Upon passing through No:4 – a secret green door – you enter into the magical world of the Wilcote Art Studios – a group of Oxfordshire artists who work at the edge of Topples Wood, part of the ancient Royal Hunting Forest of Wychwood.
Since 2015 their community has gradually grown and now includes painters, sculptors, ceramicists, jewellery makers, sound and installation artists.
Nestled alongside these ancient trees in wooden studios the resident artists work as individuals and also collaborate in creating socially-engaged works, including artworks that have a positive effect on communities, which includes links with mental health recovery organisation Bridewell Organic Gardens.
Which is why Darl-e and the Bear is hosting their first exhibition, since re-opening in April, featuring this fascinating, socially-engaged group.
“Our artists have to have an ethical stance which is why Wilcote Art fits so beautifully into our remit. Their set up is like an alternative world, an artistic bubble,” gallery founder Julie Wigg explains, so we are delighted to be introducing them to a new clientele and spreading the word about this amazing group of local artists.”
The not-for-profit gallery in Woodstock also donates to environmental charities to ensure it makes a difference not only through the artists it exhibits, but also in its own business practice.
“Lots of people are scared of going into galleries. They can find them quite intimidating. We want to change that”
Despite only been open for eight months in the last 14 ,since first opening their doors in 2019, Darl-e and the Bear has already made a splash in the art world, helping to put Woodstock on the art map.
And although you can always find big names adorning Darl-e’s walls, Julie also loves championing emerging artists, which is again why Wilcote ticks all the boxes, so it’s been all go at the gallery to get the show ready for its opening one May 28.
Luckily Julie used lockdown to complete her two-pronged space – a full gallery at the front leading through to a beautifully serene courtyard garden (soon to be an art lounge with coffee and teas) and out to the exhibition gallery at the back, taking you right through from Market Street to Oxford Street in Woodstock.
So who is involved in Wilcote Art? “As part of their working ethos within the community the studios have two artists in residence – ‘The Mappists’ are Flora Gregory and Nimmi Naido, who have devised Being in the Wychwood, artwork of two complimentary parts.
The first is Come into the Woods which offers sensory experiences in woodland that encourages a connection with the forest, and Make your Mark (see main pic) is participatory mapping of the Wychwood Forest that informs people about how they can access the forest.
Founding member sculptor Richard Fox describes Wilcote as “entering a world of creativity and focused energy, a supportive environment that connects directly and nestles within the natural world.
“Its position on the edge of woodland on the Wilcote estate near Witney gives a sense of being in and part of nature.
“There is a shared journey of creativity amongst the artists each having had different life experiences influencing their practice,” he says. “This leads to interesting work collaborations, conversations and views about the work, and how living a life that involves making art might work.”
Other artists included in the upcoming exhibition include Marie Boyle, Peter Child, Karen Fern, Katie Hellon, Laraine Jones, Jennifer Newman, Mary Knowland, Laura Middleton, Alison Munby, Karen Purple, Imogen Rigden and Alex Smith.
“It is really exciting to see the artists exhibiting together, to see their work in a different light, and that personal interaction. Wilcote Art Studios are run on quite similar lines to Darle’s so we hope everyone comes to have a look,” Julie adds.
“Lots of people are scared of going into galleries. They can find them quite intimidating. We want to change that and engage with people, whether they buy a piece of art or not. We want our art to talk to our visitors. We just want more people to enjoy art.”
Wilcote Art Studios are at Darl-e and the Bear in Woodstock from May 28 – June 20. The Private View is on 27th May from 5 to 9pm – All are welcome.
Go to https://www.darleandthebear.co.uk for more details.