An arts group which was set up to offer friendship and care alongside traditional crafts has found such a rich seam of support that it’s now celebrating its 10th anniversary.
The Swanage based Art Workshop, which meets at All Saints’ Church hall, is described by its founder Suzanne Dominy as a group which provides pastoral care with art skills included.
Art Workshop founder Suzanne Dominy with acrylic artist Jenny and some of the group’s latest work
Friendship as important as creativity
And while other arts groups have come and gone in that time, the Art Workshop remains in huge demand, usually with all of their members attending the weekly meetings and often with a waiting list of people who want to join.
Its anniversary year has included helping to make costumes for Swanage Drama Company, taking part in artists’ discussions groups at The Mowlem and holding its own public show.
Although leaders, volunteers and members alike declare that friendship is just as important as creativity, many have celebrated their own successes at Purbeck exhibitions throughout the year.
Art Workshop volunteers Poppy, Dionne and Milly outside All Saints Church Hall
Using art to bring people together
Suzanne Dominy, a mental health nurse with a degree in fine arts from Arts University Bournemouth, said:
“I had wanted to be an arts therapist and got halfway through the course but couldn’t complete it because of family matters, so I set this group up as an alternative.
“I had an idea of using art as a way of bringing people together to build self esteem and confidence, express ourselves, enjoy ourselves and learn new skills.
“First and foremost we are an inclusive and supportive community in which to enjoy art – it is all about the people and their creativity, the quality of relationships counts more with us than quality of art making.”
Lucy and Chris work on their latest paintings at All Saints Church Hall
“We celebrate people the way they are”
“We support people with a wide variety of special needs such as Motor Neurone disease, dementia, long term physical problems and visual problems, where my nursing background helps.
“There are also people who are lonely and people with mental health problems – I count myself in that number, I have anxiety and depression, but we can talk about things and be supportive of each other.
“We celebrate people the way they are and have fun here, we like to be playful but not patronising. There’s so much talent, though we are all very different, and a very positive atmosphere, we like to think there is a wonderful feeling of community.”
Swanage town crier Andrew Fleming opened Art Workshop’s 10th anniversary show in August 2023
Part of the bunting display, with all work made during lockdown sessions
Sticking to health guidelines during Covid
The Art Workshop came into its own during lockdown, as the minute the government decided support groups could work within limitations, the club reopened.
Keeping tables two metres apart and wearing mandatory face masks, making collages with dry materials and glue sticks, the Art Workshop made sure that everyone stuck to the letter of health guidelines.
They also used sessions to sew bunting, which was put out on display at Suzanne’s premises in Commercial Road in Swanage in August 2023 to publicise the Art Workshop as it turned 10.
The Arts Workshop helped with dozens of peasant costumes for Robin Hood the panto
Costuming 35 peasants for Robin Hood
Weekly sessions are held at All Saints’ Church hall in Ulwell Road every Friday morning during term time, and the art projects change every half term.
Recent favourites have included silk printing, crocheting, print making, lino cuts, glass painting, pebble painting, printing with leaves, collages, charcoal drawing and clay work, using natural products wherever possible.
Members range in age from 30 to 90 years and the group celebrates its generational mix, sharing different skills, enjoying the creative process together and celebrating many individual successes.
In the past year, Milly has exhibited her photographic work at The Mowlem, Sharon discovered a talent for linocut printmaking and is now selling her work, Gillian contributed a panel to a travelling exhibition of South West Embroiderers and Chris had a painting on display at the Purbeck New Wave Gallery.
Group members also made peasant costumes and accessories for 35 actors in the Swanage Drama Company’s January pantomime Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood at The Mowlem.
Some of the current silk painting projects from Art Workshop members
“A good way to share new skills”
“I’ve learned a lot of different crafts while I’ve been running the group – it’s been a steep learning curve for me, and sometimes I am only one week ahead of the class, but at that point I ask who can help me and there is generally someone with the skill to help.
“The older group members have skills the younger ladies don’t and we pass those on down through the generations.
“I think the secret of success has been enjoying our craft and looking after our community – one of my volunteers says it’s like pastoral care.
“We benefit from the expertise of visiting tutors, including Kim Gallagher, who taught us to make lavender bags with a fine art approach, and Poppy Roou who taught a half term on drawing and painting still life images.
“It’s a good way to meet people and share skills, to make new friends and laugh a lot!”