Karen and Colin Caterset up Hedingham Fair in 1997, as a vehicle Karen’s considerable artistic talents and insights. With lifelong interests in animals, the natural world, and folklore, music and customs, they have sought to bring some of the less well-known parts of the history and culture of the English-speaking peoples to a wider audience through a combination of artistic imagery and the written word.
Karen trained in graphics at St Martin’s in London, then at Norwich School of Art and has spent a lifetime working in art. During her first ‘proper job’ as a designer of glass engravings for a sand blasting process; she developed a method of working which employed a complicated combination of positive and negative tonal designing which has informed her work ever since, more recently developing T-shirt images for screen printing. Though she also produces pen or pencil drawings, Karen is most fulfilled when lino cutting to develop gloriously strong imagery for prints and greetings cards. Often an initial image will be overpainted with watercolour, sometimes having also been manipulated digitally. The results are frequently striking, with vibrant colours and sharp attention to anatomical integrity.
Karen is fascinated by the esoteric or mystical qualities of her subject matter, incorporating layers and levels of meaning into her compositions by her use of correspondences of imagery or colour, breathing life and identity into old song titles or figures from mythology or history, Some themes including the Pagan Eight Festivals, the Winter Solstice, the Ogham Celtic Alphabet, the folklore and mythology surrounding Hares have been developed extensively as Karen has researched and produced complex series of greetings cards that have served as structure for insightful and well-loved books. In 2007, Karen published ‘The Ogham Sketchbook’ and has followed this with ‘The Spirit of the Hare’ in 2010, ‘The Shortest Day’ in 2013.
In March 2017, the Atlantis Bookshop Gallery in Bloomsbury, London, held the first major exhibition of Karen’s work in two decades. Eighty framed lino-cuts and paintings went on display, mostly representing the mystical aspect of her work, but also including self-portraits and a series of five larger experimental watercolours of urban landscape back-alleys in Essex in the 1990s. The exhibition also included some of her sketchbooks and tools. Together with examples of work-in-progress to illustrate her working techniques.
To support this exhibition, Karen produced an autobiographical catalogue book ‘Pagan Art, Folk Art’, with sections about her life and training as an artist, how Hedingham Fair came about as a vehicle for her art, the techniques she uses and how she has taken inspiration from all over the place. Together with her life’s work in full colour large format illustrations, this was in every sense a monograph, a veritable magnum opus!
In September 2017 Karen mounted another exhibition, this time focused on the traditional folk music aspects of her work, held at the Museum of East Anglian Life at Stowmarket, Suffolk, during the annual Traditional Music Day. Featured at this exhibition were lino-cuts of musicians and step dancers from around East Anglia, and sketches from music sessions in pubs, folk clubs and festivals from recent sketchbooks.
Colin has been involved in folk music and folklore all his adult life, witnessing the folk movement of the 1960s whose culture was based on industry and work morph into something far more Arcadian and antiquarian in present times. Within this journey both folk knowledge and interests have broadened substantially, encompassing song, music, customs and dance: sometimes even extending into matters mystical and spiritual. The danger has always existed that the folk culture of the present would become obscured by the constant search for an imaginary past.
Colin was determined to try to counteract this, so in 2000 produced the first of the annual ‘Calendar of Traditional Customs’, recording what happened as it happened, with Karen’s illustrations, and commentary and background on an appropriate custom each month, respecting the ancestors but focussing on the here and now. In 2013 Colin and Karenco-authored a book on Wassailing customs as they have reawakened and gradually become part of English culture once again.
Respect for the ancestors, for life, for the natural world permeates everything Karen and Colin do. Karen once ran a wildlife rescue service on the Norfolk coast, working with injured and oiled birds, the occasional hedgehog and stray cats. Colin writes dance tunes and songs celebrating the seasons, customs and the localities they take place in: Karen writes songs and occasional snatches of poetry to illustrate a greetings card, or design in one of her books.
Both are singers and musicians: Karen is a percussionist, playing bodhran (including a year touring Germany with an Irish folk band “The Wild Geese” when she was younger), spoons, Morris bells, anything that will augment tune or song. Colin plays Anglo Concertinaand melodeon, long ago as a touring performer around folk clubs, then as a ceilidh band musician and caller; mainly now in sessions and for Cotswold Morris. Together they can offer folk club spots, and highly entertaining talks illustrated with songs and readings from their books on ‘The Ogham Celtic Alphabet’ or ‘Wassailing’ or ‘The Folklore and Mythology of the Hare’.
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