Norfolk artist whose career was cut short remembered in celebratory exhibition
- Credit: Archant
Norfolk artist Rachel Hutchins was inspired by her childhood until her sad death aged just 30. Now an exhibition is celebrating her artworks.
Just as the art career of Rachel Hutchins was starting to blossom it was cut tragically short.
Rachel, whose signature style and subject matter was inspired by her Norfolk childhood and her father's own art, fell ill. She died in March 2015 from lung cancer aged just 30.
Her life was sadly all too short, but Rachel had built up a fine body of work which was highly influenced by her love of this county.
Now an exhibition celebrating her artworks, called Remembering Rachel, has just gone on show Blickling Hall, running until March 19. It features her screen prints, scraper boards, life drawings, designs for wallpapers and private commissions and other originals. Much of the work has never been seen in public before.
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Also on show is work by her father Chris Hutchins, who was the resident artist at Wroxham Barns for 30 years and who now spends time in his studio producing new pastel paintings and life drawings.
The idea of a show that would be a celebration of Rachel's short but prolific career was something her parents were keen on.
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Chris explains: 'After Rachel died Sue and I sat down with Russell, Rachel's partner, to discuss an exhibition of Rachel's work to celebrate her artwork and honour her memory. We finally decided on Blickling Hall as a suitable venue, not least because Rachel had always been happy here, walking in the park and around the lake with the dog and family.
'As I started to work my way through Rachel's artwork I was taken aback by the sheer volume and quality of it. Whilst I can obviously be accused of slight bias as a proud father I am also, like Rachel was, an art teacher and able to be honest about my views of the quality of the work.
'When Rachel was alive I, of course, showed a lot of interest in what she was doing and we often bandied about ideas and projects about teaching, one artist to another, something I enjoyed immensely and sadly miss.'
Rachel discovered her artistic talent when she was still a little girl. With her father artworks and her grandfather running his own printing company, a flair for creating graphic images clearly runs in the family.
'I grew up surrounded by my dad's artwork and materials,' she told The Cambridge Journal in an interview in 2011. 'And both my parents are very interested in art full stop: in paintings, textile, sculpture...'
A clay head that sat in her sitting room at the time was, she laughed, one of her earliest creations: 'My parents had it until my boyfriend, for some unknown reason, said he really liked it... I like to think I've moved on a bit since then!'
By the time she sat her GCSE's at Broadland High School, Rachel knew she wanted art to be more than a hobby – she wanted it to become a profession. She attended Norwich Art School, studied textile design at Winchester Art School and went on to do an MA in printed textiles at the hallowed Royal College of Art.
She then studied weave, knit and print in Paris, collaborated on catwalk shows for London Fashion Week, created a children's colouring book for Savoy Hotel and worked with king of paper cutting Rob Ryan. But she eventually returned to this region to develop her own style.
Although she lives in the heart of the city in Cambridge, her artwork revealed her rural roots: filled with fields and trees and rivers, populated with hares and cows and pigs, many of her lithographs were inspired by her Norfolk childhood.
Rachel's signature graphic style lent itself to print: beginning with a pen or pencil drawing, her designs were fleshed out on scraperboard; created from a layer of China clay, overlaid with black India ink, a blade used to etch out the image.
'You have to plan what you're doing in advance: once you've made a mark on scraperboard, there's no going back,' she explained in her 2011 interview. 'But I don't like to plan too rigidly you still want it to be a creative process.'
Early on in the planning of the exhibition, her father realised it would be too involved to catalogue everything.
'Whilst I loosely knew about different projects Rachel was working on over the years, I certainly didn't know where every piece originated from. So we approached it on a basis of what we thought was worthy of framing and displaying and what was typical of her work at certain stages of her development.
'At Winchester, Rachel's degree pieces centred on the Norfolk fishing industry. At the Royal College of she developed her large number of fabric designs and designs for wallpapers. It is this area especially that we were keen to show.
'Many of the designs have not been seen in public before. Rachel's strong drawing skills combined with a love of fabrics and traditional needlework skills, which she shared with her mother, made for some very strong and striking designs. Whilst Rachel worked with traditional skills and images, her work was also contemporary at the same time.'
t Remembering Rachel, The Loft, Blicking Estate, until March 19, 10am-5.30pm, admission free, 01263 738021, nationaltrust.org.uk