A day out in Harrogate is always a joy. It’s got great shops, a Betty’s and a brilliant Oxfam with a vintage section but I top and tail my trips there with something more restful.
I begin in the early morning with a walk through the glorious Valley Gardens – the 17 acre, grade II listed garden and park. You can access it from the edge of the shopping area via a gateway opposite the Royal Pump Room Museum.
Mid-afternoon, when I am ready for home, I have a quick look round the Mercer Art Gallery, which is on Swan Road. It’s run by the council and it’s free, which means it’s a relaxed space where you can wander, admire, discuss and discover your inner Brian Sewell.
It has paintings by famous names, such as Atkinson Grimshaw and William Powell Frith, along with interesting contemporary art. Some of the new pieces are for sale but there is absolutely no compulsion to buy, though you’ll probably want to.
One of its latest projects was to ask eight Yorkshire makers and designers to explore Harrogate Museums’ treasure trove of fine art, decorative art, costume, jewellery and archaeology and use them as inspiration. The result is a fabulous collection of handmade pieces that are on display and available to buy from the Mercer Art Gallery shop. Of course, it’s free to just look.
Ceramicist Anna Lambert responded to the Mercer Art Gallery’s Capability Brown summer anniversary exhibitions. Anna spent time exploring Brown’s landscapes and has developed a series of twelve plates informed by the sketches made during her visits.
Matthew Wilcock, winner of BBC2s Great Pottery Throw Down, has created a series of pots inspired by his interest in the Greek and Roman Antiquities within the Harrogate Museums’ collection.
Andy Poplar, aka Vinegar and Brown Paper, has etched new and antique glass vessels with text, forming an appropriate link with Harrogate’s spa history of “taking the waters”. (see picture at the top of this post) Andy was impressed by the grand display of bottles containing Harrogate Water, in the Royal Pump Room Museum, originally made for the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Serena Partridge, a Scarborough based textile artist, has created an exquisite collection of miniature shoes made almost entirely from reclaimed antique materials. She says: “The Harrogate collection contains a pair of early nineteenth century slippers, similar to those owned by Charlotte Brontë. I also came across a pair of red ‘uppers’, ready to be turned into shoes. Embroidering uppers and the making of shoes was a popular pastime in the nineteenth century. Another source of inspiration was the floral packaging of Marshall and Snelgrove, a London shop established by a Yorkshireman in 1837.”
Clare Caulfield, a printmaker based in Saltaire, was fascinated by the grand architecture of Harrogate’s spa history and has produced drypoint etchings of a trio of historic Harrogate landmarks.
You can take a closer look at these beautifully crafted objects, which aim to create an antidote to mass-manufactured products, with a visit to the Mercer Art Gallery, Swan Road, Harrogate, HG1 2SA. Admission is free. It is open Tuesday to Saturday 10am – 4pm and Sunday 2pm – 4pm until March when it closes at 5pm.