It must be said that Suffolk could easily be a candidate for one of the most creative counties in the UK.
In every city, town, and hamlet, dozens of artists hone and perfect their craft. We have an abundance of talented painters, ceramists, textile artists, and more.
And just outside of Woodbridge, a woman is helping spread the joy that comes with all things creative with her studio and art gallery that caters to everyone, regardless of age or ability.
Ceramic artist and owner of eJaRt Creative Emma Jayne Robertson has always had a love for the arts – and as far back as she can remember she has always wanted to pursue a creative career.
“Since I was little, I have loved to create. I always did things with my mother, who organized crafts for us during the summer holidays, and my grandmother was also very artistic,” she explains.
Years later, Emma Jayne enrolled at Suffolk Arts College to complete a foundation degree before continuing her undergraduate studies.
“The point of a foundation course is to get you trying lots of different things – and while I originally intended to go to Norwich Arts School to do a degree in textiles, I discovered during my basic course that I was really working with clay.”
Rethinking her career, Emma turned to contemporary applied arts.
“I specialized in ceramics, textiles and printing, but clay really took over,” she says.
After graduating, Emma returned to her native Suffolk and found herself working in various art-based teaching roles across the county.
“I needed a job, so I worked as a learning support assistant in schools – but also ran an after-school ceramics club in a secondary school.”
Along with this, Emma also held workshops and craft parties in her spare time.
“These started to accumulate gradually, so I started renting party halls so I could hold a proper workshop for regular sessions.”
But balancing her job with her hobby, Emma realized she wanted to run full-time art workshops and sessions.
“At the end, I was doing so many workshops that I couldn’t integrate anything else. And I stored everything at home, so I was always loading and unloading the car, which is not ideal with fragile clay. So I thought it would be nice to have a base from which to run my workshops.
And so, eJaRt Creative was born. Located at Grange Farm in Hasketon near Woodbridge, she describes it as “a dream come true”.
“We opened nine months before the lockdown, and it was going well but obviously everything changed.”
Not even a year into her business and having a forced closure was of course not ideal – but Emma Jayne made it work.
“Until then, people discovered us and we were well received in the community. And all the people who did my workshops before that came to my new place. We also set up the gallery, which was growing as new artists were added. It was really the buzz.
“We had just started and we had to close our doors. And while we ran workshops online, we found that people were working from home staring at a screen, and the last thing they wanted to do was sit at a computer for even longer after work.
For those who were interested however, Emma Jayne followed the Covid restrictions and offered a social distancing pick up and collection service, offering tools and materials in the meantime.
“There were retired and single people who wanted to do workshops from home, but clay is such a difficult skill to learn virtually. We have also offered a shooting service to our students, so that they can stay relatively sane in their free time. We had a collection box for them to drop off their ceramics, we pulled them out and left them in the box for them to collect, so there was no contact.
However, the confinement allowed him to develop his company’s web presence and online store.
“We also found that the lockdown helped people reassess their lives and realize how much they valued time spent with family and doing what made them happy. Mental health and well-being became more important to people, and being able to walk away was crucial for that.
And since the restrictions were lifted, people have been heading to Emma Jayne’s workshops to try their hand at a number of skills and crafts.
“When people were able to attend the workshops again, we had a lot of new customers who came to us and said they had tried something new during the lockdown and really enjoyed it.”
But what sets eJaRt Creative apart?
“Our workshops are tailor-made and adapted to people. We try to make it more relaxed and people can learn what interests them, rather than being prescriptive. We also manufacture all the clay we use in-house.
Participants can choose from a number of craft activities, including ceramics and clay, mosaics, lino, glass, painting, papermaking, drawing, and more.
“We try to respond to what people like to learn. And if people ask for something that we don’t offer yet, we’ll try to see if someone can teach it from our bank of tutors. We have a number of artists exhibiting here, and some of them come and do workshops. For example, we have a woman who does silver clay and enamelling, and another who comes to teach Shetland lace knitting.
Bringing together local artists and the community is hugely important to Emma Jayne, as she adds: “With our gallery, we try to showcase as many local East Anglian artists as possible. We want to give a chance to those who may not have had the opportunity to exhibit their work before, but who have the talent.
eJaRt Creative is also focused on making its space especially welcoming for children and anyone still nervous about the pandemic.
“It’s important to introduce children to art, because some schools don’t have time to let them be as creative as they should be. So it’s good for them to be able to see what they can do and to have time to use their imagination and let their creativity run free.
“Since reopening, we have kept masks on and screens in place a little longer than most other places. I think that’s what makes people more comfortable coming here. We want to be accommodating to everyone and if someone comes to a workshop who is vulnerable, if they let us know in advance, we can adjust the session accordingly.
Emma Jayne is driven and optimistic about the future of her art studio and gallery – and has a number of projects everyone can get involved in.
“We currently have an ongoing calendar contest – and you don’t need to be a professional artist to enter. It’s open to all ages and we’re looking for artwork for each of the four seasons of our 2023 calendar. We choose a shortlist from all entries, and our top three will be displayed in the gallery, where the public can vote for their favorites.
“We are also working on a postcard competition, which is a permanent exhibition. Later in the year we will have exhibition opportunities for artists and artisans, and we are also planning a Christmas market in early December.