This year’s summer began for me back in last year’s autumn, when a chance meeting in the Museum of Somerset set an incredible chain of events in motion.
Talking to someone in the museum about how I was looking for opportunities to demonstrate and run workshops on quilling (the art of paper filigree), I was overheard by Jenny Keogh, CEO of GoCreate Taunton, and co-organiser of Taunton Live, the town’s annual arts festival. “Would I be interested in demonstrating at next year’s festival?” she asked. Would I?? “Absolutely … tell me more!” I replied.
A couple of weeks later, I found myself meeting with Jenny and her colleague Diane Burnell in the Foyer of Taunton’s Castle Hotel, explaining how I stage ‘make and take’ sessions for adults and children at public events, teaching them to create flowers, butterflies and other colourful creatures out of paper strips. This proved to be of great interest to them, as it was exactly the kind of drop-in public workshop they were planning to offer at Taunton Live 2016.
Following this meeting, I became a member of GoCreate Taunton and attended a Creatives Club meeting in early January in order to show my commitment and learn more about the plans for this year’s festival.
It was inspiring! The week-long event, I learned, was to encompass creativity in all its forms, focusing variously on two-dimensional art; comedy and street performance; dance, movement and fashion; three-dimensional art; poetry literature and drama plus music, all being represented on different days and centred on an open area in the town centre. Supporting this would be exhibitions, performances and ‘Adopt An Artist’ events throughout the town, with colourful and quirky yarnbombing very much in evidence on Taunton’s historic streets.
Initially I was asked to stage a ‘make and take’ quilling workshop, open to all-comers, in the Orchard Centre – Taunton’s main pedestrianised shopping area – on Thursday 21st July. With Thursday being the town’s busiest shopping day due to an adjacent open-air food market, this was an exciting opportunity to spread the word about quilling, and I was delighted to accept the invitation.
As winter turned to spring, however, further opportunities arose – to my great delight! The first of these was an invitation to quill the Taunton Live logo which I have already described in a previous post. Diane also asked if I would be willing to stage a three-hour quilling class in Taunton Library, putting me in touch with staff there to make the necessary arrangements. I was duly booked to run the class on the morning of Friday 22nd July, supported by excellent pre-event publicity.
Perhaps most exciting of all, however, was the invitation I received to display some of my quilled collage pictures at the festival as part of the ‘Adopt An Artist’ scheme. Having seen my work online, and noting the way in which I was developing my quilled tracery (echoing the architectural features of gothic church buildings and stained glass windows), Diane approached the Vicar of Taunton’s magnificent parish church, St Mary Magdalene, to see if he and his team of church wardens would be willing to ‘adopt’ me as an exhibiting artist there.
I visited Taunton in early May, and kept an appointment to meet the Vicar, Reverend Rod Corke, in the vicarage. I showed him pictures of my work on my iPad, and he was sufficiently impressed to propose my ‘adoption’ at a subsequent parish meeting. After an anxious wait, I received news in June that I would be permitted to mount a display of my pictures in the church. From that point on, the stage was set!
It took a great deal of planning and list-writing to prepare myself for the festival, as in addition to my pictures I had all my workshop materials and equipment to bring to the various venues, and I would be travelling to Taunton by train!
In the build-up to the festival, I contributed as actively as possible to the on-going publicity machine which, I discovered, was centred mainly on Twitter. Soon I was tweeting, re-tweeting and being re-tweeted with the best of them, picking up followers in Taunton’s vibrant cultural and arts community along the way. (You can find a link to my Twitter feed in the right-hand side panel.)
The festival officially ran from 18th – 24th July 2016, but I had the opportunity to set up my display in the church on the 16th, and leave it there until 6th August when I would be attending the Taunton Flower Show – of which more later.
On Saturday 16th July, I excitedly boarded the train for Taunton with six framed pictures and all my library workshop materials packed into one substantial suitcase! On arrival, I headed straight for the church, where I had been allocated a display table in a prime position right in the foyer, next to the cafe and bookshop. The Vicar had warned me that he could not absolutely guarantee the safety of the pieces due to the fact that all sorts of people wander in and out of this town centre church at different times and it was impossible for his team of helpers to monitor activity at every single moment. I considered all this carefully, but concluded that it was such a wonderful opportunity that I was prepared to take the risk.
The following weekend, the church was due to stage its annual fayre which would take up space in the foyer, so I agreed to relocate my display beforehand to a new position deeper inside the church.
My next port of call on that first Saturday was the library where a storage room was made available for me to leave my workshop materials in readiness for Friday’s class.
The following Wednesday saw me returning to Taunton in readiness for my two workshops, laden once again with everything I needed for the shopping centre ‘make and take’.
Thursday morning dawned, and I checked in at the Orchard Centre’s security desk to receive my pass before finding my way to my tables which had already been set in place for use by other artists who had done demonstrations there earlier in the week. I had quilling samples, literature and workshop materials to lay out in addition to my own merchandise (some small quilled items and paper bead jewellery) and, once this was in place, I settled back to rolling a few coils and waiting for the public to notice me.
The first hour was very quiet, but suddenly a family of three came over and asked to try some quilling – after that, I found myself busy for the rest of the day! One of the yarnbombers had been allocated to me as a helper so that I could take a break when necessary, and time seemed to fly by as more and more people (mainly children with their parents) sat down to create quilled flowers, butterflies and other sundry creatures for their takeaway gift tags and cards.
I was delighted, during the course of the day, to receive visits from some of the contacts I had made on Twitter, including Marcia, Taunton’s former Mayor (who greeted me like an old friend!) and a professional photographer, Mike Godleman, who asked if I would be interested in commissioning a photoshoot of my display in the church. This came to fruition a couple of weeks later, as I will describe later on.
It was a fulfilling and fun day, and so good to be playing an active role in the festival … with more excitement to come!
The following morning, I walked to the library ready for my three-hour class. One of the ladies who had booked failed to turn up, which was a little disappointing, but the others more than made up for her absence with their eager enthusiasm! I gave my standard introduction to quilling, describing its history, showing samples, demonstrating the way in which quilled shapes can be put together to form pictures etc – and very soon my ladies were successfully rolling coils for themselves (without the aid of a tool, I might add!). All expressed an interest in attending further classes, several were keen to leave me their contact details, and one has subsequently become a member of The Quilling Guild. Taking all this into consideration, I feel it was a great success. The library is an excellent venue, with loads of room, large tables and a cafe on site – well worth bearing in mind for the future. Watch this space!!
On Friday afternoon, I returned to the church in order to move my display as previously agreed, making way in the foyer for the parish fayre. The new site was a beautiful area of the church known as the Soldiers’ Corner, where stunning stained glass windows (depicting famous military men) cast beautiful coloured light from both sides. The table allocated to me in this area was much bigger, too, and I had a lot more room in which to set out my pictures (see photo below). Meanwhile, I received numerous very appreciative comments from people working in and visiting the church, and more than half of the leaflets I had left describing my exhibits had already been taken.
Saturday dawned, and my aim was to take some time to enjoy the penultimate day of the festival with free time on my hands. First I followed a marching jazz band through the shopping centre and into the main festival square, somehow ending up carrying a banner and being photographed with the musicians as we arrived on Castle Green.
I decided to return to the church where the fayre was in full swing, as there was an opportunity on that day to go up its iconic Somerset tower. I was told that people would be taken up in small groups, so I had to wait for some more to arrive in order to complete our party – and who should they turn out to be but the current Mayor of Taunton Deane, Vivienne Stock-Williams and her husband?! As we ascended the 160-odd very steep and narrow steps to the roof of the tower, we fell into conversation, and the Mayor was very interested to hear that I had a display of quilled pictures down in the church below. After admiring the view and having our photo taken on the tower roof, we gingerly made our descent, and Mrs Stock-Williams asked to see my display before we all sat down for tea in the cafe at the Vicar’s invitation.
Now, I can’t say too much at the moment because discussions are still ongoing, but suffice it to say that in the space of 15 minutes two very interesting propositions were made by those present in terms of future opportunities for me and my quilling art. If there are further developments, I will of course report them here on the blog. Even if nothing further comes of them, however, the delight I felt on that particular morning will remain with me as a truly wonderful memory … serendipity indeed!!
The festival ended the following day, and my thoughts now turned to the next exciting event – Taunton Flower Show – which was held this year on 5th and 6th August. I have written about the Flower Show here on the blog before – it’s a major competitive event and visitor attraction in this part of England, sometimes referred to as “The Chelsea of the West”! Last year, I managed to win two prizes in the competitions marquee, and I hoped to repeat that achievement once again by entering two of this year’s craft classes.
I removed one of my quilled collage pictures from the church display as one of my entries, and also brought a card that I had crafted for the class entitled ‘Hand-made Ruby Wedding card using no commercial embellishments’. Next morning dawned, and – two prizes once again!!
My card entry used lots of different techniques, instead of just quilling, because I discovered last year that the judges sometimes like to see a range of skills on display (although this doesn’t actually seem to have been the case with 2016’s First Prize winner! ) Nevertheless, my effort involving iris folding, heat-gun embossing, decoupage and stencilling alongside some quilled numerals and interlocking rings, earned praise from the judges for the “variety of skills” shown.
Just when I thought all the excitement was over, the Parish Secretary from St Mary Magdalene church made me an offer to purchase my prize-winning card, as it was her sister’s Ruby Wedding anniversary later that week! So, quite unexpectedly, I ended up selling the card – a very satisfying end to a brilliant few weeks.
Meanwhile, in between all of these wonderful events, my new friend Mike from Missing A Trick Photography had visited the church to do his photoshoot of my display – and the results are absolutely stunning! Since all of the pictures were behind glass, I feared that he would struggle with difficult reflections in the church environment, but he told me afterwards that he contorted himself into all sorts of uncomfortable positions in order to obtain some brilliant shots! I’ve included a couple of his lovely pictures in this post, but you can see the full set in ‘sample mode’ online via this link.
So ends the story of my magical summer in Taunton – but there is a very exciting postscript. It’s definite: our house will be going on the market in the not-too-distant future, and I WILL be moving back home to Somerset when the time is right. I have made so many new connections in Taunton that it feels as though my future is written in the stars. I can hardly wait …