Beautiful Japan-Inspired Linocut and Woodblock Prints by British Artists at Spencer House Gallery in the Cotswolds

Spencer House Gallery, founded by Chris Woodcock, serves as a distinguished cultural hub that highlights the works of exceptionally talented regional British artists in the UK. This is achieved through a dynamic programme of exhibitions, demonstrations, workshops, talks and events, embodying the essence of the artists featured and their creativity.



The gallery is located in Tetbury in the heart of the Cotswolds. You can view, buy and commission at the gallery not just by appointment or via an online enquiry – you can also visit each exhibition when it’s open. Shows and opening times are on the website, in the window and on Instagram. Typically, when a show is live, the gallery is open Thursday to Sunday – though this can be more sporadic between official show dates. All of the artworks are available framed and unframed.

Spencer House Gallery hosts and supports a growing community of artists and art lovers who are driven to discover and share art from the regions and demonstrate that traditional skills and creative talents still thrive, in many media. Artists range from painters and printers to potters, sculptors and textile artists. The work is distinctive, intelligent and genuinely inspirational. It appeals to enthusiastic, inquisitive art lovers and to buyers who appreciate genuine accomplishment and beauty.

Spencer House Gallery in Tetbury



In this blog post, we’ll explore the works of three artists who are currently showcasing their art at Spencer House Gallery. Alexandra Buckle and Jo McChesney are inspired by Japanese printing techniques, Japanese culture, and the seasons in Japan and Steven Hubbard uses Japanese Kozu-shi paper to bring his creations to life.

 ALEXANDRA BUCKLE

Alexandra Buckle, hailing from Bicester in Oxfordshire, is an expert reduction linocut printmaker. Her technique closely resembles that used in Japanese woodblock printing. Alexandra’s method, however, is to carve her images onto a lino or vinyl block using gouges and chisels. The remaining surface is then inked up and an impression is made. Alexandra’s technique is both unforgiving and complex, as she cuts and prints from the same block to gradually build up an image. Any mistakes made during the cutting process, as the block is gradually reduced, cannot be rectified, affecting both color and cut. Alexandra manages an extraordinarily painterly effect in her linocut prints. She’s a teacher held in high regard and considered to be highly skilful in her field. Alexandra is a regular contributor to renowned galleries and print shows like the Bankside Gallery, the Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair, the Society of Women Artists Annual Exhibition, the Mall Galleries, the Great Print Exhibition, the Oxford Art Society Exhibition, and many more.

In this short video, Alexandra shows you how she converts a single colour lino block into a multi-block design.



Alexandra’s artworks below were inspired by a trip to Japan in September 2019. Her initial interest in travelling to Japan was triggered by a print Alexandra created in 2010, titled “Gold Pavilion”. This print, based on a friend’s photo of the temple, was chosen to be exhibited in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 2011.

As you can see in these magnificent linocut prints, Alexandra has perfectly captured “Kinkaku-ji” (Golden Pavilion), “Ginkaku-ji” (Silver Pavilion), and the Ginkaku-ji sand garden in Kyoto in her Japanese Vistas collection. Her Japanese Tea Gardens collection is also splendid. Alexandra produces VERY limited editions of each print – typically just 10. Her artworks are on display until the end of August so please contact the gallery as soon as possible if you’d like to make a purchase. All prices are for framed artwork. Unframed artwork can be purchased at a lower price.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


JO McCHESNEY

Jo McChesney specialised in print after graduating from Bath Academy of Art in the UK in 1985. Jo travelled to Kyoto to study traditional woodblock printmaking and combines her knowledge of traditional Japanese printing techniques with a distinctly Western approach to image making.

Seasonal change in the natural world is a major source of inspiration for Jo. She likes to focus on transient and fleeting moments in time, water, and air, as well as light and shadows in woodlands when she creates her artworks.

Jo’s woodcuts are hand carved from Japanese plywood, using knives and gouges. After inking up, the image is hand burnished and layered into a final woodcut onto Japanese Mulberry paper. Each colour requires a separate hand-carved plate.

The hanko or little red stamp in the bottom corner of each print provides the perfect finishing touch to these prints on Japanese paper. This Japanese-style seal is something Jo learned in Japan when she was studying Japanese woodcarving. It’s carved out of marble and stamped onto a traditional red ink pad and sits next to her signature. The one she created in Japan was with Kanji (Japanese ideograms) so she carved another with her own initials back in the UK. It is a tradition in Japan for all artists to have their own hanko.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

STEVEN HUBBARD

Born in London, Steven Hubbard pursued his studies at Gloucestershire College of Art and Design. He boasts a substantial exhibition history within commercial galleries and, more recently, at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Steven’s artworks below use Japanese kozu-shi paper. This is a style of paper that absorbs and displays, in his case, the hand-printed (rather than press-printed) ink to the best effect. In Japan, Kozu-shi paper is commonly used for traditional Japanese interior doors, such as shoji (sliding blind doors) and fusuma (cupboard doors). Kozu-shi paper is also ideally suited as printing paper for all sorts of hand printing processes such as woodcut, wood engraving, linoleum printing, etchings (drypoint and line etchings) as well as bookplates.

Throughout his career, Hubbard has delved into a diverse range of artistic disciplines. His journey began with watercolor still lifes, which eventually paved the way for a successful venture into portrait artistry. Notably, his achievements include being shortlisted for the National Portrait Gallery BP Award, as well as receiving recognition from the Royal Society of Portrait Painters’ annual exhibition. These accolades led to a series of notable commissions, including portraits for the esteemed writer, NPG trustee, and Cambridge scholar Sir John Plumb (1911-2001).

These prints are based on his paintings of everyday objects, such as oil cans, tools, and telephones – he calls them ‘things with character, practical things’. His beautiful and precise technique is deliberately reminiscent of the Grovesnor School, lending it a vintage, inter-War-years charm and nostalgia. It also makes full use of colour show-through and thin Japanese papers, where you can change the appearance of the entire work by adding a backing colour when framing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


VISITING SPENCER HOUSE GALLERY IN TETBURY

Just 25 miles from Bath, Spencer House Gallery is easily accessible from London. This creative space is part of  Tetbury’s growing reputation as a centre of excellence for the arts, complementing the town’s existing fame as a celebrated antiques nucleus.

This gallery provides its artists with a platform to air their ideas, values, and perspectives on life. In fact, you’ll notice some recurring themes in their carefully curated exhibits and artworks, ‘sustainability’ and ‘equality’ among them.

For buyers, pricing is fair and accessible. Artworks can be purchased during regular exhibitions or, outside of exhibition time, viewed on their website and/or by appointment.

Spencer House Gallery is in a wonderful location. Tetbury is the second largest town in the Cotswolds, and it was an important market for Cotswold wool and yarn during the Middle Ages. Today, it’s better known for its fine buildings, boutique shops, antiques, and contemporary art, great food, and its royal connections.

Nailsworth, Stroud, Malmesbury, and Cirencester are within easy driving distance and the gallery is very close to Westonbirt, the National Arboretum, and Highgrove House, the family home of HRH King Charles III and Queen Camilla, with its magical gardens.

The gallery is in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and there are many wonderful walks directly on the front door, both around the sights of the town and out into the countryside.

Founder and director, Chris Woodcock, looks forward to meeting you at Spencer House Gallery in Tetbury.

Outside view of Spencer House Gallery in Tetbury, a Cotswold Georgian town in the UK.

‘The View From Breast Pocket Mountain’ – Karen Hill Anton’s Memoir is an Absolute Must-Read

The opening paragraph of Karen Hill Anton’s memoir conveys the promise of a well-written story full of powerful life lessons and inspirational anecdotes, despite the sadness on the first page. Anton explains how she was only nineteen years of age, but already traveling in Europe when everything she owned and valued was burned and ruined in a fire in the tenement apartment where she grew up in Harlem. Anton’s story blossoms and blooms into a delightful memoir covering themes dealing with motherhood, cross-culturalism and cultural homogeneity, courage, creativity, conventionalism, and liberalism, as well as love, loss, and the ability to endure the unbearable with patience and dignity.

Anton’s childhood was daunting. Whenever she sees brightly colored marigolds, she remembers visiting the mental institution where her mother lived full-time. She was raised by her father who worked long hours as a tailor, doing everything he could to provide for his children. This accomplished writer matures early. She delights the reader with stories of her work experience in her twenties in countries such as Denmark and Switzerland where she meets fascinating and famous people like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. She works sporadically while trying to raise her baby as she hitchhikes and rides second-class on trains, wandering from one country to another, before moving to Vermont in the US, “a place that embodies the ideas of a hippie revolution without the accompanying dysfunction.” (p. 89).

Anton’s love and respect for her father are transparent throughout the book. On page 8, she says she has inherited his generous smile. Some people just think about how much money they’ll inherit from their parents, but this kind-hearted author is grateful for her smile that reminds her of her dad every time she looks in the mirror or at a photo of herself. When she hears her father has been attacked and he’s in hospital, Anton rushes to his bedside. Her poignant words describing her distress evoke a keen sense of hopelessness and regret: “I’d never experienced tragedy before. I didn’t know the paradox of how it shows up with distinct, sharp, ugly lines, deep colors, and loud sounds, and then switches into lines that are blurred, vague, gray, and all sound comes through muffled.” (p. 83).

A visit to Boston reunites the writer with her friend and future husband, William (Billy) Anton. They share an interest in books and Zen Buddhism. Billy also introduces her to “the films of Kurosawa, natural foods, the philosophy of Bertrand Russell” (p.76) as well as macrobiotics, vegetarian cooking, and Japanese cutting techniques. (p. 79). Billy accepts an invitation to study at a yoga and martial arts dojo in Japan and the writer and her daughter Nanao decide to join him but first, they decide to take an unorthodox road trip through Europe and South Asia.

Anton expands on the importance of introducing her child to different cultures but she’s also well aware of the dangers and her worries prove she’s a thoughtful and capable mother. She senses that “even with her young eyes she’d see that people are basically alike—not in our cultures, surely, but in our humanity. And I hoped that she would see the world as I did, and find, as I had, that most people are kind and helpful and that the world we call Earth is a wonderful place full of endless lessons” (p. 154/155).

Nanao is five-years-old when they arrive at Haneda Airport in Japan to study at the Yoshida Yoga Doja.  Finally, “we had our place in a group where nothing mattered more” (p. 141). This lifestyle which relies heavily on rules and mundane, repetitive order is just what they need after the uncertainty of constant traveling and not knowing where they were going to rest their heads at night.

Anton and Billy eventually get frustrated with the restrictions placed upon them at the dojo, and they move to a farmhouse on Futokoro Yama or Breast Pocket Mountain. Anton has an unfulfilled desire to start taking lessons in shodo Japanese calligraphy so she presents the honorable eighty-three-year-old teacher Roppo-sensei with a loaf of homemade bread to show her gratitude for being introduced. She’s immediately accepted into his group of willing students. Anton still practices the art of calligraphy today.

The writer remains positive, enjoying her days at the farmhouse and the kotatsu and ofuro bath in particular, but life becomes increasingly difficult. The isolation and lack of modern conveniences are exhausting. She also realizes that “I just had to accept the fact that at no time and nowhere would I go unnoticed” (p. 176) as a gaijin or outsider. However, the fact this farmhouse is mentioned in the title proves that Anton learns significant life lessons and enjoys memorable experiences here. A visit to a fertility expert at this time results in a quick pregnancy and she has a wonderful birthing experience thanks to Dr. and Mrs. Mizumoto who show her the difference between a hospital and great hospitality (p. 181).

The drawbacks at the farm become overwhelming and they decide to move when she’s heavily pregnant with her fourth child Lila into a house with imperial connections in Hamamatsu. “Empress Teimei – the mother of Emperor Shōwa, great-grandmother of the current emperor, Naruhito – had once spent a night there.” (p. 194).

Anton mentions several times throughout the book how much she enjoys the safety Hamamatsu and Tokyo have to offer and she loves the “equality of educational opportunity in this country” (p. 240). These factors are two of the main reasons for her staying in Japan and why she decides to raise her four children here.

Anton goes above and beyond to break down cultural barriers by talking at kominkan community centers in rural areas. She also teaches modern dance and continues to do this for 10 years. There’s a terrific photo on page 24 of the author dancing at George Washington High School. Her body is in flight mid-air, defying gravity, and her face expresses a look of quiet exhilaration. Anton has also written several regular columns for The Japan Times, including “Hamamatsu Highlights” and “Crossing Cultures”. She offers sound advice to anyone living in Japan, explaining the ways she has learned to fit into Japanese society. “I had no desire to be seen as Japanese or even acting Japanese. I would stand out in Japan, always. But I could also fit in. (p. 216).

Anton stresses the fact you don’t need to be perfect in Japan as a mother. Living in the Land of the Rising Sun can be stressful if one is constantly comparing oneself with Japanese women who seem to be able to carry out life’s challenges flawlessly. Anton has learned to fall into line and to adopt the attitude “Do it now and get it over with” (p. 219) when it comes to school rules and requirements. Her life motto is “I’ll deal with it when I get there” (p. 134), making her a courageous and unstoppable force for good. But it’s Japan and the Japanese people who have taught her and her children that depending on others and interdependency is natural and “it supports the smooth functioning of society, and is crucial for our species”. (p. 278).

The Japanese have a proverb “The bamboo which bends is stronger than the oak which resists” or「竹はよわく弯がるが木は剛く立つ」. This book proves that Karen Hill Anton has taken this to a whole new level. Every day, she tries to live her best life with an open and flexible heart. When she faces a difficult task, Anton makes compromises while she tirelessly attends to the needs and wants of her family and friends and the people she meets along the way in Japan or in one of the many countries she has visited along the way.

 

Kumihimo: Japanese Silk Braiding – A Must-See Exhibition at Japan House London

My husband and I went to London to watch the coronation of Charles III and Camilla and the procession on the 6th of May and I’m so pleased we had time to see the Kumihimo Japanese silk braiding exhibition by Domyo at Japan House London on the same day.



Kumihimo is an intricate, decorative braided cord from Japan. This fascinating UK exhibition runs from 23 February until 11 June 2023, exploring this ancient yet contemporary Japanese art.




Literally translating as ‘joining threads together’, kumihimo is characterized by its vivid colours and intricate patterns, and is created by expert craftspeople who combine up to 140 hand-dyed threads, often made of silk.



KUMIHIMO: Japanese Silk Braiding by DOMYO brings the story of Japanese braiding to life with floor-to-ceiling installations, absorbing video, creative displays of equipment and tools, and more than 50 different examples of the braids themselves, imaginatively presented throughout the gallery.



The exhibition is divided into three sections:

1. The History of Kumihimo, which explores its 1300-year past from the Silk Roads to samurai and kimono

2. The Structure of Kumihimo, which allows guests to get up close to the processes and fine details of the individual braids

3. The Future of Kumihimo, which encourages guests to join in the discussions on future kumihimo possibilities in fashion, fine art and science




The exhibition is produced by Yusoku Kumihimo Domyo (Domyo), a company located in the old shopping and entertainment district of Ueno in central Tokyo, which has been making braided silk cords by hand since 1652.



WORKSHOP
An Introduction to Kumihimo Braiding 組紐ワークショップ

Japan House London is also offering a beginners’ workshop and an introduction to Kumihimo braiding for just £9 per person. You need to book because there are only 5 places per session. I just wish I lived closer to London because I’d love to attend this.

During each small-group workshop, led by the Japan House London Visitor Experience team, participants can gain an understanding of the basic principles of kumihimo while creating a braided cord using silk threads and a marudai, a round braiding stand mounted on legs that makes it easy to braid a variety of kumihimo, even for beginners.

Image for Kumihimo Workshops 1

Japan House London is a fantastic cultural destination in London for anyone interested in Japan. Located on the corner of Kensington High Street and Derry Street, within a two-minute walk from High Street Kensington Station, Japan House London offers the very best of Japanese art, design, gastronomy, innovation, and technology.