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Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
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Lydia Fryer - Peak District Artist

Posted Tuesday, July 3, 2007

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Lydia Fryer

`pastel sketches of the surrounding local landscape adorn the walls of her guest-house'

Lydia Fryer is a Derbyshire landlady with a difference; not only does she provide the proverbial `room with a view’ at her Peak District B & B - but rooms with lots of views – for Lydia is also a talented artist and her pastel sketches of the surrounding local landscape adorn the walls of her guest-house!

However, Lydia is far more than just a talented artist in pastels; she enjoys experimenting with mixed media and has worked in oils and watercolours; she is also a trained interior designer, a skilled seamstress, an excellent potter and an expert with dried flowers and floral arrangements!

In fact, from the moment that you step inside the Old School House in the village of Bonsall, near Matlock, you become aware that this is the home of someone for whom art is not merely a hobby, but a way of life.

The walls are festooned with her framed pictures; oils, watercolours, fabric designs, intricate and detailed natural collages and pastel drawings, and it is quickly apparent that German-born Lydia is not just a learned practitioner, but a connoisseur of Art.

What you see around you carries the indelible stamp of the artist’s authentic and individual personality, and the drawings and artefacts paint the picture of Lydia’s journey through different mediums and different phases of time and temperament.

Her own uniquely designed ceramic bowls, vases, sculptures, pottery and dried-floral arrangements vie for attention with patterned chintzes, tapestries, art-deco designed plates and a wide range of objects d’art.

The library shelves are stacked with books about artistic technique; Monet, Bruegel, Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Picasso, Goya and the great impressionists are all represented.

A modern pottery kiln stands in the conservatory; Clarice Cliffe and William Morris designs adorn the dining room, and easels, brushes, pastels, sketch pads and the usual paraphernalia associated with a working artist creates a studio atmosphere in the lounge.

Lydia was born in Herford near Hanover, and was experimenting with charcoal, pen, and gauche (water-based opaque paint) when she was just eight years old.

“My mother was a reasonably good artist and encouraged me to learn basic techniques when I was a small child” she said.

The early teaching certainly paid dividends, for Lydia was always top of the class in art, and when she left school at 16 she landed a job as a trainee interior designer.

“But it didn’t last long, and I left as soon as I’d qualified”, she admitted.

“I come from a creative and adventurous family, she said. My brother had travelled around Africa and settled in South America, and I felt that my creative spirit was being suppressed and I soon became bored with the job and began nurturing a desire to go to America”.

Two years later she set off for America, calling to visit her brother in Columbia, before settling as an au pair with a German couple in the Bronx in New York City.

“I only spent just over a year in New York, but whilst there I managed to learn to speak English - before becoming homesick and returning to Germany”.

Lydia got a job in the office at NAAFI where she met her future first husband, an English banker on National Service with the British Army, and they married and moved to England during the late sixties.

Lydia settled in the Sheffield area, where she lived for nine years and raised two children, whilst running a successful business making and selling dried pressed flower arrangements. But her artistic aspirations were shattered, along with her left leg following a road accident in 1975, and her life became a constant battle between art and adversity.

“I was on and off crutches for three years after the accident, my business failed, my marriage failed, and my life was a mess”, she revealed.

“I was left with a permanent disability which has since needed six operations, the last one just two years ago, but my lack of mobility over that twenty year period freed me from boredom by allowing me to devote my attention once again to my desire for artistic expression”.

Following an unsettled period which saw successive moves to Elkesley near Retford, and then to Long Eaton, Lydia’s `globetrotting’ finally came to an end when she arrived in Bonsall eleven years ago in 1994.

“I know it sounds corny, but Derbyshire was my salvation, she said.

“I immediately fell in love with Bonsall and found the surrounding landscape purely inspirational, and being so richly textured it lent itself ideally to soft pastels”.

But never having had any formal art training Lydia enrolled on a two year A Level Art and Pottery course at Derby Tertiary College (now Derby University) in 1995, which introduced her not only to working with soft pastels, but also gained her the necessary skills of a potter.

“When I first came here and fell in love with the village, I was looking for a small country cottage, and the Old School House seemed far too large, but with the growth of tourism in the Dales, I decided that it would make an ideal guest-house and would leave me enough room for a studio in order to pursue my ambitions as an artist, and my daughter Esther helped me to convert it”.

Lydia bought an electric kiln, and used her experience of Columbia and South America as the inspiration for a range of ceramic designs. Soon her unique pottery was being acclaimed and exhibited at local galleries, along with her newly found inspirational pastel sketches of local scenes, and sold mainly to the tourist industry at local retail outlets.

“I have worked exclusively in soft pastels for several years now, said Lydia, and whilst they are far messier than oils or water-colours, I find that for me, they capture the shade, colour and texture of this landscape more readily than the other mediums. Recently I’ve experimented and found some commercial success with more impressionistic sketches using exaggerated colour, which I love, but I’ve also found that you can overwork pastels very easily, and the trick is always to try and strike the perfect balance”.

Lydia’s art work struck the perfect balance three years ago when her series of pastel print sketches of local landscapes were launched as greeting cards and marketed through the Trade Link Organisation.

Two years ago, when the Wirksworth Festival was extended to include Bonsall, Lydia opened the Old School House and held a successful exhibition of her art work, taking a number of commissions in the process.

The Festival proved equally successful last year and Lydia plans to open again during the Wirksworth Festival in September.

Today her prints, notably of Haddon Hall, Chatsworth House, Bonsall Village and other local scenes, and her collection of greeting cards, can be found on sale at most local retail outlets and tourist board shops.

Lydia Fryer’s life seems to have finally struck the right balance at Bonsall; the operation on her leg two years ago was successful, improving her mobility and allowing her to walk freely. Now she is looking forward to exploring more of her adopted and beloved Derbyshire, and capturing her sense-impressions on canvass in a variety of mediums.

Gazing fondly at the limestone hills surrounding her beautiful home, she told me enthusiastically, “I want to experiment with colour, and learn new ways of capturing and expressing this wonderful landscape…….” And what better or more appropriate place than the Old School House at Bonsall?

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