Under new Director, Jane Fenn, Rye Art Gallery , which faced an uncertain future and possible closure last year, has planned a fascinating programme for 2015. Currently showing is a display of personal favourites from the permanent collection, chosen by staff and friends of the Gallery. This illustrates the strength of the Gallery collection – over 400 paintings and three dimensional works. From Saturday March 28, the much-loved local artist, Richard Adams, gives us “Rye in the Sky”, inspired by his home town and environs. If you’ve seen the short film at the new Kino cinema you’ll have an idea about this exhibition.
Adam’s immense national popularity is easily understood, says Fenn. “It must surely be down to his wonderfully playful depictions of all the good things in small town rural life, where past and present merge to create a halcyon age where friends, family, literary characters, scantily clad ladies and their dogs gambol up the hill or down to the sea for a rustic picnic with something perhaps a little stronger in their thermos flasks.”
At the same time – in the upstairs galleries – there will be an invited group from the Rye Society of Artists presenting a selling show. This spring show will be an excellent opportunity to appreciate (and buy) work from a prestigious group of local artists.
In May two exhibitions – “The Garden”(May 16 – June 21) and “Graham Clarke” – will tune in to early summer. “The Garden” features Hastings sculptor Leigh Dyer; Louisa Crispen’s fine botanical drawings, and Louis Turpin and Claire Mitchell’s outdoor oil sketches all celebrating this glorious time of year. Meanwhile, in Gallery 4 (at the top of the stairs), Graham Clarke, one of Britain’s best local print makers, depicts rural life through the eyes of the common man with warmth, detail and humour. At the same time, in Gallery 6 (at the top of the building) “Flowers, Trees and Green Things” will focus on paintings from the permanent collection. This will include works by Diana Low, Mary Stormont and two beautiful still lives by an unknown 17th century Dutch artist. We also hope to repair the impressive oil painting “Flowers from a Surrey Garden” by Eileen Easton.
As well as the chance to buy, browse or be inspired by these displays the Rye Gallery shop always offers a large varied selection for sale. This includes ceramics, both decorative and useful, jewellery, a wide range of paintings, scarves and many other carefully chosen, mostly local, works for sale at a wide price range. The Gallery is now open at the same times as most shops in Rye, including Sundays. Please look out for the publicity about events for the second half of 2015, and for more details of individual exhibitions.
Trustees report upturn in Gallery’s fortunes
Kenneth Bird writes: The Gallery faces a brighter future was the message to the Friends of Rye Art Gallery (FRAG) , delivered by trustee Andrew Ashton at this month’s Annual Meeting. The cost of re-modelling the Gallery (finished in 2010) had seriously depleted reserves, down from £400,000 in 1992 to only £30,000 in 2012, necessitating a root and branch review of finances.
Moreover the retail side had been losing money and was draining cash at the rate of £300 a week. A decision to close however was avoided in 2013 with the help of two selling shows by Richard Adams and David Crew together with the review of operating costs which all helped to stabilise the cash situation. Following a management restructuring Jane Fenn was appointed as the gallery director in August 2014 and the past few months’ trading has been particularly strong helping to consolidate the trust’s financial situation, although it is by no means clear of danger and much reliance continues to be placed upon the success of the retail sales.
The trustees’ forward strategy combined the preservation of the permanent collection with a drive to expand the retail business through extended opening hours and sales of cards and non-art items. Cost-savings would be achieved through LED lighting and a more efficient telephone system ; and an Arts Council ‘resilience grant’ would be sought in the autumn to develop the website and improve the gallery’s retail attraction. Proposed flat accommodation would generate further income, though this was some way into the future, warned Michael Miller, chairman of the gallery’s trustees.
His optimism about the gallery retaining its place as an integral part of the local cultural scene was demonstrated by the recent purchase at auction of a portrait of Margaret Barnard, who lived in Rye with her husband fellow artist Robert MacKechnie from 1934 until her death in 1992, and whose work is already represented in the gallery. This acquisition had been made possible through the support of the Friends.
Paddy Harvey, chairman of FRAG, outlined some of the highlights in store for the 389 FRAG members in 2015. These will include another visit to the Pallant Gallery in Chichester to see the Sickert exhibition, sponsoring a talk for the Rye Arts Festival , and a possible visit to Salisbury in October. Friends’ donations had enabled the purchase of a new computer for the gallery manager, and a printer for use in preparing newsletters as well as new art acquisitions. He thanked his committee and all the volunteers whose support was both vital and well appreciated.
Linda Harland is a Trustee of Rye Art Gallery