8 minute read

Guggleton Farm Arts

Words Jo Denbury Photography Katharine Davies

Atractor, complete with trailer, is wedged firmly on Stalbridge high street leaving me with little choice other than to sit and wait in the ensuing queue of traffic. As I wait, I muse on the fact that while Dorset is still a proud farming county, more and more farmyards are succumbing to disuse and dereliction. I am en route to what was once one such example.

The jam resolved, I continue on my way and with a sigh of relief pull into the yard of Guggleton Farm, now home to Guggleton Farm Arts, or as it’s more fondly known – The Gugg. I am greeted by a motley assortment of buildings. Roguish clumps of wildflowers push through the old stone walls and freshly handpainted signs allude to a buzz of creative industry. >

Isabel de Pelet

Jenni Richards

I am here to meet Deanne Tremlett, The Gugg’s Artistic Director. Some of you might know Deanne from her Sherborne House days, a zealous advocate for the arts with a desire to make them accessible to all. Before she arrives, I take the opportunity to explore and find an oil painting class in full swing and three artists, working under the insignia of ‘Fabula Tres’ hanging their new show. Suddenly, a car swings into the yard and out hops Deanne, followed by Guggleton’s matriarch and founder Isabel de Pelet.

As a practising artist herself Deanne understands the importance of community for artists working in isolated rural areas. In January 2020 The Gugg registered as a Community Interest Company [CIC] and in January 2021 became a certified member of Social Enterprise UK. ‘Isabel and I have always agreed on the benefits of giving people the opportunity to create; if everyone had that opportunity there would be a lot less anxiety and depression. I think this is because we no longer have to problem-solve in the way we used to. I have noticed with my own children that they’re fed a lot of information by the internet but creating is a form of problem-solving. With my own practice, I know that when I have an idea in my head and have to get it onto the canvas it is a process of solving a problem. Doing this makes you more resilient, happier and it makes you mindful.’

Recently Deanne initiated a project with the local primary school where the children were given the opportunity to work in the gallery at The Gugg. ‘We gave them a huge sheet of paper and pens, paints, etc and said: “This time you can draw on the walls.” The children’s eyes lit up,’ explains Deanne with glee. ‘We even had the teachers and parents joining in,’ she laughs. ‘It is just so important that we give these children the opportunity to become artists without them feeling it is something they have to leave behind to pursue a career. I was very lucky because my parents supported me when I wanted to go to art school but that is not always the case,’ she explains.

It isn’t just the children whose creativity is being rekindled. The Gugg runs a number of daytime and evening classes, including oil painting with the artist Carolyn Finch, watercolours with local artist Steve Stott, macrame with crafter Laura Jackson and textiles taught by Jenni Richards who also runs regular ‘stitch and chat’ sessions. ‘Since the CIC was established and the site expanded, so many people have come forward to offer classes,’ Deanne enthuses. ‘The Gugg seems to >

attract just the right people at the right time. There is always room for more ideas though!’

The tutors are currently going through the process of acquiring City and Guilds accreditation in order to offer courses for those who might want to pursue these subjects at university level. A new ceramics studio will soon be in operation too, featuring several potter’s wheels, a slab area and kiln, with courses led by Ruth Kirkham. For the musical, music therapist and life coach, Siska Redman runs a regular improv group.

There are expansion plans afoot too, with practising artists in mind. ‘At present, there is a huge lack of studio space in Dorset,’ explains Deanne. ‘We have four studios for artists,’ she continues, ‘but it is our plan to increase that close to 10.’ It was her own search for a studio that brought her back to The Gugg. Deanne studied Fine Art at the Slade School of Art and later a Masters in Research-Based Fine Art Practice at Wimbledon School of Art. Somewhere in between she worked in newspapers and cut her curatorial teeth at The Camden Art Gallery. She first came to The Gugg in 2003 when she met Isabel who offered her a space to show her work. A recurring theme in Deanne’s paintings is the naked human form, often explored with unflinching candour. ‘The WI was very upset,’ says Deanne of her first show, ‘but Isabel stood by me.’ ‘I did,’ smiles Isabel. Watching them together, it’s clear that these two have a deeply rooted working relationship. When Deanne came back in 2018 looking for a studio it wasn’t long before Isabel invited her to become The Gugg’s Artistic Director.

At this point in our conversation, Deanne darts off in search of tea and cake. Her mum makes the cakes and she insists we must try some. While she’s gone, Isabel and I chat about how she came to set up Guggleton. ‘I was always making things,’ says Isabel of her childhood. ‘I wanted to go to art school but my parents were not interested and I wasn’t encouraged,’ she recalls. Her ambition was to train as an artist but instead, she studied dress design and dressmaking and pursued this as a career until 1966 when she married Richard de Pelet.

It wasn’t until 1990, with three children about to leave the nest that Isabel decided to explore her artistic leanings. She applied to Yeovil College to take the foundation course but was first required to take A levels. Later, with A levels passed she went on to study Art and Social Context at what is now UWE. ‘I knew if I was going to do a professional job I needed to know more,’ she explains. Isabel discovered that sculpture was her forte but it was during her studying for her degree that the dilapidated farm buildings in Stalbridge came up for sale.‘It was a job lot,’ she says, ‘and I could see it had potential in a big way. The garage spaces were perfect for studios and the council was terribly helpful.’ With a series of grants in hand, Isabel was able to put the buildings to new use and establish a gallery and studio room above the former

cart shed. Guggleton Farm Arts Project was formally opened in December 1995.

‘I have been terribly lucky,’ says Isabel, ‘and with the people I have met.’ She has always maintained that, ‘artists working alongside and within an active Community Arts Programme create a positive way to further mutual understanding and form experiences that will both enrich and stimulate all those who involve themselves.’ While we mull on the importance of art in our lives Deanne returns with the cake – coffee and walnut – it’s delicious.

Now in the later stages of life, Isabel leaves much of the day-to-day running of The Gugg to Deanne but makes a point of coming to many of the events and opening nights. The Gugg is run entirely by volunteers and is very much a collaborative effort. The regular open mic sessions, for example, were suggested by Bakerman Dan who makes the stone-baked sourdough pizzas on Thursday nights and the Moviola film nights. Come the school holidays, it will be time for the summer courses where this year, young ‘Guggleheads’ will be able to try their hand at puppetry. This month is of course Dorset Art Weeks and The Gugg will be playing host to a large number of artists showing their work. Isabel is particularly keen to mention the Young Artist of the Year prize or ‘YaY’, which she has run for the last 17 years. ‘It is so important to give young artists an opportunity. I didn’t have that chance,’ she says of the event. ‘We also hope to begin artists’ residencies,’ adds Deanne. ‘It is a great platform for artists to develop their practice and it is a way to bring artists from all over the world into our community. It will encourage the artist to explore and respond to our particular local landscape with the added benefit that it allows the community to create a collection of art.’

While a number of agricultural buildings in the South West have been repurposed as galleries and workshop spaces, what is so striking about Guggleton is its quiet determination to support and nurture artists of all ages and abilities within its local community. The Gugg strives to dispense with pretence and formalities in a welcome effort to make the discovery and wonder of art, in its many forms, available to all.


___________________________________________ 14th - 29th May Dorset Art Weeks Venue 48 – Guggleton Farm Arts Station Road, Stalbridge DT10 2RQ An exhibition of work from many artists and makers including; Matthew Hayward, Elaine Collett, Jenni Richards, Deanne Tremlett, Carolyn Finch Corlett, Jo Saurin, Sally Ridout, Frankie Toomey, Alison Underwood, Becky AyersHarris and Barbara Wagner. 11am-5pm (closed Mondays). 01963 363456 guggletonfarmarts.com dorsetartweeks.co.uk