Traditional trades of the Toon

Melissa Wear discusses her exploration of Newcastle's historic craft places.

NUSU
7th December 2015

The Ouseburn has a robust history of both craftsmen and industrial trade. From the seventeenth century through to the nineteenth, the area was dominated by glasshouses and potteries. Their decline in the twentieth century left this Victorian village (just outside the City Walls) in a state of dereliction.

However, in recent years the Ouseburn Valley has seen significant regeneration as a cultural hub of Newcastle. The flourmills and the breweries have been reclaimed by ceramicists, weavers, sculptors, and jewellery makers. This small collection of remaining buildings now house over forty artists’ studios. This past weekend, the Ouseburn community, opened its doors to the public. It was a great opportunity for the artists and the public to interact in a conversation of locality, amidst a gluttonous amount of festivity as mince pies and mulled wine circulated.

The Biscuit Mill, an icon of the city, has a traditional feel to its basement studios. The artists are grouped by medium. As I pass through, there seems to be a push on art for the sake of aesthetic rather than concept or commerce. This principle reflects the practical and direct nature of the North East.

ALL KINDS OF PRINT-MAKING ARE ON OFFER FROM BLOCK PRINTS

Meandering down Stepney Bank, we entered an interactive class at Northern Print. All kinds of print-making are on offer from block prints using an 1866 printing press, and wood pressing (resulting in prints distressed by the lines of the oak), to more modern silk printing. The studio holds a membership of nearly 200, ranging from hobby-makers to professionals. The relaxed working attitude of the place sees that experts are often making time to teach their fellow printers.

36 Lime Street is roughly six times larger than you perceive it to be from the outside. The whitewashed walls and turquoise windows out over the River Ouse are on-going as you flow between the treasures of the makers. Every studio has its own personality – a dark cave of pattering ceramics to an expansive wood workshop full of all stretches of practical ideas.

Effie Burns, between a variety of kilns, exhibits of range of clay and silicon moulds that have aided her project of sculptures in plaster and glass. Burns’s range of subjects is interesting as her work ranges from architectural commissions of glass townscapes and broccoli-esque forests to the texture of the skin on her hand. The North East link to the National Glass Centre in Sunderland offers some exciting potentials for this group of artists who will soon gain access to Sunderland’s facilities through a partnership.

THE OPEN STUDIOS WEEKEND SUMMED THE ADVENTUROUS ATTITUDE OF THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE CREATED OUSEBURN

There is a constant reminder in 36 Lime Street that you are treading the ground of 18th century craftsmen and it is so stimulating to know that these traditional methods are still being practised. However, they are now benefitted by modern technologies of making and a widespread interest in the arts.

Further upstream, away from the creative village and into a more believable industrial estate, the Mushroom Works had a smaller scale feel to Lime Street’s industrial studios. Creations from Muddy Fingers Pottery, the playful furniture of Nick James, and an extensive display of 20x20x20 prints for £20 had a very affable interface of “you can do this, you can have this”.

The open studios weekend summed the adventurous attitude of the people who have created the Ouseburn and continue to develop it. It is inspirational to see so many people working prosperously in the arts. It is equally satisfying to observe the value society puts upon it and how these creations are taken to spread from home to healthcare campaigns.

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