Steph West introduces A Whitby Archive at the Pannett Art Gallery

Many of you will know Doc Rowe, one of Britain’s best-known documenters of British calendar customs, whose expansive, varied archive lives here in Whitby. And if you don’t know him personally, you’ll have no doubt seen him at one of our weird and wonderful community traditions. He’s the one quietly filming proceedings, another camera around his leather lapels.

I got to know Doc in a similar way, seeing him at Whitby Folk Week over the years and wondering what his archive held. When I plucked up courage to speak with him, I found his vast knowledge, sense of humour and fascinating anecdotes completely compelling, and before long, I was sifting through the archive and learning more about the customs he has profiled – and even played a part in.

But the archive is Doc’s, with no affiliation to a research centre, museum or library. It isn’t digitised or catalogued, though Doc and an array of volunteers do their best, and without Doc’s incredible ability to know where artefacts are, or what boxes contain, it would be impenetrable to an outsider. I began to wonder, and worry, what would happen to the archive as Doc grew older.

Doc and I hatched a plan that we hoped would raise the archive’s profile. We applied to Arts Council England for a modest grant to develop a new exhibition which would invite three artists to create original artworks that explored or responded to the archive and collection.

All three artists I invited to participate – photographer Bryony Bainbridge, printmaker and poet, Natalie Reid, multimedia artist, Anna FC Smith – are fascinated by the folk arts, by customs and traditions, and were delighted to get to know Doc and his archive. The research and development took a year or so and then, fittingly in May 2018, Lore and the Living Archive opened at Touchstones Art Gallery, Rochdale.

The response to Bryony’s huge touching portraits, to Natalie’s intricate explorations of customs through print, paint and poetry, and Anna’s showstopping installations has been phenomenal, and we’re delighted to bring Lore and the Living Archive, after a stint at Cecil Sharp House, to Whitby, the home of the archive and collection. The trustees of Pannett Art Gallery have been incredibly supportive of the project right from the start, and we’re so pleased that visitors to Whitby Folk Week will have chance to see the artworks, alongside original footage and photography handpicked from the archive by Doc himself.

Pannett Art Gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday, 9.30am-4.30pm, closed Mondays. The exhibition runs between 7 August and 8 September and admission is free. Please visit the Art Gallery website here: http://www.pannettartgallery.org/ and our exhibition website here: http://docrowearchiveandcollection.blogspot.co.uk/

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Steph West, curator and project manager