Preview: York Open Studios

As York Open Studios returns for two weekends next month, Yvette Huddleston spoke to two of the artists taking part in the event for the first time.

The annual York Open Studios – a significant event on the city’s cultural calendar – returns next month with nearly a hundred artists and craftspeople set to welcome visitors into their homes and studios across two weekends.

This year over a third of the artists will be taking part for the first time, including painter Bernadette Oliver who recently completed a course in Creative Art and Design at York Art College.

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“I had always painted but it was generally more representational work and the course opened my eyes to all sorts of other possibilities,” she says. “It gave me the confidence to be more abstract in my work and to use different forms of media.” Oliver originally studied Art in Manchester but took a career break to bring up her family. “My husband was in the Army so we travelled quite a bit and that experience of living in different places has inspired a lot of my work,” she says. “Landscape features prominently, buildings fascinate me – and colour is very important.”

She is focussing now on an abstract expressionist style and visitors will be able to see paintings, prints and postcards inspired by travels and Europe, Africa – and closer to home.

Oliver says she is very much looking forward to meeting visitors at her studio, which is a converted summerhouse in her garden. “It is great to have the opportunity to share your love of art with other people. And you can also show them that you don’t need to have a massive space to be able to create something.”

There are more than 70 venues to choose from this year, giving visitors the chance to discover art in a range of studios and workshops rarely open to the public as well as community spaces and historic buildings such as the Cemetery Chapel and Nether Poppleton’s Tithe Barn. The diversity of artwork on display is impressive – with painting, printmaking, ceramics, glass, textiles, sculpture, jewellery, paper-cutting, photography, furniture-making, wood-carving and mixed media all represented.

Also exhibiting work for the first time this year is jewellery designer maker Joanna Wakefield who has long been a fan of the Open Studios. “I’ve been visiting them for about ten years and I had always aspired to do it, so it’s a bit of a dream come true,” she says. Wakefield originally trained in textiles and has a degree in Design. She worked for 12 years as a Fair Trade designer, travelling around the world developing traditional handicrafts with local artisans, before retraining at York School of Jewellery. “I studied at night school and last year I decided to hand in my notice to give my jewellery-making a go,” she says. “It was a big step – I converted my garage into a studio and it’s all been a bit of a whirlwind since.” Wakefield works in silver, but textiles still play a part. “The main theme of my work is haberdashery,” she says. “I come from several generations of needleswomen – and it feels right, it just seemed like a natural progression.” She incorporates old buttons, bobbins, thimbles, cotton reels and other vintage found objects in her jewellery. “It is quite niche, so it will be interesting in the open studios to see what people think,” she says. “I’m just so happy to be taking part.”

York Open Studios, April 15-17 and 23 and 24. For more details visit or a free copy of the programme email [email protected]