An Art Gallery on a Boat? You Must be Mad! Part Twenty

With the paperwork in our possession,  we knew the date of Glevum’s launch – 25th. of September, 1955. So, on 25th. September ,1985, we had a thirtieth birthday party on board and it launched our “New Direction” series of exhibitions.

A few days later we opened an exhibition of local landscape artists, “Trees and Woodlands”. Sales were reasonable and,  at the end of October we hung a new exhibition of marine paintings, sales from which were also encouraging.

In November, Ken Lush had a photographic exhibition of railway photographs to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the GWR and a fortnight later, Wolf at the Door, a Cornish craft cooperative had hired the gallery for a fortnight. Finally, before Christmas, we opened an exhibition called “This is Bristol” featuring paintings of the city by local artists, it was a great success and we continued it through January.

By this time a dependable core of artists and craftspeople were regularly exhibiting with us .But there were others with whom it was not always a smooth ride. So many artists who came to us had had bad experiences with galleries in the past and many brought quite hostile preconceptions that we were only there to ‘rip them off’. We always tried to reassure them that as an artist I understood their problems and that we wanted the Glevum to be run with the artists best interests as our main priority.

It is gratifying that so many of those artists are still close friends to this day.

That winter was bitterly cold, and there was frequently ice from side to side of the docks in the mornings. But we had our own defence against the cold. In the gallery, we had a free standing, cast iron stove that a friend had found in pieces, rusting in an old shed on a farm. I bought it from him for a few pounds. When reassembled, it was circular, about a foot in diameter and about four feet tall. With the rust scraped and brushed off and freshly burnished with stove blacking, it looked resplendent. The blacksmith in the Underfall Yard, Ray Davis, made us a firebox for it and we mounted the stove on a concrete paving slab. It was situated over the starboard chine, under the wheelhouse. The flue ran up through the wheelhouse floor and then along just above the floor, under my work-desk before turning ninety degrees, up  the back of the wheelhouse to emerge to the outside just below the roof, so the flue also heated the wheelhouse for me as efficiently as the stove heated the gallery. Old it may have been, the stove was remarkably efficient, it had originally been made in Denmark by a company called Rasmussen.

I would light it first thing in the morning and, within half an hour, both the gallery and wheelhouse would be snug and warm, even on the coldest days. The stove had an iron fire-box door on hinges that allowed access to the fire-box and I found that by lunchtime, the stove would be so hot that I could make ‘two second toast’. When the fire-door was opened, thick, hand cut slices of bread, on a toasting fork, took just one second per side to brown. I discovered that the faster bread toasts, the better it tastes!

In March we had an exhibition of the remarkable work of the equally remarkable Cedric Reeves.

Ceddy, was one of the most eccentric, Quixotic, colourful and loveable characters in Bristol Docks in those days. Curator of the Lifeboat Museum, sailor, artist, woodcarver and ship’s figurehead maker; an enormous, blustering bear of a man with a round face, a bushy beard and brown hair that usually looked as though he’d cut it himself with one of his woodcarving chisels. Piercing grey blue eyes looked out from under his bristling  eyebrows. After a fall from the rigging of a sailing ship, he had been left paralysed from the waist down and got about with the aid of either a wheelchair or crutches. Not that a ‘mere trifle’ like that was going to stop Ceddy. He continued to sail, hauling himself up the rigging by sheer brute strength and determination.

Ceddy didn’t suffer fools gladly but sadly, was far to straightforward and honest to stand a chance against all the egos and political infighting that took place amongst the Trustees that eventually, in 1994, led to the Museum’s closure. A slap in the face for the people who had really given so much of themselves to make the project work and a great loss for the City Docks and the People of Bristol.

But, on March 7th 1986 we opened an exhibition of Cedric’s painting and woodcarving to great acclaim. His work was greatly admired as attested to by the comments in our visitors book. We sold a reasonable number of his works.

In May We opened  our first One Man Show by George Cutter, A landscape artist who mainly painted in pastel and watercolour and who specialised in pictures of the Somerset Levels and of his hometown, Bristol. George was to become a mainstay of the gallery and he and his wife June are, to this day, two of our dearest friends.

Georges exhibition was a success and summer was coming again and, perhaps this time, we would see a little more income from our many enthusiastic visitors.