Forced to abandon art in favour of more academic choices when she was at school, Sarah Collier always regretted not pursuing the subject she loved the most.
So when the chance came to attend an art appreciation course run by Dr Paul Street nine years ago, she was delighted to say “yes”.
It was a life-changing moment that led to an Open University degree in the History of Art and her own gallery based in her Harrogate home.
“It took me five years to complete the degree as I was working and had young children but I loved it,” says Sarah, who now combines a part-time job as a radiographer with her work as a gallerist, while studying for an MA.
“Doing the degree opened my eyes to what was out there and it gave me the confidence to open my own gallery,” she says.
She decided to specialise in original contemporary painting, printmaking, drawing, textiles, glass, ceramics, sculpture and jewellery by Yorkshire artists and makers and spent 18 months visiting their studios and persuading those she admired to exhibit with her.
The hallway, the front room and stairs of her semi-detached Edwardian home are now the Silson Contemporary Art Gallery, named after her maternal grandparents, who were proud Yorkshire people.
“They loved Yorkshire and the name is my homage to them,” says Gloucestershire-born Sarah, who fitted the gallery out with wooden floors, professional hanging systems and directional track lighting.
“The front room was a second sitting room and wasn’t used much so, my husband and sons agreed to let me have it,” she says.
Having the art in her home brings many advantages. It is a lovely, relaxed space and visitors can see how the work sits in a domestic setting.
Displaying pictures and ceramics is something that comes naturally to Sarah and she is able to advise clients on art placement. “The biggest mistake is playing safe and going for something small. People then put the small picture in the middle of a big wall, which doesn’t look right,” she says.
She started her own art collection when she was in her 30s when she and her husband, Shaun, lived in Toronto in the 1990s. She added to it when they returned to the UK and decided to settle in Harrogate.
They bought their house 10 years ago and, while it needed very little work, she and Shaun have redecorated and installed a new kitchen and bathrooms.
The Aga and Shaker-style cabinets in the kitchen were replaced with a contemporary range and white gloss units. The dining table and bench is from Heal’s.
The family sitting room was treated to a new coat of paint, Pink Ground by Farrow and Ball, which turned out to be very different to the one Sarah expected.
“It wasn’t anything like the pale pink I thought it would be but modern art looks fantastic against it and so I love it,” she says.
The original picture rail was already there and perfect for hanging paintings.
“I’d recommend them as it means you don’t need picture hooks or screw in the wall,” says Sarah, who uses Tutto in Pannal for all her framing work.
The pendant light is from Cimmermann in Harrogate and furniture includes a corner sofa by BoConcept at Redbrick Mill, Batley, and a bargain chair from BHS. The latter is decked with a cushion made with fabric from Leeds-based The Monkey Puzzle Tree, www.themonkeypuzzletree.com. It specialises in transferring artists’ work onto textiles.
“The print is by Joel Weaver who will be featuring in my October exhibition, so it is very appropriate” says Sarah.
The walls are filled with art, some of it her own and some an overspill from the gallery, including a 6ft by 6ft painting by Michael Bilton. It has encouraged visitors to be brave when it comes to size. The price tag for the Bilton original is £5,700 but the Silson gallery also has work that starts from £20, including pieces by ceramicist Charlotte Morrison. “There is something for everyone and affordability was part of my ambition when I opened the gallery,” says Sarah.
The hall, which features Arts and Crafts stained-glass windows, is painted in Farrow and Ball’s Oval Room Blue. It was chosen to showcase charcoal drawings by John Creighton but Emily Stubbs’ ceramics and William Watson West’s paintings also work wonderfully well with the colour.
“It really makes artwork pop,” says Sarah, who bought the reception desk from Swoon Editions and the lamp from Graham and Green.
The stairs are lined with paintings and feature a cut-price runner from Morgans Carpets, made from a length of carpet and coloured binding.
The front room gallery includes a colourful abstract by Angeline Tournier over the fireplace, while above the Ercol bench is a painting by Jake Mullins, a young artist Sarah is very excited about.
She is also predicting a bright future for Barnsley’s Josh Newsome, a student at Leeds Arts University. She spotted his work on Instagram and encouraged him to apply to the prestigious New Light Art Exhibition, which snapped him up.
He paints in oil, en plein-air and works in all weathers to capture the essence of Yorkshire landscapes. At the other end of the age spectrum is printmaker David Morris, who Sarah describes as “hugely talented”. Terence Lister, a sculptor in his seventies, is also much admired and his work has a prime spot in her garden.
She says: “I only exhibit what I love because then I can be passionate about it and people who visit the gallery appreciate that.”
The Silson Contemporary Art Gallery is at 17 Harlow Oval, Harrogate,www.silsoncontemporaryart.co.uk
The next weekend openings are June 8/9/10 and June 29 to July 1 from 10.30am to 4pm.