Community Making Merry

Bella Cooke, textile and design artist could be exhibiting in galleries and likely making a lot of money, but her heart isn’t in it. She’s been there and done that. What she really loves is connecting like-minded people who like to make things with their hands and giving them a place to show their wares. With this in mind, she started up Seaford Handmade and Homemade Weekend Market, a thriving monthly event at the Seaford Scout Hall.

Growing up on a hobby farm in country New South Wales, Cooke was interested in all forms of art always making something. She loved cooking and sewing and learned her love of traditional craft through Girl Guides. In hands- on camps the girls lashed together temporary villages to make camping more functional and livable. There was nothing ‘girly’ about these camps; they were full-bore outdoor adventures. So ending up in the Seaford Scout Hall as her market’s home base is serendipitous.

Having loved art classes in high school, she decided to continue her studies. After completing a Bachelor’s Degree in Textiles and Design from Canberra School of Art, Cooke did the gallery circuit for ten years, but found she was more interested in aesthetic and process than in the theory and philosophy galleries often require their artists to articulate. She just wanted to make things and share with people. Her work in the public art sector was very satisfying in that respect.

Both her parents were teachers so it seemed a natural extension of her community spirit to teach. Cooke moved from Canberra to complete a Diploma of Education at Melbourne University.  She taught design and textile art in schools for a decade and loved it, but always had her own artistic practice, aptly named Make Merry, on the side. Wanting to share her work and that of other creative people, she and some locals started up the Little Village Market Elwood and Bank Street Market in South Melbourne.

Love swept her to Seaford. She and her husband, a writer, wanted to leave the city for a quieter life by the sea. Her previous experience in markets and conversations with market gardener neighbours inspired her to start a local craft market. “Word spread like wildfire,” she said. Now nearly twelve months on, she’s a well-loved member of her local community facilitating a place for other makers to share. All this is outside of her day job designing educational programs for day care centers.

Cooke makes many things, but the focus of her practice is print art making travel-poster inspired prints of iconic local suburb scenery. Each poster resonates a place where she has enjoyed the local experience from Elwood to Mornington and many points in between.  Her prints express the romance and nostalgia of a life well lived. For Cooke, her life and loves are all inter-connected.

As Cooke says, “A market is a cultural insight into that community.” See for yourself. The Seaford Handmade and Homemade Weekend Market takes place the third Sunday monthly at the Seaford Scout Hall (behind Seaford Train Station). Stalls are generally booked three months in advance, but if you’d like to have go, contact Cooke via facebook or View Cooke’s Make Merry line at