Florence Paintmakers is a small cooperative based in West Cumbria producing hand-made artists’ materials from the haematite of Florence Mine, Egremont. This mine was renowned for the quality of its ore and was the last deep haematite mine in Western Europe when it closed down in 2008. The old shower block building has now re-emerged as an Arts Centre and in 2010 artist Mat Do was commissioned to undertake its first residency. One outcome was a proposal to develop an innovative local business using the high-quality red iron oxide as a basis from which to make a range of artists’ materials.
Four Cumbrian artists, Jill Davis, Margie Foots, Jenni Payne and Liz Redmayne volunteered to experiment with paint-making formulae to create a niche range of high-pigment art materials. They are embracing traditional paint-making methods and locally-sourced materials at a time when artisan products and natural materials have acquired premium status. In their own practice they have a sound understanding of the techniques and applications of different paints but they have also sought specialist advice from other artists and from a local expert in geology and mineralogy.
The group was keen to set up a cooperative to establish the business and was supported in this by the Cooperative Enterprise Hub. Florence Paintmakers Limited achieved registration in December 2012. A purpose-designed paint-making workshop and studio was then established in the former shower rooms. Paint production began in 2013 and the entire enterprise is staffed by enthusiastic volunteers. It is hoped that when the business becomes more established a Modern Apprentice will be employed, whose services they will share with the Centre. This local initiative reflects the philosophy and traditions of Ruskin and the Mechanics’ Institute Movement in its development of locally-based creative activity and the setting up of subsequent micro-businesses.
All publicity material, website design, packaging and labelling has been designed by Richard Davis, a Cumbria-based graphic designer. He has created a special font for the group to use in promotional materials and packaging. This emphasises the unique nature of the product and takes inspiration from the Arts and Crafts movement. He has also taken advantage of the opening of the Britain’s Energy Coast Fab Lab (fabrication laboratory) facilities at Createc in Cockermouth, to create packaging from recycled materials.
By the end of 2013 Egremont Red paints were available in art shops and galleries throughout Cumbria as well as on the new website. In 2014, following on from the successful sales of watercolour and oil paint, new products such as pastels and inks are being researched and developed. Alongside this, new colours derived from local pigments are being sourced. There is now a grey derived from slate mined by Burlington Slate quarries and a yellow found in the St Bees area. Both colours complement Egremont Red perfectly.