The First ... 25 Years

It seems ages since we mounted the initial low-key exhibition here, sowing the seed for The First Gallery, but the 25 years have just flown by. Over the years we can count over 150 exhibitors (excluding a lot of unnamed Ones) and have welcomed perhaps ten times that number of visitors (and that's ignoring the numbers of repeat-visits!) Because our primary concern is about people, we remain small and personal, extending into the wider world only by our national touring exhibitions and the odd "foray" to other venues.

We don't and probably can't define the reason for our success. By and large we still stand by the principles we set out with and they simply seem to work: we get to know the makers first; we never buy into stock anything we didn't wish to own ourselves (so while certain items inevitably slip into our personal Collection (!), it also means we display our own taste: our enthusiasm for it is from the heart); where we can, we still select in the makers' own workshops: such interaction makes the "business end" more enjoyable (we hope) both for them and us. We wish professionally made craftwork and art to be seen in a contemplative human-sized setting; we do not resort to sales patter - the only pressure truly is your own temptation - and when you come to see us, we will engage with you if you want to talk, or leave you to browse in peace if you don't; we're flying a flag for committed creative work without compromising standards or relying on sponsorship. We'd love you to come along and celebrate with us. The First Gallery would not exist without your support.

All our maker-friends are special to us, but the potter Alvin Betteridge was our sole invited exhibitor for the very first "Christmas Exhibition" (early on, we only had one show a year) and has exhibited here every year since. Supportive co-founder of the Gallery, Geoff Clarke would magically transform the hall area for the early shows into amazing spaces for children to entertain themselves in (while stressed parents could look around in relative calm!) One year he created a series of papier-mâché caves, another year a huge ark, another a circus and lastly, for several later shows, a multi-purpose house which could be folded away for "hibernation" each year. It was Geoff who dealt with the hidden technical essentials: designing and making display-fittings, setting up the lighting and knocking picture-hooks into so many different places in the walls, he'd protest that they couldn't withstand any more holes! In addition, he made doll's house rooms and miniatures, silver & enamel jewellery and wooden puzzles for our shows. It's sadly ironic that this "man of silver" did not live to see our 25th Anniversary event. It would be unthinkable not to represent him, so there is a special display of his work. As they say: "behind every successful [man] venture is an exhausted woman"... so, without the vision, dedication, drive, and, yes: even the stamina of Margery Clarke (who wouldn't dream of blowing her own trumpet) there would never have been the first exhibits, the idea of sharing them with others, the meeting with people who inspired us to do it, etc. etc., all of which has led to

1974    25 years of    1999


The First Gallery

Our Silver Jubilee is not calculated from the earliest shows at "The First" in 1968/9, which featured decorative work by Eric Meadus and the Clarke family. Personal reasons made us miss the 30th anniversary of the very first Christmas-oriented exhibition. In 1970, Eric Meadus' untimely death put paid to future plans to share our creative efforts with an uncomprehending public. These events were not an unqualified success: our wares were too imaginative for their time (the crafts 'boom' was yet to come) and the only publicity was literally word of mouth! Back then this was the best we knew: however, we learned ...

What became The First Gallery's 'ANNUAL EXHIBITION' resumed in 1974, also in early December. The new venture was an overview of the craftspeople whose work we'd collected during that year. We object to the idea of Xmas "starting" in Autumn, so we clung to having the show at least finish in December. Kicking and screaming, we bowed to the inevitable. Changes in Xmas shopping habits impinged on us only slowly: in 1987 we reduced the show to a week and, taking on board clients' suggestions for an earlier start-date, moved it, apparently revitalised, to its current"mooring".

While we had always managed to make our calendar's flagship fortnight" look different each time (our regulars would remark on it) after 15 years the pattern of the show was changing, mostly with solo exhibitions. It's invigorating, ten years on from this, to revisit the old "showcase" format and address the challenge of creating a cohesive display from the diversity of our longtime exhibitors (by 1984, when The First Gallery launched fulltime, all those in the top half of the list overleaf had been with us for at least a year).

Because art need not be forbidding, the seemingly incongruous children's play-area was arranged as the welcome-hall, deliberately: the unchallenging entrance led to more serious work beyond. (Even now, a gallery in a lived-in house is rare enough. Back in the 70s we had to look extra-professional to avoid unfavourable comparison with established pukka galleries. We like to think that, without being coolly distant, we have achieved this).

Those more familiar with us, who've "oooh'd & aaah'd" over the pots in our kitchen, know that we practise what we preach. There's nothing superior, intellectual or mysterious (however much some people try to make it so) about having art or craftwork in your home, even in daily use: in many cases, that's exactly what it's for! Potters aren't precious about their work: if it gets bust, Great!" ... they'll just have to make you a new one, won't they?

We hope all our shows reflect the enjoyment we derive from choosing and setting up the exhibits and that you feel enriched by your visits. Most of our artists and makers have chosen to live by the work of their hands, hearts and brains, in full knowledge that it might deprive them of material luxuries. These are dedicated people, who manage to survive while finding satisfaction from this way of life. They deserve your support.

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