A painter and printmaker himself, Henry relocated to Cornwall nine years ago to pursue a full-time career as an artist. It was an irrational and instinctive move, and to complicate his dream he was initially unable to find a studio space to rent. After a lengthy search, he came to the simple conclusion that there was a chronic lack of artists' studios in West Cornwall. Official statistics at the time stated that over 10,000 creative people were working in the county, but where? But rather than submit to the shortfall, the problem stoked his entrepreneurial spirit and, putting his brushes aside, Henry set himself the mission of righting this wrong. After much effort, including an abortive attempt to takeover some barns near Land's End, Henry was close to exhaustion when he happened to bump into a member of the Bolitho family (owners of Trewidden House) on a sleeper train to London. This chance meeting, and the subsequent negotiations, gave birth to Trewidden Studios; a collection of 15 self-contained studios on the outskirts of Newlyn, opened in 2008.
The novel concept was greeted enthusiastically by artists (none have declined the opportunity at the school thus far), and for many the teaching process has proved a healthy experience; an opportunity to verbalise their processes, share ideas and step out of the introspective world of their own art. Students too feel the benefit, with the chance to work with well-known artists, and by receiving passionate teaching from an experienced working practitioner.
The School's name is embedded in history, and there is a satisfying sense of continuity from past to present, but its links with those venerable ways have been loosened; the teaching style errs on the side of progressive. While key traditional skills are taught here, classes can be informal, free-form and often unconventional, depending on the tutor. While we were there, Sam Bassett's Experimental Drawing class was in full swing, with students painting with balls and sticks, and drawing with their eyes closed. The structure of courses is less rigid too, with students able to attend just one class, rather than having to sign up for a term's worth of lessons. It is this flexible and relaxed approach that gives the school its character and its niche, allowing it to sit comfortably alongside existing courses in the area.
But who comes to learn? Student ages range from 16 to 86, and the level of experience present in any one class can span from professional artist or MA student, to the dabbler or the recipient of an Art School gift voucher who has yet to wield a brush. In short, anyone is welcome and all can benefit from the inspiration offered. And budding artists come from far and wide, enticed by Newlyn's art heritage, but Henry is heartened to see that the school is also being supported by locals; during the winter, 90% of the students were Cornish folk. Equally encouraging has been the support from local art bodies, which has been uninhibited; productive links have been forged with Penlee House Gallery and Museum, Newlyn Art Gallery and The Exchange, as well as Tate St Ives.
Living where we do, art is an integral part of the community. Now here's the chance for us all to learn, improve, test our under-exercised creative muscles, or just have fun being an art student for a day or two.