It wouldn’t be the May Bank Holiday without the Henley Arts Trail, which made its much anticipated return this weekend after two years’ of disruption caused by the pandemic. Over 200 local artists got the chance to share their talent with the community, exhibiting their work across 33 venues throughout Henley and the surrounding area.
The Henley Arts Trail was founded by Kirsten Jones, Kate Findlay and Judith Fletcher in 2006. with the aim of showcasing the incredible works of artists and creatives in the Henley area. Now in its 17th year, the event has grown to become a staple in the Henley calendar, giving people something to look forward to every May Bank Holiday weekend. The trail was rescheduled in both 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, so it was a delight for many regular attendees to see it return to its usual May dates.
The 33 venues, scattered across Henley and extending out to Sonning Common, Twyford, Nuffield and Kidmore End, displayed a vast array of paintings, prints, sketches, sculptures, ceramics, jewellery, textiles, and more.
One of the venues to see great turnout this year was the exhibition by the Henley Arts and Crafts Guild, located at the Old Fire Station Gallery. Here, guests could admire the wonderful works created by Guild members, all of whom had the opportunity to submit a piece for the exhibition. Attendees were also invited to vote for their favourite piece of work — a tough ask given the calibre of talent on display!
Elisabeth Hobden, one of the artists exhibiting at the gallery, said “It’s been going very well. This Bank Holiday has been good. We’ve had 120 people through so far. We’ve done very well, and sold quite a few, so people will be happy. The reception has been very positive. I think it’s a very bright exhibition this year – very airy and attractive.”
Paddy Lunn, secretary for the Henley Arts and Crafts Guild, agreed, “There’s lots of variety. The sculptures and needle felting has been very popular. It’s marvellous; it’s really tremendous to be back.”
Although no newcomer to the Henley Arts Trail, artist Matthew Hitch was located in a new venue this year: David Rodger Sharp’s Workshop on Bell St. Matthew, whose skills range from jewellery to soap making, was joined by fellow jeweller and sculptor Li-Sheng Cheng. Matthew said, “It’s always an exciting thing to do. In the past we have been in a different location for many years, so this new venue, it’s a new demographic and different people. We always get good comments, especially Lisa showing her certain style of work that normally doesn’t see the light of day. We always manage to get some sort of commission out of it, so that’s good. It’s all really positive.”
One of the more recent additions to the Henley Arts Trail is Artistry, the gallery and framing shop on Reading Road owned by local artist Sarah Pye. Having been part of the trail for the first time in 2021, the shop already saw a great increase in foot traffic compared to last year’s event. Kevin Woods, the resident framer at Artistry, said, “People seem to be coming round and appreciating the art, so it’s been worth opening. It brings people out to see the art, but also they get to know what we do here, which is sell art and do picture framing. We’ve had a few people come in and say that they have pictures that need framing, so hopefully they will come back. And obviously they have seen a lot of the art, so hopefully they will come back in.”
Brenda, from Reading, attended the Arts Trail with her daughter Josie, and her friend Kari. At Artistry, she said, “This is only our second location because we got so sidetracked at the first one — we spent ages in there! It was really good. I’ve had a chat to one of the artists already, and she was lovely. We’ve fallen in love with another artist, and this our third artist we’ve fallen in love with after only two venues. I don’t know what we’re going to be like by the time we’re finished. We’re not going to make it round all of them. I think we might be wowed out before we’ve done them all, at the rate we’re going.”
Kari, from Tring, said, “I’ve been to Henley before but not this particular event. What I like about this is that it goes right the way to Twyford. It’s quite extensive, and it involves the people from community as well as artists, so it’s a good fusion. I think, because it’s so big, it makes me want to come back again next year, because we haven’t got round everything.”
Brenda agreed, “We have just seen a campsite on the map, and we thought that we could just come and camp for the weekend. Then you could do everything in a really relaxed way. You don’t want to rush from place to place. Henley is so lovely anyway, so you want to finish off and get something to eat here, fall into a tent, and then get up the next day and carry on. So we might end up doing that next year.”
The Henley Arts Trail was, as ever, a testament to the talents of our many local artists and creatives. The event will return in 2023.