‘I think about my skills as an artist as a gift from God’

by AMY FORDE, marketing and communications assistant at Rotherham Open Arts Renaissance (ROAR)

RACHEL Lewis has been a member of ROAR for five years, and has made herself well known within the Rotherham arts scene.

She is currently president of Rotherham Society of Artists, a group who meet on Fridays at the Unity Centre, and also runs a weekly art class in Ravenfield which is well attended by those in the area.

She has also been involved with Wath Hall Limited, a charity campaign group who have been helping raise finance and creating a long-term plan for the historic Wath Hall building. Rachel curated exhibitions at the site to draw people in, another way that she met more artists in and around Rotherham. Rachel curated exhibitions at the site to draw people in, another way that she met more artists in and around Rotherham.

It surprises me then that she tells me she has had no formal art training and has spent most of her working life as a physiotherapist: “My art timeline, we can call it, started seven years ago when I had children. With sleep deprivation and post-natal depression, my focus strangely became painting. I knew I had an hour a day when they napped when I could devote myself to it.”

The piece that came out of this hour a day is called Honey Jars. When she later shows me the piece, knowing the back story I could see so much symbolism in those three jars of honey glistening against a stormy backdrop.

From this work it all spring-boarded. Her next collection focused on hands, something which happened organically as part of Open Studios weekend here at ROAR.

A lady, who was being photographed by a fellow ROAR member as part of the event, caught Rachel’s attention: “Whilst she sat there, this lady’s hands were just glowing through the light from the window and were just absolutely stunning. So I sneakily took a digital shot of her hands whilst her portrait was being done.”

Rachel has gone on to capture two different versions of this picture, one in oil and one in acrylic. The piece features as part of Rotherham’s Gallery Town, Rotherham’s open air art gallery.

Rachel says there is no set theme to her artwork, which somewhat mirrors how she talks about herself as someone who is always juggling a number of projects at once. She tells me “I am drawn to what I want to draw”, but hands are something she has captured more than once, most recently her vicar’s: “I had got quite a simple image of praying hands but we ended up doing one with the chalice, and with all the reflections in the chalice it was quite striking.” It currently sits comfortably on the church’s prayer table.

On this fascination with hands she explains: “I think they are people, not in a crazy sense. But I think they are really expressive.”

She also adds that it was this part of the body which she focused on when she was a physiotherapist, anatomically a fascinating area. The connection to hands has always been there.

Although never having formal training, like many of the artists she has always been creative. She tells me that aged three she once captured musician Gilbert O’Sullivan sat on a piano, a piece which went on to take pride of place in her headmistress’s office. She jokes: “You could call this interview from Gilbert O’Sullivan to God.”

Indeed her faith is something she has mentioned throughout our conversation. She has just taken on the role of church warden, and it seems that this is an important part of her artistic progression: “My faith is growing as is my confidence in my art. Part of that is because I think about my skills as an artist as a gift from God. That it is something I have been blessed with and I can use for other people and share with other people.”

Another important characteristic is her desire to learn and continue to grow and develop her skills. A lot of this has been aided by her work teaching, as she puts it: “I have to learn things thoroughly in order to be able to teach that topic.” Not only does it strike me that this is something she prides herself in, but is also crucial to this point in her creative journey.

As we look over her work at the end of the interview, there is a lot of exploration in both medium and theme. She admits she hasn’t quite found her niche yet, but that in itself is part of the process.

There is a real hunger to push her practice further, exhibit more and further promote herself and her work. She tells me that for a long time she didn’t call herself an artist, it “didn’t fit”, but I get the sense that this change in mindset has really helped: “What I would really like to do is organise myself to be more professional in how I market my work, and in particular how it’s presented. So my challenge here is to actually have a career development.”

A great ambition to have and one I am sure she will succeed in.

Think of health before fashion

Edna during her operation


AN animal charity is urging pet owners to think about the problems their furry friends could endure if they have flat faces.

South Yorkshire-based Rain Rescue wants to raise awareness amongst the public about the problems flat faced pets like Pugs, French Bulldogs and Persian cats are dealing with due to poor breeding.

The rescue charity, which is located in Rotherham, takes in over 400 dogs and cats every year and is seeing a rise in the number of flat faced types of animals entering its care.

Now, the charity wants the public to be aware of what it means to own one of these breeds after it rescued Edna, a one-year-old French Bulldog who required major surgery when it was found she had narrowed airways and a dropped palate.

This meant that poor Edna struggled to breathe properly.

The British Veterinary Association has said that last year 93 per cent of companion vets treated flat faced dogs for breathing problems, demonstrating the extent of the problem within the UK.

They recently launched their #BreedtoBreathe campaign to get the message out to dog owners to think about choosing a healthier breed or crossbreed instead of prioritising appearance over welfare.

Recently, Holland’s Pug Club banned the breeding of pugs with a nose less than a third of the length of the skull to try and improve the health of the breed.

Rain Rescue wants to encourage anyone thinking of buying one of these breeds to really do their research, and know what a healthy pet looks like.

The charity also wants breeders and breeder clubs to change what they look for as desirable.

Deputy charity manager Lauren Sanderson said: “In the last 12 months we’ve taken in three French Bulldogs and a Persian cat who all had what is known as brachycephalic breed related health issues – from poor breathing, eye disease, dental problems and skin infections.

“It may not sound a lot but in Rain’s 17 year history it had only cared for one French Bulldog before this. Edna is also the second dog we’ve had to treat with surgery for poor breeding; the other was a Pug.

“Frenchies and Pugs are more popular than ever but sadly the public and those buying puppies do not realise the consequences.

“It’s often considered normal for these breeds to snore and snort but it isn’t. This is the effect of breeders choosing looks over health.

“In extreme cases this can mean they need corrective surgery like Edna did. Not only is this a huge thing for the animal to go through it can be very expensive, sometimes costing thousands of pounds.

“Thankfully Edna has now got the treatment she needed, has been adopted and is doing much better, but sadly her breed-related issues are not completely over. She still suffers from ear infections, another common issue in these types of dog.”

The British Veterinary Association has recently commended model and 2016 Love Island runner-up Olivia Bowen Buckland for her social media posts urging prospective dog owners to do their research before getting a puppy, after her French bulldog Reggie had to undergo surgery to help him breathe more easily.

In social media posts liked or shared by almost 65,000 people, Mrs Bowen Buckland wrote: “I’m so shocked at how many bulldog/pug owners don’t know anything about the breed they own or in particular BOAS (Brachycephalic Obstructive Airway Syndrome). It actually baffles me. We knew this day may come Reggie & we knew what it may cost. Brachycephalic breeds are not easy. Educate.”

She also suggested that budding owners do their research in advance, adding: “I get so upset seeing the amount of difficult breeds being given up when a little bit of research could of (sic) raised alarm bells.”

British Veterinary Association junior vice president Daniella Dos Santos welcomed the words of the Love Island star.

BVA junior vice chairman Daniella Dos Santos

She said: “Celebrity influence has played a huge role in explosion in popularity of flat-faced dogs, so it is welcome to see a reality TV star with millions of social media followers start a conversation around the serious health issues many of these breeds suffer from.

“BOAS is a distressing condition for those dogs living with it. As vets, we often hear from owners that their flat-faced dog is healthy, but they don’t realise that loud breathing or snorting isn’t normal. In reality, dogs with short muzzles can struggle to breathe. That is why we ask all prospective dog owners to pick health over looks.

“Responsible pet ownership begins even before getting a pet, which is why it is commendable that Mrs Bowen Buckland has asked her fans to always do their research first.

“Anyone looking for a dog should talk to a local vet, as they are well-placed to give advice on the health and welfare problems associated with certain breeds and to suggest a pet that is suitable for your lifestyle and financial considerations.

“One way to make sure you are getting a healthy, happy puppy from a responsible breeder, who has carried out all relevant health tests, is to insist that they use the free, downloadable Puppy Contract.

“We hope that Mrs Bowen Buckland’s example will inspire more celebrity owners of pets with breed-related health and welfare issues to speak out.”

The British Veterinary Association’s #BreedtoBreathe campaign was launched last January.

Statistics from organisation’s Summer 2017 Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey showed that almost half of vets believed their clients who chose brachycephalic dogs were swayed by social media (49 per cent) or their celebrity idols (43 per cent) when buying their pets.

The study found that more than half (56 per cent) of the brachycephalic dogs that vets saw in practice needed treatment for health issues related to how they look, such as breathing difficulties, skin problems, eye ulcers or dental problems.

But vets reported that only 10 per cent of dog owners could recognise their brachycephalic dog’s breed-related health issues, while 75 per cent were unaware these potential problems even existed before deciding on the breed.

‘It’s hard work; you come, you work, you don’t work just when the muse takes you. Art is hard work’


IT’S my first time really talking to Kevan Cadman, who has been a studio holder here at Westgate Chambers since October.

Kevan strikes me as the sort of person who doesn’t sit down often; on both occasions when I have entered his studio he has been up, working with a focused, determined energy about him. You sense he’s got a real, creative hunger, which is not only visible by the numerous pieces of work which surround him, but there is a deeper, burning drive which makes a lot more sense as we start talking.

He studied art at university in York and tells me one thing which will stay with him forever is a quotation by his art lecturer: “If you think you’re going to have an artistic temperament forget it. It’s hard work; you come, you work, you don’t work just when the muse takes you. Art is hard work.”

This is something which obviously rings true and sheds light on my first impression of Kevan.

Kevan went on to work in education, something to which he dedicated 37 years of his life. I think it is fair to say that although it is obviously something he was passionate about, he became very frustrated with it by the end: “When I left teaching I was sick to death, and this sounds really corny, of filling in tick boxes, statistics and data. Boxes which were utterly meaningless because you don’t need to tick a box to know a child; you react with the child, you talk to the child, you build a relationship with them.”

His teaching career, and later frustration with it, is even more relevant as we start discussing his recent work.

The first piece that catches my eye is a mobile structure of clocks which are designed and shaped as flies. Stemming from the phrase “time flies”, Kevan’s way of working is quite unique: “Years of planning topics in primary, you often start with the word or the theme. That’s how you plan your maths, your history, your geography. So I wrote the words statistics and then wrote all these ideas, whatever came to mind.”

Another mobile structure is Dropbox, a series of white cubes of different sizes and hanging at different lengths. There is something quite mesmerising and thrilling about the work. He goes into a bit more detail about another piece on the wall: “I originally got some rods and I was also looking at bar charts, another form of statistics. But when I laid the rods out on the floor they kind of reminded me of sound waves.” After assessing the wave patterns which were created from recording a phrase about statistics (he did not wish to repeat the phrase), the central part of the work, the rods, mirrored the form of this wave pattern.

As we discuss this catalogue of work I use the term rebellion which may actually give the wrong impression of what is very neat and ordered work, but he explains that for him, like many artists, there is a need to be creative: it’s something which has always been there. And this stretch of work is another example of this: “It’s reclaiming the nonsense of the boxes and the statistics.” Kevan explains it is “tumbling out” of him at the minute: “It’s like the old phrase anger is an energy isn’t it?”

Either way, what he has done through this body of art is take something negative and make something quite beautiful out of it.

Juxtaposing the overall feel and style of his art-work, Kevan envisions his work being displayed in the natural environment. He recently took one piece to Boston Park and hung it on a tree: “It’s quite clinical I think, but I like it hanging in a more natural setting.”

The piece he is currently working on is inspired by the phrase “statistics manipulate truths” and he would like to present it in a natural setting “with stuff growing in or out of it”.

Like many creatives, his art doesn’t begin and end in the studio. I spot a couple of instruments in the corner and he tells me he has played music all his life, still gigging with bands Rotherham Rogues and Meadowland. I ask him what instruments he plays and there is a sort of pause and I imagine he is thinking to himself, where do I start? He tells me guitar is his main instrument, but he plays some keyboards as well. I gather he could get a tune out of anything with strings.

Having the studio has been a great aid to his work, originally a needs-must situation as he required a space to be able to leave his stuff safely, especially using the variety of tools he does.

He explains that after Christmas he tried to create some music at home but found he couldn’t. He came into the studio and it just worked: “I have a space where I can reflect upon and do all the things I haven’t had the chance to do in my teaching career. And I just like coming in.”

The music he creates in turn easily inspires some pieces of his 3D artwork; the two interlink and intermingle and always have.

One of the benefits of having a studio and being a member of ROAR is interacting with other artists who are also dotted around: “It’ difficult because as 30-odd years as a teacher I am with people constantly and suddenly I am on my own. So snippets of conversation, I need them. I think you can get lost in your own little world if you’re not careful.”

In a way we finish as we started, looking to the future links directly back to his strong work ethic. He clarifies, he wants to work as a professional artist and start by exhibiting his work: “To me, and not everyone agrees with this I know, there is not a lot of point creating art of any sort – music, poetry, 2D, 3D – unless someone is going to see it. It’s the sort of thing like if you clap in a forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?”

You can keep up with Kevan on his website http://www.groovewareart.com/”www.groovewareart.com.

Art workshop with a difference


BEING given the chance to design and create a working automaton isn’t something that happens every day.

But people can get the opportunity to be technical courtesy of a Rotherham arts organisation later this month (August).

ROAR (Rotherham Open Arts Renaissance) at Westgate Chambers in Westgate will host Matt Butt’s Automaton Workshop on Saturday, August 31, from 10am to 3pm.

The session will involve design, laser cutting and construction.

The cost of the workshop is £35, which includes all materials.

Interested people can book a place online via https://tinyurl.com/y5r7kh94.

Contact ROAR at team@rotherhamroar.org or by telephoning 01709 835757.

This way there be witches…

Pendle Heritage Centre


WHAT have religious nonconformity, witches, architecture and the first man to run a mile in four minutes Sir Roger Bannister got in common?

The answer is that they all form part of what’s on offer at a fascinating museum in the heart of Lancashire.

Pendle Heritage Cnetre, on the edge of Barrowford, offers a wealth of delights to anyone interested in architectural, social or local history.

There is even an art gallery, the chance to shop and the opportunity to take a walk along the river known as Pendle Water.

The Grade II-listed farm buildings and walled garden which make up Pendle Heritage Centre are an attraction for both the history buff but also families.

Traditional building skills have been utilised to redevelop the ancient farmhouse called Park Hill in which the museum is located.

The building is certainly an ancient one and dates from the fifteenth century, built up and adapted over the years as its owners saw fit and offering an insight into ancient building techniques and the way of life of our rural ancestors.

The house, as it stands now, shows remnants of its past for all to see and the centre has done well to bring visitors as close as possible to the fabric of the building. It is like taking a trip through time.

The museum, set within the old house, has a suitably historic atmosphere and covers a number of elements of history relating to the building itself and the wider goings-on across Lancashire.

Inevitably, perhaps, the Pendle Witch Trials is a topic covered in great detail, telling the grim story of the trial and persecution of the alleged witches in the early seventeenth century.

There is an interesting short film on the subject, and displays include a witch’s charm and posters and images from the time.

But religious non-conformity in a more Christian vein was also a feature of the area, as another exhibition reveals.

Baptists, Methodists, Quakers and others found a voice in this part of the world where clearly people liked to think for themselves and live their lives as they wanted.

You can learn about the history of the Bannister family who lived at Park Hill in the 1400s, as well as the Swinglehursts who took on the property later.

Sir Roger stemmed from this Bannister clan and a portrait of him can be found at the musuem.

The centre’s fine brick-walled garden is an eye-catching creation started in Georgian times. It has been restored.

The Cruck Frame Barn at the Heritage Centre dates from the 15th century and originally comes from the Burnley area.

A statue of one of the supposed witch

It was rescued in the 1980s and rebuilt to show off its early construction techniques.

Pendle Heritage Centre is also home to the Pendle Arts Gallery which feature changing exhibitions of art and crafts.

There is also a popular conference centre, The Parlour Shop and Tourist Information Centre.

And, ofoucrse, should all this culture and history enervate you somewhat, you can have a brew and a cake or sandwich at the Garden Tea Room.

Pendle Heritage Centre is a top attraction for your list if you happen to be in Lancashire.

Most people who hear the word Pendle will immediately think of witches.

TV shows like Most Haunted have highlighted the place’s supposed spooky character and thousands of words hve been written on the famous witch trials of the early seventeenth century.

A display showing a historic domestic scene

Driving through the area with its imposing hills, bleak upland lndscapes and, very often, grim and gloomy weather certainly creates an otherworldly sense.

The fact that nowadays most people would see the famous witch trials, along with those at Salem in Massachusetts and elsewhere, as nothing more than the results of ignorance and prejudice is neither here nor there. It remains a great tale from history.

The story is that in 1612 Halifax peddler John Law collapsed in the town of Colne after being cursed by Alison Device for not giving her some pins.

She was dragged before local magistrate Robert Nowell and was so bewildered that she confessed to the ‘crime’ of witchcraft and also named her grandmother, Demdike, and another local matriarch, Chattox.

The two old women were interrogated and came up with bizarre tales such as meeting the devil near Newchurch. Inevitably, this led to Demdike, Chattox, Alison and Chattox’s daughter, Anne Redfearn, being committed for trial at Lancaster Castle.

However, the took on an even more bizarre twist when Demdike, her family and some neighbours held a Good Friday meeting at which they ate some stolen mutton. It was deemed by investigators as a witches’ sabbath, especially when human teeth taken from a graveyard were found.

Those attending were rounded up and imprisoned until the trial on August 17. After various fanciful offerings of evidence were given, the accused were found guilty and hung, except for Demdike who perished in prison.

Weird stories still remain today of spectral witches and weird goings-on, no doubt enhanced by paranormal investigators who flock to the area.

Such is the interest even today, that there are opportunities to take the Walking with Witches Trail, the Eastern and Western loops of which both begin at Barley car park.

The walks offer the chance to explore the rugged countryide that is the backdrop to the story and perhaps experience the isolation of this wild terrain.

You can almost step back in time to the lonely farmsteads of yesteryear and perhaps better understand why the supernatural was an everyday belief in times gone by, particularly in a country where even the monarch, King James I, was obsessed with the subject.

An old document on display

People believed in witchcraft and that the ills that befell them may well have been the devil’s work rather than their own stupidity or plain bad luck.

On the trail, the explorer can walk eastwards to Newchurch, Pendle, Faugh’s Delph Quarry, Drivers Height Farm and back down to Barley with views of Pendle Hill, or eastwards towards White Hough and Roughlee.

Both routes are between three and four miles in length.

On the trail, you will visit various spots important to the Pendle Witches story, such as Faugh’s Delph Quarry where Demdike claimed to have met the devil – so be careful! – and Saddlers Farm where her dwelling may have been.

An intriguing tale from a wild and wonderful part of the world. Explore the Walking with Witches Trail and fall under its strange Pendle spell.

Pendle Heritage Centre is open daily 10am to 5pm, with the museum and gallery open from 11am to 4pm.
Higherford Mill is open by appointment.
Address – Pendle Heritage Centre, Park Hill, Barrowford, Lancashire BB9 6JQ
Telephone – 01282 677152
Email – info@pendleheritagecentre.co.uk

Polar bears, zebra, giraffes and a rhino – all in the heart of South Yorkshire


WATCHING a pair of enormous polar bears messing about in a pool of water like young kids having fun on holiday will be a memory that sticks in my mind for a long time.

It was a hot day so the bears wanted to cool off – but there was clearly much more to it than that. They were obviously having a lot of fun too as they rolled around and played with what looked a bit of rubber.

Dozens of people were intrigued and entranced and viewers must have got the impression that these bears thought they’d struck gold by ending up at their rather special home.


Their residence is the extremely popular Yorkshire Wildlife Park on the edge of Doncaster at Branton and its four polar bears have arrived at various times since 2014.

But the big bears are just part of a huge array of beasts big and small – 70 different kinds in fact ranging from mini meerkats to ginormous giraffes – which are drawing in the crowds throughout the year at the venue which opened in April 2009.

Since then it has made a name for itself and brought in such unusual beasts as giant otters, painted dogs and black rhinos.

And people have been flocking there: families, school groups, you name it.

Set over 70 acres, the Yorkshire Wildlife Park is big and you certainly need to give yourself the best part of a day if you want to see the whole thing. You can buy season tickets if repeat visits seem a good option.

The venue is divided up into sections which you can explore at your leisure. Areas include South American Viva!, Project Polar, Land of the Tigers, Leopard Heights and Into Africa.

You can travel around in any direction you wish once you’ve entered via the Safari Village which has an array of interesting shops.

I ventured over to the baboons first and enjoyed seeing the group dynamics at play. The dominant male surveying his kingdom, his underlings vying for position, the females in clear charge of proceedings and the delightful youngsters annoying each other as well as the grown-ups.

Polar bears at play

The painted dogs weren’t doing much apart from lying in the sun. It was a hot day and they had the right idea. Their coats of yellow, white and black spots and stripes were really pleasing to the eye.

Next to Lemur Woods for an up close experience with ring-tailed and red-bellied lemurs. It was the ring-tailed variety who seemed most brazen, sitting eating leaves less than a metre from people. It was pretty amazing because you could spot one then two and suddenly realise there were actually around a dozen right in front of you.

Everyone seemed to like the lemurs – and why wouldn’t they?
Next on my visit was Project Polar where three of the afore-mentioned bears were enjoying some watery fun.

However, it was when one bear came out to be fed that a true impression of this animal’s size became apparent. They are huge and their paws, and claws, are testament to their ferocious reputation. But the one eating out of a handler’s hand (admittedly behind cage wire) seemed rather laid back.

The South American Viva! section offered up a variety of treats, including uber cute squirrel monkeys, biggest rodent in the world the capybara (as big as a medium-sized dog), giant otters, coati, mara and the plain weird giant anteater, a long-snouted hoover of ants and termites with a rather punkish personal decor. A bizarre creature indeed!

But it was this section which offered up my personal favourite creature of the day – the six-banded armadillo.


There were two of them who seemed perfectly happy going clockwise or anti-clockwise around a track they had worn out with their little feet along the perimeter of their pen, helpfully bringing them very close to the watching public who they studiously ignored.

As the little creatures, about the size of a chubby small dog, trotted along they would suddenly veer off to some spot which had caught their attention, snuffle around for a bit and then run back to their path to continue their never-ending journey.

The armadillos had their own agenda and nothing was going to steer them off from it. I could have watched them all day.

The Land of the Tigers contained, well, tigers. Three Amur Tigers to be precise, called Vladimir, Sayan and Tschuna. No cute little pussies these, and the way they fix you with their cold eyes is truly unnerving. Yet when they saw a handler with potential food they were almost playful and excited like our domestic moggies, running after him and jumping about.

My expedition continued to the Into Africa section where I had the pleasure of seeing giraffes, black rhino, ostrich, amongst others, and this led me on to Lion Country where the king of beasts were well and truly fast asleep in the blazing sun.

But there was much more still to see, including camels, brown bears, leopards and others.
There really is so much to do at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park and the little human beasties can also run off some that excess energy in an adventure play area and a play house with super slide.

Visayan warty pig.

There are plenty of opportunities to grab a bite to eat, have a drink or buy a souvenir, and the venue has ample parking though the Wildlife Park does get busy.

It runs special events too, so keep an eye on its website at http://www.yorkshirewildlifepark.com to see what is going on.

The park is open every day from 10am, apart from Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so it can be an all-year-round treat.

The Yorkshire Wildlife Park is certainly much more than a zoo and the Yorkshire Wildlife Park Foundation supports conservation and welfare.

If you like animals, this is the place to visit. To me, the animals seem to have plenty of space and are well looked after. They seem to have the freedom to move around their spacious pens as they wish, which sometimes gives humans the chance to get very close.

It is a lively, interesting venue for all ages. My next visit is already on the cards.

‘It was so structured and flat, I wanted to make it come out at you’


SINCE working at ROAR I have seen many incredible pieces of artwork and had the privilege of meeting some highly creative people. I have been spoilt by creativity.

However when I first saw Tracy White’s artwork here in the ROAR office, I was genuinely taken back by the originality of her animated videos. I wanted to know more so I grabbed half an hour of her time to ask her some questions.

Continue reading