Ten Days Of Art On Shaftesbury’s Doorstep

The Wylye Valley Arts Trail launches on Saturday, 18th May. Around 400 local artists will be displaying and selling their work from their homes or galleries within a short drive from Shaftesbury.

This event is, arguably, the South Wiltshire equivalent of Dorset Art Weeks, but as ThisIsAlfred discovered, the county boundary doesn’t matter to a number of Shaftesbury area artists.

“There’s just so much to see – hat-making demonstrations, millinery, furniture, jewellery, ceramics, upcycling. If you like anything to do with visual art, there is something in there for you. Lots of our artists take part in demos and do classes that run alongside,” said Laura Rich, one of the Art Trail event organisers.

It is held every two years. “It’s the 18th year but it’s the 10th of the trails,” said Laura. “Because of that we’re open for ten days this time. Usually it’s a nine-day trail. It started off in 2001 with about 34 venues. It’s now massive. It’s 87 venues and about 400 artists.”

Although Shaftesbury town centre lies just one mile from the Wiltshire border, this arts trail doesn’t include any Dorset venues. Artists on the Dorset side of the boundary often participate in their own event, Dorset Art Weeks. “Originally, we did get funding from Wiltshire Council towards the trail. We didn’t want to cross over, although quite a few of our artists do both,” said Laura. “It’s completely inclusive. Anybody can enter as long as they have a venue or are working, living or have a strong connection to our area. You pay to enter.”

“I’ve got Julie Brunn with me at my venue. She’s Shaftesbury-based. Quite a few people hop over the border and show in venues within the trail,” said Laura, who will display her own art from a studio in Mere.

Anna McDowell is an artist with work on show at Shaftesbury’s Cygnet Gallery in Swan’s Yard. She will open her Donhead St Mary home for art visitors on the trail. Many of her colleagues are also taking part. “I think that 11 artists from the Cygnet Gallery are taking part in it, so we do cross borders,” said Anna.

Anna’s art is based on her Dorset button making. We joked about whether the Dorset tradition is permitted. “We’ll find out,” Anna laughed. “I have wall art, and the largest piece I’ve got is worked on a 60-centimeter ring. But it’s all worked in the same way as a tiny little Dorset button. I have removable buckles you can put on your belt. I made them with Wilton carpet that I bought in the 1980s before the factory closed,” she said.

Anna McDowell

Anna says the trail idea works well because it becomes an adventure and can help to introduce locals and visitors to some wonderful places. “The Wylye Valley Arts Trail may not be quite as big as the Dorset Arts Trail because it hasn’t been going long enough yet. But it is another opportunity for people to come down from London or other big cities and spend their time in the area and take in some of the hidden parts. That’s one glorious thing. You can explore villages you wouldn’t visit if you came down here just as an ordinary holiday,’ said Anna.

She recommends that people embarking on the trail study the widely available trail brochure beforehand, so they can plan their day. “You can pick and choose what you want. Look at the book very carefully because some of the venues are offering refreshments. You can plan your trip to take coffees and teas and maybe even a lunch or two,” said Anna.

The trail offers a fun activity for visitors and locals. It’s also good for artists, many of whom work alone. “If you’re trying to get into galleries it can be really daunting. It’s a good way of just getting your work out there and getting it seen by people,’ said Laura.

And Anna is convinced that the trail helps local artists. “I must admit, I was thrilled because it got me noticed. People who had attended some of my workshops three years prior came to visit me again. And it was lovely seeing faces that I hadn’t seen for years, saying I’m still keeping up the Dorset buttoning and also coming to see what I’m up to. But artists themselves find it very lucrative. It’s an opportunity for them to show their work in their own studios,” said Anna.

You can pick up a programme in Shaftesbury Arts Centre and at various locations around town, or visit