When looking at Gilly Wyatt Smith’s 46-year history of curating exhibitions, running galleries and dealing with artists from all over the world, it is safe to say that this determined, and passionately driven woman is somewhat of a guru on the subject of the gallery world. Here, we discover more about her stunning haven that is Yew Tree Gallery.
For nearly the last twenty years on the windswept, sea facing pastures of West Penwith on the road from St Ives to St Just, Gilly has owned and run Yew Tree Gallery, a barn-like new building and gardens that Gilly has transformed to include art and creativity in every corner and flower bed. Soft rays of sunlight dapple through the gallery’s stone and wood conservatory and the windowsills adorned with elegantly crafted ceramics look out onto Gilly’s curated garden and the open coastal countryside.
“A large part of my childhood was spent on a small island off the coast of Anglesey,” explains Gilly, “it is my soul place. The terrain and sense of ancientness in West Penwith has similar vibes and this is what instinctively led me to seek a home with gallery potential in this wind-blown, wild spot with the sea visible in a great arc around us. Despite missing good friends and the success of the gallery inland, the sea always seemed to me a birthright, which I desperately missed in the land-locked Cotswolds, so I made the move to Cornwall.
Brought up in North Wales by artist parents, Gilly had always been close to the creative world. Marriage took her to Derbyshire, where her first Yew Tree Gallery was born, along with two children. The first exhibition in 1971 was a solo show of her father, Charles Wyatt Warren’s landscape oil paintings. Through hard work and determination Gilly soon established her skills and taste for curating and found herself working also in Norway and the USA over several years.
1986 saw her move with her children to Gloucestershire and here she began to hone her ethos within curation, using her love of art to convey messages to a wider audience.
‘The Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 brought into sharp awareness an uneasiness I had felt for years about the desecration of our environment and fellow creatures through thoughtlessness and greed. I became involved with the Earth Love Fund, a charity which raised awareness through the arts specifically to the plight of the rainforests and their people… Meeting people working in all parts of the globe in this field was an enriching experience and it was heart-warming to realise how many exhibition visitors and collectors were supportive of this work.”
In 1999, Gilly discovered Keigwin Farmhouse, with its semi-circular farmyard and Cornish hedges. They moved in July the following year and so commenced a year of plans and building to create the spacious 2 roomed gallery visitors see today. Ruined parts of the little adjoining barns were transformed into an office and Potting shed. From adjoining land soon emerged a potager, pond, gardens for sculpture where Gilly continued her love of gardening. The natural world has always played a powerful part in all of Gilly’s exhibitions to this date, as she describes here:
“I suppose my ultimate aim is to exhibit what I feel will engage people’s interest; to share the exhilaration of art which excites me and epitomises what I look for in an artist’s work . Each exhibition has a different theme or idea behind it – often triggered by the tenor of the times; often too relating to our natural environment in all its fragility. Work selected (from national artists – not confined only to those living in Cornwall) is essentially contemporary, sometimes figurative, sometimes more abstract; it all depends on the specific exhibition.
“I like to balance wall-hung art – usually paintings but also textiles – with one or more 3D collections, each reflecting elements of the theme, and hopefully creating a harmonious whole, so that the whole exhibition in both rooms becomes an entity in itself. That gives each show its very individual character.”
The two gallery rooms provide ample, adaptable space. Numerous shapes and sizes of plinths are used to create structures and patterns within the space so that it can take on different appearances. Gilly also makes sure each show resonates partially with the enchanting surroundings the gallery lives in,
“The surroundings here always seem part of each exhibition,” she explains, “Several windows in both rooms bring the outside in. The constantly varying light during the day can highlight certain exhibits dramatically. Sculpture is usually on display in two of the gardens and visitors and very welcomed to wander through the enclosed potager and to look at the view from the field as well. The idea behind showing exhibitions here has always been to make all the outside space available too, as there is so much to enjoy, not least the colours of the moors behind us in different seasons, and the many changing moods of the sea.
“An integral part of each show is to continue to support specific charities which relate to the idea behind the themes through commission on sales, plus the kind donations of visitors.”
Ultimately, behind the clever preparation, planning, and close rapport with her artists, it is evident Gilly does what she does simply because she loves to. Her appreciation and respect for the natural world is never far from her work and she has used her love for both to cultivate a gallery and a space that brings incredible art and wonderfully wild natural scenes together harmoniously.
10th September – 26th October
Taking inspiration from the flora, fauna and fragility of islands in the world’s current testing times, Yew Tree Gallery is proud to present its autumnal show, Island Life, featuring the works of Mark Hearld, Robina Jack, Alex Malcolmson, Sue Marshall, Guy Royle, Terry Shone, Nigel Lambert and Bronwen Gwillim, with sculptures by Helen Nock in the gardens.
Click here to visit the Yew Tree Gallery website and discover more.
Tuesday – Saturday 10.30am to 5pm
Yew Tree Gallery
Keigwin, nr Morvah