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Art for Cure – Saturday April 30 - Monday May 2, 10am to 5pm daily

PUBLISHED: 11:20 26 April 2016 | UPDATED: 11:20 26 April 2016

Vanessa Stollery created bird sculptures.

Vanessa Stollery created bird sculptures.

Where to go this bank holiday weekend? Lucy Etherington previews a Suffolk fundraising event that has become something of a phenomenon

Sculptor Vanessa Stollery works in her studio at Glemham Hall.Sculptor Vanessa Stollery works in her studio at Glemham Hall.

With celebrities from Ed Sheeran to Eddie Izzard donating their own paintings for a celebrity auction, a sold-out private view and hundreds of artists and volunteers taking part, Art for Cure 2016 looks set to be a massive success.

But founders Sally Ball and Belinda Gray – both art lovers and both successfully treated for breast cancer in the past three years – want to make sure the deeper message is not lost.

Originally a one off event (Art for Cure 2014 was held in Belinda’s home and raised a staggering £100,000 for Breast Cancer Now), Art for Cure is in the process of becoming a charity, hosting high profile art events, distributing funds, but also setting up and supporting their own projects to help support cancer patients in Suffolk.

“We’re very excited,” says Sally. “One of our aims this year was to use part of the funds raised to support East Anglian cancer care, and with that in mind, we have been developing Art for Cure Workshops in Suffolk.”

Vanessa Stollery created a snail sculpture.Vanessa Stollery created a snail sculpture.

The free art workshops will be offered to breast cancer patients who are going through or have completed treatment at Ipswich Hospital.

“They will be run by talented local artists,” says Sally. “The idea is that they will offer patients the opportunity to paint and create sculpture in restorative surroundings with delicious food and kind support. We hope that it will be a cathartic experience for everyone; new friends will be made and new talents discovered!”

At the moment, they are finalising the locations for the workshops, which will all be “somewhere beautiful and inspiring” and are set to begin this November. Art for Cure will also fund transport for those who struggle to get to the workshops.

“We are planning that the programme of workshops will develop further, in number and scope, after the first year,” says Sally.

Belinda Gray (L) and Sally Ball founders of Art for Cure are preparing for this year's event at Glemham Hall.Belinda Gray (L) and Sally Ball founders of Art for Cure are preparing for this year's event at Glemham Hall.

Meanwhile, they are putting together the finishing touches to the Art for Cure 2016 bank holiday weekend exhibition at Glemham Hall. There are over 80 artists showing their work in the gardens and rooms, as well fabulous food from top chefs and the local WI, activities for children, workshops and live music – plus of course the Make Your Mark Campaign, where celebrities such as Jim Broadbent, Joan Collins, Mica Paris, Delia Smith, Zoe Wanamaker and Dominic West (as well as Ed and Eddie) have donated their own specially created daubs for auction.

“We hope that this larger, high profile event, with the added support of a successful publicity campaign, will help us surpass the totals raised for Breast Cancer Now in 2014,” says Belinda. “The local support has been amazing.”

As they have already had a lot of good publicity for the event itself, Sally and Belinda ask if we can focus on the main reason for the event: to raise funding as well as awareness, to support and expand local services, and to help the charity Breast Cancer Now to achieve its target that no one will die from Breast Cancer by 2050.

With that aim in mind, we spoke to three inspiring and talented artists taking part in the exhibition whose lives and work have been touched by breast cancer.

Vanessa Stollery

If you see a sculpture of a foal at the Art For Cure exhibition (there are three), it has a special significance for Suffolk based artist Vanessa Stollery. She conceived it while she was having treatment for breast cancer, and finally got to make it when she was in recovery.

“I couldn’t believe how low my energy levels where when I was having the treatment,” Vanessa tells me. “It felt like I’d been hit by a train! But I was determined to recognise my limits and just go with it.

“I remember it was a lovely summer, so I just did as little as possible. I read a lot of books and because I didn’t have the energy to make sculptures, I focused on drawing. It turned out to be really productive and it kept me sane.

“In fact, one of the positives that came out of the experience was that I did some really good work!”

Every time Vanessa sees her foals, she is moved. They carry such deep meaning and memories for her.

“I love their energy and inspiration,” she says.

Vanessa herself is full of energy, much of it positive. When Belinda and Sally asked if she would show her sculptures at the original Art for Cure, they didn’t know she had had breast cancer quite recently.

“I’m five years clear this June,” she tells me. “The cancer came out of nowhere, although on reflection I suppose there were signs. I was lucky that it was treated so quickly. I had so much support from friends, and even total strangers: that was so valuable.”

Vanessa remembers the early stages waiting for the operation were full of fear and panic. But she found a source of strength through a friend of a friend, who had also had breast cancer and lived in America.

“It was brilliant because I could call her at the worst time, which was three am, and for her it was daytime,” she says.

The dark period of processing the shock and waiting for the operation didn’t last long. She felt incredibly supported by staff and the MacMillan nurses at Ipswich hospital. She was also under one of the top five breast cancer surgeons in the country.

“I think what also helped me was taking control of my recovery,” says Vanessa. “Because having cancer takes away your control, but you can do lots of things to help you get through it. I spent time trying to improve my diet and lifestyle and keeping a positive mental attitude. The drawing was a huge part of that.”

Vanessa’s sculptures are often of animals and pets or children cast in Bronze and Iron resins, each of varying sizes, and mostly commissioned by the owners or parents. For Art for Cure, Sally and Belinda commissioned her to make a series of smaller sculptures of an adorable robin that sits atop an old fashioned garden spade.

“Robins always sit by me when I’m working in the garden,” says Vanessa. “They’re like reliable friends, always there.” A perfect symbol for Art for Cure.

See more about Vanessa her work and upcoming exhibitions at http://www.vanessastollery.co.uk/

Honor Surie

Honor Surie’s paintings capture the haunting bleak beauty of the Suffolk landscape, especially the reed beds, rivers and sea around Butley. She and her husband Graham Hussey, an architect, lived in Butley for over over 30 years, and shared a love of boats and sailing. Graham ran the Butley ferry for a while, while Honor ran the Butley Pottery for many years. But things changed in 2006 when both were diagnosed with cancer.

“It was a shock,” Honor, now 72, tells me. “There was no cancer in my family. It came totally out of the blue.”

She discovered she had breast cancer during a check in a mobile screening unit, and shortly after Graham was diagnosed with stomach cancer. A year of operations, chemo and radiation treatment followed.

“It was incredibly tough in the early stages because you can go in on yourself and it can feel very isolating,” says Honor. “But the support I had at Ipswich hospital, especially the MacMillan team, was fantastic. I can’t praise them enough. Anyone who has been through cancer treatment will tell you it’s an endurance test. But I came through it and managed to remain positive.”

The experience made Honor realise that she wanted to focus on painting rather than pottery, which is physically hard work, especially on the hands which are often affected by some cancer treatments.

The couple moved to Framlingham and set about building a house from scratch that would include a separate studio for Honor. During the build, however, Graham suffered a massive stroke.

“We were living in caravans on the site,” Honor remembers. “It was winter and everything was covered in snow. Graham lost his power of speech and was paralysed down his right side. But he didn’t let that stop him. He taught himself to write and draw with his left hand, and was able to communicate his ideas to the builders! He’s got fantastic will power.”

Now settled in her home and studio, Honor is working harder than ever. Her paintings are hugely popular – indeed, one of her collectors is Art for Cure’s Sally Ball, who tells me she has a landscape by Honor in her kitchen – and when we speak, she is busy preparing for one of the three exhibitions she has lined up for summer.

When she describes her work, she says she’s always pushing herself and really conscious of not being too complacent.

“I have an affinity with the landscape around Butley,” she says, “but I have to work hard to capture something other than its obvious beauty. When a painting is going well I’m happy, but I don’t please easily.”

I can see why her paintings would be popular. They capture the landscape’s mysterious meditative quality, the eerie pale light spilling from seas, rivers and skies.

“My plan is to eventually stop having exhibitions,” Honor says, then laughs ruefully, like she knows that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

See Honor’s work at the Garage Gallery in Aldeburgh, May 26 to June 1, the Peter Pears Gallery August 27 to September 2, and visit her Open Studios every weekend in June www.honorsurie.co.uk for details.

Michael Speller

When Michael Speller’s wife Sarah was diagnosed with cancer 20 years ago, it had a huge impact on his life.

“Anything like that is life-changing,” he says. “Life is ticking by, then suddenly wham!” At the time he was running a successful catering business in Greenwich, working long hours every day of the week, and being, in his own words “obsessive”. Once Sarah was in recovery, it was she who told him he needed to join an evening class, to take some time out and enjoy himself.

“Instead of relaxing me, my obsession found a new focus,” he laughs. “I’m not sure that was her aim.” Within a year of taking an art class, Michael had sold his business and signed up to study at the Chelsea College of Fine Art. Now, 18 years on, he’s a successful sculptor, creating bronze figures which beautifully explore balance in the human form. When we speak he is busy preparing for the royal opening of a major piece that will stand in Greenwich Market. But being able to exhibit at Art for Cure is particularly poignant and important to him.

“When someone you love goes through diagnosis and treatment for cancer, it is so profound, you start to question everything,” he says. “Our son, Charlie, was only two at the time and it brought everything into focus, so Art for Cure means a lot to us.” Sarah and Michael are great friends of Sally and her husband Mike, and have been for years. They went on family holidays together and the Balls bought Michael’s early work, a piece that Sally had shown proudly to me when I interviewed her. It’s of their family piled on top of each other, and is called (hilariously) A Load of Balls.

“Sally and Belinda invited me to do the first Art for Cure in 2014,” says Michael, who lives in Greenwich. “The atmosphere was very special: it seemed everyone there had personal experience. And of course Sally was going through treatment for breast cancer at that time, so it was even more poignant. I was absolutely blown away by what they managed to achieve.”

Michael’s work explores the idea that when we suffer physically or emotionally, we compensate in other ways, we find balance, often through contact with others or our surroundings. Indeed the balance of some of his work is extraordinary and defies belief. Sometimes it even seems to defy gravity. “It’s about looking forward and being positive in a crisis,” he says. “There is an element of facing mortality and wanting to create something permanent in all art. All my work is about trying to create a balance with what you’ve got, to go forward and to make the best of it.”

For more details www.spellersculptures.com

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