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From Cow Byre to Art Gallery: The History of The Robert Fuller Gallery
I met my wife Victoria when I was 20 and she was just 17. Six years later in June 1998, we moved to Fotherdale Farm, a house high on the Yorkshire Wolds owned by Lord Halifax. The house had been in a poor state of repair for some time, but had been recently renovated by the Garrowby Estate. However there was still plenty to do to turn it into a ‘home’. One of the first things we did was tackle the garden to turn it into a haven for wildlife. Read the story of the development of the garden here. In fact we were so busy we didn’t get round to buying a TV for the first nine months!
We were also starting off our business. I was painting and Victoria did ‘the books’. Back then both the gallery and my studio were in two upstairs bedrooms. Access to both was through the house. We got the occasional visitor and they were always surprised to see us leading them through the utility room, up the stairs and along the landing into the gallery. It was a bit awkward to say the least – but then at least it kept us tidy!
But as my name began to be a little better known we decided to hold our first exhibition at Fotherdale Farm. More than 1,500 visitors came, all of them tramping through the house to see the paintings! We decided it was time to find a solution which was less awkward for the visitors and gave us a little privacy. At first we thought we would find a suitable property for a gallery, but none lived up to Fotherdale. The buildings next door were no longer being used for commercial farming and so we approached the Garrowby Estate and the Palmer and Megginson families, who had the lease on these properties. We will be eternally grateful to them for supporting us.
In June 2001 we were awarded a Rural Enterprise Scheme Grant by DEFRA towards the cost of converting these redundant buildings into an art gallery, under the tourist and craft measure. Work began in earnest to convert the former fold yard and cow byres, but there was so much work to do it was touch and go as to whether we would be ready in time for our planned Christmas exhibition. I wanted the interior space to really show off my paintings to their best advantage. Among the features I chose were wooden countertops. Made by a friend, Nick Coates, from elm, these really lift the space. Also the metal work, on the stairs, which was made by a local blacksmith. Our thanks go out to our contractors who worked so hard to get us ready in time. I’m sure no one noticed that the paintwork was still slightly tacky on opening day!!!
By 2011 it was time to reassess the situation once more. We were now holding two exhibitions a year, each one attended by some 4,000 people, and my studio was being commandeered for extra exhibition space on a regular basis. We had also begun to offer a new framing service and greeting card mail order business. The operation had grown from just Victoria and I to seven part time employees! At the same time our family also had grown. My two daughters, Lily and Ruby were beginning to fill up the rooms in the house!
So it was back to the drawing board and in 2011 work began on new offices in the space my aviary used to be and a new studio above for me. My old studio was then divided in two and converted into an extra bedroom for the family and further exhibition space. Let’s hope this is it because I don’t think there will be any more space!
Author: Robert E Fuller