‘Tis the season to be arty - Artweeks Christmas Season by Esther Lafferty

From little to large, and from the cool to the colourful, as Oxfordshire Artweeks Christmas Season begins, there’s a wealth of locally-made art, craft and designer pieces to be tempted by this Christmas.

Expect the shimmering whites of ice and snow in the upstairs gallery of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History where a wintry exhibition showcases a range of styles and art inspired by the environment and wildlife in the Arctic habitat that’s shown in striking oversized photographs by Headington photographer Ross Mackenzie. He finds himself drawn to the Arctic circle and other remote spots by the dramatic mix of mountains, ice and water combined with the clear, crisp air which gives the light a special quality and makes the Arctic a wonderful place for photography. Alongside ceramics, silverware, watercolours and fused glass, stitched pictures by textile artist Barbara Shaw show the flora and fauna against striking large abstracts of melting snow whilst a tactile ice maiden, carved from translucent Italian alabaster, has been inspired by a similar statue dating from about 25,000 BCE carved from mammoth ivory.

Over the weekend, head to neighbouring Park Town for crisp clear engraved glass by Polly Mitchell that’s perfect for the Christmas table, shown with hand-built porcelain paper clay pots, vessels and sculptural wall pieces in Teresa Munby’s cool organic style, whilst over in Jericho unearth delicate silver jewellery, each pretty as a snowflake, hand-crafted by Jericho’s Rhian Hughes into motifs inspired by more local birds, animals and plants.

You can jettison the coat for an Arctic adventure in the Museum, but wrap up warm for a walk in Wytham Woods –and deep in the forest, as if from a winter’s fairy-tale, you’ll come across a little wooden hut, the studio of acclaimed printmakers Robin Wilson and Rosie Fairfax-Cholmeley and home to a roaring log-burner! Here they record these trees through the seasons, and other local and international scenes in linocuts, and are looking ahead to a traditional Christmas with cards, prints and general merriment.

For more magic with a touch of the traditional tale, in the Turrill Sculpture Garden, tucked behind Summertown Library, spot an apple cast in glass, reminiscent of the tale of Snow White. This show (which runs into the New Year) gives you another chance to see work by some of Oxfordshire’s most popular sculptors and to carry away twinkling glass for the garden, glorious mosaics by Susan Bird and metal magic promising reindeer with or without a luminous nose!

There’s strong colour galore and the promise of a story in a secret studio tucked away in Bladon near Woodstock, where Suzanne O’Driscoll works from an airy studio in the hidden heart of a multi-terraced garden, an other-worldly dell in which you feel you travel the world. Suzanne’s paintings are created using a combination of coloured pastels, water colours and inks and exude a mysterious dreamlike feeling, depicting sunshine and places from all around the globe amalgamated and re-imagined to add sunshine to the bleakest midwinter day. Suzanne’s steel sculptures too are bold with cheer, strong colours for indoors or outdoors, like a coral reef with a hint of Atlantis.

And as Christmas draws closer, Art Jericho on King Street welcomes you in for a splash of high colour and high drama: artist Carolyn Horton has been fascinated by Cotswolds-based Giffords Circus since its inception and has captured the feeling of good old-fashioned fun that they generate on delicate paper-covered canvases, both little and life-size, each lovingly hand-printed and individually-collaged with the same rustic artisan magic as a traditional Christmas. Expect dancers, horses, a top hats and jugglers, and a warm welcome.

Over seventy venues are opening their doors across the county to invite you in for a glass of red and a mince pie, whilst you browse in intimate setting and have the chance to talk to the makers of the goodies and gifts that catch your eye. It’s a bonus, then, to walk away too with a tale to tell– of where you spotted this unique jug or jewellery, this particular print or painting, the place you learnt about its inspiration and creation, how it was made and at whose hand. That’s a whole dimension that you can never carry away from a High Street store.

Some exhibitions run from the beginning of November, while most are opening for a festive weekend over 18-20 November. Others invite you to visit in late November and early December. For further details and a full listing visit www.artweeks.org