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Coates comes up from Somerset

PUBLISHED: 14:41 19 July 2013 | UPDATED: 14:12 22 July 2013

Peter Coate with Landscape at Priddy

Peter Coate with Landscape at Priddy

As Wells artist Peter Coate RWA prepares for an exhibition of his work, he reflects on 50 years painting the landscape of the Mendip Hills and the Somerset Levels

I grew up in Wraxall on the Tyntesfield Estate, which is absolutely beautiful, and that’s what made me into a landscape painter. It was a very rural life and in the holidays I worked on the farm next door.

I thought I was going to be a farmer and I never thought I would be a painter, but knew I wasn’t a businessman. I’ve inherited a love of country matters and wild places.

Sedgemoor is full of Coates! My immediate ancestors were farmers and agricultural merchants and my cousins are still the biggest withy growers, basket makers and main producers of artists’ willow charcoal in the country. My father was a cider maker and ‘Coates comes up from Somerset’ was a popular refrain when I was young.

This exhibition in Wells Museum is called the Mendip Hills and the Somerset Levels. Although I have enjoyed painting in many parts of Wales, the Lake District, East Anglia, Ireland and Tuscany, this exhibition is of paintings from a part of Somerset which I know best.

My connection with Wells has been since 1963; for nine years I was the art master at The Cathedral School. It was at that time that I was elected a member of the RWA.

When I left Wells I went to East Anglia and that was an eye opener. I was impressed by the number of artists who were painting their immediate surroundings. Down here, people were not painting Somerset unless it was hunting scenes. I thought, this is interesting, so I came back and in 1971 I opened the Mendip Painting Centre at Rickford near Blagdon.

My aim was to introduce my students to their beautiful surroundings and to paint outdoors. To my absolute amazement the place was full. Over the 12 years that I ran the centre the demand grew and we had classes every day of the week.

When my wife, Pamela, and I decided to move to Stone Allerton, it opened up the Levels as a painting area within easy reach. Some of the pictures in this exhibition were painted when peat was still cut by hand and before any of the peat fields had been turned into lakes and nature reserves.

Somerset is known for its many churches, with their spectacular perpendicular towers. Over the years I have painted a number of them and I have included a few as they are a conspicuous part of our villages and landscape. n

Mendip Hills and the Somerset Levels from the last 50 years runs at the Wells Museum on the Cathedral Green until 4 August. Daily 10am – 5pm, Sundays 11am – 4pm. Admission Free.

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