The Gallery, Slaithwaite: ‘Ten’ - A Birthday Exhibition
Slaithwaite, nestled amongst the dramatic moorland beauty of the Colne Valley, has undergone a profound transformation over the course of the last decade or two. Once dominated by its monolithic mills, themselves serving the ravenous appetites of the industrial revolution, ‘Slawit’, as it’s known by locals, slumbered somewhat having exhausted itself for the benefit of myriad textile barons and their rapacious ilk.
The village whilst ever warmly welcoming, boasted no more than the essentials for contented community life: several public houses, a bakery, a butcher, and a small selection of retailers catering to quotidian need, rather than cosmopolitan pleasures.
With its picturesque canal and sleepy charm, it welcomed walkers and drinkers alike with gregarious gusto. Cafés and coffee shops sprung up like daisies, soon followed by a plethora of diverse eateries in a bid to accommodate an increasing flow of ever more discerning visitors.
With house prices rising exponentially in Leeds and Manchester, Slaithwaite became attractive to commuters, offering them a quasi-bucolic lifestyle, made both affordable and possible by dint of the excellent railway service connecting the village to its metropolitan cousins.
Property developers accommodated an influx of incomers, themselves catalysing an ever-bourgeoning array of shops and services, all eagerly meeting the needs of city folk with urban tastes and sophisticated predilections.
Unlike innumerable hamlets, villages and once shabby urban enclaves throughout the land, the hideous perils of gentrification have not befouled Slaithwaite’s inveterate charm, or the unpretentious authenticity of its original denizens. Surprisingly, modern cosmopolitan tastes have magically fused with the indomitable Yorkshire grit and grace of the village’s local population. Both communities have found a simpatico, enabling Slaithwaite to retain its identity, despite seismic changes in its topography and population.
Having received an invite to attend an art exhibition at The Gallery, Slaithwaite
in celebration of its tenth birthday, I gladly accepted and confidently anticipated a pleasant afternoon of wine, nibbles, and fine art.
It was not long before I realised that The Gallery
and the woman behind it, Wendy Town, not only graphically epitomised Slaithwaite’s cultural and commercial transformation, but both she and her gallery were also indispensable forces underpinning Slaithwaite’s effervescent regeneration.
Wendy has lived in Slaithwaite for twenty-seven years and she’s a dyed-in-the wool local. On the day of her fiftieth birthday, a career spent in design and product development within the paper industry lost its grip on Wendy’s indefatigable energies.
Having been surrounded for years by highly gifted artists, themselves callously disregarded despite their unequivocal talents, Wendy made a life-changing decision – “to create a space where local artists and makers could sell their works”.
Bravely sinking her savings and soul into the venture, Wendy secured the tenancy on a 2000 sq ft building in the centre of the village, itself once owned by the Co-op and operated as a corn mill. She and her husband Chris renovated the dilapidated space in pursuit of their goal, irrepressibly driven by the desire to support the local artistic community by bringing its diverse wares to the local community, and Slaithwaite’s many visitors.
Curating over one hundred makers and artists drawn from the local community, Wendy has seen her business grow organically, rather than by spreadsheet design. Her ensemble of suppliers must each meet her criteria, namely that their work is of exceptional quality and reflective of Slaithwaite’s community and its landscape. Inclusive, supportive and passionate, Wendy and her small team champion local creativity in all its forms and “bring it to normal people at affordable prices”.
The business operates on three integrated fronts across its capacious, well-lit footprint. An attractively presented gift shop sells locally made homeware, textiles, glasswork, bags and exquisite jewellery, together with a miscellany of highly desirable local artefacts and objet d’art.
The gallery space at the centre of the business showcases fine and folk art produced by local artists. Landscapes rub shoulders with a diverse spectrum of works ranging across the full spectrum of artistic outpouring. Fine ink and pencil sketches, alluring acrylics, delicate ceramics, finely turned wood, felt and photography all find expression upon the gallery’s tall, whitewashed walls. Stunning multi-media sculptures grace wooden trestle tables, with everything displayed without a hint of intimidating mystery, or pretension.
The third leg of the business, or ‘Marketplace’ is the preserve of Wendy’s brother, himself a highly gifted furniture maker. Customers can purchase beautifully renovated or re-styled vintage pieces from sideboards to seating, whilst also having much loved heirlooms given a dazzling makeover.
All images by Paul Spalding-Mulcock
Commissions are also undertaken, enabling clients to have their personal tastes brought to life with consummate artisanal skill. Once again, local crafts and materials render the pieces both unique and culturally significant, a theme running through The Gallery
’s entire oeuvre.
Wine in hand, I met an artist who had been a supplier of The Gallery
since its inception a decade ago to the day, Alan Dalgetty. His acrylic landscape on display had hints of Peter Brook, but rendered in the variegated hues beautifying the local moors. It captivated my attention, as did the authenticity of his comment upon being a local artist, “You are forever chasing the light in Yorkshire, and being chased by the weather!”. Influenced by Brook, Geoff Beaumont and Trevor Stubley, Dalgetty’s work seemed to symbolise the spirit of The Gallery
itself…locally inspired, never mimetic, made with love and rather beautiful.
With Wendy at the helm, The Gallery
can confidently expect its second decade to see it further embedded into the cultural, creative and commercial fabric of Slaithwaite’s close community. Though Wendy humbly believes that she, “facilitates, whilst the local artists produce the wonderful things we sell to the people”, I suspect something else. Places such as The Gallery
could never exist without founders like her, and I left the exhibition thanking God that they do!