This week I visited Cherryburn, the birthplace and childhood home of Thomas Bewick who has been described as ‘Northumberland’s greatest artist, a wood engraver and naturalist who revolutionised print art in Georgian England’.
He was born in this humble dwelling on 12 August 1753. It is located near the village of Mickley about 18 miles west of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. It is a pretty spot, amid rolling hills and a short stroll from the banks of the River Tyne.
There have been a few changes to the house since his time but the look of the kitchen area has been faithfully preserved with its ancient range used for cooking, heating the house and warming bath water. The house must have been quite crowded with Thomas and his seven siblings plus parents occupying just a kitchen, a living area, a bedroom and a dairy.
The kitchen is currently occupied by an art and audio installation called Conference for the Birds featuring seven giant birds (cuckoo, great black-backed gull, roseate tern, tree sparrow, blackbird, heron and dotterel) as depicted by Thomas in his wood engravings.
Next door to Thomas’s simple home is a farmhouse constructed in the 1800s which houses the Thomas Bewick Birthplace Museum run by the National Trust. It contains information on Thomas’s life and some of his most famous works such as the General History of Quadrupeds published in 1790, the History of British Birds published in 1797 and his illustrations of Aesop’s Fables published in 1818.
A video in the pressroom explains how Thomas’s woodblock prints were produced and there are examples of his engraving work.
The cool thing about this museum is that you can actually buy woodblock prints produced from the very same 200 year-old blocks painstakingly carved by Thomas Bewick himself. Only 20 prints per block are produced each decade so as not to wear out the blocks and to give some rarity value to the prints. For only £50 per print I think it is in inexpensive way to purchase an ‘original’ artwork by a famed and long-dead artist. You can find out more on National Trust’s website.
Visitors to the museum can also enjoy the wild garden with bee hives, a picnic and play area or just relax in one of their designer deckchairs.
After leaving Cherryburn I visited the churchyard in nearby Ovingham where Thomas was buried in 1828.