Sarah Wiseman tells TIM HUGHES about her gallery’s ‘cool’ new visitors

Frosty the Snowman was a jolly happy soul – or, at least, that’s what the popular festive tune would have us believe. The same could be said for the 100 snowmen who have invaded a north Oxford art gallery this Christmas.

The Snowmen are individually crafted creations by North Oxfordshire ceramicist Clare Nicholls.

The engaging figurines first appeared at Sarah Wiseman Gallery, in Summertown, last December as part of its annual Christmas Exhibition. Her collection of 50 sold out within a week, so gallery director Sarah asked her to bring them back again this year.

Clare, who has a studio near Banbury, stepped up to the challenge, creating around 100 of the blighters, each hand-shaped and glazed.

“They are already being snapped up by customers charmed by their humour, delicate features and detail,” says Sarah.

“Bobble hats, cat ears and bird nest heads all feature, giving each a personality of its own.”

A natural story teller, Clare’s ceramic works are heavily based within an internal narrative that draws upon themes of nature, the grotesque, entomology and fairy tales.

It was whilst studying for her MA in Ceramics at Cardiff University that these themes became central to her diverse and unconventional approach to ceramics

Her approach to her work is highly varied, working on complex sculptural pieces to illustrated platters with ease. Decoration is always central to her work and its illustrative nature is a delight, from the bold zany patterns in her seasonal snowman series to the almost botanical observational style of the new series of bird plates.

Sarah says: “In Clare Nicholls’ work we have always become to expect the unexpected and herein lies the strength of her practice.

“It is always unique and quirky, highly desirable and a contemporary treasure to behold.”

Claire says: “My Snowman range of work has slowly developed over the last few years. They started off as much smaller, simpler figurines, but have evolved to become larger and more ornately decorative.

“I particularly enjoy thinking up the diverse range of scarves, cloaks and head wear to give character to my little ‘army’, each figure being entirely unique and handmade from scratch.”

She adds: “It’s a delight to see how popular these little snowmen are becoming, with people looking forward to them coming out on display close to Christmas time. I love that people still like to collect those extra special, unique Christmas decorations which can be passed through families and treasured. Sarah has supported me and my work for many years. It’s fantastic these snowmen have taken off so well at the gallery.”

Clare’s Snowmen are part of Sarah Wiseman’s annual festive exhibition, this year called A Winter Gathering.

The show features work by a range of artists and makers, including other Oxford based artists like Sarah Spackman and Bee Bartlett.

Sarah says: “With Christmas in mind, the gallery is brimming with painting, printmaking, sculpture, jewellery and craft – lots of fantastic gift ideas.”

Clare Nicholls Snowmen are at the Sarah Wiseman Gallery, Summertown, Oxford, as part of its Christmas Exhibition

until December 31