Category Archives: art

Kendal artist reaches semi-finals of TV contest

A Kendal artist has reached the semi-finals of a TV  show to find the portrait artist of the year.

Catherine Macdiarmid will be seen on Sky (Arts)TV next month (April 9) competing against other artists as she paints a picture of a celebrity in London. The show is presented by Stephen Mangan and Joan Bakewell.


The contest is like an art version of Bake-Off, says Catherine, who has appeared in earlier stages of the show twice before. In 2014 she painted Extras actress Ashley Jensen and in 2017 her subject was the actor Ross Kemp. Both chose her portrait of them to keep.

Catherine, who was born in Kendal and lives in the town with her three children, has twice been selected for the prestigious BP Portrait Award. Her work was included in a book, 500 Portraits, published by the National Portrait Gallery.

She was elected a member of the Lake Artists Society in 2014 and is a founder member of Green Door artists in Kendal and the South Lakes.

Catherine says: “Faces are the most interesting things we see and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t paint people. I am fascinated by portraiture and how much it can disguise or reveal the inner person.

“The sitter can choose to reveal as much or as little as they want and I want to capture something of the external self as well as the inner self. It is all really about a conversation between artist and subject.”

Catherine, who is available for portrait commissions, teaches a range of art courses at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal, and leads art courses for HF Holidays and Higham Hall.

This summer she will have her own solo exhibition at the Brewery from August 10 until October 5.

Meanwhile, she will face competition from eight other artists in the semi-final of the TV show. The heats were filmed at the Wallace Collection gallery in London; the semi-final location will be revealed on the night.

“It’s like painting in a goldfish bowl,” says Catherine. “Artists are used to working in isolation. This is very different, when people are watching you, and you can hear snippets of conversations.”

Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2019, Tues April 9, Sky Arts TV 8pm

Self Portrait 2018. CMacDiarmid.2018

Self portrait


Cumbrian crime thriller with foot and mouth background

Book review: Burning Secrets, by Ruth Sutton

It was the springtime we’ll never forget, when the shadow of foot and mouth disease spread across much of the country.

Cities once ravaged by the blitz were spared this time. Instead it was the quiet and picturesque corners…more than corners, in truth, huge swathes of land….that saw bonfires of burning animals, villages isolated, and farmers even driven to suicide in despair.

Cumbria was the worst affected region, with the fells out of bounds (ludicrously, to city visitors arriving in clean boots), tourism businesses wrecked, and healthy animals slaughtered.

This is the backdrop to Ruth Sutton’s latest novel, Burning Secrets, set in northern Cumbria where families were torn apart by the outbreak. Even to the extent of sending children to live elsewhere, to more easily access their schooling, just as wartime evacuees were sent to live “in the country”.

ruth portrait

Ruth Sutton

And it’s one of these, a sensitive and trusting lass called Helen, who goes missing, kidnapped by a man with serious instability issues.

It seems to take a tortuous age before she’s safe – well, relatively so – back with her family. But those who wonder why a police search could be so slow need to understand how normal life came to a halt during the crisis. There was no freedom to move around in country areas. Why, even tourists trying to get to Windermere on the Kendal bypass had to drive over a disinfected mat.

The tension increases on Helen’s return when mysteries continue to thwart the local police. And here we are introduced to one of two intriguing women characters, Detective Sergeant Anna Penrose, an outsider regarded with suspicion by colleagues, but one who proves to be as tough as her military training.

The other is the missing girl’s mother, Rose, secretive, cunning and apparently vulnerable all at the  same time.

Sutton’s characters are her great strength, and there are still new readers coming to love her trilogy, Between the Mountains and the Sea, and her subsequent crime novels set in West Cumbria, Cruel Tide and Fatal Reckoning. Will they want to see more of DS Penrose? Or will they be hankering to see familiar faces and familiar territory ?

It will be the new readers, those from beyond Cumbria, who will find a fascinating and surprisingly grim picture behind the picture postcard views of the Lake District. Sutton knows how to do realism.

Pianists who head for the Lakes

While most visitors to the Lake District head out onto the fells for fresh air and exercise, at one guest house they’re encouraged to stay indoors  – and play the piano.

The sound of music can be heard from the sitting room at 1 Park Road in Windermere, where the host  – who dishes up an acclaimed eggs benedict for breakfast – is also a trained classical pianist.

And Philip Burton, piano teacher as well as hotelier, wants to encourage guests to play during their stay, whatever their musical standard.

philip at piano

“We had a family who came here one half term holiday specifically so that their daughter could practise for her forthcoming music exams,” said Philip. He and his wife Mary now offer a special musical short break package for guests who want to play their Broadwood piano while in the Lakes.

A music teacher at the Lakes School who also gives private lessons, Philip is currently the accompanist for Kendal Choral Society. He studied music at Liverpool University and the Royal Northern College of Music, and dreamed of being a concert pianist. “I tried to pursue it professionally in London, but I came to realise that only a minority make it as a career.”

Instead he, and Mary, worked in the health service for many years until they moved to Windermere to run the guest house. Over the years he’s been director of music for a number of choirs and choral societies, with a reputation for the unusual, such as staging experimental versions of Mozart’s Requiem and Handel’s Messiah.

And he was given a very special gift by a museum curator in Diessen, the twin town of Windermere, where the composer Carl Orff was born, after Philip conducted Staveley Choral Society in Orff’s Carmina Burana at The Lakes School. It is a bound facsimile of the entire score of the piece, one of the world’s most famous choral works.

Also in pride of place at the guest house, this time on the dining room walls, is a series of framed cartoons. Look closely, and you’ll see Philip in each one, featuring comic highlights of his time as a choirmaster in Buckinghamshire and created specially for him by a member of the choir.

And his own favourite composers? Scarlatti, Beethoven, Bach, Haydn, Debussy and Bartok.

They run a two or three day piano package for all abilities, where pianists are promised great fun, and that they will leave playing a piece. Call 015394 42107

marking music cartoon

Detail from one of the cartoons

Artist’s life from Cumbria to Italy, and back again

Jean Sturgis: A Sense of Place : Paintings, Prints and Drawings

An artist with Cumbrian roots and a love of Italy will be featured at a new exhibition opening in Grasmere next month.

The Heaton Cooper Studio will host a display of paintings, drawings and etchings by Jean Sturgis who died at Kentmere two years ago.

This exhibition brings together work from across the span of her career, revealing an artist of great sensitivity with a distinct and expressive vision.


Born Jean Nicoll, in 1931 just outside Kendal, she was the daughter of J.S. Nicoll, a Director of K shoes, who encouraged her early enthusiasm for art.

Among his friends were the artists Robin Wallace and William Wilson, and Jean, as a girl, was able work with them, since her father invited them to the family home at Staveley to lead painting courses for local children.

She studied art first at Goldsmiths College, London and then at the Slade School of Art. “It was a stimulating and challenging time,” says her artist son Daniel Sturgis. “Among her painting tutors were William Coldstream (the founder of the Euston Road Group), Patrick George, Maurice Field and L.S. Lowry. She learnt etching and print-making from the brilliant print-maker John Buckland-Wright. The emphasis of the teaching was always towards careful observation and working directly from the motif.”

In 1953, Jean was awarded a prestigious travelling scholarship that allowed her to work at the British School at Rome. Her 18 months in Italy –first in Rome, then in the little hill-top town of Anticoli Corrado – instilled in her a life-long love of the country, its art and its people.

Returning to England she settled in London, exhibiting in various shows in Edinburgh and London, including the Leicester Galleries, one the most prominent forums for post-war British painting. She also taught at Queen’s Gate School, and in mental hospitals.

In 1958 she married the architect Tim Sturgis and together they had five children. “Her dedication to family life altered the trajectory of her artistic career, but she continued to paint, and to engage with the arts in other ways,” says Daniel.

jean nicoll

Jean Sturgis was the Chief Examiner for O Level Art for the Oxford & Cambridge Examination Board, and taught art at the Westminster Under School. She also contributed acclaimed plant-drawings and watercolours to several gardening books, for authors including Rosemary Verey, Penelope Hobhouse and Esme Clarke. She contributed water-colour garden plans for books on Levens Hall, and Hatfield House, as well as for Hugh Cavendish’s A Time to Plant – Life and Gardening at Holker.


She returned to exhibiting in the 1990s, with a series of one-person shows in London – first at the Clarendon Gallery, and then at the Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery. In 2009 she was selected by Mary Burkett as one of five-artists in group exhibition at the Red Barn Gallery, in Melkinthorpe.

Settling in Kentmere where she developed a beautiful garden, Jean Sturgis continued both to paint and to etch. Her later works retain all their sense of engagement and particularity. She said: “Landscape; buildings in their setting, whether urban or rural; trees and flowers in their surroundings: these have always been the stimuli for my work.”

The Grasmere exhibition, created by son Daniel with the artist Julian Cooper, will open at the Heaton Cooper archive gallery on April 14, and will run until the end of June. Director of the studio, Becky Heaton Cooper, said: “This will be a fascinating insight to the life and work of a very talented artist whose work deserves wider recognition.”