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Suffolk Craft Society: In with the new

PUBLISHED: 13:49 22 July 2014 | UPDATED: 13:49 22 July 2014

Sally Freer, printmaker. Sally at work in the print workshop at Gainsborough's House.

Sally Freer, printmaker. Sally at work in the print workshop at Gainsborough's House.

Can new vice chair Sally Freer do for the Suffolk Craft Society what she did for Gainsborough's House print workshop? Lucy Etherington heads to Sudbury to find out

Sally Freer, printmaker. Sally at work in the print workshop at Gainsborough's House. Sally Freer, printmaker. Sally at work in the print workshop at Gainsborough's House.

Sally Freer is effervescent. She’s a ball of energy, literally buzzing with ideas and enthusiasm – for crafts, for people, for Sudbury, especially Gainsborough’s House where she was chair of the print workshop committee for ten years.

She is now hoping to breathe new life into the Suffolk Craft Society where she has just recently been appointed their vice chair.

“The Suffolk Craft Society is so good at what it does, it’s a joy to be involved,” she tells me when we meet at Gainsborough’s House where, as a member, she shares a studio in the eaves of the print workshop.

“They already have a wonderful, huge gallery space in Ipswich Town Hall and of course the famous Summer Exhibition at Aldeburgh. There are many good reasons why it’s the third largest craft society in the UK.

Sally Freer, printmaker. Sally at work in the print workshop at Gainsborough's House. Sally Freer, printmaker. Sally at work in the print workshop at Gainsborough's House.

“But it’s too easy to rest on our laurels and get taken for granted. I’m trying to convince all the members that we need to take risks and explore new directions if we want to grow as a business. Luckily, they’ve been incredibly enthusiastic and are bursting with ideas.”

Already in motion are plans to spread the net and exhibit all over the county, to run workshops and projects with the Arts Council, to gain charity status and attract more patrons, who already include Ruth Rendell and Trevor Pickett.

Being chair of any society is enormously demanding, especially a democratic organisation where one has to keep 130 members happy. Yet unlike a lot of people, Sally is energised by the challenge.

“It’s about people and making connections,” she says. “Just driving around Suffolk meeting other crafts-people who are innovative and inspiring has had a huge impact on my own work.”

She shows me her latest collection of screen prints, incredibly detailed depictions of the coast around Walberswick and Aldeburgh and the Suffolk countryside. Like Sally, they seem to hum with energy and colour, reminiscent of 1940s illustrations, but with a modern, confident line.

How on earth does she find the time to make art as well as chair the Suffolk Craft Society and run major summer exhibitions for The Sudbury Society?

“Fridays are sacrosanct,” she says. “That’s when I lock myself away in the studio. Wednesdays are for walking and sketching – as long as it’s not raining.” We head for a café around the corner, Thompson’s Bistro, a favourite haunt.

“My husband Roy has told me to drop some of my committees,” she admits as we drink delicious ‘proper coffee’ and nibble on cheese and fresh bread as recommended by the bistro’s ebullient owner, David Thompson. “I have managed to cut back a bit.” I laugh and tell her it sounds like she’s addicted.

“I’ll have to tell Roy that,” she grins. “He’d probably agree with you.”

Roy Freer is a lauded oil and watercolour painter. He and Sally met at Birmingham University in the sixties, both studying to become art teachers. They moved to Bedfordshire, where Sally ran Elstow Craft Centre and was chair at the Milton Keynes Craft Guild. “So it’s all familiar territory.” They had two sons, neither of whom followed their parents into the arts. One is a professor of physics, the other a business manager.

“We went to Suffolk on holidays and fell in love with it, so we decided to move here in 2000, when I joined Gainsborough’s House.”

Last year Sally and Roy celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in Marrakesh – right in the middle of preparations for the centenary of the unveiling of Gainsborough’s statue, of which Sally was one of the organisers.

“They were very relieved when I came back,” she says. “It was a huge event.” She goes on to tell me how important it is to make a big splash with the Suffolk Craft Society show at Aldeburgh this Summer.

“It’s called New Beginnings,” she says. “We have a new chair, Sarah Thane, who worked for The National Lottery Commission, and a whole new outlook. Essex boy Grayson Perry has given ceramics and crafts kudos and it would be fantastic to do the same here in Suffolk.” Coffee with Sally is a very sociable affair. Roy arrives having spent the morning painting daffodils in his studio.

The bistro’s owner joins us and tells us of his plan to open a cafe in an Umbrian hillside town serving English fare – effectively the reverse of his business here. This isn’t just a pipe dream, either. He’s off in a week or so.

“More new beginnings,” says Sally, delighted. “Must be something in the coffee!”

n For more information on Sally and the Suffolk Craft Society visit www.suffolkcraftsociety.org

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