showcasing the best of the south west
St Michael's Studios in Bridport

St Michael's Studios in Bridport

Above Dorset Clouds by Kit Glaisyer

Artist Kit Glaisyer, director of Bridport Open Studios, takes Country Calling on a tour around the famous St Michael's Quarter in Bridport. Kit is known for his West Dorset landscapes and Cafe Royal paintings. More information on Kit Glaisyer here

Can you tell us about the history of the St Michael's Quarter?

The St Michael's Trading Estate was originally at the heart of Bridport's historic Rope & Net making industry - which was a major supplier to the miliary, fishing and sporting industries until the mid-20th Century. However, this industry faced increasing international competition, and by the 60's the estate was in poor shape. It was then sold by the West Dorset District Council to scrap dealer Norman Hayward (senior). Over the next few decades an assortment of different businesses made use of the old buildings, some like Top Gear and Clipper Tea going on to greater success elsewhere. By the 90's the estate was home to a variety of businesses such as Discount Furniture Warehouse, Morey's Auction House, an upholsterer, stone-mason, carpenters, a wine merchant, and the few remaining rope & net companies. The empty buildings also attracted the creative industries, and in 1999 Kit moved in to his current studio on the east end of the distinctive red brick Edwards building. Within a couple of years he was joined by more artists including Andrew Leppard, James Ursell, Caroline Ireland and David Brooke, and so St Michael's Studios came into being. In due course the entire top two floors of the building were taken over by artists. At that time the area was still best known as a trading estate, but around 10 years ago many more Antiques dealers began to move in, followed by the opening of the quirky Red Brick Cafe. This vibrant combination of art studios, vintage shops and artisan cafe was a catalyst for a surge in popularity, and thus was born Bridport's Art & Vintage Quarter.

We hear there's everything from hatmaking to wax sculpting taking place at St Michael's. Could you tell us about some of the artists working there?

There are several different artist studio blocks scattered around the estate. The original St Michael's Studios is mostly painters and includes landscapes by Kit Glaisyer, dream-doodler Caroline Ireland works mainly in pastel, mythical figurative works by David Brooke, figurative & abstract paintings by Andrew Leppard, distinctive Colmers Hill paintings by Marion Taylor, semi-abstract landscapes by Charlotte Miller, land & sea paintings by John Boyd, also portraits by Elizabeth Sporne, impressionist paintings by Mike Thompson, decorative works by Prue Heward-Morgan and landscape paintings by Marion Irons. Also based here are popular Designer Paul Blow and Illustrator Suzannah Hubbard.

As the studios expanded throughout the entire Edwards building, more artists moved in including Jemma Thompson who is a traditional sign painter, hat maker Fiona Neylan, while David & Kim Squirrell run a press & book binding business. There's also Becca's Fabric Larder, a fabric shop with work by textile artists Becca Doe-Balazs and Janet McCallum. Also there are digital artists Sally Davies and Ian Rowden, plus abstract painters David Smith, Jollyon Carter and Nico Kalinoski.

Standing adjacent to the studios is the Green Shack, run by ceramicist Jennie Hanrahan and showing work by silvesmith Claire Whitfield and decorative works by Sophie Sharp.

Exploring the yard behind the Edwards building you'll find innovative organic sculptors by Isla Chaney, traditional stone mason Karl Dixon and Mike Wade - a wax-work fabricator who used to work at Maddam Toussauds!

What is it like being part of an artist community, how do you work together? 

Most artists need complete privacy to create our work, but we also need to have some human contact! So it's a tremendous benefit to have like-minds nearby. Most of the artists here are - like many people who live in Bridport - very independent minded and not really wanting to be part of a group. We each do our own thing and then collaborate to put on our regular Open Studios.

For my part, I take responsiblity for most of the marketing and promotion of the studios. I appreciate that we've got something really special happening in Bridport, and I want to do my best to spread the word. Actually, I've never forgotten what it was like when I first went to Art College, and maybe I've been trying to replicate that ever since? I helped set up artist studios in Camberwell, and I also started an artist-run Gallery in Belsize Park, so I guess I've always believed it's necessary to get involved in the world beyond simply making my own paintings.

When are the St Michael's Studios open to visitors?

The Studios open for Dorset Art Weeks (May/June), Bridport Open Studios (end of August) and Bank Holiday Weekends at Easter and May. You can also make an appointment to visit an artist by emailing inquiries to stmartists@gmail.com or find out more at our website 


Share this article: