The gallery space was beginning to look really good. The shape of the hull, and the combination of the lighting from the skylights in the wooden hatches and the spotlights we’d installed under the deckheads, gave a very warm and welcoming look. We had cut skylights into every second hatchboard and then had a waterproof tarpaulin made, with clear panels to match the skylights. We covered the walls in hessian. This material had many advantages, it gave a nice neutral background for the pictures, it would cover pinholes from the picture hooks, it was consistent with the history of a grain barge but, above all, it was both inexpensive and it looked great.
As the myriad of finishing touches were being put into place, we had the organisation of the opening to arrange. We realised that this would be a one-off opportunity to really get the media to take notice, so we had to give it our best shot. We needed someone who was well known and, ideally, connected with both art and ships. One name immediately came to mind – Frank Shipsides. Although I knew and very much admired his work, I had never met him. Taking a chance, I found his number in the telephone directory and called him. At worst, he could only say no. On the telephone he was charming. When I explained what we were doing with the Glevum, his response was,
“Pop up and see me, dear boy, we can talk it over”
When I visited him, he was very interested in our project and said he would come and look at the barge a day or so later. He was as good as his word and, as soon as he was on board, his enthusiasm for what we had done was infectious. He explained that he would not be able to put any pictures into our first exhibition but that he would be more than willing to perform the opening ceremony for us. It is typical of the man that when I started to discuss a fee he would hear none of it.
We also heard back from the city council that the Lord Mayor, Councillor Claude Draper, and the Lady Mayoress would attend. We had been in touch with the Hill family, whose shipyard had built the Glevum in 1955, John and Michael Hill both said they would be happy to attend. Sadly, the original builder’s nameplate had disappeared from the front of the wheelhouse before the vessel came into our possession, but we had a replica made and we arranged for John Hill to unveil this.
During this period, the activity around the barge seemed to draw people like a magnet and we had met several local artists who had agreed to bring down paintings for our opening exhibition. As Myrtle only had enough appliques to fill about half the wall space this had worked out well.
To be continued.
Next post 13th September