HERE in Newnham, a thriving arts scene has sprung up over the last couple of years. The George, a former hotel, after some years of dedicated community work, has now re-opened as a café and arts centre, and a magnificent half-timbered 15th century building in the High Street is now the Sanctuary Studio and Gallery.

Kate Baugh, the Newnham ceramicist, is one of the local artists represented at the Sanctuary, and there are strong connections to the influential ‘FarOpen’ Forest arts group.

The ‘Summer Show’ at the Sanctuary Studio & Gallery in Newnham’s High Street opens this week, with works by four women painters which are inspired by landscape and nature.

The artists are all from rural areas, and landscape, the natural world and a sense of ‘place’ are central to their works.

Kirsten Elswood, from West Cornwall and Bron Jones from Carmarthenshire capture the magical moments of nature in their distinctive country settings, with Sharon Harvey (artist and galley owner) and Sylvia Wadsley from near Stroud working on either side of the ever-changing mighty River Severn bring a local dimension to the exhibition.

I remember from my days driving back home along the A48 the dramatic views of the River Severn and the ever-changing cloud formations which were different every day – glowering, peaceful, busy, angry, full, empty, serene – needing an artistic skill and a feel for place and nature that I could never aspire to.

The Forest’s designation as the ‘Land between two rivers’ by the late Forest poet laureate Dick Brice, highlights the two rivers, the Wye and the Severn, as the boundaries of the Forest. The Wye valley is deep, wooded, narrow, brooding, with tides making it deeper but rarely wider, unlike the Severn, which in some stretches fades away to almost a trickle at low tide, but when the tide turns occupies a wide riverbed which fills rapidly, especially during bore time, with a wider vale area which give the river an opportunity to meander.

The Wye has its own pictorial representations. The book ‘A Fortunate Man’, concerning a St Briavels doctor thinly disguised as ‘Doctor Sassell’ portrays a landscape which was almost a character, mysterious, remote, and evoked in bleak photography, with black and white illustrations which were so important that the photographer Jean Mohr is given equal credit with writer John Berger in the book’s title page.

By the banks of the Wye at the old Tintern Station, now a Heritage venue, there lies wooden effigies of notable historic and mythical characters associated with the area, including Welsh and ancient Britons, with a Norman queen, and the Roman goddess of the Severn, Sabrina, half-human, half-fish, otherwise known as the Welsh princess Hafren.

She would surely be more comfortable in her eponymous wide Severn estuary than the narrow Wye valley into which her effigy lies, with a wide river vale and no oppressive steep wooded hills.

The Summer Show at the Sanctuary Studio & Gallery, High Street Newnham, opens on 21st July and runs up to September 1st 2023.