Olympic artist Jeremy Houghton explains why Broadway is a key UK art destination, reveals his favourite Cotswolds haunts and gives us his top tips on what to experience at the Broadway Arts Festival – taking place from 9 to 17 June 2012.
Where should newcomers to the Broadway Arts Festival begin?
Broadway Tower is a great place to start. This is where Lawrence Hutton, an American journalist from Boston, stayed (along with Alfred Parsons), when they went to visit William Morris in the early 1880s. From there, they first clapped eyes on Broadway and wandered down the hill to visit. It was Lawrence’s resulting article that brought Broadway to the attention of what was to become known as “The Broadway Colony”, a group of – predominantly American – artists, writers, actors and musicians who made the picturesque Cotswold village their home between 1885 and 1914.
Which event on the Broadway Arts Festival programme are you particularly excited about?
“Country Gardens: John Singer Sargent RA, Alfred Parsons RA and their contemporaries” at Haynes Fine Arts on the High Street, because it’s a unique and world-class selection of paintings that’s been specially curated for the Festival by Dr Clare Willsdon of Glasgow University. Some of the pictures are really exquisite.
What’s your ultimate insider tip for the Broadway Arts Festival?
I’m going to have to say The Broadway Art Tour, not because I’m leading it, but because my tour is based on the many scrap books that my grandfather, who was the village doctor in the first half of the 20th century, compiled. They are full of interesting nuggets of information and anecdotes, which bring the tour to life, and provide a genuine insider’s view of Broadway, its history and its artistic heritage.
Tell us something unusual about Broadway…
Broadway has amazing artistic heritage: not one but two movements started here, the Arts & Crafts and the Pre-Raphaelite.
Are there any local walks or easy drives from Broadway that visitors can take to see a landscape they may recognise from a painting?
From Broadway Tower, I would walk down to Broadway Village (part of the Cotswold Way). This is a walk that was often taken by Parsons and where he used to paint in situ. One of the paintings, titled “The Pear Orchard”, in the Festival’s main exhibition was painted on this walk; in the foreground is a typical Vale of Evesham pear orchard, with Bredon Hill visible in the distance.
Which is the best pub in the area?
My favourite is The Crown & Trumpet on Church Street, Broadway; Unlike a lot of pubs in the Cotswolds, it’s pretty much in its original state i.e. it hasn’t been gastrofied – it’s very unfussy and very unpretentious, with a focus on the beer that it serves, which comes from The Stanway Brewery, just a few miles away. In fact, they’re making a special brew just for Broadway Arts Festival called The Stanway Artist Ale.
And the best place to eat?
Russell’s, is generally regarded as serving the best food in the village. It’s housed in, and takes its name from, the old workshop of the influential 20th-century British furniture designer, Sir Gordon Russell. Russell, who moved to Broadway with his father in 1904, spearheaded the government’s utility furniture scheme during World War II, opening a workshop in the current Russell’s building in 1923. Greatly influenced by the Arts & Crafts movement, he employed 200 highly skilled craftsmen in his firm over a period of sixty years. So you can savour a bit of history while you eat!
Where do you go to get away from it all?
The North Cornish coast – either to Polzeath or Rock – it’s where we’ve been going as a family for as long as I can remember. Now that I’ve got two little girls myself, I appreciate the beaches for making sand castles, but also enjoy the great coastal walks and the nice cosy pubs. Of course, St Ives is not too far away, either, and as an artist I like to make an annual visit to check up on the competition!
And tell us what your role as a BT official artist for the London 2012 Olympic Games involves?
As one of 12 BT official artists, we were asked to visually document the journey to 2012. Effectively, we were given a blank canvas to work with whom we liked, and to go and see their Olympic preparations so that we could capture them in art form (either in a painting, photograph or sculpture). We’ve also spent the last 18 months exhibiting our work up and down the country, with proceeds from sales going to assist Paralympians’ funding, so that they can compete at London 2012. I particularly enjoyed working with Oscar Pistorius, the South African blade runner who is set to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics, he is an inspirational character. In the UK, I focused on water sports, because artistically, the spray, reflections on the water etc, provided great possibilities.
Which event in the Cultural Olympiad are you most looking forward to?
The final concert in Hyde Park on Sunday 12 August, with Blur, The Specials and New Order, which could be a case of me showing my age, but it’s really because I will then know that my job is done and I can sit back and relax. I could also say I’m supporting local artists, as Horace Panter from The Specials lives not too far away, near Compton Verney, just this side of Coventry, and Alex James of Blur, lives just near Stow on the Wold.