AWARD-WINNING AND highly skilled artists and craftspeople have been thrilled to show off their wares during the summer months, both around the UK and right here in Caversham. Among them are Michael Norcross and Victoria Baker of Studio 21, Caversham.
Michael creates distinctive landscapes, whilst Vicky makes a range of hand-finished leather bags and accessories. While their work can be found at a variety of prestigious British venues, they have been opening their studio in Patrick Road, Caversham, since the winter of 2006. In 2008, Vicky initiated and set up Caversham Open Studios which she ran for 2 years, while both have been part of West Berkshire and North Hampshire Open Studios since 2010.
Vicky, a member of the Worcestershire Guild of Contemporary Crafts, whose members exhibit at the RHS Spring Show at Malvern, is a highly skilled artisan. She began her professional career as a costumier, having trained at the Wimbledon School of Art and spent 15 years creating costumes for film, theatre and dance, including one worn by actor Glenn Close. Vicky then decided to change direction and created a range of textile handbags, using her skills as a costumier. When the type of fabric she preferred became no longer available, she switched to making leather bags and accessories.
“My bags are mostly hand-stitched using a saddle stitch. It is useful to draw on my costumier skills. Initially I attended an intense one-week course in basic traditional leatherworking; later I attended another intensive one-week course in framed handbag construction, which I have never fully employed. Apart from that, I have taught myself. I have created all my own patterns, but it remains the case that you are always learning. Everything I make is to my original design,” she explained. The couple love living in Caversham. “We used to live in St John’s Street in Reading, but we wanted somewhere quieter, so we moved to Patrick Road.”
Michael began his own training at the High Wycombe School of Art, intending to become a furniture designer. However, he switched to fine art and studied for a BA at Cardiff University, where he won the Glaxo Art Award. He showed at the New Contemporaries, where he won Dr Henry Roland’s Personal Prize, and subsequently exhibited at Roland Browse and Delbanco in Cork Street, London. He was one of the founder members of the Association of Artists and Designers in Wales. He then completed an MFA at Reading University, where he subsequently also did a PGCE. His next career move
was a bit more surprising….
“So, then I worked on glider repairs!” he revealed. “I was living at Hambleden, where I had a studio at The Hyde while working at Chiltern Sailplanes who used to maintain the British Glider Racing Team. After this, I entered teaching – first part-time, but then full-time in further education as head of department at Strode’s College in Egham.”
When the daily commute lost its appeal, Michael resigned from this job – and coincidently Queen Anne’s School in Caversham needed a new head of art. “Initially I thought of this as a temporary position to help myself back to full-time painting but, in fact, I was recruited to revitalise and set up the new art department situated in what were the old science labs. By then, I had gained experience in re-designing old properties, and one of the important things that happened was that I finally had somewhere where I could both use this experience and start painting again.”
Now painting full-time after leaving Queen Anne’s in 2014, Michael has a wonderful souvenir of his time there – a large canvas painted in oils of a magnificent magnolia tree in full flower. “I originally called the painting A Privileged View,” (top of 3rd column) he said.
“The magnolia tree, which was just outside the new art department, always blossomed during the Easter holidays, when the school was closed. Permitted to use the studios during holiday time, I was one of the very few people fortunate to see it in full bloom.”
Michael’s paintings capture the essence of familiar local scenes, such as distinctive trees in Caversham Court at different seasons, or Christchurch Meadows during flooding. He has exhibited nationally and, in 2021, he was a Cambridge Invitational Art Contest and Exhibition Winner for his two paintings: Winter, The Road to Ashampstead, and Winter Shadows, Caversham Court.
Both Michael and Vicky would love there to be a permanent venue and more local galleries in the area where artists and craftspeople could enjoy greater visibility. However, despite the challenges they face, they remain committed to the power of the creative arts. “It would be good if there was more understanding of what we do,” comments Vicky who has always worked freelance. “For example, there seems to be a problem in education where art seems to have been sidelined. Yet there will always be work for those who are highly skilled.”
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