The four weekends of Open Studios represent a major voluntary commitment driven by a collective of professional local artists. Piecing together Open Studio's past is work in progress with help of many involved. Here is the story of how it began:
Twenty years ago artists opened their doors to visitors as part of its first art trail in and around Marlborough, and indeed first art trail in Wiltshire. As is so often the case with community based schemes that endure, the back story is about seeds sown in well prepared ground combined with other opportunities and enthusiastic individuals. In this case the land was well cultivated by local artists that gradually came together under the umbrella of a new festival for Marlborough nearly 30 years ago.
The first show with a direct open studio pedigree was part of the Marlborough Music & Arts Festival, a charity founded by a group of twenty towns’ folk in early 1986, led by newly elected Marlborough mayor, Nick Fogg.
Nick Fogg, founder of Marlborough Music & Arts Festival in 1986
Nick had promised, if elected, to set up a festival "which would culturally enhance and do justice to this historic market town that earned its Royal Charter in 1204". The first festival hosted twenty events and included a 'Saturday of Artists at Work' in a marquee in Priory Gardens by the River Kennet behind the High Street. This was organised by Karon Staniland, a well established artist, had been running the Bajazzo Gallery and classes in Marlborough until 1989. The ‘Artists at Work’ event was a great idea but too exhausting to repeat in a marquee, and so the 'visual' in the arts festival lay fallow until 1985.
Gillian Reeve, Fabric picture, Decorative art - Founding organiser of MOSin 1985
Eight years later Aldbourne artist, Gillian Reeve, approached Nick Fogg with an 'Open Studios' idea. Gill had been inspired by her recent visit to Newbury Open Studios (now called ‘Open Studios in West Berkshire and North Hampshire’). Thus Gill became our founding organiser in 1995, networking furiously with local artists helped by Jill Moxey. They pulled together a band of 12 founding artists. From then on 'Open Studios' became a major annual feature of the Festival programme.
By 1993 the Music and Arts Festival had already morphed into the high profile three-day Jazz Festival thanks to the first appearance of the Jools Holland Big Band. From its early days until 2002 Open Studio artists designed the Festival programme covers and posters, and continued to be promoted jointly. Invariably referred to by organisers as "MOSS" (Marlborough Open Studios Scheme), it remained 'Open Studios' on the cover until 2003 when 'Marlborough Open Studios' first appeared on the brochure cover, shortly followed by a stylish logo in 2005.
The first brochure evolved from a simple foldaway black and white A3 sheet, to a glossy colour A5 booklet, sometimes with a map insert, or an elaborate foldout cover as it is now, always beautifully designed. These are displayed in the scrollling header above.
Since its inception a friendly working relationship flourished with the White Horse Bookshop, thanks to its then owner, Michael Pooley. For several years samples of artists' work were displayed upstairs usually accompanied by a launch event on the last Sunday in June with the added attraction of a local celebrity.
Open Studios has evolved and been very innovative, but its roots 20 years on are recognisable, several of the original dozen still exhibiting. All succeeding years are summarised in the timeline here. The scheme, now well established, attracts several thousand visitors annually, locally and from afar.
MOS? Or is it OS?
The name for the enlarged area has been problematic, especially for those in Devizes, Calne, and Pewsey. Although Marlborough is in the centre of the catchment area, encouraging a greater sense of relevance outside Marlborough is less straight forward. MOS members considered a name change and have agreed to use 'Open Studios' widely, without losing the MOS logo, emphasising the local towns on brochure covers and publicity material. No doubt the discussion will continue!
Saluting our MOS pioneers 1995
Portraits of many of the founding artists and Nick Fogg have been compiled this year by Mark Somerville, photographer and former MOS chairman (2008-12). Mark’s gallery of portraits will be exhibited at the Wellington Arms, Marlborough from now to the end of July.
- Trevor Chaplin, Studio potter
- Jan Gale, Ceramics/Mixed media
- Jill Moxey, who was a co-founder but non-exhibiting artist
- Sue Reynolds, Ceramics and print
- Gay Whimster, Relief prints and painting
- Also on show at Ramsbury Fine Art were paintings and prints by Lady Margaret Myddleton, Jonathan Pomroy and Terence Round
And the long service award goes to...
CREDITS for 20 years of sponsors
Funding the costs of a free event is a perennial trial. MOS has relied on sponsors almost from the outset, notably the former Kennet District Council, Robert Hiscox, David Owen & Co, Katharine House Gallery, Woolley & Wallis, David Dudley, Brewin Dolphin, Margaret Maxwell, Benchmark Woodworking and the Arts Council South West, which are now channelled through Wiltshire Council.
Costs of producing the brochure increased and regular advertisers began to appear from 2005. From 2015 we have reverted to a relatively ad-free brochure thanks to our first lead sponsor Smiths Gore (incorporated with Savills), and now David Dudley with three lead supporters (Benchmark, Clark Holt and Kim Vine) as well as fifteen corporate supporters. These include Wiltshire Council's arts development fund.
The advent of Friends of Open Studios helps with niche projects such as this history project, volunteers for initiatives such as Special Open Days and the FOS Newsletter.
History project for Friends of Open Studios - Kate Freeman
Artists' Portraits - Mark Sommerville
Banner - Christopher Hazelwood
Web development - Chris Franklin