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Caroline Spalding
Features Correspondent
10:21 AM 8th June 2020

The Artistry Of Lancashire: Bonkers Clutterbucks

Lockdown has, for some, provided the perfect opportunity to indulge in creative projects often left aside until there is more time to spare. Indeed, it is outstanding how much resource has been available online to those knowing where to look. From virtual gallery tours to Zoom master classes in arts and crafts, creativity has become a new pastime for many.

Selection of vintage tin dioramas. All photos by Kate & Peter Caruana
Selection of vintage tin dioramas. All photos by Kate & Peter Caruana
I've taken time to discover more about the art world in Lancashire, as part of my own exploration of the county and what it has to offer. I have stumbled, albeit online, across galleries, craft shops, venues and of course workshops and artists galore - and now I want to share my discoveries with you, the readers, to showcase more of the Lancashire artistic talent that the county boasts.

The first stop is the delightfully named husband and wife combo of Kate and Peter, known collectively as Bonkers Clutterbucks. Based in the Rossendale Valley, the work created in the studio of their home, a former corn warehouse, extends to adorn the decor of the interior: one imagines an immersive gallery experience, a treasure trove of delight.

Platform Gallery Stall
Platform Gallery Stall
For those unfamiliar with their work, they describe it as a collection of curios sourced from vintage fairs and flea markets; up-cycled using a diverse range of materials to create objects that draw inspiration from whimsical modes of transport, circuses, folklore and hot air balloons. Therefore, a vintage tin or another otherwise useless trinket discovered in an antique shop can be transformed into a diorama featuring an anthropomorphic animal in period costume inhabiting an enchanted forest or hedgerow.

Many could share the excitement Kate and Peter experience as they forage through the antique shops for the next knick-knack to inspire a piece of work. As expected, when working to a commission, sourcing the specific item you have in mind is a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Lockdown of course has impacted their family. It has brought some positives, such as that little bit of extra time, so sought after as artists who feel they've never enough. Peter has been shielding throughout and has been employed in his spare time in cleaning and painting the studio. Thankfully they have had a steady stream of orders to keep them busy - a big demand for creative kits for example, likely received from those similar to the couple’s daughters, who've been sourcing projects online and using the household stock of art materials and fabrics to indulge their creative whims. Kate and Peter have set up full exhibition stalls at home, to hold virtual art fairs in lieu of all the cancelled shows they were set to attend.

Whilst they do have concern about how the art world will adapt to the “new normal” post lockdown, they have used the period of isolation to devise ever more innovative ideas and ways to bring their products to the market. Even mealtimes have become a daily "creative event" and their regular walks have sustained their imagination. Moorland peppered with cotton grass, dry stone walls lining deep gorges and wild garlic sprouting as the bluebells die away has provided them with a "real tonic" keeping them happy and healthy in mind and body.

Rabbit diorama
Rabbit diorama
They believe that Lancashire makers are genuinely conscious of their surrounding environment, motivated to reduce plastic waste and repurpose otherwise unnecessary items. An example is the work of Thrift Design who creates pheasants, squirrels and badgers from cardboard and packaging waste. In the past decade, as well as a move towards environmental sustainability and supporting local business and economy by buying local, they feel a new bond with fellow creators through the expanded use of social media forging that connection. A decade ago they would only encounter fellow artists through annual events such as Rossendale Reveal, during which artists would throw open their studios doors to welcome in the public.

Now with events such as Etsy Made Local: Preston, Hopeful & Glorious and the Festival of Making: Blackburn, there is an established community network of mutual support and encouragement among the local artists.

Kate and Peter also draw inspiration from contemporary artists, particularly the pen and ink illustrated books of Edward Gorey, the brooding cinematic landscapes of Scottish-born figurative painter, Peter Doig, the illustrations of John Burningham which accompany his children’s books and the ceramics of Devon-based Vicky Lindo. If they could invite any artist to share some quality time with them, Peter would chose Van Gogh, fascinated by Van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo, documenting his artistic journey, and Kate would invite Grayson Perry: his Monday night Art Club on Channel 4 has become a weekly lockdown staple and highlight for the family.

Kate & Peter
Kate & Peter
Kate and Peter also do large scale creative projects and commissions, sometimes funded by groups such as Mirador & Arts Council England. They collaborated with other artists on a project called Behind The Wall, exploring the history of the Standfast & Barracks print works in Lancaster which had been a temporary internment camp during WW1. They built a clock tower and time machine which was displayed at Lancaster museum. Recently they have worked with schools located along the banks of the River Ribble, one rural, one in Preston. This was a Heritage Lottery funded project with Mirador (http://miradorarts.co.uk/) exploring the history of the river, in which they created a huge board game based on the Roman settlement at Ribchester. They worked with the schools and the River Ribble Trust to promote the preservation of the river, keeping it clean.

In usual times their work can be seen in the Craft and Design Centre in Leeds City Art Gallery, or at the Platform Gallery, Clitheroe. Alternatively, you can view and purchase their work via Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/bonkersclutterbucks/) Etsy (https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/BonkersClutterbucks) and Folksy (https://folksy.com/shops/BonkersClutterbucks).

For now, let the intricate and beautiful work of this talented pair arouse your own creativity and visit their website (https://bonkersclutterbucks.com/) or follow them on Twitter (@bonkersclutter) for updates and new products that I’m sure will inspire, delight and be snatched up quickly to the lucky purchasers.