The rise of Northants Open Studios
‘Being non-selective means we are able to see all sorts of lovely art that is normally hidden from view’
By Sarah Becker
· Northants Open Studios runs Northants’ biggest visual arts festival in September promoting the work of over 200 artists in 116 venues across Northants
· It has grown from a small network of artists in the early 1990s to almost 300 in 2023
· Lamport Hall has seen more visitors viewing the exhibition in September 2023 than throughout the entire festival last year
· As well as in the artists’ own studios, the public can see exhibitions in venues including Chester House, Lamport Hall, 78 Derngate and Delapre Abbey.
The Northants Open Studios festival is a proper showcase of the county’s artists, taking over galleries, stately homes and even artists’ own homes.
From an original network of 48 artists who came together in 1993 to show their work, the festival this month has almost 300 artists taking part.
Director and festival organiser, 38-year-old Katie Boyce has been running the festival since 2020 when the festival took place digitally.
It has taken ten months to organise the festival this year, which Katie puts together in addition to her full time job as curator of Rugby Art Gallery and Museum.
“The festival has grown in terms of the number of artists exhibiting and venues who exhibit the artists’ work including Delapre Abbey, Lamport Hall and 78 Derngate.
“The central hub, Lamport Hall acts as the ‘yellow pages’ of the artists who are exhibiting.
“If you go there, you can create a tick list of who you want to visit from the brochure and then go out and explore further in the artists’ own studios.
“Each artist is displaying two or three pieces of work in Lamport Hall.
“We have seen the same amount of visitors view the exhibition at Lamport Hall midway through September, as we did throughout the whole festival last year. In terms of visitors that is a massive increase.
“In terms of sales we have doubled the number since last year. It’s been very successful so far.
“A significant win has been getting as many venues on board as we have - having their support has been paramount. Without them, the artists wouldn’t be able to take part. Chester House Estate is a new venue we are exhibiting in this year which is very exciting.
“The volume of artists has also grown incredibly – I didn’t know we had so many artists in the county practising and wanting to get involved.
“Our youngest artist this year is 17 and our oldest artist is 93.
“As an organisation we are non-selective. We have a wide range of artists taking part from hobbyists to artists making a full-time living from art. There are people in their studios, kitchens, spare bedrooms scurrying away working and sometimes their work doesn’t get seen so being non-selective means we are able to see all sorts of lovely art that is normally hidden from view.”
Mike Salt, is one of the artists taking part. He specialises in portraiture and landscapes and is opening his home in Abington for three weekends with interested visitors welcome to view his collection of mixed media paintings.
A collection of dark and brooding landscapes, reflecting his fascination with the dark Pennines landscapes adorn the walls of the hall in contrast to some incredibly lifelike portraits of his wife also on display.
“It’s my fourth year of taking part in September’s ‘Northants Open Studios Festival’ and thanks to the effort and drive of festival organiser, Katie, it has increased in size and scale each year.”
Printmaker and artist Charlotte Ashman is welcoming visitors onto her narrowboat which has been moored at Stoke Bruerne for two weeks and will be moored in Weedon Bec for the remainder of the festival.
Charlotte, who has lived on the waterways for more than 11 years, owns two narrowboats – one is her home and the second motorised boat contains her studio.
She is running two workshops from her narrowboat where guests can make their own linocut prints – the second workshop is due to take place on September 23.
It’s the second year Charlotte has taken part in the festival.
“Lots of people have been coming to look at prints and participate in the workshops, however, not quite as many people have been buying prints this year compared to last year.”
Woodcarver Carrie Yuen, who specialises in using chainsaws to create wildlife and abstract wood sculptures, has opened up her studio from her home in Collingtree to visitors throughout September.
Exquisitely carved sculptures including owls, bears, and a giant turtle are on display in her studio for guests to come and see.
“I took one of my owl sculptures to the launch exhibition at Lamport Hall and it sold immediately. I’m using a chainsaw to carve a plinth and am taking three more owls to the hall at the weekend.
“In terms of visitors to my open studio, footfall has been a little slow in the first two weeks of September but if it’s anything like last year, the last two weeks will be very busy.”
Northants Open Studios runs throughout this month and all details of venues, artists and exhibitions can be found at: www.northantsopenstudios.co.uk.