Archives for posts with tag: opening a gallery


Apologies for my tardiness.  I cannot believe how long it has been since my last post.  Please do forgive me. I am just so busy all the time!  Though I believe most people think that running a gallery seems to involve nothing more than sitting around looking glamorous, eating cakes and taking money (I wish),  there is rather more to it than that, as my recent work experience students can testify I’m sure!  Which reminds me of a story… However, I must not get distracted, so here we go with the next episode of the story of Cupola.

The Looming Supertram.

With support from my new mentor, David, I began to organise and curate shows, bring in new stock and manage the picture framing business more effectively.  I was essentially running two businesses on my own which meant I was working all hours of the day and night, and often 7 days a week.  Looking back now I cannot for the life of me work out how I did it, but I did.  My new husband did try to help at one point but it was pretty obvious that was definitely NOT going to work.  He,  I am sure won’t mind me saying, is about as practical as a, well, a completely impractical thing!

Amidst this, with me working very hard to build my business, I remember being approached by someone doing a survey about building what is now called the Sheffield Supertram.  Of course I didn’t really know what it was all about or have much of an understanding of what the construction work was going to mean for businesses in my area.  Fortunately for me, the small number of businesses around me had created their own little network called Middlewood Traders and they regularly got together to try to help improve things for members in the area. They even ran their own weekly raffle, it was great stuff.  Kate, one of the members who owned a transport cafe knew that she would go out of business; our road was going to be turned into a cul-de-sac for approximately three years. When I heard about this, I knew something had to be done and was absolutely determined that if I was going out of business I would go out because I did, not because someone or something else put me out.

So I decided that I needed to do something to raise the gallery profile significantly and I hatched a cunning plan …

My International Fashion Show

Please don’t ask me why I decided to try to host a fashion show in two domestic scale shop units and a back yard for my profile raising stunt,  I know it was a ridiculous, impractical and a slightly unhinged idea, but staying true to form that was what I decided to do.  It meant a crazy amount of work but I didn’t mind that and it did help me make some amazing new connections with some wonderfully talented people. I can’t remember the name of the woman now who offered to help with the PR side and my amazing friend and customer, Matthew, helped in a way that can only be described as utterly selfless, verging on the masochistic. He volunteered to help me start work at 5 am, painting the cellar ALL NIGHT, leaving him off his head with the fumes so that he couldn’t even manoeuvre a table out of the front door which he had offered to store!

I advertised the opportunity for artists through Artists Newsletter and local fashion colleges. I ended up being sent work from Italy and London as well as getting work from local fashion students.  The Crucible Theatre offered to do the sound and lighting for me for nothing and I borrowed a catwalk from a school.  We also used a local model agency for our catwalk models, who had to change in my basement, which was cleared and painted thanks to Matthew.

Through all this, it was painting the naked models in the yard which caught the eye of the national press.  I think they would have been even more delighted had there been a tin bath as well as my outside toilet, keen on depicting the northern stereotype.  Whereas the men in the bookies next door formed an orderly queue to take a peek out of the back window …

independent wed 14 july 93

Here is the coverage I managed to get in the Independent, and what elicited my ‘good girl’ postcard from my mentor and friend David Butterfield.

Despite it being a ridiculous idea I did get an astonishing amount of press coverage; I had 15 articles in the local press, coverage in the nationals and a good slot on local TV wearing a dress made out of the colour separation sheets from a laser copier. The TV appearance was great fun, naturally there were a few incidents too.  One of the models managed to give herself a massive black eye the day before the TV show and had to use stage make-up to cover it up and one of the male models refused to appear, however, I definitely understood why.  One of the fashion pieces was a denim bikini for a man, which he had been happy to model for our photos shoot (I WILL find that picture), but he had not been informed by the model agency that the TV wanted to shoot that particular piece. He therefore had told all his friends and family to watch, so when asked to model the “boy bikini” he refused.  The TV tried hard to persuade him as they were desperate to use the tag line “and now here’s a number for Richard Whitely on his holidays” .  Yes, it would have been great, but a ‘no show’ on that one I’m afraid.  It would have become a classic I’m sure.

Here are a few press cuttings from The Sheffield Telegraph.

Fashion by Russian artist for Cupola's fashion show.

Front Page of The Sheffield Telegraph.

Coverage in the local Sheffield Telegraph

Coverage in The Sheffield Telegraph

I do have images of some of the fashion items somewhere and I will post them when I find them.  We had the denim wear and also rubber wear(!) as well as other pieces.  I now know that you have to use talcum powder to get rubber wear on … You really do learn something new everyday!

We had a national competition winner’s dress, we had boys in bikinis, we were ahead of the times (Mankini?)  Bah! Girls stuff Heh! Heh!

The lovely, talented, and amazing Elton from ‘Hair by Christmas’ as it was called back then (now Betty Tigers) did all the hair styles for the models for free too.  The way people helped out and pitched in was just fantastic, it simply would not have been possible otherwise.

So, how did we actually manage to fit in a catwalk into the rather small space? Well … We built the catwalk around from one room to the other and out into the back yard where we erected a marquee!  ‘Marquee Mark’ did a marvellous job attaching part of the marquee directly to the wall of the building and securing another corner to the staircase that led to next door’s upstairs flat.  It did restrict their entrance, but I bought them a bottle of champagne to say ‘thank you and sorry’ for the inconvenience.

The event was two shows in one day, and believe me, that was enough.  I can only tell you how much work it all was and then suddenly it was over, but we did manage to pull it off, amazingly.  Everyone seem pleased with the event except one artist who had come up from London.  She was clearly expecting something else when she arrived, something far grander I presume.  I say that as she declined to allow her work to be used in the show.  It was a shame as it was lovely work and we had allocated a model to wear it, but it wasn’t to be.  I offered to pay her travel expenses but she declined and simply drove all the way back to London again.  Such is life.

Anyway, the strategy clearly worked in terms of profile raising as we got huge amounts of press coverage across newspapers, magazines, radio and TV.  The feature on local TV even managed to impress my in-laws; no mean feat I warrant you!  I suddenly became ‘Our Karen’.

Mission accomplished; my new status as ‘press friendly’ was to become invaluable as the Supertram works were looming, little did I know how valuable.

This fashion show, however unrealistic, time and cost inefficient, was the most amazing experience on so many levels.  I met wonderful, creative, generous people, learnt a huge amount and delivered something no-one really thought possible.  I am not sure I would ever do it again, but it made me ambitious, adventurous and maybe even more daring than I was previously.  With that under my belt I was ready to tackle anything!  Or so I thought …

Little did I realise that my biggest challenge was just about to start.

I’ll try not to leave it so long next time.

K x



Apologies for leaving it so long (again) but you know how it is. Life, the universe and everything gets in the way. But here I am, so let’s crack straight on!  I believe I left you all on a ‘cliff hanger’ at the end of my last post – well I like to think it was a cliff hanger anyway, so with no more ado I shall continue my story….

To briefly re-cap, a strange man walked brusquely into my gallery and without a word of introduction or warning offered me some help and advice, seemingly irrespective of whether I wanted any or not!

As I mentioned in my last post, this man turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me and to all extents and purposes became my mentor over the next 6 months (at least).  This man was ex-marketing director of London Weekend Television and had worked directly under Murdoch, he had also been a senior marketing executive for Nestle – he told me some amazing stories about that – and he had been head hunted to work for the MOD when he was just 17.  This man was a marketing GURU!

OH he was a pretty good illustrator and carved walking stick heads too!

He was also really rather odd.

His name?  David Butterfield.  And I am sorry but I really cannot find any photos of him.  I know I have an illustration he did of himself somewhere and I will try to find it to post on here. However, not withstanding any of this, I shall try to explain what happened and how he helped me so massively.

It was several weeks after our first encounter that ‘the strange man’ reappeared in my gallery.  This time he was in less of a hurry and actually came to have something framed (from what I recall).  We ended up chatting, or rather he asked me a lot of questions to which I responded.  He was curious about who I was and why I had done what I had done.  And this time it really was obvious that he wanted to help.  He was a lovely chap but pretty private about his own life though I did manage to get a bit out of him over time.

The reason he was back in his ‘old back yard’ as he called it, was because he was caring for his father who was suffering with Alzheimer’s. So, there were times when he spent quite a bit of time with me and times when he was back down in London working as a consultant.

So, how did this relationship develop?  Well, he started by asking me a LOT of questions.  There were the obvious, about my business and my values, but others were, well … surprising would be the polite way of putting it.  Intrusive would be closer to the truth and downright personal would be putting no finer point on it!  This man asked me questions that some of my best friends wouldn’t ask me.  However, before you think this man was just clearly a bit of a wierdo, he was very very smart and was working out how far he could push me, where my sensitivities lay, where I was strong and where I was weak.  He made me confront self esteem issues. He pushed me well outside of my comfort zones and damn well bullied me at times! Though whilst he was doing all this, he made me know he was doing all of it to help me and I understood.  He had just been working out if I was worth giving his time up for, and fortunately for me, he decided I was.  I can’t say it was a test because it wasn’t, but it was testing! Once this right of passage was completed he gave me about three months of his time almost solidly.  Right from the start he was very clear about the help he would give.  He said “I could tell you how I would run this business but then it would be my business not yours.”

He helped me understand things I needed, including that so much of business is a game and that you need to learn how to play it.  He talked about sexism, he talked about youth, he talked about me.  

  • He designed my first logo
  • He designed my first schedules
  • He designed my first artists’ profile leaflets
  • He explained what I needed to show the bank
  • He explained the press
Example of an early artist's profile

Me – with an artist’s profile! I used to find time to paint…

Inside the profile leaflet.

Inside the profile.

An early single page artist's Schedule.

An early single page artist’s Schedule.

The back of the profile leaflet.

The back of the profile leaflet.

An example of a fairly early quarterly schedule.

An example of a fairly early quarterly schedule.

Another fairly early schedule.

Another fairly early schedule.

A miniature version of the schedule for a miniatures exhibition.  David lent me the magnifying glass.

A miniature version of the schedule for a miniatures exhibition. David lent me the magnifying glass.

Inside the miniature schedule

Inside the miniature schedule

The front and back of a schedule

The front and back of a schedule

A photo of a relatively early schedule and some artists' profiles.

Early leaflets and schedules

A press collage made by David for use in my very first schedule.

A press collage made by David for use in my very first schedule.

I remember one day very clearly, after another in depth conversation, when he just stopped and looked at me and with a smile said;

” Mmm you don’t know you are, but you are!”

“What?” I almost screamed – he could be enormously infuriating.

“A game player.” He replied.

A simple utterance, I know, but one I have never forgotten.  This is the man that famously nick named me ‘The Art Tart’ and I have tried to live up to that ever since.

After the intensive three months of help and advice David would then disappear for months on end, occasionally re-appearing and demanding, yes, demanding,  to see evidence of what I had been up to.  I had to bring all the marketing material I had created, and all the press cuttings for him to view.  He would cast his critical eye over them, deliver his signatory ‘Good girl!” and turn on his heels and leave, and when I achieved a 1/3 page photo in the independent I actually received a congratulatory postcard from him!

What David gave me, in addition to the clearly practical help and advice, was the belief that I could do it.  He saw I was stubborn and had a passion for art and he gave me that extra push that comes from someone else believing in you.  His belief was a huge boost and I will never forget what he did for me.

Now, here is the sad part.  David died aged 47.  That’s only two years older than I am now. He never told me he was ill, though he did give me the means of finding out – which I did.  And I went to the funeral which nearly broke my heart.  Not because he had died, but because the man I heard the vicar talking about was not the man I knew.  He had hidden so much of his true self away. It was his choice, I knew that, but it hurt.

He was an amazing man, and I will never forget him.

But David left his legacy.  All the advice and help he gave me so freely and so generously was to prove invaluable as one of my most difficult periods running my business was about to hit….

The Sheffield Supertram NIGHTMARE!

Read all about it in my next thrilling instalment…..

K x


This is my second blog post and thinking about it there really is rather a lot to say.  I sat and had a chat with a lovely lady about it today and she was very keen for me to try to structure my posts a little more in order to possibly think about turning my story into a book at some point.  I have to say that this would be great, but I don’t want that thought to make me ‘precious’ about what I write on this blog.  I am not a ‘writer’, I just want to share my story as I get asked about it a lot.  So, no more stalling.  Here we go …

At the end of my first post, I said I opened a gallery.  Well, I did, but that sounds like I waved a magic wand and there it was, all shiny and ready to go.  This, of course, was far from the truth.  Clearly, I had to make the space ready and get some artwork into it!

I had agreed a lease on the shop next door to the picture framer’s I had just bought. At the time I took both premises on they were not connected, therefore, they needed to be joined in some way. Also, although the adjacent shop unit was empty it had previously been a haberdashery and prior to that a clock shop (I think) and lets just say the walls weren’t great. Come to think of it, nor was the floor.  So, I enlisted the help of my flat mate, Graham, and my new husband – yes, as newly weds we were still living in the shared student flat in which I had held my first contemporary art exhibition. Sorry, I digress.  Between us we put up lining paper on the walls and painted it white. I paid two local builders to create a new ‘door way’ into the second space.  They didn’t do a great job but then by the looks of them I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had simply pushed the wall down separating the two shops!  However, it was done and so I then had something that looked and felt more like a gallery space.

I now had two more very important jobs to do:

  1. Naming the gallery
  2. Putting a first show together.

What was I going to call my gallery?  I thought hard about this but was struggling to come up with anything I liked.  I did not want to name it after me as I found that rather egotistical – there is a slight irony here of course, but we won’t go into that now 🙂 . I did not want to name it after where I was located (Hillsborough) as I felt Hillsborough was so strongly related to the Sheffield Wednesday Football ground that people may assume that I might sell football related items. I didn’t want to call it the Middlewood Gallery -Middlewood was the name of the street but there was a well known mental health hospital, Middlewood Hospital, not far away.  I wanted something that sounded contemporary, didn’t encourage people to make assumptions about the kind of work I was going to exhibit, and had some connection to Sheffield.  Tall order?  Maybe, but when you have creative friends, anything is possible.

I, therefore, arranged to meet up with some friends, Helen and Mike, and between the four of us – my husband Chris was also there, we pawed over a dictionary and a thesaurus.  Eventually we landed on Cupola. At first glance, maybe, that word doesn’t seem to fit the brief, but on closer inspection, it definitely does.  Cupola, you see, is not just a dome but it is also the name of a dome shaped steel smelting furnace.  Aha!  So, we had found a word that had the connection to Sheffield, didn’t give an indication of the type of work the gallery might show, and made me think of ‘a melting pot of creativity’ – which is exactly what I wanted my gallery to be.  And a little added bonus, for me anyway, is that there never really has been a consensus on how you say it.  I emphasise the ‘O’ in the second syllable ie: CupOla, but I have been reliably informed by a number of ex steelworkers that it should be pronounced CUpola, with the emphasis on the first syllable.  I’m happy with either.

Cupola Gallery it was.

cupola definition

Then I needed a sign. I decided I wanted the letters cut out of steel as it seemed completely appropriate. I contacted someone I knew down at my studio, the old YASS – Yorkshire Art Space Society, in my search. An artist called Darren kindly agreed to undertake this task.  With that under way I needed to gather work for a show. I advertised for submissions via artists newsletter and via visiting the three artists’ studios spaces that were operating at that time. The response I got from my call for submissions was my first big shock!

I’m not sure exactly what I expected but I had presumed that Sheffield based artists would have been keen to have a brand new space to show and, potentially, sell their art work.  How wrong could I have been?  I was almost smacked in the face by a brick wall of negativity.

So many artists I talked to told me, quite matter of factly, that if I was opening a gallery in Sheffield it couldn’t be any good and if it was in Hillsborough, it definitely wouldn’t be any good.  I shall say right now that Hillsborough is North Sheffield and not what anyone might describe as the ‘posh’ side of town. Hillsborough has a strong working class district, affluent at times due to the steel works, but like most of Sheffield by 1991, it had seen better times.  I’m sure some of this negativity, which was at times downright hostility, may have been in part due to my young age, but I was still rather shocked and disappointed.  I had even been down to YASS, where as I previously mentioned, had my studio, in search of neighbouring artists support by asking other studio holders if they wanted to submit work for consideration.  Out of more than thirty studio holders, only one artist put work forward. Even Psalter Lane Art College of Sheffield Hallam, where I did my degree, was no help or support either.

However, I was not going to be deterred and through other contacts (I was a recent fine art graduate after all), responses from Artists Newsletter and a small handful of positive and enthusiastic artists, I got a show together.

Now, I know on first glance that a gallery set up in the recession of 1991 between a betting shop and launderette, around the corner from the Sheffield Wednesday Football ground, might not be most peoples ideal spot for a contemporary art gallery but it did create a flurry of interest from local people and from the local press, who were clearly both cynical and intrigued.

Both the press and the locals (I think) gave my venture about 6 months …

However, all the arguments people gave me as reasoning for not surviving did not make any sense to me!  Here are some of the most common reasons people gave and my answers – sometimes verbalised, sometimes not!

1. “It’s not really the right place for an art gallery is it?”

(ME) Why Not?

2. “Well, there’s no money in Hillsborough.”

(ME) What do you mean there’s no money?  People in Hillsborough buy food, clothes, cars, houses, books, music, kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms, go on holiday …  and of course surely my customers don’t have to just be from Hillsborough?

A NOTE FOR NON SHEFFIELD READERS:  It is well known that people in Sheffield do not ‘travel’ – across their own city that is.  If you live in an area, that’s where you live – why go anywhere else unless you need to?  In fact I still get phone calls from people saying that they know of the gallery but have never been because it’s too far  and when I ask them where they are calling from thinking Hampshire, Glasgow …  I am no longer shocked when they name another area of Sheffield.  Crazy – but that’s how it was and is!

3. “Ok, but they wouldn’t choose to spend their money on art.”

(ME) Oh!  Why is that? Surely, unless you give people a choice, how can people decide what they do and don’t like?  None of us are born eating Kellogg’s cornflakes and liking Walt Disney!

4. “You’ll see.  It’ll never last.”

(ME) I don’t believe you!

1991 press coverage

Well, as you know 22 years later and I’m still here … So NER!

And what is even more fantastic is that customers who first visited after reading the coverage in the local press all those years ago are still my customers today 🙂

Right I’m going to leave it there for now, but there’s plenty more including my ‘dream mentor’ who just walked in off the street and the ‘Supertram’ nightmare that turned the busy road on which I was located into a cul-de-sac for 3 years, forcing nearly 1/4 of the 94 shops in Hillsborough to close …

K x