The series of watercolours for this contemporary exhibition were selected from within the original 1951 exhibition Sheila Hutchinson: From Source to Sea. The original series, 72 watercolours, developed through Sheila’s immense love and interest in nature and the environment in which she was born, grew up and lived out her life. The River Torridge falls nearly 200m passing through 36 Devon parishes. Sheila would ride her bicycle out to paint, exploring and learning a great deal about North Devon’s wildlife, woodland and moorland while working on this series of paintings for almost 9 years.

Sheila discovered the source of the Torridge in moorland on the Cornish border, and as she came across the bridges and the villages it passed through, decided to find out more about them by delving into the Domesday Book. Her notes written during this period encapsulate the heritage of the surrounding lands of the River Torridge, its people, and occasionally her own observations about the river.

A meticulous watercolourist, she often would go back and forth to the site of each painting to get a better light or have to wait until that season came round again to finish the work. Often travelling by bicycle, following along the path of the River Torridge, through moorland and forest, her satchel and equipment accompanying her as she sought to find the right spot or angle to paint.

Sheila was born in 1906 at Southcott House in Weare Giffard where she lived for a short time before moving to Bideford. She studied art at Bideford Art School, going on to study calligraphy in London before the Second World War, returning at the beginning of the war. She later taught calligraphy at Bideford Art School in her 70s. The works, in their entirety, were first exhibited during the celebration for the Festival of Britain in 1951 at the Bideford School of Art. 

Take an online tour and view the locations of the bridges via Google Earth

Richard Gregory’s film response to ‘From Source to Sea’

“When invited to respond in film, to Shelia Hutchinson’s project ‘From Source to Sea’ my initial idea was to share the views she would have had that she didn’t paint, joining her on the bridges as she scoped out places to paint from.

I thought about how she felt during those times of deep concentration and observation while she was painting, did she ever think about the meaning of bridges other than a means to get from one side of the river to the other?

Despite my appreciation of bridges and metaphors I found myself constantly drawn instead, to the emotional pull of the water, in both her paintings and in my visits to the river. It was finally the huge, brutal log jams against the up-stream side of the bridges that helped me to let go of my initial idea and concentrate only on the water.”

I then started the journey down the Torridge, from a tiny stream to the vast tidal estuary, in all its various states of agitation rage and calm. I would make a portrait of its movement and motion, searching the river for Sheila’s paintings of reflections, white water and shadows, finding her brush marks and washes, recording the sound, detail and movement.

And there they were, the things that we would have both experienced and shared that haven’t changed; the way water moves, sounds, and most meaningfully, reflects the light.

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