“As long as I can paint, I am on the Path to understanding what ‘it’ is all about.” (P Wolff)
A graceful Swan gliding slowly over a river is the archetypal image of elegance in motion; however, hidden beneath the water’s surface is powerful activity, making this an ideal metaphor for not only Swans Yard, where units are offered to encourage first-time local businesses, but also unique artisan shops like The Cygnet Gallery. No wonder this area is known as the creative heart of Shaftesbury.
Swans Trust, a Community Development Charity, was set up 25 years ago to develop and promote Community facilities in Shaftesbury; and it rates Swans Yard as one of their main achievements. Situated in an historic area of the beautiful hill-top town, the Yard is named after a notable Coaching Inn that once stood on the site. It was a place full of activity where travellers stopped on their journeys for refreshment and rest, and where locals met to exchange news and views. This hubbub of chatter and laughter is still more or less the same today – for this pleasant open space includes not only shops but a bustling cafe, “The Ugly Duckling” with sheltered outdoor seating, a Garden Centre, a Dressmaker’s Studio, ‘Coconut and Cotton’ for all things ‘eco-friendly,’ and a Printer’s Shop soon to be opened. And, nestled in the heart of Swans’ Yard is the tranquil, hidden gem: The Cygnet Art Gallery (https://thecygnet.org.uk/index.html).
Eleven years ago, the Gallery began with only 12 artists; it was the combined vision of Dave Martin, an Award winning photographer, the artist Des Alner and ceramicist, Richard Lonnon. Still run as a Co-operative, it has since grown to the vibrant place it is now with almost thirty artists. By giving them vital gallery space, it continues to encourage local artists and crafts people (whose work has previously remained hidden from public view) the opportunity to share their expertise and excellence. The Higher Green Farm Unit within the Gallery is especially keen on promoting young and inexperienced artists. Many acclaimed artists who have now moved on to greater things in the Art World first ‘spread their wings’ at the Cygnet, whilst some have stayed and others have indeed returned.
Art Galleries can be intimidating places to enter but here there is a friendly welcome to be had and someone on hand to answer queries. Each artist rents a unit, changing their displays regularly so there is always something new and inspirational; and each does a shift. There is an eclectic and imaginative display of work to be seen, from fine art to silver- smithing, from glass work to textiles, from photography to ceramics, from calligraphy to sculpture, from leather work to wood-turning. Prices are very reasonable: rents for Units are subsidised by The Trust, and so artists (and therefore customers) do not have to pay the usual Gallery commission.
On entering this Art Gallery, I was immediately drawn to the ‘silver clay’ jewellery, for much of the work exhibited is inspired by the natural world of the Blackmore Vale, the Jurassic coast and Dorset landscape. Indeed, it would have been easy to start my Christmas Shopping – but I would have had to keep my favourite pieces! I contented myself by browsing through the racks of unframed artwork, shelves of various giftware items and purchasing unique, individually-designed greetings cards. The artists were eager to get back after ‘lockdown’ (all Government Health Guidelines are in place); and many are exhibiting exciting new artwork created during this time.
Swans Yard is very easy to find: it’s just off the High Street in Shaftesbury, opposite Boots the Chemist. So if you are seeking something that will give lasting pleasure, or looking for a gift – or if you merely want to browse amid such vibrant talent, a visit to The Cygnet Gallery is a must.
As one of the artists recently said: “Artists often live a lonely life. The Cygnet has introduced me to so many wonderful people l would never have known. This on its own is priceless.”
At the moment there are three units available to rent: if you’re interested, please contact Cali Norton (firstname.lastname@example.org)