For the latest post in our Spotlight series, where we highlight some of the best independent businesses in Yorkshire, we headed over to Nidderdale to visit Ruth Wilkinson, a mosaic artist based in Pateley Bridge.
It’s not often that the inspiration to become an artist can be attributed to a particular and much-maligned feature of British housing stock, but Ruth Wilkinson reckons it was her fixation with the pebble-dashed walls of her childhood that led to her love of mosaics.
“Being a child of the ‘70s I remember living in a house that was pebble-dashed and being obsessed by it,” she explains.
“I was constantly running my hands over the stones, making patterns with the different shapes and colours that were set in the wall and picking off my favourites.”
Nowadays, living in beautiful Nidderdale with a quiet studio warmed by a wood-fired stove, it’s not the suburban but the rural world that feeds Ruth’s desire to create.
“Nature is my biggest inspiration. I need to be in it or hear it to be inspired as it stimulates the senses. No day is the same, no sky is the same, no clouds are the same,” she says animatedly.
“I love walking and I have a good stomp in the hills most days. I do struggle in the city and I need to be in the country, tucked away up in the hills,” she adds.
Ruth works on public and private commissions as well as creating her own artwork from tesserae, the small coloured squares of unglazed ceramics, which form an eye-catching display of their own in clear storage jars on shelves in her studio. Sometimes they are covered with gold or silver leaf, but in keeping with her sense of the natural, she doesn’t like pieces that are too “garish”, her preference being for the more “flecked and subtle”.
Three public commissions stick in her mind; a 50-metre mosaic for the sea wall at Robin Hood’s Bay, a memorial bench for ITV‘s Coronation Street after the MEN Arena bombing and an installation in the floor of the Victoria Quarter in Leeds.
An inspiration that is strongly reflected in her work comes from further afield. Ruth has been to India seven times and loves it there. “The country just got under my skin, my senses were arrested the minute I stepped foot in there,” she says.
As well as creativity inspired by emotion and the senses, that which is practical and the mundane also has a part to play. Ruth will do her research before a mosaic is even touched by visiting sites, conducting interviews, and taking photos.
The sea wall mosaic draws a timeline from the Jurassic period to the present day and features fossils, smuggling, shipwrecks, storms, fishing, industry, wildlife and tourism.
Commissions can also be less dramatic and more functional, for example kitchen splashbacks, but Ruth believes they are no less enjoyable to produce.
She explains: “I enjoy doing commissions because it’s personal to the client. It’s a good challenge and they can take me down a creative road or allow me to develop an idea that I might not have done myself.”
Those smaller private commissions reflect the pleasure she gets out of her work as she finds that becoming absorbed in the intricacies of creating a mosaic is calming and suits her nature.
“I work at a slow and steady pace. The most time-consuming mosaic is something expressionistic,” she explains.
She is aware that mosaics as an art form is not present in the public consciousness in the same way as the more established expressions of creativity such as painting and sculpture.
“When mentioned, people have very little idea or they refer back to Roman mosaics. It’s not a recognised medium, possibly because there’s just less people doing it, so it’s not widely known or understood.”
There might not be a lot of mosaics out there but Ruth is busy working on commissions and other projects. For the third year running, she’s involved in the North Yorkshire Open Studios project in which participating artists welcome the public into their work spaces. She also holds day-long workshops that include learning the basics, designing and preparing, and creating a finished mosaic piece. All this from her home in Nidderdale with not a pebble-dash wall in sight.
Ruth Wilkinson, Mosaic Artist website: www.ruthwilkinson.co.uk
This post is part of our ‘Spotlight On…’ series, where we highlight some of the best independent businesses in Yorkshire. To read more Spotlight posts click here.