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    Jamie Gallagher

Behind the scenes at The Whittox Gallery

We’ve been catching up with some of Frome’s businesses and shops this year, and recently checked in with the team at RISE – the newly rebranded Hubnub Centre which is home to the marvellous Rye Bakery, and a rather beautiful gallery space.

Now known as the Whittox Gallery, the space can be found in the mezzanine of Rise, which overlooks the Rye Bakery and is home to year-long programme of contemporary art. We chatted to Sarah Robson, a former textile archivist who is Rise’s centre manger and curator for the Whittox Gallery, about her vision for the space and what you can expect for the rest of 2019.

Hello Sarah! Tell us a bit about your own background and what brought you to join the team at Rise?

I moved back to Somerset 8 years ago for a greener life for my daughter, and to be closer to my family after living in London leading a very busy career in the Fashion and textiles industry for 13 years. I ran a textile archive, traveling all over the world selling and sourcing vintage textiles, inspiring designers and companies like Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Abercrombie & Fitch with beautiful prints for their collections. I came to Frome wanting to create another textile studio, but instead found myself enjoying motherhood and running a businesses selling the work of my mother, the artist Julia Manning. 

During this time I became great friends of the owners of Rise, Ed & Io, and was delighted to have shared their adventure of buying and renovating this beautiful building for us all to enjoy. They needed a manager for their business here at RISE who would also be able to create a gallery space for the upstairs mezzanine of the former church. I jumped at the chance! That was 2 years ago and haven’t looked back.

You’re in charge of curating and managing all of the exhibitions, and there have been some great ones recently! What’s your process for seeking out exhibiting artists?

I find it more exciting reacting to artists work and creating shows months ahead rather than years in advance as some galleries do. I have found artists through word of mouth, past artists’ recommendations and even Instagram. So far we have hosted mainly solo shows but I’m hoping to curate some group shows in the future. I am lucky to have an artist as a mother, and have been around artists all my life, which has given me a great platform to work from.

What have been your highlights so far this year? Are there any artists / exhibitions that have proved especially popular with the public?

It has been a delight to work with all of my previous and current artists and to be part of a very personal experience of showing their work. All of our shows are unique in style and we don’t want to be pigeonholed for one particular style of contemporary art. Our most popular show with the public was our recent show ‘Pine Feroda’, beautiful large-scale woodblock prints based on the sea and landscape that have also been shown in The Royal Academy of Art, a great buzz to bring such talent to our gallery. Jamie Gallagher’s solo show, ‘Post Normality Reality Disorder’ was also a very powerful and an emotional show for lots of people.

The gallery is part of Rise and is housed in a beautiful building (formerly the United Reformed Church for those who are yet to visit). What are the advantages and challenges to programming exhibitions in such a dramatic space?

The space is definitely challenging, but it’s a happy challenge as it’s such a unique space, with beautiful light from the windows and huge expanse of wall. We have the opportunity of showing really large pieces of art that other galleries in the area might not have the space for. We want visitors to the rest of the building, and to the Rye Bakery [which sits on the ground floor below] to look up and be drawn to go upstairs;  the gallery adds a great atmosphere as a whole in our shared space here at Rise. It’s a place to work, eat and socialise whilst being surrounded by beautiful art in a very relaxed environment. 

What’s next for the gallery?

We are very excited for our upcoming show ‘Semi-Precious’ a solo show of Devon based artist Mark Jessett. He paints on carefully selected papers in fine films of colour, creating mineral and jewel-like forms. I wanted a bright and colourful show for the summer months and it will be a real feast for the eyes; I felt a strong connection with his amazing colourways pushing boundaries with relationships of colour. The private view will be on the first night of the Frome Festival on July 5th – 6.30pm onwards. I always like to create a special evening, alongside Rye Bakery’s pizza night, so that the whole space becomes alive for the evening. We host a great evening with yummy canapés and a glass of wine for those that come along to enjoy meeting the artist have a sneak preview of the show that opens to all on the 6th of July carrying on until the 1st of September.

Finally – we’ve been asking all our interviewees about their dream day off! Tell us what your ideal day out in Frome would be.

This is a hard one as so many wonderful places to visit and hang out here! It would be to be able to read a book in one of our many independent cafes watching the world go by, bumping into friends as you can’t go anywhere here without bumping into someone you know, perusing the fabulous Catherine Hill and Cheap Street shops, going to our local cinema for a film with a glass of wine and then hanging out with friends drinking rhubarb G&Ts in one of our local bars. 

Thanks Sarah! For more information please the shiny new Whittox Gallery website: www.thewhittoxgallery.com or follow them in Instagram @thewhittoxgallery