This post is written by Lexi Earl, on her visit to St. Ives School in Cornwall.
When I arrived in St Ives, early on a Monday evening in March, I was entranced. Like thousands before me, I found the town captivating. Everywhere there was sea – sometimes silvery grey, sometimes aquamarine, sometimes golden in the sunlight. I walked the tiny cobbled streets. I watched people with their dogs, happy as can be on the creamy sandy beaches. On my walks up to St Ives School in the early mornings, I found myself listening to the squawk of seagulls or the twitter of sparrows, instead of my usual podcasts.
I am of course, not alone in feeling this way about this particular part of the world. In the Barbara Hepworth Museum, which I had opportunity to visit during my stay, there was a quote on wall that resonated with me.
“St Ives has absolutely enraptured me, not merely for its beauty, but the naturalness of life… The sense of community is, I think, a very important factor in an artist’s life”.
I have been thinking a lot about community since starting to work on this project, and at St Ives School some of the students talked about the sense of St Ives as an art community.
I think Cornwall, especially St Ives, does attract, it’s like an artist magnet. It attracts people from all over the world.
St Ives is such an art-based capital. Obviously we’ve got the Tate here, so that’s cool. There are life-drawing classes; there is pottery. There are self-portrait artists.
Like the island, you could just sit there and paint.
The art and graphics teachers I spoke with at St Ives School clearly thought that partaking in the arts community was important, and sought to provide opportunities for their students to experience this kind of arts-focused community.
Gizela Daemi-Rashidi, who is Head of Creative Design, is involved with the St Ives School of Painting and has helped set up an opportunity for students to learn there.
The St Ives School of Painting asked me to be one of its trustees. So I go to meetings and we really try and expand the arts for the students. And the students are now doing an Arts Award through St Ives School of Painting, after school every Thursday for two hours. It’s [for] students who lack in confidence, who want to do more art. The opportunity is there if the students are willing to put the time and effort in.
Some of the students I spoke with were taking advantage of this opportunity.
It’s a bit more strict. It’s kind of just expanding your art skills than when you’re in school.
We’ve done life drawings at the moment. We did marbling, colour mixing, using our pencils with measurements to get everything into proportion.
It’s a different kind of atmosphere cause you’ve got different people, and teachers who are specific to what you’re doing at that time.
Every summer, Paul Fox-Williams, Head of Art at St Ives School, organizes for the GCSE artwork to go on display at the Penwith Gallery in town. This provides an opportunity for the students work to be displayed in a gallery exhibition, and for the local community to see the kind of work the students are producing. The students gain valuable feedback from local artists. Paul explained:
What the Penwith Gallery did was go actually the bit that is brilliant about this is the kids work so let’s work something out that means that the rest of the world can see that work of those kids.
The school also takes students to the Tate Gallery, the Barbara Hepworth Museum, and the Leach Pottery studios. The students expressed what this kind of experience meant to them:
It’s just inspiration for us, to put in our work. Just to see what can happen, if you put your mind to something.
It does teach you a lot. Like your work can be produced and people can see it. People can go there and look at your work. I think it’s very good for us.
The art block is just like paintings and drawings and that on the walls, but it’s different in the Tate. They have pictures and sculptures. It’s a different aspect of it.
St Ives is an inspiring and beautiful place. It is also a community of artists and makers. St Ives School’s art department is making sure students experience both the opportunities for looking at art and also the opportunity to participate in this arts community.