WHEN she set up the Cupola Gallery in Hillsborough in 1991, Karen Sherwood was not short of advice.
“It’ll never work,” “Is it the right place for an art gallery?” “Good luck, you’ll need it!” “Do you sell anything?”
“These are a few of the common phrases, some of which are still regularly uttered by visitors to Cupola Contemporary Art, as it is now called, which established itself – uniquely I believe – between a betting shop and a laundrette and round the corner from a football ground,” she recalls.
However, 20 years and 10,000 artists later, Cupola is still going and drawing artists from all over the world as well as from all over the region.
The Cupola these days is deceptively large with around 2,000 square feet of exhibition space plus an award-winning sculpture garden, having grown from two small shop units housing both a picture framers and a gallery into three premises. The picture framers is now located across the road from the gallery in separate premises and specialises in framing original artwork to conservation or museum standards.
There have been many ups and downs over the 20 years which have tested the ever-optimistic Karen Sherwood. “I opened the gallery in the middle of a recession in 1991 and then had several years of absolute hell during the construction of the Supertram,” she says.
“Cynicism surrounding selling art in Sheffield, let alone art in Hillsborough, has always been around and is a battle I am prepared to continue fighting. Cashflow has at times been dire and, had it not been for the support of family friends and the artists themselves, then I’m not sure the gallery would have survived.
“After 18 years of working extremely hard in the gallery, I made a radical move in March 2009 to take up a position as CEO of ROAR (Rotherham Open Arts Renaissance) to help establish an independent arts centre in Rotherham.
“Despite looking forward to the new challenge, it quickly became clear to me just how important the gallery had become to me over the years.
“People often refer to my gallery as my first baby and I think it really is. I love the gallery despite the fact that it drives me mad at times, so after two years in Rotherham I simply had to come back.
“It is part of me now and there is nothing I can do about it. I will continue to deliver projects and other freelance work but the gallery is me and I am the gallery – there is just no getting away from that.”
More than 50 artists are taking part in the Cupola Open – 20-year Celebration exhibition. Painting, sculpture, original printmaking, ceramics, glass, jewellery, textiles, photography, furniture and installation pieces will be on show in an exhibition which is the gallery is calling the “best of the best”. “Artists taking part live as close as a few streets away to as far away as France, Chicago and California,” says Karen Sherwood.
The list includes Clare Bassett, Francis Berthault, Jessica Briggs, John Brokenshire, Jo Brown, Hazel Burnham, Rachael Boddington, Catherine Boyne-Whitelegg, Selina Campbell, Debbie Collins, Rachael Caddy, Gavin Darby, Valerie Daval, Paul Denham, Louise Eardley, Anne Earnshaw, Paul Evans, Peggy Fearne, Dennis Farrell, Laura Garcia Martin, Becky Gee, Emily Harvey, Sally Hargreaves, Angie Hardwick, Bruce Hardwick & Lyn Critchlow, Victoria Hawkins, Lyn Hodnett, Garry Jones, Juo Glass, Giuseppe Lambertino, Martin Langford, Lucianne Lassalle, Frances Lee, Lesley Lister, Finbarr Lucas, Phyllis Mahon, Derek McQueen, Hilary Mee, Anne Menary, Leyla Murr, Deborah Newbold, Mari Ruth Oda, Viv Owen, Helen Parrott, Rakiba Patel (BIBA), Antonia Salmon, Anne Penman Sweet, Annette Petch, Beverley Porter, Rhapsody in Steel, Bruce Rimell, Viv Ross, Ian Rylatt, Louise Sanders, Paul Schatzberger, Liz Scrine, Nigel Senior, Helainer Sharpley, Amanda Simmons, Kate Sully, Stephen Todd, Liz Tolan, Liz Toole, Jean Usher, Mark Veale, Anna Mercedes Wear, Hanne Westergaard and Suet Yip.
Prices range from under £5 to £5,000. The exhibition is on view every day except Sundays from Saturday until October 2.