Portrait of an artist’s home

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Artist Emerson Mayes finds all the inspiration he needs on the doorstep of his Nidderdale home. Sharon Dale reports.

When Emerson Mayes and his partner Melanie Wilkins first viewed their cottage it didn’t appear to be the ideal home.

The layout was wrong and the decor didn’t suit them, but what it lacked in first impressions, it made up for with location.

In the heart of Nidderdale, an area of outstanding natural beauty, the house offered everything Emerson needed.

A well-known artist, his work features landscape and wildlife and he likes to paint and draw his subjects outside in situ. He is also a keen fly fisherman and there was a perfect section of river just five minutes walk away.

“I liked the house and the area was just right for me but Melanie didn’t like it at all and she took some persuading. I can see why. It was a tiny two-up two-down with a downstairs bathroom,” he says.

The couple bought the property eight years ago and moved from their flat in Harrogate to the village of Glasshouses, near Pateley Bridge.

Since then they have transformed the cottage, adding space and light and a selection of beautiful upcycled furniture.

They began by moving the bathroom into a bedroom upstairs. This left space for a new kitchen that was given added square footage by extending further along the back the house.

“It would’ve been great to have a two-storey extension and extra space on the first floor but we figured that we only really needed one bedroom up there,” says Emerson, who was named after the racing driver Emerson Fittipaldi.

The old kitchen is now a cosy dining room with a separate pantry leading down to a basement that, strangely, is under the house next door. The story goes that an entrepreneurial Victorian woman built the terrace to include her own shop and a house for her sister.

She wanted to store cheese and ham in her cellar but didn’t want the smell wafting up into her living room, so had the basement hewn out under her sister’s home.

It is now storage space and workshop for Melanie’s business Potts, Petal and Green, which trades online and at fairs around Yorkshire. She upcycles old furniture using fabric, paint and decorative techniques.

The chest in the sitting room is a great example. It has been re-painted black and the drawer fronts covered in old maps, while the chairs have been reupholstered in tweed and an aluminium table has a new life as a sink stand in the bathroom.

The furniture and furnishings are always changing as she sells it on and replaces it with new stock, though constants are the dining table from Thompsons auction rooms in Harrogate, the chapel chairs from eBay and Emerson’s books, which include an impressive collection of old Penguin classics.

Their orange spines are attention-grabbing as are the chicken cushions, which are a collaborative effort.

Melanie designed them, Emerson drew the picture and the words: “The rooster rules the roost but then hen rules the rooster”, and his mum Brenda sewed them.

The couple’s families have been a great help in transforming the cottage, especially Emerson’s father Trevor, a structural surveyor and “DIY dad” who helped them uncover the original fireplace, which now boasts a contemporary Haas stove .

He also helped in the garden, which is now terraced with a veg plot and a shed, where Melanie can sand and paint some her furniture.

Emerson’s studio is just down the road in an old mill, though much of his time is spent painting outdoors.

A full-time artist since leaving Leeds Metropolitan University in 1994, his talents were spotted early. He won the Young Artist of the Year prize in 1995 and his landscapes have become increasingly collectable, fetching over £3,000 each.

Though landscapes are still his main inspiration, he was keen to diversify and make his prices more affordable.

He took a year off from painting 2010 to concentrate on drawing and print making.

“I wanted my work to change and mature over time but I found myself down by the river thinking ‘I have painted this picture eight times. I can probably do it with my eyes shut’. So I took the year off from painting and I changed the subject from landscape to wildlife. It meant the work became more affordable to more people.”

Last year was spent at Fountains Abbey, in collaboration with the National Trust and 108 Fine Art in Harrogate, capturing the landscapes and wildlife and he is now doing a Year of Nidderdale, creating pictures inspired by the countryside within a five-mile radius of his house.

Like many artists, he doesn’t have much of his work on display at home, save for a picture he gave to Melanie as a gift and a couple he has brought to show us, but the walls are full of other artists’ work including Colin C Payton, James Naughton and Norma Ackroyd.

“It would be like someone who works in an office having their emails on display. It’s distracting and you start finding fault and worrying it’s not quite right.

“I’m lucky I can leave work behind when I come home and I’m fortunate that my work is just on the doorstep.”

Emerson’s work can be found at www.emersonmayes.co.uk. Potts, Petal and Green is at the Grand Summer Sale at Ripley Castle on June 14 – 17, www.pottspetalandgreen.com.

Artists open their doors to public

Emerson Mayes is one of a host of artists and makers taking part in the North Yorkshire Open Studios event during the weekends of June 9 – 10 and 16 and 17.

The public is invited into studios all over North Yorkshire, from the North York Moors and harbourside huts in Whitby and Scarborough to suburban living rooms in Harrogate and beautiful back gardens in the remote Yorkshire Dales.

Much of the adventure lies in tracking down the studios. Full details of all artists can be found on the website www.nyos.org.uk and a free studio guide can be sourced from organisers, Art Connections, tel 01756 748529 or email info@art-connections.org.uk. A preview exhibition, entitled ‘Secret Spaces, Hidden Gems’, which showcases the work of artists taking part will take place in the recently restored Edwardian Ambulatory Arcade at the Royal Hall in Harrogate from May 31 to June 17. This year there is also an events programme running alongside the main open studios programme, which includes workshops, secret tea parties and artists’ installations at a range of heritage sites.