Brita draws her inspiration from town’s familiar faces

Artist Brita Granstrom with publican and model Brenda Collins from the Free Trade Inn who features in 'Butcher, Bakers, Cockle Sweet Maker'
Artist Brita Granstrom with publican and model Brenda Collins from the Free Trade Inn who features in 'Butcher, Bakers, Cockle Sweet Maker'

IT’S been her home for the past 16 years and now acclaimed artist and illustrator Brita Granström is paying her own tribute to Berwick by making it the subject of her latest body of work – ‘Butcher, Baker, Cockle-Sweet Maker’.

“Berwick,” wrote Nikolaus Pevsner in ‘The Buildings of England’, “is one of the most exciting towns in England, a real town, with the strongest sense of enclosures, a town of red roofs on grey houses with hardly any irritating buildings anywhere.”

In his television series in the 1980s, Alec Clifton-Taylor agreed with him, pointing out that the town’s Elizabethan walls were constructed on a plan first devised at Lucca, in Tuscany.

Times have changed since they formed those opinions but to Brita, Berwick is still a remarkable place. Having been in Northumberland for well over a decade now, Brita has familiarised herself with the many characters and traditions Berwick possesses and was inspired to begin her artistic tribute when she found out that one of the town’s longest running family businesses, Cowes, was closing.

That was back in 2010 and two years later Brita is ready to present her Berwick-inspired portraits at an exhibition at Newcastle’s Northumbria University. “I was so honoured when Northumbria University expressed an interest in showing two of my collections (‘Breath of Fresh Air’ being the second),” she enthused.

“Ideally I would love for them to eventually be shown somewhere in Berwick as the people I’ve painted are faces everyone in the town will recognise.

“I’ve been doing paintings of Berwick since I first arrived in the town but when I heard the Cowe brothers were closing their 200- year-old shop, once famous for its Berwick cockles, I felt inspired to do a collection of portraits.”

Brita’s suite of paintings focuses upon the town in the same way that painters such as Bawden and Rowntree documented English towns during the 1940s. As well as the buildings, she engages with the people, the butchers, the bakers and the pub landlords.

One of the publicans who sat for Brita was the woman who’s been at the helm of The Free Trade for the past 40 years, Brenda Collins.

She was first tipped off by a friend that Brita would be coming into the pub to do some painting, but never imagined the subject would be her. Brenda told ‘The Advertiser’: “My friend mentioned that Brita wanted to come in to paint the pub and I thought she meant the interior with it being so old (last having a re-fit in 1910).

“But the next thing I knew she was painting me while I answered the phone. I’m really pleased with how my portrait’s come out; I just hope people don’t think I look like the Wicked Witch of the West! I was angry that day as the window’s had been put through next door.”

The collection is also being turned into a book by the Berwick Civic Society.

Another one of Brita’s subjects, and the man whose portrait will grace the front cover of the book, is Davey Scott of Norris the Butchers.Like Brenda, although he required a bit of persuasion, he was proud to be part of Brita’s project.

“I think Brita doing something like this, having the exhibition and the book, is really good for Berwick,” he commented. “Every town has its characters and even though a lot of them have passed away now we still have a few.

“I really like my portrait – it’s just a shame Brita had to put an extra five stone on me!”

“When I first walked into the butchers and asked if I could paint him, I don’t think Davey was too keen at all,” Brita joked.

“The collection has been a fantastic thing to do and all of the pictures were very much in the moment. I just love to paint on the spot and I’m proud of what I’ve come up with.”

Brita’s ‘Butcher, Baker, Cockle Sweet-Maker’ will be hung in Northumbria’s University Gallery and Baring Wing from May 18-June 29 along with ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’.