How Knutsford is taking its cultural credentials to another level
PUBLISHED: 09:08 11 April 2017 | UPDATED: 10:24 11 April 2017
Maybe it's the proximity to Tatton Park, or the fact that one of the UK's most respected novelists, Elizabeth Gaskell, made her home here, but Knutsford is a major player when it comes to heritage and culture.
Not only that but this month it is about to become even more welcoming to those who wish to learn more about its history and creative achievements with the launch of Knutsford Heritage Centre’ s new Welcome Days. They’ll learn a little more about achievements such the millennium tapestry which was sewn by the population of the town for the 2000 celebrations.
Val Bryant who organises the centre’s exhibitions and events explains: ‘We are calling them Welcome Days as we want to invite businesses in Knutsford to come along here and see what we do. We will do a presentation in the Heritage Centre and give people an insight into things like our Millennium Tapestry.
‘The tapestry is the jewel in our crown and we will actually be doing a whole lot more about it as it is 20 years since the first stitch was made.
‘There are also other things they can learn about the town such as the Lion’s Club which started in Chicago and now celebrates its centennial year, so this year we will be giving them the chance to have an exhibition here.’
The aim is to achieve accreditation for the Heritage Centre, which will give it more flexibility and the potential to chase grant funding.
‘If we do that, we will be able to run a heritage museum-type charity,’ explains Val.
‘We’ve got a lovely collection here which is run very well by our archivist and is a brilliant resource for anyone doing any research, for example into their family tree. It is these kinds of things we will be trying to get over on our Welcome Days.’
Culture vultures will also have another reason to visit Knutsford when Chris and Sharon Eversfield open their new flagship gallery and shop on Princess Street.
After operating exclusively from Congleton, Serenity Designs and Attitude Gallery are opening a new joint store featuring the very finest of design led shopping and art.
Established for more than 15 years, Serenity Designs has focused on beautiful gifts, bags, glassware and home accessories from major lifestyle brands as well as an extensive collection of contemporary Scandinavian jewellery.
The new store will reflect this and also exhibit the very best of ‘art with attitude’ from Attitude Gallery too, showcasing works from the likes of Pure Evil, Pegasus, Paul Oz, JJ Adams, Rourke and Katy Jade Dobson amongst many others.
Says Sharon: ‘We’ve wanted a new store in Cheshire for a long time but it was critical to find the right location. Knutsford was a perfect choice as we have lot of existing customers in the area and our new Princess Street store will be a wonderful home. We’re extremely excited to bring the world of Serenity and Attitude together for a new audience.’
The couple are especially delighted to be able to represent iconic designer Tom Dixon alongside collections from Religion, Ted Baker, Umbra, LSA, Edblad and Dartington to name just a few and will be one of the few in the country showcasing the designer’s lighting, gifts and home accessories collections.
Says Chris: ‘This is a new chapter for us. The business has evolved, so we wanted to have the very best of what we’ve done over the past 15 years but with some new things to wake us all up.’
Making Knutsford his home has been no barrier to the rising career of artist James Roper, whose art has not only won him a following in the UK but in the USA.
James studied art at Knutsford High School and did an NVQ qualification and a degree in fine art at Manchester Metropolitan University but it was his taxi driving father who helped further his career when he drew the attention of one of his clients, David Walters from Photolink Creative Group to his son’s talents.
‘He asked to see my work, really liked it and commissioned a couple of murals for his office,’ explains James.
‘Then after that is was in 2005 that his presence on My Space forged contacts in London and the USA.’
He had his first exhibition in America in California, 20014 and shows in Barcelona and Europe followed but arguably some of the most exciting developments in his career have involved the more commercial aspect of his art, working on campaigns for big brands like IKEA, Nike and Ford.
Superstar rapper, Kanye West wore one of the limited edition T-shirts he sells on his website along with prints of his works.
‘I’d done work for Nike, Converse and MTV did an animated version of one of my works and that was seen all over the world,’ he explains.
‘His (Kanye’s) stylist rang me up and he was interested in me designing a range of T shirts for him but in the end it didn’t work out, but it was still a good thing for me.’
The commercial aspect makes his work accessible to those who can’t afford to buy a £5,000 painting and selling online means he can reach a wider audience from his Knutsford home.
One of the things that inspires him is Tatton Park, which is right on the doorstep.
‘I’ve always gone for walks in Tatton Park and have been very influenced by nature. My studio is in Levenshulme, Manchester, so it is good to get out of the city and back to nature and it is a good place to live. There are some very creative people here such as a friend of mine, Stephanie Mitchell, who has just set up a wedding dress studio called Wilderness Brides. She designs them all herself and is very talented.’
It isn’t just the art world that is represented in Knutsford. There’s music too. The town has its very own musical theatre and it’s not what you might expect.
While they perform the kinds of shows you may find at any amateur theatre in the UK they are also not averse to taking risks on newer, exciting work and that has now paid off as they are in the running for the best musical award in the National Operatic and Dramatic Association for Our House, which celebrates the music of the band Madness.
This month the first of the twice-yearly shows is Avenue Q, which was written by the people behind South Park and the Book of Mormon - not an obvious choice for an amateur theatrical company based in a small town.
‘These days we are trying to do more modern theatrical productions as it keeps things interesting,’ says spokesman Nick Abbott.
‘Avenue Q is very modern and witty and a bit risqué, involving puppets* being naughty. Taking their clothes off, all sorts of things. We’ve even put a parental advisory certificate on our publicity!
‘Of course we also do the more traditional shows too to swell our coffers, such as the Wizard of Oz, which we did last year and our next show will be Fame - there is a great deal of risk doing the more contemporary shows.’
*Avenue Q has not been authorised or approved by the Jim Henson Company or Sesame Workshop, which have no responsibility for its content.