New exhibition to mark 50 years

Joan Littler with the Bondgate Gallery Anniversary Exhibition at Alnwick Playhouse.
Joan Littler with the Bondgate Gallery Anniversary Exhibition at Alnwick Playhouse.

A special exhibition of work that has been displayed over the last 50 years at the Bondgate Gallery in Alnwick is taking place to mark its half century.

Work from artists across the area, and further afield, is on show at the Alnwick Playhouse-based gallery until November 1, including Malcolm Gleghorn, George McLean, John Kim and Ken Ferguson.

The exhibition marks 50 years since the gallery opened, in a disused warehouse, adjoining the Corn Exchange in Alnwick.

Pieces of work on display have been part of exhibitions at the gallery during the last five decades.

Some come from private collections belonging to members of the Alnwick District Art Association while some are for sale.

The Bondgate Gallery was opened on November 6, 1964, by the 10th Duke of Northumberland, Hugh Percy.

It had been formed by a group of art enthusiasts comprising George McLean, headmaster of Shilbottle Primary School at the time, amateur artist Vivian Sanderson, wife of Colonel Sanderson who owned the warehouse premises next to the Corn Exchange, which became the gallery, and Ian Gibson, a local picture framer.

Also involved in the founding group was Bill Hugonin, the Duke of Northumberland’s agent, who is still an active supporter of the gallery.

The aims of setting it up were to stimulate an interest in contemporary art in the area, to illustrate the heritage of art and encourage its appreciation and to provide facilities for artists to exhibit their work.

Without any outside financial help, the gallery became the first non-municipal art gallery between Newcastle and Edinburgh. It later acquired charitable trust status and a small grant from Northern Arts.

The late George McLean and his wife Vera were the dynamo driving team of the gallery and the present exhibition illustrates the affect he had on the gallery.

By 1981, the landlords of the then Isle of Man Holding Company asked for an unrealistic rent and forced the gallery group to look for new premises.

The lease of 22 Narrowgate was obtained and a derelict building had to be converted into an upgraded gallery.

Grants from Northern Arts and Alnwick District Council added to the great support of members and helped to complete the conversion.

The new premises were opened by the then Duchess of Northumberland, president of the gallery, on April 21, 1982.

In that week’s Northumberland Gazette, the headlines were the opening of the Bondgate Gallery and the purchase of the Playhouse – two significant moves within the arts in Alnwick.

During th gallery’s first 10 years in Narrowgate, the chairman of the Alnwick District Arts Association was Ian August, who played a large part in the work on the conversion.

The chairmanship was then taken over by Bill Ford and in 1992, Peter Bolwell Andrews became heavily involved in the gallery, becoming chairman until his death in 2007.

During this period there were a number of difficulties in obtaining grants and rent increases made it difficult for the gallery at Narrowgate. So, in 2005, a move was made to the Playhouse where the gallery continues today.

Over the years, it has played host to some of the big names in art, including David Hockney and Malcolm Gleghorn.

Most recently Gazette photographer Jane Coltman marked 30 years of work with an exhibition of photos.

The gallery is open during the Playhouse’s box office opening times.