Farewell to Cornbrook, Last Loft Artist Studio Group Moves On


I have loved working in my space at Last Loft Studios in Talbot Mill for the past 10 years or so. During my time here, various artists and makers have left the group to relocate across the globe and new artists have joined. The current mix is a vibrant and happy collective with a wide range of skills and experience, producing a fascinating and eclectic creative output. We have just exhibited within the mill as part of “A Grand Exposition“, an ambitious event organised by the guys on the 3rd Floor – Cornbrook Creative – in collaboration with Manchester Science Festival supported by the developers Capital and Centric, who have recently purchased the building for development.

Setting up the Last Loft exhibition at Talbot Mill’s “A Grand Exposition” event. In the foreground “Its Bark is Worse Than Its Bike” sculpture by Caroline Channing

Last Loft Studios was established by artist Liam Curtin in 2005. Liam was Manchester City Council’s first ever appointed artist-in-residence for the new Northern Quarter in 1994 and was instrumental to its early cultural development. He took on the 2nd Floor unit in Talbot Mill on Ellesmere Street for studio space in 2005. As Liam signed the contract for the Talbot Mill unit, I had just moved to a space in Wellington House in Ancoats, following almost two years renting a studio in the Northern Quarter. A year later, I left Wellington House to join Liam’s evolving new group.

Tracey Cartledge at work at Last Loft Studios, 2nd Floor, Talbot Mill, Ellesmere Street

The appeal of Talbot Mill was strong. It is very much part of Manchester’s powerful industrial heritage, just like other surviving mills and warehouses close to the Bridgewater Canal in Cornbrook. Including the mill where I had my first studio as a member of SIGMA – Sculptors in Greater Manchester Association, from 1991 to 2003, also on Ellesmere Street. The old SIGMA premises was in Terres Building, now an apartment block called Albert Mill owned by Urban Splash. For artists in Manchester, these run down mill spaces have proved ideal for studio space over the past 30 years. The rents have been affordable, the space and light is unparalleled, there is usually an antiquated goods lift and useful loading bay and the locations tend to be conveniently close to the city but outside expensive parking zones.

Exhibition Catalogues from SIGMA group shows at Bury Art Gallery and Stockport Art Gallery (1994)

SIGMA was set up in 1983 by a small group of recent fine art graduates to provide space specifically for sculptors in the North West Region, around the same time as their contemporaries set up MASA – Manchester Artist Studios Association. SIGMA received significant grant funding and the founding group of artists were well supported by the visual arts officer, Virginia Tandy, of what was then the North West Arts Board. Virginia continued to make regular visits to Manchester’s studio groups, providing useful advise and assistance about grant applications, studio administration etc. Later, the NWAB was absorbed into Arts Council England and Virginia Tandy went on to other roles including becoming director of Manchester City Art Gallery, overseeing its major expansion and refurbishment in 2002. (She was awarded an OBE for her services to the arts in 2009)

Recent workshop in my studio space at Last Loft Studios, Talbot Mill, with visiting Australian artist Marian Shapiro. October 2017

Last Loft Studios has operated independently without any form of subsidy or grant for the arts. It has simply acted to provide work space for artists at the lowest possible rent, nothing more and it has done this very well. However, other artists and artist groups came and took space in the building and in neighbouring buildings, continuing to build on the ‘buzzy’ creative community of Cornbrook that began with SIGMA and, just ahead of SIGMA, a small group of artists in a railway arch around the corner. One of these was friend and sculptor Adrian Moakes, who stayed there until he, too, was finally forced to move out only a couple of years ago. Some of these creatives came together to celebrate their time in Cornbrook in the three day event that also served as a fond farewell for us as we get squeezed out by the rapid surge of development in the vicinity of Ellesmere Street.

So, it’s time to move on again. This time, the artists of Last Loft Studios are moving together. We have found space at Brunswick Mill in Ancoats in time for a new start in the new year. At least for the short foreseeable future…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jesse Rust repair at Churchgate House


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A close-up of part of the floor outside the Mayoral office in Churchgate House. Jesse Rust glass mosaic – it was popular stuff in it’s heyday. Jesse Rust worked with Alfred Waterhouse and you can see his firm’s work in Manchester Town Hall as well as in the corridors of the old part of Manchester Royal Infirmary. These floors underwent a major overhaul and full restoration a few years ago by fellow mosaic restorer Gary Bricknell and the team from the Mosaic Restoration Company. Gary gave me some useful advice when I was researching for this repair work.

As it was only a short length and, for the most part, a single row of tesserae that was missing from the floor, it was not going to be viable to have glass specially made to match the original material. This is how I improvised…

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Bisazza glass mosaic, carefully chosen for the colour and quality, shaped and abraded to best fit in with Jesse Rust’s beautiful colour palette, as seen in the opposite side of the floor in question, below. His mission had been to create a beautiful but affordable flooring material as an alternative to marble.

“I take old glass of any description and fuse it with a large quantity of sand together with the colouring matter. I thereby get a material resembling marble, but which is much harder and will resist moisture. Any colour and shape can be made in a fused state. I then press it into moulds, in the shape required either for geometric designs, or in squares to be broken up for mosaic.”

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Following meticulous removal of first the repair epoxy that had been used to temporarily fill the gap in the mosaic floor, then the damaged mortar bed and lastly the broken screed beneath, I repaired the floor beneath the glass tiles in three stages. Finally, here are the pieces lined up ready to fit…

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Fixed, grouted…

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All done!

Magnificent Marble Mosaics


Y3 Tackle Roman Mosaic Techniques

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It was the first day back after half term and the energy in the school was palpable. To enrich their topic about The Romans, I was there to work with the Y3 pupils to help them each make their own mosaic.

We kicked off with a brief slide presentation to introduce the history of mosaic making and how it was adopted and progressed by The Romans for their villa floors. Then we examined a marble mosaic that I made last year, observing the use of specific shapes, ie. ‘keystones’ to form curved lines for lettering and triangles where a diagonal line meets a horizontal line.

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detail from “The Girl Who Fought For Education”, Tracey Cartledge, 2016

In preparation for the day, the youngsters had already planned their designs using a limited palette of black, white, green and red – the colours of our marble. They had also had some fun making printed mosaics with square dowels. Finally, they could now get their hands on the authentic material and they were raring to go…

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I’m sure you will be as impressed as I was to see how rapidly these bright pupils applied so much fresh knowledge to their own work to create these mosaics in not much more than one hour…

At the end of the school day I showed the class teacher and TA how to grout the mosaics  and left them a big bag of grout and tips on cleaning and waxing afterwards. I’ll post some pictures of the final results once they’re all complete.

This workshop was booked from my website, where there are also kits available for class mosaic projects.

Chorlton Central Church Community Mosaic


In spring 2016 the committee of Chorlton Central Church, where I run my weekly mosaic evening class, commissioned me to design a large exterior mosaic to cover the old church hall entrance.

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The New Glass facade with artwork by Steve Raw, photo credit Andrew Stuart, MEN

The church had undergone extensive refurbishment works completed in 2015. These  included the construction of a large new glass facade incorporating entrance doors within the south elevation. Architect Mick Timpson, who also runs yoga classes in the church, was responsible for the refurbishment and artist Steve Raw was commissioned to create the design for the glass treatment. The old entrance doorway – you can see on the left in this photo – became redundant and was blocked up to make a storage room.

The first stage of the commission was to consult with the church committee to agree the theme for the mosaic. They wanted the design to reflect the values of the church whilst having universal appeal and represent the church being part of Manchester’s multi faith network. Due to its position, we all agreed that we also wanted it to relate to the garden and convey a sense of welcome – ‘the door is open’. Referencing the bible’s creation story,  tree of life (Genesis) and the water of life (Revelation) provided ample imagery. Following a presentation to the church congregation and ensuing feedback, modifications were made to create a final version of the design.

From the end of June and throughout July, I hosted seven workshops which allowed approximately 100 local participants to take part in the making of the mosaic. With fabulous assistants from Chorlton Mosaic Group on hand to help, each workshop started with a lesson on how to use the tools to cut and arrange the mosaic pieces. Using patterns cut from our full size cartoon, participants patiently started to make component parts of the design, just like a paint-by-numbers technique. Every piece was referenced and carefully stored.

In September I packed up all the mosaic contributions and took them to my studio. With two brilliant studio assistants, Karen Nolan and Karen Allerton, working with me, the parts were assembled, completed and all background areas made up within three weeks.

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The completed mosaic in the studio, faced with tile tape, ready for installation.

Prior to installation I was lucky enough to meet master mosaic fixer, Walter Bernadine in London after he made a presentation at the BAMM Annual Forum. We had a good chat and with Walter’s tips in mind, I subcontracted Manchester dream team Andy Carroll & Son to install the mosaic with me. Thanks to their expertise, the installation was like poetry in motion…

On Sunday 16th October , which was also the Reverend Bob Day’s retirement celebration, the mosaic was officially unveiled by local MP Jeff Smith. The event was well attended by many of those who played a role in its realisation and after the formalities we all enjoyed a lunch in the church hall, generously provided by the Central Church committee.

The Chorlton Mosaic Group continues to meet every Thursday at 7.15pm and welcomes new members at any time. For more details, check the website or get in touch with me by email at this address: tracey.cartledge@icloud.com.

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Tracey with the completed mosaic. Photo by Vincent Abbey.

On Our Doorstep


 

There is so much craftsmanship to be admired in the details of  Manchester’s amazing architecture. Have you noticed how many Victorian mosaic floors and thresholds we have in the city centre?

Manchester’s neo-gothic Town Hall has been in the news this week and, just like Buckingham Palace, we’re told that it needs ‘future-proofing’ to ensure its structural integrity. It has an abundance of stained glass leaded windows sagging under their own weight; fairy castle sweeping spiral staircases of stone leading you from one opus sectile marble floor to another featuring, of course, the iconic worker bee and cotton flower motifs in marble mosaic.

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Library Walk Mosaic Floor by J W Restoration, 2015

In 2015, J W Restoration were commissioned to replicate the cotton flower mosaics for a new floor in Library Walk, which runs between the Town Hall extension and Central Library.

Step out into Albert Square and there are more mosaic details within a few short steps of you. Across on the corner of Lloyd Street and South Mill Street, the circular portico at the entrance to what is now Red’s True Barbecue Restaurant has a fine example.

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Portico Mosaic Floor at the entrance to Red’s True Barbecue, Manchester

Over at the other side of the square at 14 Princess Street is the Northern Assurance Buildings. Here you can see a large – more than five square metres – threshold mosaic of a similar age, made using the same traditional method and materials. The mosaic material is unglazed porcelain. Just like the floors that I repaired at Victoria Station a couple of years ago and a more recent restoration in the Royal Exchange Shopping Arcade.

img_4221Restoration of the Philip Morris & Co threshold mosaic in Manchester Royal Exchange Shopping Arcade by Tracey Cartledge, 2016

Over on Rochdale Road, one of my favourite pubs and former home to the cellar brewery of Marbe Beers, is the Marble Arch pub, well known for its sloping floor. Last Christmas, the Chorlton Mosaic Group was invited to put up an exhibition in the pub’s back room. Below you can see the progress on my “Piece of the Marble”, copied from the pub floor, with a few minor colour modifications. This was purchased by the brewery and now lives on their office wall.

well-crafted“A Piece of the Marble” 2015 (in progress) and “Well Crafted” 2016 by Tracey Cartledge

Just like “Well Crafted”, again made in unglazed porcelain, making mosaics like this is great practice for commissioned threshold mosaics like the one below that transformed the entrance to Pettigrew Bakeries in Cardiff.

Pettigrew Bakeries, Cardiff, commissioned threshold mosaic by Tracey Cartledge, 2016

Whilst it has been difficult to research and confirm, I suspect that many of the above and other Manchester period architectural mosaics were the work of the Oppenheimer family business that was founded in 1865 and thrived in Old Trafford until the mid twentieth century.

Studio Workshops – Sign Up!!


New Dates for Summer 2016

If you’re fascinated by mosaics and would like to learn the basics, coming to one of my studio workshops is the ideal way to get started. The creative process is absorbing and therapeutic. The feedback from previous workshops has been very positive and enthusiastic.

Here are the dates and links to my main website, where you can book your place securely:

WORKSHOPS

Through the Looking Glass, Adventures in Mosaic Glass Appliqué


We love receiving visitors at Last Loft Studios in Manchester. It is an opportunity to share the fondness we have for our working environment at Talbot Mill and our respect, admiration and affection for our fellow artisans.

Even better are the occasions when visitors attend a weekend workshop to spend a joyful day with us exploring creative possibilities using the techniques that we can teach and share.

This Saturday, we had the pleasure to welcome five wonderful women into our studios, each bringing their own talents, experience and ideas to the table as we worked together to make glass-on-glass mosaic mandalas.

Caroline Channing – our resident glass expert – kicked off the day to a fine start with a meticulous demonstration of glass cutting techniques and a clear explanation of which tools to use for each purpose and how and why each specific method works. The group then practised and fairly quickly mastered the basic skills required for the day ahead.

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Test piece by Deborah Pitman, photo by Deb Pitman

Each participant made a small test piece that was grouted and finished before the day ended. They went on to create their circular mandala using their newly acquired knowledge. We think the results are stunning…