"A brilliant party": North Yorkshire village opens inaugural Staithes Festival

By Ben Miller | 21 September 2012
A photo of a man looking through a window smiling beneath two portrait paintings
Barbara Govan, one of the organisers of the inaugural Staithes Festival, outside Ash Cottage, a Grade II-listed fisherman's cottage which will become a portrait studio at the weekend for Garnet Dore (right), a portrait painter from Leeds who has depicted some of the local residents ahead of the festival
Festival Preview: Staithes Festival of arts and Heritage, various venues, Staithes, September 22-23 2012

The North Yorkshire fishing village of Staithes has a thriving artists’ community with a history running back to the Staithes Group, a colony of 25 painters inspired by French Impressionts in the 19th century.

An image of a swirling, multcoloured painting of fish heading through a river next to a sea
A work by Bridget Wilkinson, one of the featured artists
But this inaugural festival, in which 40 homeowners have allowed their houses to become galleries for the weekend, is a reaction to adversity.

“We needed to come up with some sort of response to the loss of the village post office,” says co-organiser Barbara Govan.

“We needed some event that would tell the world we are open for business, we have lots to celebrate and to offer any visitor to our beautiful village by the sea.

“It was just an idea a few months ago, but now it has become quite a large and exciting event.”

Nine miles north of Whitby, Staithes is in the North York Moors National Park – the authority is backing the festival, along with the local tourist board and Scarborough Council – and is an idyll favoured in paintings and postcards.

“It was the boyhood home of Captain Cook,” adds Govan, reflecting that the Staithes Group also produced the first female member of the Royal Academy, Dame Laura Knight, who will be pictured in a hoard of magic lantern slides on show from more than a century ago.

A photo of a man smiling through a window beneath two portrait paintings
Paul Bader, one of the home owners, prepares Ash Cottage to be a portrait gallery
“It was once the home of one of England’s largest fishing fleets. Despite the loss of the post office, the village is experiencing a revival in contemporary art.

“We are attracting painters back to the village to live and work.”

Visitors will have to negotiate the 18-inch street which could lay claim to England’s narrowest walkway, at Dog Loup.

“There is a maze of alleys and smugglers’ haunts,” warns Govan.

“We also have a giant outdoor cinema screen featuring footage and archive pictures which haven’t been seen before.

“These are notorious wrecking shores, so we’ll be putting finds from shipwrecks on view in the Lifeboat House.

“Add in live music, good food and a festival atmosphere and you’ve got an unmissable cultural weekend which we hope will turn the economic tide for the village.”

An image of a painting of two fishing boats atop a vertiginous cliff
A piece by Robert Brindley
Janet Deacon, of county horn-sounders Welcome to Yorkshire, says planners are “extremely excited” about this new date on the calendar in a region famous for innovative art.

“One of our key strategic aims is to encourage festivals and events outside of the main season to the Borough’s resorts.

“The Yorkshire coast offers some superb scenery, Staithes being a prime example.

“It attracts artists from far and wide and having a festival to showcase some of this stunning artwork will highlight the beauty of our coastline and raise the profile of local and regional artists.”

Govan admits to being “bowled over” by local support.

“It is a brilliant free two days for all, though of course the fabulous art on offer should get snapped up by appreciate fans,” she hopes.

“It’s like organising a brilliant party at your home. Now we just want to invite as many people as we can to come and share in the event.”

More pictures:

A black and white image of a coastal town featuring various barrels, bits of wood and houses
An image of an idyllic Yorkshire coastal village with a long sloping hill and fishing boats
A black and white image of an ancient steam train passing across a thin bridge over hills
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