At the end of June this year I shall be holding a new exhibition at Bankfield Museum in Halifax. I was invited as part of ‘Culturdale’ – a celebration of all things Calderdale.
We played around with all sorts of titles and themes. ‘The Industrialists’ – too formal. Too much about what’s gone. ‘Legacy’ – was met with much scoffing. “Too much mentioned in wills”. I was trying to come up with a title that was unique to Calderdale and what shaped it. One day I jokingly said “Okay – how about ‘Engineers and Chocolatiers”. That’s all the mills, all the bridges and the canals, and the factories. Toffee was invented in Halifax. Sweets are made in Elland. And they all laughed and said “YES!”. Who wouldn’t want to come and see an exhibition with chocolate in the title?
So… ‘Engineers & Chocolatiers” it is.
I have a big map of Calderdale on my studio wall and have spent months trying to find a way in to the project. The hall at Bankfield is big and daunting, and I have to fill it. I want the paintings to be about the whole of Calderdale; from Todmorden at one end to Brighouse at the other.
Here’s Todmorden. I tried to find all the landmarks – places that were important – and patchworked them together in some kind of logical order. The Town Hall always seems to be at the heart of the town, and everything else wraps around it. There’s the canal and the legendary Golden Lion. The market, the churches, Water Street.
I was at a Christmas concert at the Unitarian Church in December. My twins play in the junior band and they, along with many other groups, were there to raise money for the building. It was so cold (we all bought hot water bottles and blankets), but it was such a vast and joyful gathering. It was the whole of the community under one, leaky roof. But filled with singing and mulled wine and candles and fairy lights.
Next up was Halifax. For me The Piece Hall is the heart of the town. It’s a rare and beautiful thing, and it’s currently putting Halifax back on the map. Seriously – who’d have imagined a Marvel Movie, or Blondie and Bryan Adams coming to Halifax?
And then there are the buildings that are less loved but still so beautiful, like the old Art School on Queens Road. I think this may be the most complicated painting I’ve ever done. There were just so many incredible buildings to get in. Obviously the chocolate factory is important – and with the Quality Street association, I wanted an Elmer style patchwork of wrappers to form tiles at the bottom. There will be many places I’ve missed, but I did manage to get the Shay Stadium in there, and Eureka!, at the insistence of my children.
Christmas in my family is never quiet. We’re a big, close family, but we’re spread about. So after hosting Christmas in Hebden Bridge, we travelled around a lot, visiting family and friends. We spent a few days visiting an old haunt from my childhood. The last time we were there was pre-Covid and it seemed to be thriving. Definitely ‘on the up’ as they say. But I was horrified at how desolate it’s become in the last 4 years. 65% of the shops empty. Building projects begun and abandoned. It was so sad. And walking to the heart, I saw how no one cared about where they lived any more.
I know I’m an outsider. I’m an ‘offcumden’. But sometimes it takes an outsider to notice. Calderdale is spectacular. Being proud of where you live is so important. I decided, driving back North after Christmas, that this whole exhibition is about being proud of where we live.
Now, I know my corner of Calderdale well, but I need some help identifying where is important to the communities of towns I know less well. I would really appreciate some help. I’m planning paintings of the following places and would love some suggestions:
Greetland and Elland
Rishworth and Ripponden
As well as the towns, i would like to paint the moors as well, so If anyone has suggestions for
The Shibden Valley
Either comment, or email me. I’d be very grateful.
I’m taking this Halifax painting to a school in Shelf this afternoon. I want to see how many places they recognise.