Simple Pleasures . . . hens to make you happy
PUBLISHED: 10:48 19 May 2015 | UPDATED: 10:48 19 May 2015
Tessa Allingham's monthly look at crafts, hobbies and life in the home
If ever there’s a view to inspire, it’s got to be from the balcony of the bed and breakfast room at Newman’s Lodge, Alpheton. Even on a grey February day when the fields are brown and bare, the leafless trees spiky and the countryside mute in its deep winter stillness, it can lift the spirit. The land dips down to a valley before sloping up across farmland towards woodland, while to the left the tower of centuries-old Alpheton church peeps through a clump of evergreens.
Look down from the balcony, however, and the stillness is replaced with very busy activity in a back garden busy with hens, busily doing stuff in the busy way hens do. Big Mary, a vast cuckoo Maran is busy pinching scraps from under the beaks of her flock-mates, Bella the Brahma (big enough to stand up for herself you might think), and a pair of hybrids, Blackie and Henny Penny who are busy pecking at whatever’s left. Vera, a modishly black and white feathered Lakenvelder, observes the busy-ness with apparent disdain, as apparently is her wont.
The hens belong to Claire Weeks and they are the inspiration behind her colourfully characterful paintings. She works from a ‘studio’ in the 1970s home she and her family moved to just nine months ago from Berwick on Tweed. There’s all the paraphernalia of artistic endeavour in the room in the form of an easel with a nearly-complete picture taped to the board, a table groaning under the weight of paint palettes, jars of brushes, heaps of paper, photographs and sketches.
Working mainly in watercolour and as much from photographs or her imagination as from what she observes in her own back garden, Claire paints in a flamboyant, quick style. Confident sweeps of a brush indicate a feather, a dash of orange-yellow might suggest a beak or a black pinprick an eye. She works standing up, the better to inject movement and vitality into her work.
“I do a very rough sketch in pencil first, then work quickly with the paint, letting the colours roll in, layering them to create an impression rather than a defined outline.” She finishes by naming every piece, choosing a quirky title to fit the style – Come Dancing portrays two cockerels strutting their stuff, the hen in Feathers in a Twist appears to need a good groom, and His Majesty is a suitably superior-looking bird.
Claire, who is East Anglian by birth, and her family (husband Paul and three boys aged 16, 22 and 23) moved to Suffolk last summer. She wasted little time getting her art business, which had already been successful in the Borders, up and running and her work is already for sale in the Lawson Gallery in Cambridge. She is also working with the Hunter Gallery in Long Melford and the Taplin Gallery in Woodbridge, and is working out which local fairs to home in on too.
“The Lavenham Christmas fair was a fantastic event, the Ely Cathedral one too, and I’m planning to be at the Hadleigh Show in May which I’m really looking forward to, and the South Suffolk and Suffolk shows too. It’s lovely to meet local customers and make local connections.” In between the fairs, Claire also sells via her own website and through the online gift store, www.wealdenfairs.com.
Although much of her work remains in the original picture form, Claire has created a range of melamine-backed tablemats, heat-resistant glass worktop protectors, and textiles including an apron, oven gloves and tea towels. Her UK-made products of course fill her own kitchen, bringing lively colour to the surfaces and walls.
“I use the glass platters and worktop savers as cheeseboards or even chopping boards, and they can take pans straight from the oven.”
Claire spends a fair bit of time in her kitchen. When she’s not painting or organising the manufacture or delivery of her tableware, she’s busy with the fledgling bed and breakfast business (she’s quite a pro already, having run a similar business in Northumberland for six years) and putting her Cordon Bleu training to good use for the benefit of guests.
See Claire’s work at www.claireweeksart.co.uk. For details of her B&B accommodation go to www.newmanslodgebandb.com.