PRESS RELEASE: Art exhibition captures human connection with Shropshire hillfort

A community’s affection for a Shropshire landmark threatened by town expansion is the focus of an inspirational art exhibition that opens today (April 23) in Oswestry.

‘Hugging the Hillfort’, featuring work by artists from the Oswestry borderlands and further afield, explores the many facets of Old Oswestry hillfort, from neighbourhood greenspace to national heritage icon.

Residents fighting housing earmarked near the 3,000 year-old monument feel that its heritage, cultural and environmental value is not being properly recognised in local planning. Now, the much-anticipated exhibition gives a unique voice to people’s emotional connection with the hillfort’s beauty and history.

Running at Oswestry’s Willow Gallery for four weeks, more than 60 works are on show ranging from paintings, textiles and sculpture to jewellery, photography and ceramics. It also includes paintings by pupils at Oswestry’s Holy Trinity School.

A highlight of the opening day is a talk by Llanarmon-based artist and archaeologist, John Swogger, on the role artists can play in helping to make sense of archaeological sites.

The exhibition is part of the Artists Hugging the Hillfort (AHH!) project, a local art movement adding its weight to the campaign to protect Old Oswestry from inappropriate development. First work from the project was debuted in February at the Hillfort Hug Weekend organised by HOOOH hillfort community group.

AHH! spokesperson, Diana Baur, is hopeful that the exhibition will raise awareness and encourage people to reflect on what the hillfort means to them.

She said: “The project has created an exhibition of beautiful and thought-provoking works. The artists’ responses have either focused on the beauty, preciousness, history and iconic nature of the hillfort, or on the enormous threat that hangs over its setting in the future.

“The hillfort exhibition is a visual reminder of what is precious and what should be protected if our children and grandchildren are to enjoy a life enriched by their environment and their heritage.”

Tereska Shepherd’s co-running exhibition, ‘Plants and Pollinators’, also tackles themes of preservation and environmental threats and includes a stunning series of bee paintings.

AHH! artists will be making a contribution to campaign funds from sales of the artwork. Tickets are also on sale throughout the exhibition for a fund-raising raffle to be drawn on the closing day. Prizes include a spectacular hillfort-inspired cake made by Willow Eatery manager, Lindsay Chaplin.

Kate Clarke of the HOOOH Community Group said: “We are familiar with seeing heritage monuments plotted on maps by circles and antiquity symbols. But this conveys nothing of the sense of wonder you feel as you approach and experience them in the landscape they have occupied for hundreds of years.

“This exhibition will go a long way to communicating how the story and stature of these rare and enigmatic landmarks is deeply anchored in the surrounding landscape. That’s why we need to preserve the setting of Old Oswestry, a national heritage jewel.”

Not only valued as a place of escape and recreation, Old Oswestry ranks as one of Britain’s most important archaeological sites and has been described as the ‘Stonehenge of the Iron Age’.

There are plans to tour the artwork as a way of inspiring and networking ideas with other communities facing similar heritage threats.

Last December, Shropshire’s local plan was approved with a site allocation for 117 houses that would push Oswestry’s town boundary further towards the hillfort, eroding the already slender ribbon of green separating them.

‘Hugging the Hillfort’ runs at the Willow from April 23 to May 21.

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