New Craftsman Gallery, St Ives – March 2011

Gallery of the Month Feature, Cornwall Today March 2011.

The New Craftsman, purportedly the longest running gallery in St Ives, is undergoing an exciting transformation.  The latest phase in this gallery’s long relationship with St Ives and its artists will see an evolution of the space itself, alongside a dynamic new programme of exhibitions.

A fascinating history is encased within The New Craftsman’s thick granite walls, which date back to a time when the cellars of Fore Street housed donkeys and fishing boats, rather than storage space for galleries, restaurants and shops.  Its door and windows would have originally looked out onto the harbour itself, where they no doubt would have been battered by the occasional storm.

As a gallery, the New Craftsman was originally owned by Janet Leach, and specialized in the finest examples of craftsmanship, especially pottery and studio ceramics. As time passed it became one of the most important spaces for contemporary painters in St Ives, a real bastion of the local scene, nurturing the reputations of figures such as Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Bryan Winter, Patrick Heron and Peter Lanyon.

Ylenia Haase has for the past three years been injecting new energy and life into this historically importance space.  “Taking the helm here was the beginning of an incredibly exciting period for me,” says Ylenia, who has worked hard to bring stimulating exhibitions to the elegant gallery space upstairs.  Downstairs the gallery had remained a naturally evolving treasure trove of St Ives art from the past fifty years; a living museum showing the forging of artistic alliances and the weaving of strands of influence and style.

Yet the need for rejuvenation is constant.  In order to preserve its relevance for contemporary artists and audiences, Ylenia decided to embark on a project to improve the downstairs gallery.  By opening the space out and introducing more natural light, Ylenia hopes to create a newly engaging experience for visitors.  “We are opening a fresh chapter in the gallery’s history, but it won’t entail a negation of that history.  We want people to re-engage with the development of St Ives art, right up to the present.”

Alongside hand made jewellery by makers such as Guy Royle, a central focus in the freshly designed downstairs gallery will be ceramics.  This is a nod to the New Craftsman’s heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, when gallery records show that sales of Leach and Hamada were its daily bread.  Now the gallery will stock the new, sought-after range, of Leach Standard Ware.  Limited edition prints of Leach’s etchings (the plates were discovered after his death and are the subject of a recently published book by Simon Olding) are also for sale.  Contemporary ceramicists will also feature and are sure to show the continuing influence of the Leach Pottery today.

Upstairs, Ylenia has a succession of solo shows planned, including David Pearce, Emma Jeffryes, Lucy Bray, Neil Davis and Matthew Lanyon.  The gallery will also continue to show the work of artists such as Bryan Pearce, Breon O’Casey, Terry Frost and Wilhelmina Barns-Graham.  “We are linking the history of St Ives with the present day,” says Ylenia.  The rejuvenation of this gallery is sure to usher in an exciting new era in its long history, ensuring the continuing relevance of this historic space for many years to come.