Jarrow, Tyne & Wear, United Kingdom
January 3, 2006
One of Tyneside‘s best-kept secrets, Shipley Art Gallery holds a small but impressive collection of Flemish, Dutch, Venetian, and British paintings, as well as one of the best displays of contemporary textile, wood, and metal craftworks outside the capital.
On the other side of the basic gift shop and reception area, the main room is a chaos of exhibits: eight large glass display cases full of pottery and silverware in the centre, a temporary exhibition space at the front, games and seating for school groups along the back wall, and paintings hanging everywhere above and in between, organised into the five broad themes of Land, Sea, People, Biblical, and Narrative. The sheer number of pieces in an already crowded space makes it difficult to fully appreciate the artwork, and you’ll need to look carefully among the clutter to see the few pieces of real note, such as William Irving’s anarchic Blaydon Races and Tintoretto‘s Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples, unhelpfully hung directly above a table full of noisy schoolchildren.
The gallery has four smaller rooms branching off the main one. On the left are two bare spaces with seating in the centre and patchwork quilts hanging on the walls; on the opposite side, a single room holding a deliberately eclectic collection of dolls, necklaces, bowls and vases, sculptures, textiles, and glassware. The most interesting exhibits make up the Made in Gateshead display at the back of the building. Here you’ll find original machinery and products from the shipyards, rope and glass makers, engineering works, and iron and steel foundries that once dominated the town, as well as items from contemporary employers, such as Redland bricks and Jockey underwear. Unfortunately, space constraints prevent the collection from being anything more than a very basic introduction to Gateshead’s industrial heritage.
I spent around 45 minutes in the gallery, which was more than enough to see everything at leisure. A limited number of free parking spaces are available in front of the building, or it's a 20-minute walk or a short bus journey south of Gateshead Metro Station.
From journal South of the River, West of the Sea