Jubilee fever at Keswick's Thornthwaite Galleries

PUBLISHED: 01:16 07 May 2012 | UPDATED: 21:22 20 February 2013

Gallery owners Ron and Anne Monk

Gallery owners Ron and Anne Monk

A gallery in the north Lakes is marking the jubilee with artwork reflecting the Queen's 60 year reign. Karen Barden reports Photography by Rob Grange

As jubilee fever grips the country, commemorations take on an extra twist at one of the Lake Districts oldest art galleries.

While the Queen marks 60 years, in the picture postcard hamlet of Thornthwaite a treasure trove of creativity is celebrating its 40th.

Painters who normally soak up inspiration from the mountains and meres have turned their attention to Her Majesty. In oils, watercolours, pastels, acrylics and even glass images associated with Queen Elizabeth II are emerging.

They will be shown throughout the season with visitors asked to choose their favourite. The top choice will be offered to Buckingham Palace as a jubilee gift.

Each year gallery owners, Anne and Ron Monk, welcome 16,000 visitors who discover an eclectic mix of paintings, ceramics, jewellery, and objet dart. The couples eight-year reign has seen a significant rise in the number of artists exhibiting, from 65 to 140. The Monks look for high-quality, established names and gifted new-comers in the quest for a tourist-centred gallery of excellence.

Fate brought them to Thornthwaite. Rons company was reducing staff as the dot.com bubble was about to burst, while Anne worked in floral design. They bought Daltons Weekly to see what sort of businesses were on the market and among the pubs, shops and post offices was a small ad for Thornthwaite Galleries, near Keswick.

At a time when most people put up their feet and buy a greenhouse, we wanted a challenge, said Anne. After we saw the gallery, we walked down to Bassenthwaite Lake. It was one of those perfect Lake District days and we thought, Yes, we can do this.

They opened five months with a mixture joy, excitement and some trepidation. The gallery attracts visitors from around the world and Australian tourists have said their forebears farmed here, keeping hay and animals in the same buildings where fine paintings now have pride of place.

The farmer shipped his wife, children and animals to the New World in 1910 to escape an early epidemic of foot and mouth, said Ron. The herd thrived and its descendants are still going strong.

The gallery, which has an attractive tearoom, was the vision of Eric Gilboy. He bought the property 40 years ago to establish an institution that reflected quality in art.

In the beautiful lofted barn he hosted musicians, including factions from the Halle Orchestra, playing for the privilege of performing in a stunning place surrounding by striking art.

Former Sellafield shift manager, Peter Graham, bought the gallery in 1987, intent on breathing new life into the old place.

Friends thought I was mad, but I put my money where my mouth was and proved them all wrong, said Peter, who lives near Cockermouth.
Over 15 years, he loved the buzz, enjoyed rebuilding the gallerys reputation. He devoted himself to marketing original work and nurturing new talent.

Four years before he sold the gallery, Peter, already an accomplished sculptor and ceramicist, took up painting. Hes self taught and says it has released the child in him.

Today, with 140 gifted exhibitors, there is plenty of choice for clever creators to take part in the royal gallery.They include Jim Taylor, of Keswick, who is working on a cartoon of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh. He already has a piece in a royal household, presented to Prince Charles.

Other artists taking part are: Ron Bailey, of St Helens; Alistair Brookes, of Barnard Castle; Beryl Pryde, of Cockermouth, Tricia Kerr, of Keswick, and Edward Thomas, of Arnside. The right royal renditions are on view at Thornthwaite for the jubilee and across the summer.

Erics vision

Eric Gilboy was a textile designer for Sandersons, the fabric and wallpaper manufacturers.
But when he was 50 he took a momentous decision to sell the family home, cash in his pension and open Thornthwaite Galleries. Gilboy passionately believed in the value of the hand-made article and the virtue of artist skill. He set about finding the very best Westmorland and Cumberland had to offer.

When it came to pricing, he asked how long the piece had taken to make and multiplied those hours by the average rate of a skilled tradesman.

People flocked from all over the country to visit Thornthwaite, knowing that they would always see high quality, exclusive artifacts.

In his late 60s, he sold the gallery to famous Lakeland restaurateur, Neil Hunter, and took to his easel, enjoying considerable success with his Turneresque evocations of Lakeland landscape.

He died two weeks before his 80th birthday but, in Thornthwaite Gallery, his legacy lives on.

The print version of this article appeared in the May 2012 issue of Lancashire Life
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