ANNUAL GALA BRINGS SPARKLE TO ST ANDREWS
Since 2010, Li-Sheng Cheng and Matthew Hitch have been organizing the Christmas Gala at St Andrew’s Church Hall. Elestr Lee finds out more about this showcase for local artists.
CLEARLY CHRISTMAS is around the corner when flyers start appearing advertising the annual Christmas Gala at St Andrew’s. The wonderful array of arts and crafts on display is put together by Caversham-based silversmith Li-Sheng Cheng and her jewellery designer partner Matthew Hitch. This year, the event is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
“We have been living in Caversham since 2008, and had various ideas about putting on a craft show. We tried out a show one autumn, but then someone suggested the hall at St Andrew’s, and we have been doing the Christmas Gala every year since 2012 – apart from 2020, when everything stopped due to Covid.
“We can cater for around 18 stalls, although the number varies, and was fewer when we had to maintain social distancing. A number of local artists who are regulars get first pick, then we invite people in from outside the area. We try to get a balance of different types of work on display, and there will always be something new. But it’s lovely as people come to the Gala to catch up with old friends – and hopefully find something they like to buy too!” Li-Sheng explains.
Local artists and craftspeople who regularly take part in the Gala include weaver Gloria Pitt, artist Nina O’Connell, and recycled jewellery maker Barbara Goodbun. Matthew Hitch will also be taking part with a stall showing his latest designs. Other artists taking part include stained glass artist Therese Wicks, painters Rebecca Howard and Claire Burriss, painter and printmaker Julie Simmonds, and ceramicist Emma O’Donovan.
Li-Sheng herself trained as a silversmith, studying initially at the Kent Institute of Art & Design, where she and Matthew met, and subsequently at Sheffield Hallam University. After graduating, Li-Sheng lived in Liverpool for a while, just as the city was preparing for its stint as European Capital of Culture. “It was a wonderful time to be in the city; I felt there was a real network of artists there,” Li-Sheng recalls. However, Matthew was working at Walton’s in Prospect Street, and Li-Sheng moved from Liverpool to Caversham. “When I first lived here, I really felt the lack of my Liverpool support network,” she comments, and the years of austerity have not made life easy for artists. However, there was a surprising turnaround when, during lockdown, Li-Sheng and Matthew were invited to show their work in an empty shop in Bell Street, Henley.
Recently Li-Sheng has taken on a new challenge and, instead of the relatively large pieces which she used to enjoy creating as a silversmith, she has taken on the job of repairing items of old jewellery. “This isn’t something I did previously. But I have recently come across things such as signet rings which were hand engraved. The more I look at them, the more I can appreciate the craftsmanship which was required. These are skills which are in danger of becoming lost.
“Matthew and I recently went to the AGM of the Hand Engravers Association, a group which is trying to preserve these skills – so many of the engravers doing demonstrations of their work at the association were quite elderly. I am now looking into the history of hand engraving; it is really in danger of becoming a lost skill.
“I now feel I am at something of a crossroads – to continue working as a silversmith, creating my own work, or to concentrate on my new interest in repairing jewellery, and learning more about these old skills, which very few people do these days,” she says.
Since moving to Caversham, Li-Sheng is pleased to have discovered the thriving community of artists who take part in the annual Arts Trail, many of whom can also be found displaying their wares at the Christmas Gala, which this year will take place on Sunday 4 December.
“This is our 10th year, but I do hope the Gala continues, it is very straightforward to organize. Everyone at St Andrew’s Church is so helpful, and we invite in the Ways and Means Trust to provide refreshments, which are always very popular. Everyone enjoys their cups of coffee and tea and cakes, and this allows the Ways and Means Trust to do some fundraising at the same time.
“It is so good to be able to showcase the local talents here in Caversham!”
Find out more: www.cavershamartists.wordpress.com