Surroundings are all to an artist. There’s something in the landscape, natural or manmade, that fires imagination and sparks inspiration. And inspiration, you feel, shouldn't be hard to come by in this glorious upland area of cloud-buffeted moors, star-speckled skies, ancient stone-built villages, soaring sea-cliffs and hidden coves. It’s a land where the lapwing and curlew call above the spreading heather, and where ancient trees, mysterious burial mounds and ruined abbeys fuel stories and legends that have captured imaginations for centuries.
The North York Moors, so dramatic, so varied, is a magnet for artists and makers who have made it their home, capturing the natural beauty, changing light and seasons in a variety of media, be it panoramic vistas and seascapes, powerful photography, unique ceramics, or colourful textiles.
Visual artists in the North York Moors
There’s something deeply personal about the way inspiration strikes – and about the direction it can take an artist. For example, Joe Cornish’s iconic landscape photographs and the gorgeous handcrafted bowls by artisan glassmakers Gillies Jones might seem entirely unrelated, but each shows a clear and deep affinity for the Moors and its natural forms. For Stephen Gillies and Kate Jones, their art continues a glass-making tradition in Rosedale Abbey that dates back to Elizabethan times, when French Huguenot glass-workers fled religious persecution to settle in rural English dales to continue their trade.
It's a who's who of internationally and nationally renowned and established painters residing here. Based high on the cliffs at Boulby, Len Tabner, an en plein air master creates his elemental works outside, capturing the ever changing power of the sea and the raw landscapes surrounding him.
Work by William Tillyer is found in major galleries across the world, but whether working in America, Italy, France or Australia, the North York Moors have never been far from Tillyer’s heart – or from his art.
It’s a landscape that forms part of Tillyer’s everyday life, one where – according to the artist – “the sky becomes dominant and cloud-watching an addiction”.
Peter Hicks, arguably the leading contemporary landscape painter in North Yorkshire and based in the Esk Valley finds solace in the landscape, and feels blessed to have the variety on his doorstep that the North York Moors provides.
Keep your eye out for the annual open days at Scotch Corner Chapel, a rare opportunity to see inside this fascinating and intriguing hidden gem in the North York Moors. Built by local man and Ampleforth College master John Bunting (1927-2002), the Chapel is a war memorial to those who died in the Second World War and, in particular, to former Ampleforth College pupils who fought in the war. It is also home to many of John’s sculptural pieces, including a stone sculpture of a recumbent solider in paratrooper's helmet and commando boots. Bunting was Master of Drawing at Ampleforth, where he taught Anthony Gormley. His own sculptural pieces were much influenced by Henry Moore. Members of John Bunting’s family are on hand at the open days to talk about his work, providing a unique insight and personal perspective on the place.
At the Mouseman Visitor Centre in Kilburn, discover too the legacy of Robert Thompson, the furniture maker, famous for his oak pieces incorporating a small carved mouse which can be found in many places across the area. See if you can spot any when exploring Ampleforth Abbey, and churches in Kilburn, Goathland, or the Church of St Peter and Paul in Stokesley.
From sought-after wildlife artist Andy Broderick, to the creative, emotive and narrative photography of Nicola Taylor, and Emma Stothard's beautifully crafted willow and wire animal sculptures, the area continues to inspire new generations of artists and makers too.
Steve Iredale is an artist with a difference eschewing the fine carving tools of the traditional sculptor in favour of a chainsaw. His fabulous woodland creations can be discovered at The Moors National Park Centre, Sutton Bank National Park Centre, the Whitby Calla Beck Sculpture Trail, Dalby Forest and Guisborough Forest.
He's also contributed to a sculpture trail in Staithes too, complementing the Staithes Illusion Trail, a series of trompe l’oeil works by the talented Paul Czainski which are on buildings across the village, taking visitors off the beaten track.
The area has a strong artist-led community with groups including Brigantia's talented artists and makers, and the high quality felt-makers, knitters, spinners and quilters that make up the Cleveland Fibre Arts.
Galleries and open studios
Such talent deserves a showcase setting, which is where the artists can really consider themselves fortunate as the area is packed with high quality galleries exhibiting an eclectic collection of work. From Saltbox Gallery in Helmsley, Joe Cornish Gallery in Northallerton, and Staithes Gallery, to Bils & Rye, a specialist in contemporary sculpture and ceramics, which aims to take the intimidating aspect out of the gallery experience with a cup of tea and a friendly chat.
There's also the National Park's own acclaimed Inspired by… gallery, a showcase for art inspired by the landscape, life and colour of the North York Moors and dedicated to delivering a high quality and varied exhibition programme to suit all tastes.
Staithes' rich artistic heritage, dating back to the 19th century Staithes Group, continues to inspire artists today and has seen the emergence of the Staithes Festival of Art & Heritage where 100 picturesque fishing cottages become pop-up galleries and cafés for one weekend in September.
Find out more
Use the dropdown menu above to find more artists and makers, and where to purchase their work. Find more galleries here. For those wanting to be more hands on or develop their own artistic talents, see our ideas for workshops and experiences too.