Peak District Artisans showcase their lockdown creations

“We’re emerging like butterflies from the shadows,” said ceramics artist Vivienne Sillar as she talks about the Peak District Artisans’ first exhibition since lockdowns began.

Thursday, 27th May 2021, 11:31 am
Vivienne Sillar has made a dozen smoke-fired ceramic pigeons for the Peak District Artisans exhibition.
Vivienne Sillar has made a dozen smoke-fired ceramic pigeons for the Peak District Artisans exhibition.

Fittingly, the showcase is in Eyam – a village which originally went into isolation for a year in the 17th century to protect outsiders from the bubonic plague.

Personal experiences of 21st century lockdown have inspired the creations of the 23 artists who will exhibit their work during the May bank holiday weekend.

Vivienne said: “For a lot of artists the last year has made them work in a different way because they couldn’t get hold of the materials they would normally be able to get or they haven’t been able to get into the studio or maybe their techniques were limited because they couldn’t use their usual equipment such as printers.

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Vivienne Sillar's smoke-fired pigeons.

“There were people who struggled with mental illness and were feeling depressed and that comes through in their work, which is very moving.”

Lord Burlington, who is patron of the group, writes in the exhibition’s programme: “The artists who contributed to this exhibition have all harnessed the privations, the unusual silences and uninterrupted time to work quietly in their studios, developing their art and, in some cases, learning new techniques. As a result, their first exhibition in 2021 will demonstrate how creativity can flourish when other parts of normal life are severely limited.”

Vivienne’s contribution to the exhibition is a flock of ceramic pigeons. She said: “Pigeons are for holding, for going home, they are about gathering, they are about communication as they historically took messages.

"At the start of lockdown, we were all staring out of our windows looking at birds and we were suddenly very aware of wildlife and birdsong.”

Are We Zooming Tonight?, the collection of ceramic pigeons, made by Vivienne Sillar. Photo by Ian Daisley

The 12 smoke-fired pigeons roost in a coop made out of oak by fellow artisan Roger Woodhouse. "In each pigeonhole there is a little brass name plate and each pigeon is named after a social media platform such as Zoom, Messenger, Facebook or House Party,” said Vivienne.

Her collection is called Are We Zooming Tonight?, a phrase which resonated with the ceramicist during lockdown when her daughters Holly and Rowen – who have flown the family nest in Brampton – wanted to communicate with Vivienne and her husband Nigel.

Vivienne, 63, who had never heard of Zoom before the pandemic, said: “We have seen more of our daughters on Zoom during lockdown than we would do normally!”

She was inspired to make the pigeons after seeing a newspaper photo of people in a glass-fronted block of flats. Vivienne said: “You could see each figure on the phone in the window of their flat and it reminded me of a pigeon coop.”

Ten months of Vivienne’s life were taken up on creating the pigeons which she will sell for £200 each or £5,000 for the complete collection including coop.

Vivienne has been working with clay since her student days at the Grays School of Art in Aberdeen. Her speciality is seabirds and she uses products such as seaweed, banana skins and avocado in the smoke-firing process to achieve the patination on the surface.

The exhibition at Eyam Mechanics Institute, from May 27 to 29, is the first in the Peak District Artisans’ 70th year.

Its name, A Year of Wondering, was inspired by author Geraldine Brooks’ best-selling novel Year of Wonders which tells the story of the plague’s impact on the village 350 years ago.

Two things read by Vivienne, who used to teach ceramics at Chesterfield College, motivated her to set the ball rolling for the exhibition. One was a poem about lockdown, written by poet laureate Simon Armitage, which refers to Eyam. The other was this quote from singer Nina Simone following a school massacre in America: “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times we live in.”

*If you want to attend the exhibition, you are advised to book online in advance. Go to

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