What do you take as gospel?
That was the prompt for the amateur calligraphers in my weekly groups, who are exhibiting their work for the first time at The Customs House in South Shields.
Inspired by Lindisfarne is the culmination of a three-month project supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England (ACE).
The project itself was inspired by the return of The Lindisfarne Gospels to their native north east, on loan from The British Library, last year.
Celebrating the Lindisfarne Gospels
The calligraphers, part of two groups who meet weekly at Mortimer Community Centre in South Shields, were given the opportunity to attend the exhibition at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle in September.
They also worked with paper artist Yvette Ja to learn bookbinding skills and experimented with Celtic knotwork with artist Carrie Dennison.
Bookbinding, knotwork and calligraphy are all key features of The Lindisfarne Gospels.
The groups then spent several weeks creating their own individual responses to the Lindisfarne Gospels, inspired by what they had seen and learned.
Calligraphers exhibit work for the first time
The work they created has now gone on display, kicking off a mini tour of Sunderland and South Tyneside with a VIP launch at The Customs House on January 19.
The event was attended by the Mayor and Mayoress of South Tyneside, Coun Pat Hay and Mrs Jean Copp, as well as invited guests from arts and cultural organisations, including The Customns House, The Cultural Spring and Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, the artists themselves and their family and friends.
Coun Hay said: “It is a wonderful exhibition showcasing some fantastic work by local people.”
The exhibition features calligraphy, illuminated lettering, Celtic knotwork, handmade books, photographs and draft pieces, to show the work that went on behind the scenes. Yvette and Carrie have also contributed examples of their work to the exhibition.
It was curated by Rory Williams, exhibitions and visual arts programme freelancer at The Customs House, who said: “We are very happy to be the first stop on a whirlwind tour of three venues between South Tyneside and Sunderland.
“It has been great bringing together people from different artistic backgrounds to learn new skills, to learn from our cultural heritage and bring a new, modern approach to it.”
Cultural Spring boss praises exhibition
The groups originally came together under the first two phases of The Cultural Spring, which was established in 2014 to increase participation in the arts in South Tyneside and Sunderland, funded through ACE’s Creative People and Places Programme.
Emma Horsman, project director of The Cultural Spring, said: “The quality of the work is really high and anybody coming in here, I think, would like to give it a go. It’s fantastic to see all the elements of the process, which you don’t often see in an art exhibition.
“It makes me so proud to see that almost seven years on from the first group starting, Creative Calligraphy is continuing to develop that appetite and and interest for people, which is absolutely amazing. If we can replicate that in other art forms, then we have done what we set out to do.”
Inspired by Lindisfarne aims to promote creativity
South Tyneside has been identified as a Priority Place by Arts Council England, whose Let’s Create strategy aims to encourage the creativity of every individual in the country.
Nicholas Baumfield, senior relationship manager at ACE, who also attended the launch event, described the exhibition as “a very genuine response to the Lindisfarne Gospels”.
Inspired by Lindisfarne runs at The Customs House in South Shields until Sunday, February 26, during usual opening hours. Visit the venue’s website here for details.
It will then transfer to 17Nineteen in Sunderland from Monday, March 6, until Sunday, March 19, before moving to South Shields Museum & Art Gallery in Ocean Road, South Shields, after Easter.