Whitby, with its instantly recognisable skyline, became a favourite subject of John Atkinson Grimshaw whose atmospheric paintings of gaslit nights and golden dawns captured the spirit of the seaside town during the Victorian period.
Then there’s Staithes, with its cottages clinging to the hillside and boats bobbing in the harbour, which at the turn of the last century was home to two dozen painters who took their inspiration from the impressionists Monet, Cézanne and Renoir, and called themselves the Staithes Group. Most famous among them was Dame Laura Knight, who kept a studio in the village.
Staithes has turned its artistic associations into a mini tourist boom with a weekend-long arts festival, now in its tenth year, held every September.
Given all this it would be easy to overlook Robin Hood’s Bay, whose artistic heritage, though less well known, is no less interesting. It was here, in 1925, that the Fylingdales Group of Artists was formed and the picturesque fishing village is still home to a thriving art group today.
It’s also where illustrator and surface pattern designer Jessica Hogarth grew up. “I spent so much time running up and down the cobbled streets when I was growing up with my friends. We had a unique upbringing when I think about it and I’m very grateful for it because it’s such an undeniably beautiful place,” she says.
For anyone who’s visited Robin Hood’s Bay it’s easy to see why artists would be drawn to the place. “There’s probably something about being in quirky places like this that encourage creativity. If you like painting, how could you not be inspired by the coves and villages along the coast?”
It’s something that Jessica has tapped into for her own work. She was born and grew up in the village and after studying at Leeds College of Art, and following a stint working for a design studio in Manchester, she returned to the Yorkshire coast where she set up her own business in 2012 creating designs for greeting cards, art prints and tea towels, among other things.
“The coast is massively important to me, especially Robin Hood’s Bay. My early work was largely inspired by my upbringing here and was the focal point of my first product range. The seaside and my Yorkshire heritage remain popular themes in my work today. Every design I create begins as a simple black pen illustration on paper, before being digitally enhanced with stylish colour schemes,” she says.
She sold her products online through Etsy and Not on the High Street, and they have also been stocked by the likes of Fortnum & Mason, Liberty of London and Oliver Bonas.
With her business doing well she decided to open a shop in Robin Hood’s Bay last summer. This would be a brave move at any time, but during a global pandemic some might say it was foolhardy.
So what made her take the plunge? “Many summers in my teens were spent working in my auntie’s grocery shop in the village and I have to say I loved it. It was busy and sociable and in the back of my mind I had always hoped that one day I’d be running a shop of my own.”
Then during the first lockdown an unexpected opportunity arose. “I saw on Facebook that a shop had come up to let, and so me and my partner enquired about it. The lady said six people were interested but she would give us first refusal because I’d grown up in the village and she’d bought some of my artwork and thought it would be a good addition, so we just went for it,” says Jessica.
She runs the business with her partner, Phil Hammill, who moved to Yorkshire after initially being furloughed from his job in Manchester, and also has her mother, Wendy, working for her. Together they spent six weeks renovating the shop, former home of heritage clothing brand Berties Of Bay, before opening on the last day of July.
“One of the reasons we thought that opening the shop was a risk worth taking is we think that staycations will become really popular even after the vaccines are rolled out,” adds Jessica. “I think more people are going to go on holiday in this country and stay a bit more local.”
She may well be right. Last summer when the number of Covid cases dropped and the lockdown rules were relaxed, many people, who in normal circumstances would have gone on holiday abroad, opted to stay in the UK and head to the coast for day trips or short breaks.
It proved a welcome boost for the beleaguered retail sector, including independent shops like Jessica’s which sells a mixture of homeware and art designs, such as prints, place mats, coffee mugs and jewellery.
She says about a third of what she sells are her own creations and the rest are products from other designers and craftspeople. “I like to think that when people come in they’ll see something they haven’t seen before.”
Greetings cards are her bread and butter and it was one of her designs, part of her Christmas decoration card range, that won a national award last year at the Henries – “the Oscars of the greetings card industry” – which has helped raise her profile.
So, too, has signing a contract with Temple Island Collection, a giftware company with whom she’s collaborating over new designs. “For them to take me on as an official artist is very exciting,” says Jessica.
If the summer brought in some welcome business it was sadly short-lived and Jessica’s shop closed again in November, which meant building up the online side of the business. “Some people say ‘don’t shop online’ and ‘support your local business’, but you can buy from a website and still be supporting a small, independent business.”
The latest lockdown has been a blow but it’s given Jessica, who also has a little studio space in Whitby, the opportunity to work on new designs. These will no doubt have a coastal theme, drawing on a landscape she knows like the back of her hand.
“There’s something about the higgledy- piggledy shape of the buildings in the villages on the coast that I find fascinating and I know a lot of other people do, too.”
Her hope is that when life returns to some kind of normality people will want to come back to Robin Hood’s Bay and pay her a visit. “We’d love the shop to become a bit of a destination. I love independent shops and I’ll go to somewhere like Saltburn just to go to a particular shop and that’s what I’d like people to do with us.”
In the meantime, Jessica is not only helping to maintain the artistic tradition of Robin Hood’s Bay, she’s also part of a new generation picking up the baton in the village.
“My best friend Holly has the Old Drapery, a clothes shop further down the hill, and there’s the Toy Shop run by Louise – she’s my godmother’s daughter. So there’s all these young, entrepreneurial women taking over the village,” she says, laughing.