Cymru Culture

Articles / Erthyglau

Court Cupboard Craft Gallery

(June 01, 2012)

Court Cupboard Craft Gallery

Court: Outside_1

Court Cupboard Craft gallery is based in a beautifully renovated 500 year-old granary and stable block. Set in tranquil countryside within the Brecon Beacons National Park, about two miles north-east of Abergavenny, the gallery showcases the work of members of the Black Mountains Circle. Stuart Neale, of Sioni Rhys Handweavers, told us about the gallery and the Black Mountains Circle members' co-operative, which runs it.

Court: Outside_2 Court: Outside_3 Court: Inside - balcony

CC … What made you establish the gallery and what challenges did you face during its early stages?

SN … The Court Cupboard Craft Gallery was established in 1993 as part of an Agricultural European project based in the Brecon Beacons National Park which had a cultural component. The original format was as a visitor trail called 'The Black mountains craft and leisure activities trail' (BMCLAT). Year one had a vibrant launch at Llanbedr, Crickhowell but little visitor activity thereafter. The leisure activities participants pulled out in year two but the arts and crafts carried on. Very little activity followed and in year three the trail was abandoned, but one of the participants who had set up a gallery offered the venue for rent to the rest of the art and craft participants. The enterprise was trialled as a gallery at Christmas in 1994 and established itself formally during 1995 as a cooperative enterprise with limited liability and company status. Over the next few years the gallery quietly developed: adding a coffee shop; an area for exhibitions; and two teaching spaces for a year long programme of art and craft workshops. From time to time the Black Mountains Circle (BMC), which is the company title, organise visitor demonstrations at bank holidays and network with activities in local events such as the Abergavenny Food Festival.

The gallery has never received any revenue funding and has received small amounts of local authority grant aid for specific development projects, which have always required 50% of member input to complete.

Artistic policy has evolved since inception of the gallery and will, no doubt, develop further organically.

Court: View of Skirrid Mountain from the GalleryView of Skirrid Mountain from the Gallery

CC … Collecting and appreciating art is generally seen as a pastime reserverd for high-earners and the bourgeoisie; most people find it intimdating. Affordable, good quality art seems to be of the utmost importance to Court Cupboard Craft Gallery. Is this a deliberate attempt to change the public perception?

SN … The BMC has always operated a loose selection policy, but is not comparable with the rigorous criteria of the Makers Guild in Wales. Another feature of the Circle's gallery is the inclusion of fine art, in common with similar rural galleries. The mix of paintings, prints and crafts presents an accessible display for visitors where they feel relaxed without too precious an approach from the organisers of the gallery. Supporting research shows that crafts themselves are the easiest creative activity for people to access. From the point of view of the Court Cupboard gallery the crucial element is the welcome and interpretation that staff afford the visitor, to make them feel comfortable and to have an insight into the background of most of the work on display. A key factor is that, as a cooperative, the staff member on duty is always an artist or maker who is well able to talk with authority about elements of the gallery. From the gallery's evidence, there is a very high appreciation rate from visitors.


Court: Coffee shopCourt Cupboard Craft Gallery 's coffee shop Court: DisplayOne of the gallery displays


CC … You have in excess of 50 artists who exhibit at the gallery. Is the gallery focused on supporting local artisans, or are you keen to also show artists from further afield?

SN … As far as visiting exhibitors: our policy is always to have interesting works that change regularly for visitors to appreciate. The vast preponderance of guest artists come from Wales but this is from knowledge of our own patch and a feeling of loyalty to our own. It is not an exclusive policy.

The bulk of the work in the gallery is by members of the cooperative, with a number of longer term guest artists/craftspeople. The exhibition space provides us with the opportunity to have changing work for people to return on a regular basis to see. A key feature is for the gallery to always surprise, with its freshness and variety of work to suit many tastes.


Court: Barrie Hartley, blacksmithBarrie Hartley, blacksmith Court: D & J LovespoonsD & J Lovespoons Court: Red Kite, Alan PooleRed Kite, Alan Poole


CC … Tell us about your current exhibitions of note and those that you have planned for the future?

SN … At present, the exhibition is the work of students who attend the programme of courses throughout the year. Courses featured include sugarcraft; pottery; jewellery; basket making; watercolour; art club; etc. This will be followed by the work of noted Cardiff artist Anthony Evans, combined with a glass artist from Crickhowell. During early Summer a group of Swansea textile artists will return with new work including a piece to mark the Jubilee.



Gwynneth Rixon, artisan potterGwynneth Rixon, artisan potter Judy HartleyJudy Hartley


CC … The gallery shows a wide range of disciplines from ceramics, to jewellery making and traditional forms of art-work such as paintings and sculpture, do you feel that art can be found in all forms of expression? If so, how is this exemplified in your exhibits?

SN … Creativity can be found in work that purports to be a piece of art or a piece of craft. It gets a bit more difficult to define what an artefact reflects if it is a reproduction of an original design. There is a tendency now to hand on ideas to an industrial process.

From the BMC's point of view a guiding principle is the presentation of unique and unusual items for people to appreciate and purchase.


Frances Lester, jewellerFrances Lester, jeweller Lousie LovellLousie Lovell Susan PochronSusan Pochron Annette Yates, silver jewelleryAnnette Yates, silver jewellery


CC … How do the curators decide what to exhibit and what to leave out? Are you approached by artisans who wish to exhibit their work, or do the gallery's curators look for new and emerging talent to exhibit - or both?

SN … Exhibitions are put together from a mix of requests for inclusion and from artist/makers who are researched and invited to exhibit. The curators try to create an interesting and stimulating display that creates an immediate impact on the visitor as they enter the gallery. This creates a receptive mind-set for appreciation of the rest of the gallery. Colour, texture, form, subject and overall display levels are elements that are weighed up for an effective exhibition.


Sioni Rhys HandweaversSioni Rhys Handweavers Sioni Rhys HandweaversSioni Rhys Handweavers


CC … We have a plethora of talent here. Who are the key artists currently emerging/exhibiting in Wales?

SN … It would be tendentious to name individuals, but suffice it to say that in our county alone [Monmouthshire Ed.] more than fifty artists and makers have been identified and, taking Wales as a whole, research has identified three and a half thousand craftspeople, in addition to the fine artists who live in Wales.

David Haswell, The Red Skirrid, AbergavennyDavid Haswell, The Red Skirrid, Abergavenny

David Haswell, Pen y Fan MoonDavid Haswell, Pen y Fan Moon

CC … Photography seems to feature in large numbers of exhibitions and galleries. As fans of black and white photography here at Tŵr Cymru Culture Towers,we were especially captivated by the images of Robert Jones. Do you think that photography is now considered an art-form?

SN … Photography has been considered an art form for a considerable time. It lies in the realm of digital manipulation, which has acquired a respectability currently.


Helen Mepham, felt artistHelen Mepham, felt artist Anne Gullick, textile artistAnne Gullick, textile artist

CC … What are your plans for the gallery's future?

SN … Survive! This may sound flippant, but it is deadly serious. A number of galleries and organisations have folded in the last eighteen months. Since we survive on income earned from our activities without grant aid, a recessive economy is very challenging. Add in winter conditions to the rural location of the gallery and surviving becomes a very real concern. Quality becomes a vital aspect of the art and craft on offer. The one area that seems to be immune from recession is the big ticket items and the potential purchaser needs to be offered exclusivity and real quality. This has to be reflected in the overall standard of the gallery.

Keith FosterKeith Foster Calwyn Glastonbury, Reflections, oil on canvas 47x68cmCalwyn Glastonbury, Reflections, oil on canvas 47x68cm



CC … Stuart Neale, thank you.

For further details, take a look at Court Cupboard Craft Gallery's website:



© 2012 Caregos Cyf. | Hawlfraint - All rights reserved


Click here to return to the Articles - Erthyglau page

Powered by Create