R is for roadkill: A wildlife alphabet

Angela Harding
 at the door of her garden studio in Wing , Rutland

Angela Harding at the door of her garden studio in Wing , Rutland

  • Printmaker Angela Harding has drawn on childhood recollections of Yorkshire wildlife for her solo exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Sharon Dale reports.
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Roadkill makes most of us squirm with horror, so it’s comforting to know that some of the animals and birds have served a higher purpose than feast for carrion.

Examining the creatures’ carcasses, even those that were a little squashed, has helped renowned printmaker Angela Harding hone her artistic skills.

Angela Harding
Hare at Newby Hall

Angela Harding Hare at Newby Hall

“I used to collect roadkill on my cycle to college and then spend hours drawing it before turning the drawings into etchings. I also went to museums with taxidermy so I could draw it,” she says.

A collection of feathers that she used to keep in a suitcase under her bed also informed her work.

“I was quite geeky when I was young. I was more interested in birds than boyfriends,” she admits.

That kind of dedication and close observation is evident in her prints, as is her love of the natural world, and a new solo exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park showcases it all in spectacular fashion.

Flights of Memory has transformed the YSP Centre into a map of Britain with images of birds and animals in habitat stretching from coast to moorland and hedgerow to heath. Along with Angela’s prints is the premiere of her bird alphabet, a series of 26 wood engravings.

Altogether, there are 95 pieces of her work on display, making it her biggest show yet and a treat for her many fans. Six of the prints pay homage to her time in North Yorkshire.

In the mid-1960s, when she was five, her family moved to Marske Hall for a few years so her father could take up a headship at a primary school in nearby Richmond.

They moved back to Stoke-on-Trent but her mother later settled in Ampleforth, which meant Angela often returned to the area.

She revisited her favourite Yorkshire locations before producing the new works, which are a combination of fresh observation, imagination and recollection. Summer Foxes at Marske Hall is based on a memory of sitting on her mother’s knee, looking out of the window and seeing foxes running across the lawn.

Her Cherry Tree at Richmond features the back of the house.

“We lived at the hall, which sounds very grand but it was split into flats and we rented one of them,” she says. “I was only a small child but I remember the place being full of stuffed animals and there was a paddock with horses and a stable block with the old carriages still in it.

“One of the winters was very bad and my father had to hike from Marske to Richmond to get us some food. One of my images is called Man with a Dog and that’s my dad.”

Her fascination with wildlife may have started then and it has never dimmed.

Curlew at Whitby Harbour was sparked by another “snippet of remembrance” of visiting her mother and cycling from Ampleforth to Whitby. Swallows over the Moor is from memories of her father driving over Yorkshire moors on what she called the “whoosh” road as it made her five-year-old tummy do somersaults.

“I use birds quite a lot in my work as a vehicle for expressing emotion. The curlew is one of my favourite birds and I saw one silhouetted against the sky as I arrived in Whitby very hot and sweaty after a long cycle ride.

“The swallows were on the ‘whoosh’ road, which I loved because it felt like being on a roller coaster. It’s not something that happens now so I think that feeling had something to do with the suspension in the cars back then.”

A limited edition screen-printed linocut and silk-screen print featuring a hare among the seed heads in the grounds of Newby Hall, near Ripon, was inspired by a childhood trip followed by a more recent return.

While she has enjoyed visiting Yorkshire and also has a soft spot for Suffolk, Norfolk and Cornwall, her home for the last 28 years has been the village of Wing in Rutland. “A very appropriate place for a bird lover,” she laughs.

Her garden studio and its recently acquired Rochat Albion press overlooks fields full of wildlife.

“It is a wonderful landscape and very similar to the Vale of York. We have hares in the field and in spring I watch them boxing while eating my breakfast. There’s something medieval and fascinating about them,” says Angela, whose images are in block print, combining vinyl or lino with layered coloured silkscreen and stencil to create a strong graphic emphasis.

The quality and appeal of her art means she has always been able to make a living from it, though her mother, a pottery teacher, was set against her having an artistic career.

She wanted Angela to become a nurse but when her parents broke up and her mother moved away, Angela enrolled on an art foundation course. She went on to do a Fine Art degree at Leicester and further studies at Nottingham Trent University, where she fell in love with printmaking.

After leaving university, finding printmaking facilities was difficult so she helped found The Leicester Print Workshop, which gives open access to artists who want to use the equipment. It has played its part in the recent printmaking renaissance.

“I have been doing it for 30 years but in the last ten years more people have started to take notice and become interested in it,” says Angela. “It is an exciting time to be a printmaker.”

• Flights of Memory runs at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield, until February 26, 2017. All works are available to buy. Angela Harding has also designed a range of homeware for the YSP Shop including a cake tin, apron, tea cosy and tray.ysp.couk; .angelaharding.co.uk

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