Category Archives: artists

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

Talbot Mill was very appealing. It is 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. The artists of Last Loft Studios are hoping to move together in the new year…


We were given an extension to stay at Talbot Mill until September 2018.

In the meantime, some of the artists from Last Loft Studios, myself included, have teamed up with Cornbrook Creative and a number of other makers to form a new group. We plan to move into premises in Ardwick this summmer to form “Cakebread Workshop”…


Stone and steel sculpture installed at Anderton

Next week we will be celebrating as the latest piece of public art is due to be unveiled at Anderton Nature Park in Cheshire.

The piece is the end result of a project in which artists Karen Allerton and Tracey Cartledge have collaborated closely with countryside ranger Dave James, members of FoAM (Friends of Anderton and Marbury) and year 6 pupils from Comberbach Primary School to develop their designs.

Looking out from the Anderton Boat Lift

The commission has been jointly funded by British Waterways, Cheshire West & Chester Council, Action Weaver Valley, FoAM and INEOS Enterprises. Work began last September when the Y6 school group took part in a an observational site visit with volunteers from FoAM, well-informed on local wildlife, staff from British Waterways, Dave James and the artist team. The day’s events included a trip on the Weaver and the  Anderton Boat Lift and an investigation of the nature park and its history.

modelling one of the old cargo boats in salt dough

The pupils recorded lots of useful facts and images that informed the ideas that they went on to develop during a series of workshops with the artists in school. The children explored monoprint, model-making, wire work, print block making, modelling with salt dough and other techniques to bring their images alive. Together with Tracey and Karen, they looked at different possibilities for applying their ideas into design options for the final piece.

Monoprint showing one of the old factories

The finished design consists of two carved cast stone obelisks with forged steel ‘crowning’ features that serve as an open gateway, leading visitors from the car park to the Anderton Boat Lift Museum. The work will be formally opened on Friday 21st May.

Whole School Pulls Together to Create Green Day Mosaic

March mosaic madness abounds as children from Chorlton C E Primary get busy creating a new work of art for their playground wall………here are a few images charting their progress so far

more coming soon…………………………..

Courtyard Mosaics for Stockport College

The group at Stockport College have worked extremely diligently in our absence. When we returned on Thursday, there was only a small area to complete before we were able to grout the three panels. Next, they will be secured to the courtyard walls and then we will cover the fixing points with mosaic for the finishing touch. Here’s a sneak preview of one of the panels.

One of the three mosaic panels for the renovated courtyard