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In the heart of Dartmouth, Baxters is a contemporary art gallery that celebrates craft, sculpture, painting and jewellery that’s handmade in the UK. With something for every budget, the gallery is a labour of love, owned by Sarah Duggan, and always offering something new to admire every time you visit…
What’s the history of Baxters?
I opened in July 2006. Since my 20s I had always wanted a gallery and any savings I had went towards it. In fact I always referred to my account as ‘the gallery fund’. I had a career before opening it, mostly in buying for companies including House of Fraser. I did a lot of trips to the Far East, buying products by the thousand, but my passion was for handmade and my house was always filled with art and sculptures and ceramics. I had a good career in what I was doing but it wasn’t my passion. I thought I would open a gallery in my fifties, but I ended up doing it earlier, in my forties, and I adore it.
Although I was living in Lancashire before I opened the gallery, we had always holidayed in this area when I was a child and it’s where I wanted to come back to. I grew up in Somerset with my mother, my father was in Devon and my sister lives in Cornwall, so I wanted to be near them all. I had originally thought I would go to Cornwall, but I felt there was a buzz and community in Dartmouth that I would love and fit in with. I felt I could be happy here. This was already an existing gallery, owned by the local artist Simon Hart, and it all went from there.
What can people expect from the gallery?
I’ve always liked going to galleries but I never liked it when people felt intimidated by them and the art seemed inaccessible. I liked the idea of introducing people to original pieces of work that are handmade, but that there was something for every budget. Everything I sell is handmade in the UK, and there’s a spectrum of prices. You can buy a handmade mug, or you can buy a painting for £900. I have a love for ceramics and sculptures, but there’s also designer jewellery - it’s a good mix across the different categories including paintings and limited edition prints. We have a lot of paintings of the local area from Salcombe to Bigbury and of course Dartmouth. I represent John Gillo, who’s a very established artist of over 40 years, for example, and he’s known for his paintings of the local area. I have a lot of local customers who come in regularly, sometimes just for a greeting card, other times for presents and sometimes when they’re redecorating the house and are looking for something special.
How do you select your artists?
When you have a business like this you never stop looking for new ideas. I get approached by a lot of artists and makers and probably only one in a hundred is suitable for the gallery. It has to be something that fits in, something that I love. After my history in buying, where I didn’t necessarily like what I bought, I love that when I choose something now its usually a one off, there’s not thousands of it. I find new artists in lots of ways, sometimes through recommendations, social media, art fairs, but whatever it is, it must be hand made in the UK.
How often do you have exhibitions?
I have an exhibition once a year only in May as part of the Dartmouth Galleries Spring Exhibitions. Seven local galleries launch exhibitions on the same night and it’s a major event for us. I empty the gallery of all existing stock and usually feature up to 10 artists and makers, some of whom are new to the gallery and some of whom are existing artists but have put new collections together for me. For the rest of the year it’s a mix of artwork. We’re known for the fact that we keep the selection fresh and there’s always something different to look at; new makers, techniques and materials. As I have people who come back regularly, it’s important it doesn’t always look the same so I work hard to keep it interesting.
How big is the team?
It’s just me and my assistant, Jayne, so I can have a couple of days off a week, although when you’re self-employed you never really have full days off! Jayne has been with me for a couple of years now and I’ve been really lucky to always have incredibly supportive staff.
I’m launching a new website at the moment, which I’ve been working on for the last few months. It will have more details on all the products and better photos to really showcase the artists, so I hope people like it and find it inspiring!
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