Two artists brought together by debilitating health conditions are hoping to inspire people to develop their own artistic bent in Kingsbridge.
Artist Anna Ventura and designer Laura Winser became friends during their pregnancies at the height of the Covid pandemic, and when their health began to wane.
Until recently Ms Ventura, whose background is in fine art, specialised in creating complex ink drawings.
However, when she fell ill with a rare neurological disorder, she was forced to close her art gallery. Her condition almost made her quit her to work, too.
“I lost a lot of dexterity and there was a point when I couldn’t hold a pencil,” she said.
Doctors subsequently diagnosed her disease as a possible case of transverse myelitis, which affects the spinal cord and causes numbness among the symptoms.
Her debilitating condition also made her reconsider her approach to art, so she branched out into ceramics as well as creating less physically demanding drawings.
Almost simultaneously, Ms Winser, an intensive care nurse by profession, began noticing that she was losing her hearing after returning to work after being on maternity leave during lockdown.
She was then diagnosed with Cochlear Hydrops, a disorder that also causes tinnitus, and which could eventually force her to leave work.
The two were also faced with a similar domestic situation as their families are based far from Devon and whose support they cannot readily count on (Ms Winser’s family is in the Outer Hebrides while Ms Ventura comes from Barcelona, Spain).
But their shared experience, although harrowing, helped them to forge a close bond.
“Laura saw me at my worst. I couldn’t drive for ages and I shrank as a person. I wasn’t sure if I’d be an artist again. It makes you question who you are, but I don’t want to give up my art,” said Ms Ventura, who rediscovered a new skill making ceramics.
“We just relied on each other – we give each other confidence,” Ms Winser added.
When a small industrial unit became free in Kingsbridge, the two decided to join forces and start an arts and crafts workshop, where people can also contribute their own projects to the group. They have also opened a website shop to sell their work.
Ms Ventura said: “We have a lot of skills that inter-connect. We can look at it from the point of view of offering self-development rather than just trying to do a business.”
Despite the uncertainty over their condition, Ms Ventura said her disease was now more manageable, thanks to better medication.
“I live in pain but it’s now acceptable,” she said, adding that the lesson she learned was to “cling on to silver linings”.
You can join a workshop at The Garden Mill studio via its website https://www.gardenmillstudio.co.uk/workshops/