Of Whales, Geese and ArtistsInterview with Nichola Hunt previous chair and now coordinator of the Barnet Guild of Arts
Beyond the imposing arch of a pair of ancient jawbones off Wood Street, Barnet, is the Whalebones farm Estate, home to a bespoke art studio for members of the Barnet Guild of Artists (BGA).
BGA was founded in 1948 by the original owner of Whalebones, Gwyneth Cowing, whose family founded the Barnet Press newspaper. The guild held its first exhibition at Queen Elizabeth’s Girl School and since then, the BGA studio offers daily art sessions to members and support for full-time professional artists as well as enthusiastic amateurs by providing them with a place to work.
The current studio was built in 1961, with generous donations from Cowing. The studio is situated on twelve acres of green belt land farmland originally used for grazing with horses and cattle, run by Mr and Mrs Maton for over 50 years.
Nichola Hunt has run the BGA as Chair and then Coordinator and is in her 10th year.
She said: “My stint has involved organising the daily art sessions, running the portrait group, educational demonstrations and workshops. I’m the outreach and go-to and have run the previous annual summer exhibitions. I even pour tea at meetings!”.
“The new Chair is now Councillor David Longstaff”, says Nichola. ‘’We’re so delighted that David stepped up when we became a charity in 2019.
"The charity provides facilities for the practice of the visual arts for all and to encourage the appreciation and understanding of them.
“Born with a drawing pad in my hand I specialised in printmaking for my degree. I have lived in Barnet for almost 30 years.
"My roles as an artist have included producing abstract pieces using fused glass, being a picture framer, illustrator, ceramics painter and art teacher as well as portrait commissions and selling bespoke stained-glass pieces at industrial art events. I’m also currently building my own art studio.’’
A mum of two grown-up children (“The most important job I’ve done!”) Nichola’s lifelong interest in art has been underpinned by her day job working as a legal secretary.
"The BGA has had a very varied membership over the years including some blazing talents including Keith West whose recent depiction of the Battle of Barnet is now hanging in the Barnet Museum.”
The BGA membership has a huge variety of styles and talent which is usually on show in the locally held Annual Exhibition (suspended for the past two years due to Covid-19).
“We also run two permanent community exhibitions: one at ‘Open Door Cafe’ in St Albans Road and another in the Wesley Hall in Stapylton Road. Both were added to the North London Art Trail, supported by the previous Mayor of Barnet, Councillor Caroline Stock who added it to her own Barnet Heritage Trail’’.
“These events and exhibitions are a positive outlet and an encouragement to the members. Personally, I’m inspired by the Spanish Impressionist painter Soroya, the dry-point etchings of Käte Kollwitz and the 1920’s Polish artist Tamara de Lempicka.”
Nichola has helped in many local art projects, including helping with the scenery and props for the local Bull Theatre annual pantomime and the Barnet entry to the Mayor of London’s New Year’s Day Parade. She supports Barnet Council’s Quality in Care’s wonderful annual Silver Week Care Homes Art Competition which has now been running for about five years as well as the local HFT charity supporting adults with learning difficulties.
A parting invitation from Nichola to all readers:
“The Guild currently has 100 members. Anyone who’d like to know more can find us on Instagram or just contact me through our website: www.barnetguildofartists.org.uk."
Simon Ellinas is a cartoonist and writer living and working in Barnet. www.simonillustrations.com / Twitter:@cartoonelli