Newnham is becoming an important local arts centre, with exhibitions opening last week in the High Street at the George, the Sanctuary and the Severnside Press. These three galleries feature Severn Stories (Severnside Press), Still Moments (the Sanctuary) and The Decline of the Eel (at the recently reopened George café).

At the George, the Decline of the Eel is a series of colourful prints by Julia Manning. Eel fishing has long been practised in the Forest. Eels are known as elvers in the Forest, and I have memories from the 1970s  when at this time of the year the bankside of the Severn and the Wye would be illuminated at night by elver fisherfolk at places like Brockweir on the River Wye and Minsterworth on the River Severn. 

The exhibition at the George shows magnificent prints of eels. They are extraordinary creatures, travelling many thousands of miles as they make their annual commute from the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean to their spring home in the Wye or Severn, travelling over 10,000 miles in their lifetime. They are colourful and they morph into wildly different colours and shapes, captured by Julia’s bright and vibrant prints. But their population is now down by over 90% and there are legal restrictions on elver fishing.

They are facing extinction because of over-fishing, pollution and river weirs. On their epic journey back to the Forest from the Sargasso Sea they would gather off Burnham Sands in Somerset on their journey back across the Atlantic Ocean to the forest from their Sargasso sea location, but the proximity of discharges from the new Hinkley power station presents another threat to them.  ‘The Decline of the Eel’ exhibition is at the George, 10.30am to 4.00pm, to 6th April.

Just up the road from the George is the exhibition ‘Still Moments’ at The Sanctuary.

The previous exhibition at this venue was ‘place’, celebrating the wide outdoors, but this was an exhibition which captured silent indoor domestic scenes. 

The painting ‘Watching..waiting’  by Angela Findlay is a still life, but captures the aftermath of some dramatic event. A dog peers anxiously out of an attic window. I hope that the dog sees what he is looking for. A pair of women’s shoes lie discarded on the floor – a shawl has been carelessly thrown onto a chair. What’s the meaning? Similarly with another of her works ‘The Morning After’, shows another challenge to the imagination, with more discarded female shoes, a bottle of wine, but only one glass. There’s the opportunity for endless speculation as to the possible chain of events leading to these interesting still scenes.

Charles MacCarthy, Rose Arbuthnot, Gabriella Buckingham, Greta Hart, Lucy Spink, Lucy Burley, Jayne Tricker are the other artists contributing to this intriguing exhibition, which is open  Tues - Fri 11.00 - 5.00pm, Sat 12 - 4pm until 27th April.  

And further up the road from there is Severnside Press Gallery, where the Severn Sisters (20 artists) are presenting ‘Severn Stories’, an exhibition of ceramics, textiles, jewellery, sculpture and other media celebrating the myths and  Flora and Fauna of the mysterious River Severn. This exhibition is open from 11.00am to 6pm until 14th April. 

Newnham – the artistic hub of west Gloucestershire?