Saffron Gallery & Alter Ego Gallery… Battle’s finest
As the summer season hots up, ingénue quizzed gallery owner Liz Honey about what it’s like running two successful art galleries in such an iconic town.
One of the things we most wanted Saffron to give art lovers was the quality of work they’d normally have to travel to London or other major cities to see and buy.
We’d known and loved Battle for years, with all its independent shops, restaurants and pubs and all its quirky events so felt it really was a perfect town for this gallery – and so Saffron evolved from what was originally a framers gallery selling mostly open and limited edition prints, to what it is today with award-winning artists who are exhibited and collected worldwide.
Although Saffron’s been in Battle since 1999, we took over in 2006 and since then it’s been on quite a journey. We’ve separated out the framing element which now stands alone as the Sussex Framing Centre in its new shop down the road. Being the greedy girl that I am I very quickly pinched the front end of this lovely new framing shop to create Alter Ego Gallery, where we promote the work of local and regional artists. Many Alter Ego artists are from 1066 Country, ie Battle, Bexhill, Hastings, and Rye, but many more are from throughout Sussex, Kent, Surrey, London and Hampshire.
Another thing that was hugely important to us was not just bringing London standard art to Battle, but to make it accessible to as many people as possible. We set up our very popular interest-free purchase scheme, which has given lots of people the opportunity to buy something that would have otherwise been out of reach.
We can’t be doing with pushy sales techniques and our regulars know very well that they can pop in and out at any time without being expected to make a purchase. We’ve become good friends with many of them and always let them know when something comes in that we think they might like. We also take items to their homes to see if they work in a specific space.
There’s never a dull moment and through Saffron I’ve met and worked with some amazing people on loads of interesting projects for Battle. These including the Keane Trail website (www.keanetrail.org.uk) which maps the Keane boys’ Battle and Bexhill of their childhood, now immortalised in their music; interviewing the band and producing a fun video of Battle and its eccentricities (https://vimeo.com/64710927); and working with a great committee to reintroduce an annual Battle Festival in October (BattleFestival.co.uk). The festival’s summer concert in August reunites Keane’s song-writer Tim Rice-Oxley and singer Tom Chaplin who will perform in public together for the first time since they went on hiatus over two years ago.
Saffron has a very full schedule of exhibitions throughout the year and we’re currently in the throes of our Summer Exhibition. This show is regularly changing as work sells and new work comes in, and artists’ work arrives at different points throughout the summer. We opened with deliciously textured oils by Claire Wiltsher and as we speak I’m waiting for Eve Shepherd to deliver her very latest bronzes and unique ceramics. For me as an art collector this is one of the best parts of running a gallery, the anticipation of delivery and the actual unwrapping of new work.
We’re also really looking forward to a Brenda Hartill solo show in August. Brenda’s renowned for her print-making and more recently for her painting too with her watercolours on hand-made, embossed paper. The exhibition will show a broad range her latest work alongside a mini-retrospective spanning 50 years of making art, with cityscapes and abstract landscapes in painting, collograph and etching form.
At Alter Ego Gallery we love promoting local and regional artists and we really prove that you can start a quality art collection without spending a huge amount of money. We have original mini oil paintings by established artists starting at just £20 so you can give a totally unique gift to someone, or of course treat yourself, without breaking the bank. There’s a huge amount of paintings, ceramics, prints, books and cards at the gallery that we don’t show on our website, although you can still see and buy lots online.
Artists include Richard Swann whose work has exhibited at the RA Summer Exhibition, Anne Kelly who exhibits her textiles throughout the world, Tim Burns who paints local Hastings and Rye scenes and Anna Wilson Patterson whose gorgeous local landscapes include Great Dixter, Camber Sands and Dungeness. We’re biased I know but we definitely recommend a trip if you’re looking for something special and unique without splashing out.
We love being in Battle and without a shadow of a doubt would choose it all over again. It’s just lovely to be part of a town with so many family run, independent businesses where you’re dealing direct with the business owner. The locals are prone to wearing fancy dress so the streets are often full of Fighting Knights and chainmail and we love a festival and use any excuse to get the bunting out.
Battle’s got history, culture, beauty, accessibility, individuality, theatre, a sense of humour, award-winning eateries and lively pubs. We’re in the heart of the countryside with the coast just down the road and London just up the track so what’s not to love?