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Beer, Trains And Architecture PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Eager   
Thursday, 09 August 2007 15:42

Old Cottages, Back LaneCheryl Davies is an artist whose drawings of old Ledbury are currently on display at the Old Talbot Inn in New Street, Ledbury. Her husband, Gareth Calan Davies is a writer, who specialises in the geography, history, art and literature of the local area - from the Black Country to South Wales. I went to visit them to find out more about themselves and their art.

Cheryl and Gareth Calan Davies decided about four years ago to follow their instincts, to be intrepid and to do what they were good at, and ever since they have been researching, drawing, photographing and writing about what they love - Ledbury and the local area. They set up GHAL Productions to market their work, which includes books, pamphlets, cards, prints and original artwork. GHAL stands for their areas of expertise namely, Geography, History, Art and Literature. They sell mostly by mail order but also sell to bookshops in Leominster and Shrewsbury, as well as in Ledbury.

Cheryl & Gareth Calan DaviesTheir crunch decision to set up in business came back in 2003. Cheryl had been unhappy in her most recent administrative jobs and Gareth persuaded her to try her hand in drawing for a living, a process she had learned from being a botanist, and, looking back, a choice she would have preferred to have made when she was a student and art college beckoned. To spur his wife on Gareth set up their first exhibition - The Railway Exhibition - at the Wye Valley Brewery in Stoke Lacy. Cheryl used pastels to reproduce flowers from the track side and the couple haven't looked back since.

Gareth has a history in transport management working for British Rail in Cardiff and Hereford; planning bus routes for Hereford and Worcester County Council and later working as a planning liaison manager in the West Midlands coordinating trains and buses. Gareth told me they didn't need timetables back then, such was the regularity and frequency of the services. Oh, how times have changed!

During his employment Gareth held a strong interest in transport, particularly the railways, and has kept an archive of the places and stories he has encountered. He worked as a ghost writer and decided that as it was his own research and writing skills that were in demand, he might as well take the credit as well. GHAL Productions was born. Gareth writes and takes the photos, while Cheryl does the illustrations.

Leafing through the 30 odd books Gareth and Cheryl have produced certain themes become apparent. As well as railways, canals and architecture, hops, beers and pubs are never too far away. Gareth puts it nicely in a publication he wrote entitled Bromyard: Celtic Myth or the Dark Side of the Moon:

"A traditional beer house is a good place to listen and learn and the Rose & Lion is one of those increasingly rare places where conversation of all types is alive and well. It is here that you get the local news and stories and gain an insight into the history of this strange, wonderful town and its people."

As well as doing a spot of research down the local beer house Gareth and Cheryl also find the Herefordshire libraries an excellent resource for research. But I wondered how Cheryl came up with illustrations of places that were not well documented and had no pictures of - for example, Ledbury's old canal wharf. Artistic license, of course, Cheryl informed me, together with a bit of research and actually going out on a canal to get the feel for it - "but it's very challenging," she conceded.

Selection of GHAL PublicationsThe beauty of GHAL productions and what satisfies Cheryl and Gareth so much is that they are in control of the whole process, from the idea's inception, the research, the writing and drawing, to the layout and the even the printing of their publications. This, in fact, is one of the main reasons why their books tend to be no more than 24 pages long, as this is the optimum format they can achieve bearing in mind the printing and binding process. The other factor is, how Gareth puts it, a limited attention span. It seems that Gareth is always full of new ideas for new books, while Cheryl has to rein him in to finish the work in hand. Did you know Hereford was once a port and had a ship building industry, Gareth eagerly informs me. This story is in the pipeline. The current project, Cheryl tells me, is Ledbury's architecture in three stages - Georgian, Elizabethan and Modern.

But Ledbury is ripe for material, they tell me. It's everywhere. "It's getting people to look around and to look up at the architecture - above the shop windows," enthuses Cheryl "there're so many gems."

And these two gems, Cheryl and Gareth, are providing Ledbury and the area with a fabulous service - bringing back to life in pictures and words the richness of our shared heritage. "We have fun doing it. We do what we like doing - we just enjoy it," they tell me and add that this is more important to them than actually selling their work.

Have they given up the day job yet? No, their feet are firmly planted on the ground. Gareth still drives the coaches for David Morris of Bromyard and Cheryl works three days a week at the Three Counties Bookshop in the High Street, where, coincidentally, GHAL books can be purchased.

Cheryl and Gareth are looking forward to their next exhibition during H Art Week in September, when their garage  will once again become their gallery.

For more information click here for the GHAL website.

Click here for more information about H Art Week.

I would like to thank Cheryl and Gareth Calan Davies for their time in providing this interview.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 October 2008 12:24