York Open Studios artist Gerard Hobson’s York Minster Peregrine falcon screen print goes on sale at Minster shop from Saturday

York artist Gerard Hobson’s Peregrine screen print, commissioned by York Minster for sale at the Minster Shop in a print run of 150 from Saturday

YORK Open Studios artist Gerard Hobson has produced a limited-edition screen print of the York Minster Peregrine falcons for sale in the Minster shop from Saturday.

In the wild, Peregrines are to be spotted on sea cliffs and rocks, but they have taken to occupying city buildings too, not least a pair residing on the towers of northern Europe’s largest gothic cathedral, where Mr and Mrs Minster, as they are known affectionately, have bred successfully each year since 2017. This spring, they have returned once more to build a nest for the new breeding season.

Typically, the eggs are laid towards the end of March, hatching at the end of April. The young Peregrines fledge early in June, and remain around the Minster until late summer, although some may stay longer.

“York Minster’s Peregrines have a dedicated following, and the best bet for information is to look at the yorkperegrines.info website for the latest news and to follow the @YorkPeregrines Twitter feed for the latest sightings,” says Clifton printmaker Gerard.

Although “Mr and Mrs Minster” have been seen perched on each side of all three of York Minster’s towers, they are most often to be spotted on the north face of the north-west bell tower. This is best viewed from Dean’s Park, usually open to the public from around 07.30am to 7.30pm each day.

Dan Bugg at work on the screen print of Gerard Hobson’s York Minster Peregrine at Penfold Press

“The Peregrine is one of those unusual cases in which an iconic species has somehow successfully come back from the brink of becoming extinct in Britain and has somehow adapted to city living,” says Gerard.

“That’s such a positive outcome in what seems to be a rather gloomy time when so many things are being wiped out, so I’m delighted to have done this limited-edition print for York Minster.

“I look back to when I grew up in the 1970s, when Peregrine falcons were incredibly rare in the country, as with most birds of prey. One reason was that egg collectors were taking the eggs; another was because of a pesticide that got into insects, and at the top of that food chain was the Peregrine.

“The eggshell became thinner, so the eggs couldn’t survive the hatching stage when the parent sat on the nest. Fortunately, that pesticide was banned, and the Peregrine – the fastest bird in the world when it goes into a swoop – has made a remarkable comeback.”

Gerard’s regular artwork comprises hand-coloured, limited-edition linocut prints and cut-outs focused on nature and wildlife, inspired by the countryside around where he lives in York.

As well as prints and bird, animal, tree and mushroom cut-outs, he creates anything from cards, mugs, cushions and coasters to chopping boards, lampshades, tea towels, notepads and wrapping paper. Now comes his commission for a 50cm by 45cm print of York Minster’s male Peregrine, a work that has been a year in the making from roof visit to Minster delivery.

The art of concentration: York Open Studios artist Gerard Hobson in his Clifton studio

“The starting point was the fact that several cathedrals in the UK now have resident Peregrines, and the Minster caught on to the public’s interest in the birds as much as the building, leading to the website being set up,” he says.

“Two members of the Minster staff visited my shop [now closed] that I ran in the old Bulmers building on Lord Mayor’s Walk, and they thought, ‘would it be worth having some of my work for the Minster?’.

“My initial reaction was, I thought they’d got the wrong artist as I don’t do buildings! At first, they were talking about mugs and tea towels, but I suggested doing a print. They were up for it, and at that point I managed to convince them that I needed to go up on to the roof to see the Peregrines. Thankfully, I’m OK with heights!”

Gerard had the nest site pointed out to him.  “It’s around a corner where you can’t see it, where they’ve nested for the past five years, and now they’ve paired up again for this year. That’s wonderful news,” he says.

On the day of his visit last year, Gerard had the joy of seeing both birds in flight. “The female’s favourite perch is on a grotesque on the belfry window – grotesques don’t have waterspouts whereas gargoyles do – and as if on cue, she landed on the grotesque while I was there,” he says.

Work in progress: Dan Bugg transforming Gerard Hobson’s Peregrine from a linocut to a screen print

Gerard settled on designing a print of the male Peregrine perched on a grotesque against a backdrop of the Minster with the female in flight.

“I’d never done a screen print before, so I went to Penfold Press, Dan Bugg’s studio just outside Selby, which does York artists Mark Hearld and Emily Sutton’s prints [along with Ed Kluz, Jonny Hannah, Angela Harding, Clive Kicks-Jenkins, and more besides],” he says. “I took him the linocut and Dan worked on the screen print from there.

“Because I’d gone there, I really wanted to keep as many things as possible local, aside from the print being printed on Somerset Printmaking Paper [from St Cuthbert’s Paper Mill in Haybridge, Wells].

“The tubes for the prints come from a company outside Selby; Make Your Mark Rubber Stamps, in Goodramgate, have done the labels; the tissue for wrapping is from an independent business at Clifton Moor; Gillygate Framing is doing the framing for the print on display in the Minster shop.”

York Minster has acquired the entire 150 Peregrine print run for sale in the York Minster Shop and online at shop.yorkminster.org from Saturday, priced at £95.

“If you want to have it framed like the one in the shop, Gillygate Framers is only four minutes from the Minster,” says Gerard.

One of the 150-edition screen prints of Gerard Hobson’s York Minster Peregrine on completion at Penfold Press

A second framed Hobson Peregrine screen print went on display in the new York Minster Refectory to coincide with King Charles III and the Queen Consort’s official opening of the restaurant during Thursday’s visit for the Royal Maundy Service at York Minster.

The brasserie-style restaurant, in the converted Grade II-listed 19th-century Minster School, is taking bookings at yorkminsterrefectory.co.uk from April 20 when it formally opens to the public.

The restaurant will be run day to day by Joshua Brimmell, executive head chef of The Star Inn The City, in Museum Street, York, while he and Andrew Pern, the Michelin-starred restaurateur behind the Star Inn at Harome and The Star Inn The City, are overseeing the development of the menus and hospitality functions.

Later this month, Gerard Hobson will be opening his printmaking home studio at 51, Water Lane, Clifton, for York Open Studios on April 15, 16, 22 and 23, from 10am to 5pm each day.

Full details of more than 150 artists and makers taking part in the two weekends at 100 locations can be found at www.yorkopenstudios.co.uk. Work will range from ceramics, collage, digital, illustration, jewellery and mixed media to painting, print, photography, sculpture, textiles and wood.

Did you know?

IN keeping with many other birds of prey, the female Peregrine, charged with brooding duties, is significantly larger than the male, the fast-moving food collector. Just as Mallards are ducks and drakes, the female Peregrine is the falcon; the male, the tiercel or tercel.

REVIEW: Mikron Theatre Company in Atalanta Forever **** and A Dog’s Tale ***

Come on, Atalanta Forever: Elizabeth Robin, left, Thomas Cotran, Rachel Benson and James McLean, on commentary duty, in Amanda Whittington’s women’s football drama, at the Piece Hall, Halifax. Picture: Elizabeth Baker

Mikron Theatre Company in Atalanta Forever and A Dog’s Tale, on tour on boat, road and holding on to a lead until September 19

AFTER a Covid-cancelled year of no shows but resolute fund-raising to secure their future, Marsden’s Mikron Theatre Company are on their travels once more, giving plays the canal route treatment where possible aboard narrowboat Tyseley.

This should have been their 50th year of “theatre anywhere for everyone”, but those celebrations must wait until 2022. Nevertheless, the refreshing sight of company stalwart James McLean back on stage, in the company of fellow actor-musicians Rachel Benson, Elizabeth Cotran and luxuriant-haired Thomas Cotran, was cause enough to bring out the cheers at the Piece Hall press night for Amanda Whittington’s “fight for women’s football” drama, Atalanta Forever, in the Halifax open air.

Two nights later, and the same cast parked up at Scarcroft Allotments, in York, just as bushy tailed and bright eyed for the musical canine comedy caper A Dog’s Tale, Poppy Hollman’s debut professional commission after taking part in Mikron’s Writers’ Scheme in 2018.

Halifax, first. Noises off could be heard, nothing too distracting, not only from the bars around the Piece Hall but the peregrines that have taken over the Square Chapel gothic tower as their aerie. Then again, the players of Huddersfield’s Atalanta AFC women’s football team would have been used to crowds at fund-raising games for wounded soldiers, especially when playing the mighty Preston factory team Dick, Kerr’s Ladies FC, legendary gay star winger Lily Parr et al.

Thomas Cotran, left, Rachel Benson, Elizabeth Robin and James McLean in a scene from Atalanta Forever. PIcture: Elizabeth Baker

Parr was the first woman to be inducted into the National Football Museum Hall of Fame, her pioneering story being told on stage in both Benjamin Peel’s Not A Game For Girls and Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish’s Offside, a play football, feminism and female empowerment.

Little is known of Atalanta AFC, however, who played for only a couple of seasons from 1920 before folding in 1924. “All that remains is a fixture list, a few newspaper reports and precious team photos,” writes Whittington in her programme notes.

“Who are those pioneering women and girls,” she asks. “The silence around them gave us space to imagine who played for Atalanta and why? It also allowed me to draw on my experience in the long shadow of the FA ban [on woman’s football that ran from 1921 to 1971].”

Aged 11, Whittington was the only girl who played in a 1980s’ Nottinghamshire boys’ village tournament and was promptly advised to stop because it “wasn’t appropriate”. She still feels the injustice, the sense of shame of wanting to do something she was “not meant to”.

Playwright Amanda Whittington: “Atalanta Forever is my revenge play,” she says, after being told it “wasn’t appropriate” for her to be playing in a boys’ football tournament at the age of 11

Atalanta Forever is her revenge play, she says. Amanda has written 30-plus plays, from Be My Baby to Ladies Day, Bollywood Jane to Mighty Atoms, and this time it’s personal. But not too personal, and not too, too serious either.

Although written with a campaigning zeal for the female empowerment of these ground-breaking players of the Twenties, Atalanta Forever is irreverent too about the beautiful game that is often anything but that, typified by the opening Rules Of The Game song. Ruby Of The Rovers and Girl’s Own adventures meet Match Of The Day and John Godber’s Rugby League physical comedy Up’n’Under.

Atalanta AFC blue-and-white scarves knitted by Mikron supporters decorate the fencing – and were tempting to purloin as the second half turned chillier – as we learn of the back stories of Annie (Benson) and Ethel (Robin), one a fireworks factory worker, the other a tram driver, when they join the new team.

Into the story come the multi-role playing Cotran (as team captain Constance, radical coach Ms Waller, Huddersfield Town legend Billy Smith and more besides) and McLean (as scoffing groundsman Arthur, a disapproving mother and John Motson send-up, Motty Johnson).

MIkron Theatre Company performing Atalanta Forever to a socially distanced full house at the PIece Hall, Halifax

In Mikron tradition, Whittington’s play is as educative as it is entertaining, balanced between righteous ire and humour, football match highlights and life off the pitch. She weaves in accounts of being stopped from writing left handed, the fate of a conscientious objector, massive post-war unemployment and strikes and a mother’s scorn for suffrage and socialism, but at the same she revels in an impromptu match with beret-wearing French tourists and even a Boris Johnson cameo.

How else could the play end but with a tribute to Lily Parr, a cheer for women’s football now thriving and a “nod to the brave girls who carried on”. Atalanta Forever is a resilient triumph, from Whittington’s stirring writing to Marianne McNamara’s pacy direction, Kieran Buckeridge’s playful songs to a chameleon cast of multiple talents. Back of the net!

Two evenings later, it was sunnier by far as dog owners took their pooches along the lane beside the Mikron van at Scarcroft Allotments. Again, they had brought only the simplest of set designs with a rail for hanging myriad costumes, instruments and props to the side, a raised stage and no lighting.

One of the joys of a long Mikron summer is the chance to see the same cast tackling two plays (although, alas, the 2021 tour being restricted to outdoor performances means no Clements Hall show this year in York, so you will have to travel farther afield).

Actor-musicians Elizabeth Robin, left, Thomas Cotran, James McLean and Rachel Benson in Mikron Theatre Company’s A Dog’s Tale

After football in Atalanta Forever, McLean, Benson, Robin and Cotran head into another competitive environment, the Cruft’s dog show, in A Dog’s Tale: cat-loving Poppy Hollman’s look at canines past and present, Cruft’s now and Cruft’s when started by cat-owning Charles Cruft, a suitably dogged late-19th century showman of Barnum instincts, puppy-keen to take on the stuffy Kennel Club.

The bond between people and their ‘best friends’ is ever present, ever enduring, even if shenanigans and skullduggery blight the competition in Hollman’s tale, one informed by her visit to Cruft’s in the name of an intrigued novice’s research.

History combines with a little mystery, a sense of mischief with an outsider’s initiation, in the world of “heroic hounds, pampered pooches and naughty nobblers”, as Benson’s Linda and her wayward rescue mutt, Gary, find themselves pursued by security through the halls of Crufts, accused of a “terrible crime”.

Robin and McLean have much fun as Margo and Carl, unbearably precious, ever-panicking, regular Cruft’s competitors; Cotran reels off all manner of accents in a multitude of roles; McLean twinkles as Cruft and has the best cameo in a spoof on Barbara Woodhouse.

Don’t be misled by the dog! A Dog’s Tale playwright Poppy Hollman is really a cat lover

Hollman challenges her cast with 20 characters between them, and in her first full-scale play, the characters and caricatures are her strongest suit, along with her sense of fun, both sharper than the dialogue and the slightly clunky storyline involving Gary’s crime and the naughty nobbler.

By comparison with McNamara’s Atalanta Forever, Rachel Gee’s direction has to work harder to maintain momentum and maximise the humour, but the performances are typically energetic, inventive, engaging and diverse, and the one scene with interloping cats is a gem of physical comedy and knowing contrast with the otherwise omnipresent dogs, topped off by a Dogs V. Cats rap battle.

Musical director Rebekah Hughes’s compositions for Hollman’s smart lyrics are a blast and Celia Perkins delivers fabulous costume designs that accentuate character superbly. The stiff dog’s leads with simply a collar where the head would be (rather than puppets) are particular favourite among the props.

Ultimately a little overstretched, the eager-to-please A Dog’s Tale nevertheless has much to enjoy, announcing a new talent in Hollman with the tools to take her comedy writing to the next level.  

For the full tour itineraries and booking details, go to: mikron.org.uk. P.S. Dogs are welcome at most performances of A Dog’s Tale.

Catty comment: Thomas Cotran, Elizabeth Robin and Rachel Benson’s moggies revel in their show-stealing cameo in A Dog’s Tale