It started with a letter from John Makepeace …


From Housework at The Sherborne to artists at the brewery, Dorset Art Weeks are packed with inspiration, exploration – and a boost to the economy

Star – Karina Gill

DORSET is not a big county, but as with its food and drink scene, it punches well above its weight in the visual arts world, with one of the country’s longest established and biggest art weeks.
This year will be the first full Dorset Art Weeks (DAW) event since 2018, before the pandemic. It will run from 25th May to 9th June, and sees the return of a programme of activities including workshops, talks, demonstrations, have-a-go and other events to excite and engage audiences.
There are 500 artists – painters, potters, textile artists, photographers, sculptors and other makers – exhibiting at more than 260 venues, from individual studios to grand historic buildings, creating a broad impression of the depth and wealth of talent working across Dorset.
The colourful brochure has details of all venues and participants, and maps of the six areas – North West (Venues 1-31), West (32-115), South (116-169), Purbeck (170-187), East (188-217) and North East (218-266).

One of the highlights of the 2024 DAW is the exhibition Housework at The Sherborne (Venue 1). The former Sherborne House is famous for the murals by Sir James Thornhill, the Dorset-born painter who was also responsible for large-scale schemes of murals, including the “Painted Hall” at the Royal Hospital, Greenwich, and paintings on the inside of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. The Georgian Grade I listed mansion has variously been a school, arts centre and, from 1851-60, the home of the great actor-manager William MacReady (1793-1873), arguably the greatest Shakespearean actor of the Victorian age, and one of Charles Dickens’s closest friends.
Housework, an installation with photography, textiles and painting, has been curated by artist Amanda Wallwork. It weaves together elements of the previous incarnations of the 18th century house and its new life as the home to an evolving programme of cultural activities. Artists featured in Housework include the late Dame Elisabeth Frink, as well as Jenni Cadman, Karen Hitchlock, Stig Evans, Jane Burden, Tim Burrough, Kirsten Cooke and Amanda Wallwork.

A new Jane Shaw piece which she will be exhibiting during Dorset Art Weeks

Residency at The Tap
Dorset Art Works’ headline sponsor is the
Blandford-based family brewery Hall & Woodhouse, so it’s no surprise that the Brewery Tap (Venue 223) in the historic brewery building is housing an exciting DAW event. The brewery artists-in-residence exhibition will feature work by two artists, Charlotte Beare and Jack Dickson. The theme of their Dorset Visual Arts residency and commission is reflections on the life of the 250-year old company and its staff. Work created on site and back in the artists’ studios will be on show upstairs at the bar throughout the festival.
Other special events and exhibitions include The Instinct of Hope, artists responding to the climate emergency, at the Fine Foundation Gallery at Durlston Country Park (Venue 173), and The Ground Beneath Us, at the Top Floor Studio (Venue 58), The Old Timber Yard, West Bay, with participating artists responding to the theme of Extraction – Art on the Edge of the Abyss.
On Sunday 26th May, renowned furniture designer John Makepeace and his wife Jenny have an open day at Farrs, their beautiful house and garden in Beaminster. The house contains many examples of John’s work, including prototype designs, while the famous gardens include Jenny’s colourful potager and other features.
On Friday 31st May, six Dorset artists join forces to support the Nepalese charity, Right4Children – the evening will offer guests an intoxicating blend of art, philanthropy and feasting. Kicking off with an exclusive drinks reception and viewing of the Dower House Studios at Winterborne Houghton (venue 230) exhibition, cocktails will be followed by a lecture from art historian Sarah Thomas. Guests will then be treated to a candle-lit dinner where they will have the opportunity to meet the founders of the charity and the Dower House Studios artists.
‘We are thrilled to host this special celebration in support of the invaluable work of Right4Children in Nepal,” says Jane Shaw, the owner of the studios, whose dynamic animal sculptures are beloved by collectors.

Star dining table and chairs – John Makepeace

Launched by a letter
John Makepeace has a special place in the history of Dorset Art Weeks. It might now be one of the country’s leading open studios events, but DAW began nearly 35 years ago with a letter from John to some influential people suggesting that an event in which artists opened their studios would not only benefit the artists but attract visitors to Dorset. At the time he was running his renowned college of furniture design at Parnham House, Beaminster, where he regularly hosted leading cultural figures, including Peter Hall and Norman Foster, and recognised what a great impression Dorset made on them. There was a similar open studios event in Oxford, but the great university city was a very different proposition from rural Dorset!
One of the recipients of the letter was the then county librarian and arts officer Carl Earl, who talked to the county’s new arts development officer Jo Morland. She contacted local artists who were unanimously enthusiastic – the result was the first Dorset Art Week (actually nine days) in May 1992. Since that first successful event, DAW has continued to grow, with more artists taking part every festival.
John Makepeace’s guess that it would attract visitors was proved to be absolutely right – the lure of meeting artists in their own studios and workshops, often along picturesque lanes and in hidden valleys, the excitement of exploration and the pleasure of village pubs and shops have all contributed to the development of a biennial event that now brings more than £2 million to Dorset.
Dorset Art Weeks now runs under the auspices of Dorset Visual Arts, a registered charity with a membership of more than 300 artists, designers and makers who live and/or practise in Dorset. DVA’s activities recognise that artists have different interests and needs in developing their careers, yet are often left to find their way in isolation, particularly in a mainly rural county.
DVA currently runs three project groups focused on professional development – The Interrogating, Salon and Emerging artist projects facilitate connections between artists with different areas of critical focus. The biennial Dorset Art Weeks is the flagship event, but there are now plans for a new ‘interval year’ event from 2025, as well as other activities such as residencies, workshops, networking meetings and get togethers.



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