‘Like nothing else I’ve found’: readers’ favourite small galleries in the UK
Winning tip: sculpture, scrap and stories in Glasgow
The Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre, actually a gallery, is a wonderful stroll through beautiful madness. Just minutes from Buchanan Street in Glasgow, this storyland is filled with mechanical figures made from wood and metal and all sorts of scrap, arranged in two different “performances” of scenarios and stories. The place is peaceful and frenetic, and like nothing else I’ve found anywhere in the world. You’ll marvel at the skill behind the creations and come out with a big daft grin on your face.
An island of art in Wales
Anglesey is not all long names and great beaches. It also has many hidden treasures, the Oriel Môn arts centre and museum in Llangefni being one of them. Stunning works by Welsh artists and a mesmerising statue of Kyffin Williams are among the many great things for visitors to explore. It’s a fascinating collection, with children’s activities – and free admission.
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Indigenous showcase in the south-west
The Rainmaker gallery in Bristol is a dedicated space for contemporary Native American art. The owner, Jo, is committed to showcasing the best of emerging and established talent. It’s well worth a visit to see its changing programme of exhibitions, while the artwork, homeware and jewellery for sale always make great gifts. If you have time, pop into Coe Gallery (also in Bristol) which focuses on Indigenous art from Australia.
Nice and nautical in Dorset
I love visiting Sladers Yard in West Bay, Dorset. This lovely Georgian former rope warehouse now shows contemporary British arts and crafts – including amazing furniture produced by the owner, who sailed here decades ago from Norway in a boat he’d built. His work continues to evoke nautical forms and feelings. My budget doesn’t quite stretch to the art on display, but I’m fortunate enough to be able to splash out on the cafe’s Fabulous Fish Pie (£20).
A show of time and tide by the Thames
At Trinity Buoy Wharf, an outdoor arts centre opposite the O2, moored vessels evoke memories of east London’s maritime trade, and include the tugboat, Knocker White, and a red Lightship, now a music recording studio. A small shed houses objects dedicated to the scientist Michael Faraday, while quirky iron sculptures by Andrew Baldwin range from tabletop items to larger, mechanical objects. One of the UK’s several Time and Tide bells is rung by the river to mark high tide and a floodtide listening post makes music determined by the tide. Feast in Fat Boy’s Diner or the Orchard Cafe, in a former shipping container with a black cab and a tree on its roof.
Get your eyes opened in Liverpool
I first found the Open Eye gallery behind a cafe down a cobbled Liverpudlian street. It’s moved now, like the rest of the city things sprout feet and take up gaff elsewhere. Triangular in shape, it occupies a place on Mann Island, opposite seagulls and the waves of the passing River Mersey. The space is quiet, letting the photography whispers echo and widen your perception of humanity. Community is important. It’s a place to watch reality in reflection and decipher the mood of the moment. It is ageless, always seeming to exist only once you’ve arrived.
Crafts and culture in the Ribble valley
The Platform gallery in Clitheroe, Lancashire, was showcasing delightful, inventive, thoughtful arts and crafts long before the Ribble valley became famous for its gastropubs. The local artists and craftspeople are grounded in the industries, farming, landscape, history and culture of the area and their works reflect those influences – wool, bobbins, wood, lino cuts of chimneys, mills and rolling hills. It’s beside the railway that used to take you to Yorkshire but now it’s the end of the line – a small step from Manchester but a giant leap into that sweet spot between urban and rural.
Art, life and nature in a Cornish idyll
On a quiet lane between the woodlands of Frenchman’s Creek and Helford village in Cornwall lies Kestle Barton. It’s a gallery showcasing talent from across Cornwall, and beyond, in a most beautn historic farm complex, parts of which date back to the Tudor era. The rest of the buildings are holiday cottages. The gardens, originally designed by James Alexander-Sinclair, come to life in late spring and are a great place to spend time just sitting and enjoying watching the swallows dip and weave in the sky. It’s a peaceful place to appreciate art, life and nature all together.
Marvel at the masters in Birmingham
The Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham is in an airy building on the University of Birmingham campus in Edgbaston, close to the city centre, and easily visited using local trains and buses. It offers a curated collection of western art, spanning seven centuries, with paintings and sculptures by, among others, Rembrandt, Degas, Monet, Turner, Van Gogh and Magritte. Described as a “miniature National Gallery for the Midlands”, it’s open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am-5pm and admission is free.
Arty school visit Alnmouth, Northumberland
The Old School gallery in Alnmouth on the north-east coast is in a cute building: it’s a former Victorian school and serves great cake, has a fab shop and puts on atmospheric art shows. It does a good job of showcasing local and female artists. Always a must-visit when we are up!