Celebrating 30 Years

Easter 2018 marked the start of our 30th year as a gallery! 

In the spring of 1988 Bircham Gallery held it's first exhibition featuring work from by James Dodds. The EDP produced a lovely one page spread about our 30 years including the report which you can read below. 

We are looking forward to celebrating with some excellent exhibitions throughout the year and would like to thank you all for being part of the journey so far. Here's to 30 more years!

Gallery comes full circle for anniversary celebrations
- EDP Report

Bircham Gallery is celebrating 30 years of exhibiting contemporary and modern British art. Sophie Stainthorpe spoke to owner Chris Harrison about how it all began and the special exhibition that pays tribute to those early days.

When Chris Harrison and his wife Debby moved to Norfolk from Hertfordshire in 1987, it was to start a new life with painting at its heart. Having taught art for several years, they wanted to concentrate on their own work: Chris as a painter of abstract landscapes and Debbie screen printing and painting. Thirty years on and art is still very much at the centre of their lives, albeit through exhibiting other people's work at Bircham Gallery, which came about more by circumstance than design. "We bought a derelict cottage in Great Bircham and spent a year renovating it," explains Chris. "But, as always, it was costing more than we'd thought and we needed to come up with a way to generate an income." There was a shop attached to the cottage, and they set about turning it into a gallery, with the first exhibition taking place at Easter 1988. "The shop used to be a butcher's and was very small," says Chris. "We converted some stables into studios and the whole ground floor of the house became gallery space, so we literally lived in a gallery for 10 years."

The gallery - and Chris and Debbie's family - outgrew the cottage and in 1998 they moved the business to Holt. "A property became available on the market place and Holt seemed the perfect location; it has a lovely character, is near the coast and attracts lots of visitors, plus there were other galleries there, which meant it was already a destination for art," says Chris. The Holt gallery will be the centre of celebrations for the 30th anniversary, starting with a special exhibition this Easter which will see the return of James Dodds - one of the first artists to exhibit at the newly-formed Bircham Gallery 30 years before. "When we first invited James to exhibit with us he'd just been accepted onto the Arts Council's East Anglian Artist Index, now he has an honorary doctorate from the University of Essex, as well as many other accolades, exhibiting regularly in Cork Street and the United States," says Chris. James, who specialises in paintings and prints of boats and boat building, has continued to exhibit at Bircham Gallery roughly every three years, and feels privileged to be involved on this special anniversary. "It's the lifeblood of an artist to have a gallery represent you," says James. "I'm sure there are many East Anglian artists who are indebted to Bircham Gallery. "Chris and Debbie have maintained a certain standard and I'm sure it's because they're both artists. They're very good at pairing people up, which makes for interesting shows." Joining James in exhibiting his work will be potter Richard Phethean with his hand thrown, altered and assembled terracotta vessels.

Bircham Gallery has held around 360 exhibitions over the years, and a lot of time is spent hunting for artists and looking through applications. "Selection is always hard," says Chris. "Myself, Debby and our three staff form a committee, and to exhibit an artist we all have to like their work, and most of us have to love it." The list includes a number of prominent exhibitors, including major 20th century artists John Piper, Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson, alongside established and emerging artists from East Anglia and all over the UK.

A full exhibition programme has been set up for the anniversary year, and a particular highlight is the Holt Festival in July, when a high profile show of the works of Eileen Cooper RA will be on display. Eileen, who was Keeper of the Royal Academy Schools from 2010-17, will also be giving talks and judging the art prize. As for Chris, he's swapped his paintbrush for a camera these days, although his abstract approach is still evident in his compositions. "I like to focus on the insignificant things that most people would walk past," he says. "My pictures are mainly close-ups and represent the passing of time. It might be the grooves on a boat that have been worn into it after years of being pulled up a boat ramp. Often you won't even know what it is - a picture of intriguing marks and patterns."

You can see Chris' own work exhibited at the gallery in February 2019. In the meantime, James Dodds' and Richard Phethean's work will be on display until April 18.