Wellington has an art gallery once again. Red Hat Gallery has opened in the rebuilt Cornhill fish shop, destroyed by fire three years ago. Proprietor Wendy Wilkins saw a gap in Wellington’s market when she was looking for a gallery site and liked “the scale of the place”, its unique centre and the presence in the town of independent shops..
With its clean cream paint and red brickwork it’s an inviting new look for Cornhill and a valuable addition to the town’s already commendable range of independent outlets. The ancient archway and Victorian lamp tempt shoppers towards the gallery which already seems to be the right outlet in the right place – new and old in harmony.
This individuality provides a perfect match with the shop’s contents – paintings, prints, ceramics, sculptures, jewellery, lights, mirrors, furniture and greetings cards – predominantly work by Somerset artists. The success of the recent ‘pop-up’ gallery selling works by local artists provided evidence that the venture had a real chance of success.
Wendy’s extensive knowledge of the strong local artists’ scene, prior experience of owning similar outlets in Wiveliscombe and Taunton and a genuine interest in art are all being brought to the project.
Her partner in the gallery, Claire Rice, adds her experience as a painter to the venture, not least as resident artist at the Barbican in Plymouth. In an innovative approach to attracting visitors and revealing how paintings are made, she will share the easel as artist-in-residence in the gallery with Kate Burrows. And watching works being created in situ is something we might see more of in the future. Already there are plans to expand the retail space to exhibit larger works, to display sculptures down the side-alley and to make space for a potter and kiln.
Local people would probably like to see a whole street of vibrant phoenixes rising from the ashes of Cornhill but the Red Hat Gallery is a fine start. It adds to its charm and is another welcome addition to the town’s range of unique outlets. Customers will find something to suit most pockets from small gifts and cards to larger artworks – all unique and all made locally. There are antiques too – also sourced locally. The works on display are lively and attractive – and not dauntingly obscure. Here the paintings are to buy, not to study.
There is an impressive range of decorative pieces too without seeming to clutter. Those with a hankering for nostalgia will even find a small fish above the window as a tribute to the shop’s former use. Giving such a boost to the street and town and to Somerset’s artists, it deserves to be successful.