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Why Six Visiting American Artists Are Smitten With Shaftesbury

A group of six visiting American artists have promised to promote Shaftesbury to their social media fans following the warm welcome and stunning sights they’ve experienced on their tour.

Keri Jones from ThisIsAlfred caught up with the women, who had booked accommodation in Melbury Abbas after viewing online images of nearby Gold Hill.

Utah-based Claire Tollstrup, Kelly Lee, Cristall Harper, Kerri Hammond, Jane Anne Woodhead and Lynne Millar, who lives in California, were busy painting when I called on Tuesday night. The visitors were sitting around the kitchen table, in their holiday let, brushes in hand. “We are just six friends. We are all artists looking for an intensive painting experience. We came on this trip and we are painting from morning until late into the night every day,” explained Lynne Millar.

The visiting US artists

Each of the artists showcase their work on social media and the six women discovered each other and became friends on Instagram. They then used the web to decide where to visit on their vista-hunting vacation. “I got on the internet and started looking around. I was so drawn to this gorgeous landscape. All of the rolling hills and the sheep, it just seems that everywhere I look can make a beautiful painting,” explained Lynne.

“Your whole area is a must-paint,” chipped in Cristall. She chose their Melbury Abbas accommodation – Dukums House on Manor Farm – as it offered the artists more options during inclement weather. “We love the views outside of the window. When we saw it on AirB&B we thought that if it was terrible weather, we could just sit right there and paint out of the window.”

The women found an image of the iconic English view of Gold Hill online and discovered that the photo had been taken in Shaftesbury. That’s what encouraged them to stay in our area. Americans, of course, have no knowledge of the Hovis bread commercial which made the hill instantly recognisable to most Britons of a certain age. It was British television programmes, rather than our adverts, that encouraged the party to cross the Atlantic.

Artist Kelly Lee says all of the group are massive fans of UK TV shows which are screened in the States. “We all love the English countryside from watching almost every BBC mini-series that’s been created. It’s a romantic place that we’ve dreamt of coming to,” explained Kelly.

Cristall’s take on the view from Castle Hill

The women have become fans of everyday British foods which we possibly take for granted. In an Instagram post, Cristall praised a café’s sponge cake sampled on a daytrip to Durdle Door, which appeared to meet Mary Berry standards. “The Great British Bake Off’ airs in the US and the women are fans. And Reeves the Baker’s speciality was Lynne’s showstopper. ‘Rave reviews on the sourdough,” she exclaimed.

The party was full of praise for Aroma Indian restaurant in Shaftesbury, too. Before their takeway, the group spent much of Tuesday afternoon in the pub – only drinking peppermint tea, though. They painted the Melbury Hill view from the back of The Mitre Inn. “The people working there were so gracious to let us camp out as we were dodging the rain,” said Lynne.

The artists also captured the view from Park Walk. “We were painting along the path right by Shaftesbury Abbey and we met so many kind locals who were really interested in what we were doing and said that they themselves were artists. It was fun to be in a place that is obviously so full of people who have an appreciation of participating in art-making,” said Lynne. She added that the group was approached by Shaftesbury artist Zara McQueen, who showed the visitors some of her art. “She was so lovely and her work was just amazing,” said Lynne, who explained that the artists have now become Zara’s friends on Instagram.

Cristall was impressed with Shaftesbury’s overall arts offer, in particular the work on display in the Cygnet Gallery in Swan’s Yard. “I bought two little stained-glass pieces to take home,” she said.

View of Melbury Hill that inspired the artists to visit.

Three of the six artists are on their first visit to the United Kingdom and they haven’t been disappointed. “I love how the locals have taken care of us. Everywhere we go we get smiles and interest,” smiled Cristall. The friends say that they might one day return and they have promised to encourage their online followers to make the trip to North Dorset. “I feel like I can come back here again and again and again and have so much to paint,” said Lynne. “We have definitely been showing off your town because it is so beautiful.”

Lynne would only make one suggestion to improve the experience of American visitors. “I think the best thing you could do would be to change the driving lane to the other side,” she laughed.

The women have now departed Dorset for Broadway in the Cotswolds and they will then spend time in London before heading home at the end of a ten-day European tour, which began in Paris. “We’ve chosen to spend half of our trip here in Shaftesbury, because we love it,” exclaimed Cristall.

You can find the women’s Instagram posts and Shaftesbury art using the hashtag #CreatingArtInEngland.

The artists’ Instagram addresses are @Cristallharper, @kerrihammondfineart, @artbyLynneemillar, @jane.anne.woodhead.art, @kellyjaneart and @clairetollstrup.art.