The Exhibition at Holy Trinity Church 23 June – 3 July 2021
775 visitors over 8 days.
Including at least one gate crashing squirrel.
What a rollercoaster ride setting up an art trail during a pandemic, in a large city centre church has been!
Hard to believe we only started planning things in March after the Team at Holy Trinity placed a call for artists to exhibit for that year’s Warwickshire Open Studios, and Amanda jumped on the idea, knowing that John and Emma had previously talked about working on pieces together.
As Coventry is City of Culture, it seemed like a dream combination and the four of us quickly developed some existing ideas of collaborating into an exhibition of photographs of Coventry, with ‘added extras’ which would have a wide appeal to suit what we hoped would be hugely varied audience.
There were so many firsts – it was the first time Holy Trinity had taken part in Warwickshire Open Studios, the first time (we believe) that Open Studios artists had offered an exhibition of truly collaborative pieces rather than exhibiting their own art works separately.
And the first time we’d all collaborated like this. Four people working on the same pieces of art. Would we all come out of it and still be friends?
There was also a LOT of admin: banners to be ordered, permissions to be sought, press releases to be sent (when you didn’t really have any finished pieces!), photographic and other materials to be sourced.
And swerves in the road. Having a church as a venue meant that could not be open on Sundays, but we also had to negotiate a pre-booked service for Armed Forces Day, plus a wedding, both of which were on our exhibiting days.
We were, along with our colleagues at the church, constantly keeping an eye on the news for Covid developments. Would we actually be able to open? In what form could we open? Could we have a plan A and plan B?
We decided to offer timed entry with tickets via The City of Culture website – just in case we had to really limit numbers and planned a one way system around the church, which would take in our 25 pieces as well as give a good view of the permanent pieces the church had on display.
Completely out of our control was the worrying and upsetting news when Anita revealed she was ill, needed surgery and wouldn’t be able to continue with her part in the exhibition.
After the initial shock, John, Emma and Amanda regrouped and refined the themes and look of the final pieces, keeping things open in case Anita felt she could contribute at the last minute.
Everything hinged on John’s photography. There were a few images already in the bag but lots still needed to be taken. And there’s the small problem of Coventry not having a distinctive ‘skyline’ – we spent hours agonising over this one.
The weather wasn’t on John’s side. The rain just kept on coming.
Family members were ill, and like all artists, paid work takes priority over exhibition work like this, and we had a fair few wobbles as the deadline loomed.
Eventually a production line of photographs from John’s Dark Shed started coming first to Emma to illustrate, then to Amanda to add her tiny glass stuff.
Emma’s first issue was – ‘what if I go wrong, I can’t rub it out!’, but she soon became more confident in the ideas and was soon illustrating her head off. Our What’sApp group was pinging with works in progress snaps!
Amanda was melting glass like fury to keep up. There were plenty of ideas, the problem was, as a 3D artist, how were her glass pieces going to be fixed to the photos? The first few pieces she made were small but just too heavy and she quickly realised they would have to be VERY small and detailed to stand out.
For the biggest photographic print, the pieces had to be temporarily fixed so glue wasn’t an option. A panicky call out to jewellery colleagues resulted in a donation of some tiny brooch pin fixings which meant the glass rubber ducks, bubbles and rubber rings could be temporary. Awkward though that turned out to be!
John’s working space was quite large, although the largest print proved a real challenge to process and dry. Thank heavens for a sunny dry day, and two stepladders plus washing line.
When Emma came to work on this print, the rest of the family had to clear the decks for her to use the dining table and she could clamber over it a bit at a time. Amanda’s contribution to it had to be installed in the church as the piece needed to be rolled for transport.
All the smaller pictures came to Amanda last with Emma’s artwork complete. As we’d not discussed how to transport them once the glass was added, she had to improvise stacking them in open boxes with lots of bubble wrap and tissue. To her two cats, the boxes meant only one thing and there were a couple of dicey moments as one of them nearly made its bed on some precious artwork.
Installing an exhibition in a venue which normally doesn’t take exhibitions means you don’t have the luxury of a technician to help you work out such things as how to get your artworks safely into the building, how to hang properly without curling, whether the light will be right etc.
We were definitely on a wing and a prayer and working on a ‘low tech’ standpoint as we knew we’d have to uninstall parts of the exhibition for the Sunday Service and other times the church was privately booked.
Handily, Emma owns a van, which fitted everything in and once we’d blagged our way past the road closures were able to park right next to the church, unload into a space which was our’s exclusively for set up.
Helped by Grace, John’s niece, we were able to install our finished pieces fairly quickly (in the knowledge that right next door, Wilkinson’s had a bottomless supply of useful stuff if we’d forgotten anything).
There comes a point where you’ve just got to trust what you’ve done, and with a few tweaks in location. We stepped away ready for the visitors.
Open to the public
Although the church has Welcomers, we’d decided to be there every day to help people get the most out of our exhibition.
Something we hadn’t anticipated was that some people just came to pray, others were regular visitors the Welcomers knew (homeless people, lonely people). Lots who had come ‘for the art’ had booked via the City of Culture website, some had travelled a long way (!), some came back several times, some just happened to see our massive banner on the church railings, and some were pointed in our direction by the excellent City Hosts.
All three of us had taken part in Open Studios previously but never had we seen such a wide variety of visitors of all ages and backgrounds at our previous exhibitions: young and old, students, retired people, locals, out of area, ‘adopted’ locals, as well as a few fellow artists. It was just lovely to see people joining in the spirit of fun, determined to spot all the exhibits (including the one in the Pulpit that caught most of you out), and chatting to us about ‘old’ Coventry, memories, ‘new’ Coventry, photography techniques
It was important to us that visitors to our exhibition also had the chance to take in the church and it’s treasures including the hugely important ‘Coventry Doom’ Painting, the beautiful stained glass and the general historical importance of Holy Trinity for the City.
Hats off to Catherine and the team at Holy Trinty for trusting us to put something together without really knowing what we were doing!
Especially thanks to Colin the Verger for letting us move stuff around and use church furniture for purposes it probably hasn’t been used for before. To Chris, Alison and the team of volunteer Welcomers without whom we really couldn’t have done this (especially on those two really busy Saturdays).
We’d really like to get this exhibition out there again, and yes we can customise it. There’s a possibility of another venue for October (early stages of talks…don’t jinx it!) but if you’ve got any suggestions, please let us know
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