AN ARTIST’S TALE FOR MINEHEAD’S MAY DAY

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: www.sewingloon.uk

TV ACTRESS CAROLINE QUENTIN BACKS EXMOOR BRIDGE APPEAL

Men Behaving Badly star Caroline Quentin is the latest TV personality to get behind a community-led fundraising appeal to replace a popular footbridge in Exmoor National Park that forms part of a century-old walking route.

In her campaign video, she asks those who share her love for Exmoor to get behind the appeal by spreading the word to friends and family and on social media, and urging them to donate to Caremoor for Exmoor, via the Exmoor National Park website www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/caremoor or by sending a cheque to “CareMoor (Exmoor National Park)” to Exmoor House, Dulverton, TA22 9HL.

Caroline, who lives locally to Exmoor and is President of the Campaign for National Parks, joins Julia Bradbury, TV presenter and co-founder of The Outdoor Guide – a free web resource for walkers, in supporting the appeal led by Exmoor National Park Authority and the Lyn Community Development Trust (LCDT).

The bridge once formed part of a favourite circular walk on the outskirts of Lynmouth, enjoyed by Caroline along with thousands of others seeking to experience the spectacular East Lyn Valley. It connects to the Middleham Memorial Gardens, created in memory of victims of the 1952 flood which destroyed much of Lynmouth, and featured in Julia Bradbury’s hit TV series Britain’s Best Walks.

Caroline Quentin, said: “Together we can build a new heritage bridge fit for the twenty-first century that will allow people of varying abilities to experience this enchanting ancient woodland and its unique heritage. For me deepening people’s enjoyment and understanding of our wonderful countryside is a big part of what National Parks are all about, which is why I’m delighted to get behind the cause.”

Sarah Bryan, chief executive of Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “As the tourism season picks up, Exmoor is gearing up to welcome more than two million visitors. But in Lynmouth we feel there’s still one important thing missing, which is why we’re so grateful to Caroline for helping raise the profile of this important cause.

“This crossing has endured for more than a century. And with everyone’s help we hope to be able to replace it with a new heritage bridge built in solid Exmoor oak timber, putting this much-loved route back on the map for another generation.”

MAY COAST AND MOOR OUTDOOR FESTIVAL

Spring is bursting out all over and now there are even more reasons to enjoy May in and around Exmoor – over 50 in fact. Visit Exmoor www.visit-exmoor.co.uk/coast-moor-outdoor-may-festival  has brought together a whole range of fabulous excuses to get outdoors this spring.

There are guided walks right across Exmoor, from Dunster to Dulverton, Minehead to Molland, Bluebell wood wanders, valleys and village tours and breath-taking coastal paths. ‘The Walker’ sculpture is back out in its rightful place on the Lynmouth esplanade, waiting to have his picture taken.

For more adrenalin-fuelled fun there is rock climbing in Valley of Rocks or SUP in Porlock and Minehead, kayaking, archery and even a kids’ multi-activity week at Wimbleball Lake. Enjoy a fossil walk along Watchet’s fascinating coast, a seaside safari in Combe Martin or stream dipping at Tarr Steps. Stay dry and see Exmoor from the sea with a boat trip from Lynmouth along the dramatic rocky coastline.

Bring the outside in with a selection of painting workshops at the Exmoor National Park Centre in Lynmouth, including a sea glass, watercolour and pastel workshop. Find out more about the historic water-powered sawmills at open days at Simonsbath and Cowbridge. Or enjoy Open Gardens weekends at Porlock and Brendon.

There are great family days out at the Cliff Railway, the Lynton Railway Spring Gala and an Exmoor National Park Big Adventure Day at Nutcombe Bottom. Meet Exmoor ponies at the Exmoor Pony Centre, follow the Butterfly trail in Heddon Valley or take a Forest Night Walk in the woods of Croydon Hill.

There’s sublime chamber music in Dunster, mayday mayhem in Simonsbath, duck races, wheelbarrow races and much, much more. What are you waiting for?

For full information on events and places to see and stay, see www.visit-exmoor.co.uk