In the studio with Olivia Clifton-Bligh


Edwina has been talking with resident sculptor and bazaar organiser Olivia Clifton-Bligh – not only a sculptor working in bronze, paper, wax and clay but also a printmaker specialising in linocut and woodcut techniques. She studied Art and Art History at Goldsmiths’ College and has work exhibited in London and throughout the UK.

Olivia Clifton-Bligh against a backdrop of images showing the casting process image: Edwina Baines

When married and with a baby due, the family moved out of London and Olivia took her portfolio to Longleat House. Here she was successfully interviewed by the late Lord Bath, who chose all the artists for the hub at Bull Mill Arts, near Warminster. He was interested in fine art, so had very specific parameters: he was insistent that each artist was a professional and able to live by their work. Consequently Olivia has been a resident artist at Bull Mill Arts for nearly twenty-one years.

Her sketch books are filled with the flora and fauna of the surrounding landscape: the valley water meadows, ancient woodland, open downland and historic parkland. These notebooks have become her zoographical and narrative reference library for studio work.

Telling the Bees

In the studio space, I could not help but be drawn to the huge bronze sculpture of a lion, the title of which, Olivia explained, was Bee Speaker. Olivia’s husband is a bee keeper and they keep three hives in the garden. However, the honey is not harvested – rather the bees are kept as pets. The lion has a beautiful silver gilded Queen bee on his tongue and a honeycomb- crafted mouth.

“The lion has a beautiful silver gilded Queen bee on his tongue and a honeycomb-crafted mouth”
image: Edwina Baines

‘Telling the Bees’ is an old bee keeping tradition: in days gone by the Speaker’s role was to knock on the hive and inform the bees of the important events of the day. If the custom was omitted or forgotten and the bees were not ‘put into mourning’ then it was believed a penalty would be paid: the bees might leave their hive, or stop producing honey – or even die. Olivia is drawn to such stories associated with the environment and her sculptures each have a fascinating tale to tell. The lion started life as paper pulp and cardboard over a robust metal and wire armature before the casting process could begin. “I think three dimensionally. I start off with a clear idea of the story but not always an exact idea of what it looks like.”

‘Bee Speaker’ Telling the Bees isan old bee keeping tradition: in days gone by the Speaker’s role was to knock
on the hive and inform the bees of the important events of the day. image: Edwina Baines

The Christmas Bazaar

We are all now increasingly aware that, whilst still embracing the spirit of giving, we need to be conscious of the environmental impact of our seasonal excess.
It is more important than ever to buy high quality, unique, handmade Christmas presents. Bull Mill Arts Bazaar began ten years ago, and Olivia organises, stewards and curates the event herself. This year it runs Saturday 4th December to Sunday 12th December, and includes twenty-five guest artisans alongside the nine resident artists; ‘brimful with gorgeous hand-crafted goods from contemporary sculpture and ceramics, to handsome homeware and inspiring interiors, exquisite accessories and festive whimsy.’
Olivia will have on sale her own stunning limited edition linocut prints based on the ancient calendar known as the Irish tree Ogham – a lunar calendar and Celtic Tree Alphabet. Each print is hand burnished using stone, bone, silver and sheepskin barens and individually illuminated with shellac lacquer and gold or copper leaf.
‘I am the shining tear of the sun’ (see below) shows the alder tree with the Celtic crow deity Bran in the third lunar month of the year when the alder branches are still bare of leaves but the new little cones and catkins have already formed.

Eco-conscious makers

Olivia is also keen to celebrate and support fine craft and local makers, inviting new and returning artists including potters, printmakers, blacksmiths and hatters.

“I enjoy sharing the space with other artists who are really good at what they do. It’s more of a pop-up show – People say it’s like walking into Aladdin’s cave. I want people to feel they could buy a Christmas present for every member of their family. This year more than ever, I have tried to incorporate peoplewith environmentally friendly credentials.”
These include Organic Bulbs with a collection of bee friendly flower bulbs and Earthsong Seeds, who sell medicinal
herbal seeds with health-giving potential in the tradition of the home apothecary. Other artists are encouraged to consider their carbon footprint: Under the Stairs design, print and sew a small range of home textiles, using non toxic inks, organic fabrics and packaging. Olivia also likes to include some charitable associations and Chris Lock, the Wiltshire photographer will be selling his 2022 calendars: all proceeds from sales will be donated to Hope and Homes for Children. One neighbour even makes unusual jams for the Wiltshire Wildlife Hospital.

Springhead for Christmas

Another local exhibition (3rd to 5th December) is the ‘Garden of Delights’ Christmas sale at beautiful Springhead, Fontmell Magna. Created twenty years ago by Julie Byngham, local folk artist and Lucy Yarwood, potter, they sell their work directly to their customers but like Olivia also invite other local craftspeople.This year artists will be selling an eclectic mixof jewellery, metal garden sculpture, stained glass, pottery, prints, textiles, photography, glassware, decorations and much more.
Both of these excellent exhibitions are free to enter and promise to be full of gifts for the perfect Festive celebration. Unless you’re one of those organised people who have done your Christmas shopping by Halloween, the sudden realisation that we are only a few weeks from Christmas can send us into a flat spin.
Why not think out of the box a little this year?

by Edwina Baines


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