolen memoirs of Melville Macnaghten – the identity of Jack the Ripper.

Watson, Lestrade and Wiggins set out to prove him right or wrong before publishing the scoop of the new century. However, the search for one answer throws up a variety of new questions, some of which threaten to unleash a wave of despicable new horrors on the ever-brooding East End.

Performances Thursday – Saturday, 19 – 21 April begin at 7.30pm and tickets costing up to £8 are available from the Regal Box Office (01643 706430), 10am – 3pm Monday – Saturday.  Book online at



As part of its 60th Anniversary celebrations, The Exmoor Society is pleased to announce the launch of its new Poetry Competition for Adults. The competition is open to anyone aged over 16 years.

Poems must have been inspired by Exmoor in some way which might, for example, be topical, historical, archaeological, literary, recreational, spiritual, or relate to flora, fauna, dark skies and so forth.

Judging will be by a panel of poets. All entries must be received by midnight GMT on 30 April 2018.

Terms and Conditions and Entry Forms are available on The Exmoor Society’s website, from its shop at 34 High Street, Dulverton and at various local libraries and Visitor Centres.

PHOTO: Dunkery Heather  by Madeline Taylor