Walsall Town Basin
The nearest building to us was the first to be built in the basin regeneration. At first it looks like a Costa, well it is, but if you walk just a little bit round the building you find that it is a whole lot more. The New Art Gallery Walsall with it’s four floors of artworks and activities.
Designed by Peter St John and Adam Caruso the building opened it’s doors in February 2000. Built from concrete with exposed joists, clad with pale terracotta tiles and blocks of stainless steel. Douglas Fir clads many walls inside and leather wraps itself around handrails, a reference to the leather trade of the area, all leads to a very warm welcoming building.
It was built to house the Garman Ryan Collection which takes up the first and second floors in small rooms replicating a house. The feel of these rooms reminded me very much of my family home in York, designed and built by my Dad. Wood and large windows, exposed brick and render. I felt at home here. The other exhibition spaces tower above the viewer with much larger rooms in every direction.
The Garman Ryan Collection was put together by Lady Kathleen Epstein (nee Garman), widow of sculptor Jacob Epstein, and her very close friend Sally Ryan a sculpture in her own right. After Epsteins death in 1959 the two ladies collected 365 works of art. Some by friends and family (Lucian Freud, Epstein, Theo Garman) others in the collection by renowned artists such as Constable, Degas, Picasso, Matisse and Monet, which all sit alongside artefacts from around the world. The collection, donated in 1973 to the Borough of Walsall, is laid out thematically in rooms.
Children, Trees, Occupations, each room a selection through art history.
Many of Epstein’s sculptures sit on wooden plinths and watch you as you peruse the art works, but I have to say I preferred Sally Ryan’s pieces, my favourite of a young lad Nathaniel with his head slightly bowed.
Epstein’s Men with Mice and Birds had a somewhat comic feel to it.
Elaborate frames twice the size of a Renoir landscape was just as interesting as the painting.
Thoedore Garman’s flower paintings reminded me somewhat of a certain boater, Kath from NB Herbie, and her watercolours and embroidery.
Guides were on hand to talk to you about the collection and the family connections that hung around the rooms. They were very enthusiastic and knowledgeable.
One room was being a touch noisy in the calm of the collection. This was Bob and Roberta Smith‘s Epstein Archive Gallery. Between 2009 and 2011 the two artists worked their way through the Epstein archive which had laid hidden away in the basement and they breathed new life into it. It holds papers of Epstein’s life, about his two wives and three children, two (Theo and Ester) who both died in their 20’s in 1954. Short films have been made about the stories uncovered in the archive which shout out across the gallery along with visual shouts of painted quotes. A fun room to spend sometime in ad I think Epstein was partial to jam.
On the top floor is an exhibition, Too Rich a Soil bringing three photographers together exploring cultural identity.
The other exhibition marks the twentieth anniversary of the gallery with a collection of works from the last two decades. Those that stood out were drawings by Andrew Tift who’s detailed drawings astound in their detail.
Jungle Queen II by Hew Locke, made from toys, feather marabou, all sorts.
Then my particular favourite Hole in the Wall by Mark Power. This photograph of a Walsall urban landscape has texture, painting, human interest, nature, decay and a mural which blurs into the building it was painted on. The mural is now hidden behind a new building.
Back at the boat for lunch I was looking out charity shops in the area. on the map I came across Hole in the Wall a haberdashery fabric shop. So on my way round town I made a beeline to see what they might have to offer.
Walking in through the door there were ribbons, yarn, buttons all sorts, then a room of dress fabrics. Nothing hugely exciting but I did find some fabric that might be useful in my costume for a Jay, as in the bird.
An arrow pointed upstairs to Upholstery fabric. A long corridor of a room where you coud select fabric and have made to measure curtains led to another room. Here plain upholstery fabric rolls stood by the walls along with about 30 different types of leatherette. Another doorway led through to a room filled with tassles and tie backs. Now hang on what was in the next room? Hundreds of rolls all in colour order!
I was asked if I needed any help. Maybe a chair to sit down, I hadn’t expected so much fabric in one place, it’s a long time since I’ve seen so much all in one building, or should I say buildings as it seems to me that they’ve knocked shops together and created a block of a shop.
The Garden set could most probably do with some of this fabric, but right now without having coloured my model up I’m not sure what I would want.
Linings and braid filled two more rooms and another lady asked if she could help. All she did was add to my astoundedness and point me in the direction of their bargain basement! Here the walls were lined with racks full of fabric. Piles four, five, six foot high filled the floor. Just what did I need? I walked round in a textile daze.
The lady upstairs gave me a card and their website address so that I could look on line. But it may well be worth a return visit when I know what I’m after. All this from going to the art gallery and looking at one photograph, I like it even more now.
0 locks, 0 miles, 1 art gallery, 0 time for the museum, 1 homely house, 1 giant fluffy queen, 1 dribbling tattoo, 1 jolly lift, 1 bored cat, 1 photograph, 1 block of textiles, 245673543 fabrics, 1 charity shop visited, 0 costumes as yet.