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In the picture perfect surroundings of Avon Mill Garden Centre, the Gallery is a jewel of local craftsmanship, from handmade ceramics to Silver jewellery. A treasure trove of gifts from £3 to £300, everything is made by local artisans, as owner Olivia explains…
I am a Devon maker myself, a jeweller, and I took on the gallery nearly four years ago as an extension of my own passion for making and local craftsmanship. The ethos is that we only stock arts and crafts which are handmade in Devon. Makers have to live and work in Devon to be considered, and at the moment we have roughly 40 artisans exhibiting. It’s all about supporting local artists and the work they do. One of the artisans is just 19 and she makes enamelled jewellery from vintage coins. For some people it’s their full time career, for others it’s something they do along side their full time jobs, and for a few of the artists it’s their work in retirement. For example, one of the makers who is in her seventies, gets up at 5am to make her beautiful lampshades before she walks her dogs. Seven of the exhibiting artisans work in the gallery. I have space behind the counter so they can work at their craft while manning the gallery. I think it’s inspiring for customers to actually see artwork in the process of being created. All our artisans are passionate about what they do.
I am a maker myself and I used to stock my own jewellery in galleries including a former version of The Gallery at Avon Mill, which really gave me an idea of what I wanted to do here. One of the things it highlighted for me was that I wanted to take as low as possible commission from the artists.
The criteria has changed a little from when we first opened because of what I’ve learned over time. I still will not consider anybody new unless they live and work in Devon and are not exhibiting in other galleries close by.
Now I would also require them to have some form of positive social media or online presence, either a Facebook or Instagram business account or website, and I always look for people who have a really uplifting sense of positivity in the way they communicate. Part of the reason for that is that I rely heavily on organic promotion through social media channels. I like working with people who celebrate the local area and who embrace the community that we have at The Gallery @ Avon Mill by tagging one another and engaging in conversation online.
Naturally, I also have to love something to stock it, but more importantly it needs to be something I feel my customers will love too. I also have to be mindful that I have a variety of different art and crafts. We’re also trying to be more sustainable, and I lean towards suppliers who are mindful of that. So we’re careful to use sustainable wrapping and packaging and we stock items such as vegan handmade soaps made without palm oil and a lot of our cards come in biodegradable bags. It’s something that customers are much more aware of these days. What are people most surprised about when they visit?
I think the fact that everything is handmade in Devon surprises people. A lot of people think it’s a cooperative, but it isn’t. Also the affordability pleases people, items range from £3 up to around £300. I hope there’s something for everyone. We are open every day 10am - 4pm, apart from Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day.
We have our festive weekend coming up from 8th-10th November. I have learnt to do it earlier in the festive season and our customers use it as an ideal opportunity to start their Christmas shopping. We shut for a whole day the day before and a team of us transform the Gallery into a tasteful Christmassy environment full of new work from our artisans. This year I have added an extra day which is a’ Meet the Maker’ day. It is a great opportunity to meet some of the artisans in person to talk about their work with them. This event will be from 10am - 8pm. Then on Saturday and Sunday it will be our usual Festive Event, where we will be serving Prosecco and nibbles over the whole weekend. We will be open longer hours from 10am to 5pm.
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