ART: A traditional artisan’s home

Oxford artist Maggie Bicknell is opening her Jericho home and new studio to visitors for Oxfordshire Artweeks, offering a fascinating glimpse of the artisan history of this trendy bohemian neighbourhood, and the chance to enjoy paintings that capture the tranquillity of an unchanged everyday.

Built by the Cottage Preservation Society in 1883, Maggie’s house is one of a row of terraced houses in Plantation Rd and here she both paints and exhibits. ‘It feels quite fitting that I paint from home,’ says Maggie, ‘as these houses were built with the intention of housing local artisans. Up until this year I’ve exhibited in the front room of the house and I have to admit that quite a few visitors were just as interested in the house as in my paintings! Now we have built a studio in the garden where an old shed had been, so, for the first time I’ll have a dedicated painting and exhibition space. The gardening shed featured in one of the first paintings I did when we moved here a few years ago so I won’t forget it!’

‘Having fallen for this small but rather lovely end terrace Victorian house in the Arts and Crafts style we were determined to stay faithful to the vision of the people who built it and to that Arts and Crafts movement which stood for traditional craftsmanship underpinned by ideas of economic and social reform for everyman. Of course, we wanted to live in reasonable 21st century comfort – central heating, dishwasher, wi-fi, etc. but keep all the things which first attracted us to the house in the first place: the original ledge and brace doors, the wooden dividing walls on the upper floor, the cast iron range in the kitchen. Most of all we appreciated the light, well-proportioned rooms which somehow manage to be both cosy and airy at the same time!  The builders just got it right in their proportions thanks to the guiding principles of the arts and craft movement which valued design, good craftsmanship and simplicity. The quality of design and execution really shows.’

‘Most of the houses in the same terrace have been modernised and the majority of owners have broken through the internal wall and made one room of the downstairs. We liked the view straight through from front to back and imagined before moving in that we’d do the same. After only a few weeks of living in the house we had changed our minds. Each room felt exactly right, the shape and size it was, so we let it be and benefitted from having two distinct but interconnecting living spaces.  On the original plans the back room was called the wash house. The original copper was long gone but a Belfast sink remained which I also painted! (Kitchen Sink.jpg) Despite some cautious modernisation (the Belfast sink is now magnificently useful in my studio) the kitchen still feels old with the original small range and a wall of Lincrusta (a late Victorian wall covering made from linseed oil and wood flour spread on a paper base which looks similar to pargeting) . The latter is not what you’d expect to find in a small terraced cottage and we figure one of the original tenants was trying it out at home before he took it to the grander house it was intended for, or else, he brought a spare roll back with him at the end of the job!’

‘The row of houses was built on land which had originally been a small market garden and you can see evidence of it still in the patchwork of green spaces and small gardens which are particularly fertile. I have several times painted our back view of chimneys, rooftops, and a glimpse of the observatory but one of my favourites is this winter scene of gardens and walls framed by our window on the stairs. You get a view into the kitchen from the lower level of the garden in my painting of our back door. Our battered old colander originally belonging to my grandmother (feels absolutely at home here!’

‘I like painting what’s around me and the items and every day views that hold clues to, or memories from, the past.  I think this would be true wherever I was: it’s the looking which makes things and places interesting. I feel fortunate to live in a house which encourages such looking and connects me with other artists and craftsmen who may have lived there before.  Familiarity sometimes stops us noticing what’s there but it can also infuse things and places with real emotional impact. I’m trying to convey a bit of that emotion in the paintings and sometimes that gets through to viewers. Or maybe it’s just nostalgia and memories from childhood. O often hear people say “My gran had one of those sinks!” or something similar.  Whichever it is, it makes a connection between me as painter and the person looking and that’s great.’

Visit to see the other places you can visit from 4th-27th May during Oxforrdshire Artweeks, as hundreds of artists open their studios to the public or host pop-up exhibitions in interesting spaces giving you the chance to pick up something unique to add a touch of style to your home.

Published in OX Homes Spring edition 2019

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