By Kingfisher Visitor Guides
Cornwall has inspired artists and writers for centuries, and they continue to flock here to make the most of the landscapes and the light. Seek out their work in the county’s craft shops and galleries and follow in the footsteps of literary luminaries on Cornwall’s heritage trails.
Get to the heart of all things arty in St Ives, where you can visit world-class galleries or get hands-on with painting and pottery workshops. Artists have flocked to the town since the 1930s, when they took over the net lofts deserted by fishermen when the pilchard reserves dried up. Inspired by the magical light, wild landscapes and bohemian lifestyle, the likes of Barbara Hepworth, Bernard Leach, Terry Frost and Peter Lanyon laid their roots here.
Testimony to the town’s art legacy is a littering of galleries including the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, The Leach Pottery and the iconic Tate St Ives, which highlights national and international modern art in light-flooded spaces.
While you’re in town don’t limit yourself to the big-name galleries – there are dozens of lesser-known spaces to seek out, such as Back Road Artworks in the Downalong area, where you can meet a community of artists and makers creating multi-media artwork. If you want to get in touch with your own creative side, join a class at the St Ives School of Painting, or learn to throw a pot under the tutelage of a local expert at St Ives Pottery.
A 15-minute drive from St Ives will take you to the unique Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, where art and nature merge seamlessly in sub-tropical gardens overlooking Mounts Bay.
Nearby Penzance and Newlyn are two more arty havens. The Newlyn School of Art was founded in 2011, and provides painting, sculpture and drawing courses with some of Cornwall’s most respected artists. You can see original Newlyn School art at the Penlee House Gallery and Museum in Penzance, while the more modern Newlyn Art Gallery and its sibling, The Exchange, feature ambitious contemporary projects by today’s local artists.
The allure of the county’s art scene also lies in the more remote galleries and independent designer-makers. Make a pit stop in the old mining village of St Just-in-Penwith outside of St Ives, where you’ll find the award-winning Jackson Foundation Gallery housed in a huge ex-industrial building. Also between St Ives and Land’s End is the Yew Tree Gallery in Pendeen, a contemporary art gallery facing rugged moorland.
Nudging Land’s End is the small studio and gallery of Amanda Richardson, where you can meet this pioneering textile artist (visits year-round, by prior arrangement only). While Amanda Richardson’s work reflects the local scenery through textiles, the work of Dreya Bennett echoes Cornwall’s natural environment through stained-glass art. She has her own gallery in Newquay.
Arguably one of Cornwall’s best-known glass artists is Jo Downs, who has been capturing the light, colours and texture of the scenery in her glasswork for 25 years. She has a studio in Launceston and three galleries with her name on them, and her work can also be found in gift shops across the county.
Home of one of the UK’s leading creative universities, it’s little wonder that Falmouth has become so popular on the art and literary scene. Make a beeline for Beerwolf Books if you want to browse, meet book and beer-loving folk, listen to bands and perhaps bump into the town’s resident authors such as Emily Barr.
Fowey was once home to the region’s best-known author, Daphne du Maurier. The annual Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature, held each May, was launched in her honour and her legacy is still very much at the core of this celebration.
Climb to the daymark atop Gribbin Head and admire the historic Menabilly Estate that inspired some of du Maurier’s work. She wasn’t the only author putting Fowey and its surrounds into her novels, however. Hop on a river cruise from Fowey to Lerryn and you’ll be messing around in the scenery that inspired Ratty and Mole’s boat trip in Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows.
Cornwall’s Atlantic-lashed north coast has also proved alluring for writers over the decades. Visit the picturesque harbour village of Boscastle, where Thomas Hardy fell in love with his first wife, or climb the grassy knoll of Brea Hill from Daymer Bay, to soak up the scenery that inspired the late Poet Laureate John Betjeman, taking the diversion to St Enodoc Church where he is buried.
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