Cornwall LivingIssue #62

Creative Scilly

This month’s focus on art begins with a trip to the Isles of Scilly, the perfect artist’s inspiration with amazing light quality and the most stunning scenery.

As ever, a trip to Scilly brings with it a sense of anticipation and excitement. Less than 30 miles from the mainland, but a world away when it comes to turquoise seas, white sand beaches and the ultimate relaxation destination. It’s hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t visited Scilly before but, from the moment you step off the boat or the plane, all your cares seem to melt away. We can’t go many months without a rejuvenating trip to the islands and this spring we stayed on St Mary’s, the biggest of the five inhabited islands. The flight is short but very sweet, we were airborne for just 15 minutes before touching down at St Mary’s airport. If you haven’t experienced St Mary’s airport before, then you must, it is how airports should be – a landing strip that almost ends in the ocean and a terminal building that is never busy and is the gateway to paradise!

“… a landing strip that almost ends in the ocean and a terminal building that is never busy and is the gateway to paradise!”

The last, and by no means least, of the Porthloo residents is acclaimed artist Peter M Smith. His works are exhibited on Scilly as well as on the mainland including The New Craftsman in St Ives and the Riverside Gallery, London. Peter started off as a sculptor but soon realised he was more of a painter. A member of the Newlyn Society of Artists, Peter moved to the islands in 1965. After studying Fine Art at Falmouth College as a mature student he returned to Scilly in 1987. His work is both figurative and abstract and draws from the landscape, flowers and colours of Scilly.

It’s amazing to have so much talent in such a relatively small geographical area and in our short time exploring the creative side of Scilly it’s clear to see that there is a thriving community of artists here. Our next stop was Glandore Gallery, home to award-winning artist Stephen Morris. His work is influenced by the Impressionists, and he works ‘en plein air’ believing this to be the best way of capturing the Scillonian landscape. He is a common sight around Scilly, in front of his easel, sporting his iconic ‘Tilley’ hat. From here we ventured to Phoenix Craft Studio, where owner Oriel Hicks, who also runs the Tamarisk Gallery, greeted us warmly. She is a fused glass artist and her work is simply stunning. Inspired by the clarity of light on Scilly she creates a variety of pieces from small light catchers that you can hang in your window to large stained glass commissions. Alongside six other craftspeople you will find a print maker, a silk painter and a jeweller, many of whom offer workshops where you can make your very own ‘Scilly’ souvenir to take home.

As our day drew to an end we had time to catch up with Steve Sherris at his working studio and Silver Street Gallery. As a landscape artist there could be nowhere better for him to live and paint, the clarity of his work is such that it’s almost photographic in its nature. Preferring to working outside, Steve works on small canvas boards before returning to his studio to work up larger versions. He told us that the light on Scilly amplifies the vivid colours that you can clearly see reflected in his works, that are textured with sand, shells and granite to add texture and interest.

We stayed at St Mary’s Hall Hotel and were shown to our lovely garden room, which had patio doors opening out onto the courtyard – ideal for us as we were accompanied by our dog, Leven, who could wander in and out of the room as he pleased. The hotel is based around an elegant town house and my wife declared it to have found the perfect combination: “Big enough that you can lose yourself but small enough that you could still feel a part of it.” We ate at St Mary’s Hall on both nights of the stay and the food was delicious. The Scillonian crab cakes were a highlight, as was the warm beetroot salad and the lobster the freshest I’ve ever tasted, not surprising as we were just steps from whence it came.

But this time our trip wasn’t about the food, we were here to meet some of Scilly’s amazing artists and craftspeople who have taken inspiration from their surroundings to produce some exquisite pieces. After a great night’s sleep we strolled down to the quayside to board our off-island boat for the journey to St Agnes. On arrival we were greeted by Emily Sladen, and took the short stroll with her to the Island Hall Artist Studio. As we walked Emily explained that she studied textiles at Leeds University before settling on St Agnes. Her innovative designs are made using recycled yarns and fabrics and need to be seen to be believed. Taking inspiration from the beauty and power of the ocean her intricate designs and landscapes are a cross between a painting and a piece of embroidery.

Fellow studio artists Trish Peacock and Lou Simmonds gave us a warm welcome as we were shown around the newly built Island Hall that they share with Emily. The hall is an epic, thought provoking structure that really makes you consider things in context in terms of the islands – imagine the work involved in getting the materials to the islands to build this Weslyan chapel extension! St Agnes is known to be one of the wilder, more rugged islands and you can certainly see the influence of the changing nature of its sea and sky in their work. Lou is a basket maker, learning her trade from Barnstaple basket maker, Jack West, where they worked on commissions for David Mellor and Jasper Conran. Although she misses the ‘big brand’ work, Lou has clearly found a wonderful alternative to the London life. Using local materials such as St Agnes tamarisk alongside willow and cotton rag paper, her baskets are both practical and works of art in their own right.

Weaver Trish completes the trio and her scarves, drapes and hangings are created as amazing one-off pieces. Silk, wool, cashmere and alpaca all feature in her repertoire, woven on a range of handlooms and she explained that: “It’s like painting with yarn. The colours I use reflect the seasons, that’s the thing about being here on the islands; it influences.”

That’s also very apparent at the Porthloo Studios and workshops back on St Mary’s, as the following day we meandered from our hotel to meet the artists in residence Susan Seddon, Carly Player and Peter M Smith. Susan at ‘Scilly Socks’ is both a craftsperson and painter, whose canvases are searching and reflective in contrast to her socks that are vibrant and fun. Susan brought up her four children in London but realised that she needed to nurture her creative side and so in 2007, moved to Scilly. “When I arrived I joked that the only way I was leaving was in a box!” Such is the passion of all of the island artists we met.

Working in the same studio, Carly, of Scilly Gems, was born on St Mary’s and specialises in making beautifully fragranced soap and handmade beadwork jewellery. She was taught the art of soap making by Peter Hobson who had a perfumery next door to her studio. Sadly Peter died, but Carly has carried on the art, ethically and locally sourcing the ingredients for her range of soaps and smellies. All her jewellery is made in her studio and the range of gifts and creations is really light and refreshing, making Scilly Gems well worth a very fragrant visit.


All of the artists and craftspeople we visited on Scilly welcome visitors so next time you visit be sure to pop in, or in fact take a special ‘creative’ trip to the islands. We are lucky to have a plethora of artistic talent both on Scilly and back here on the mainland. Over the coming pages we take a look at just a few of the galleries and artists that are cementing Cornwall’s position on the creative stage. We hope you enjoy reading about them as much as we’ve enjoyed talking to them.

"... a landing strip that almost ends in the ocean and a terminal building that is never busy and is the gateway to paradise!"