Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Louise Connell at Falmouth Art Gallery

My carefully prepared list of questions receded into insignificance when I arrived at Falmouth Art Gallery to meet its recently appointed director. Louise Connell clearly feels very much at home in her new environment. Bursting with enthusiasm, she whisked me down into the basement store, revealing an Aladdin’s cave of artworks to which she responded with a mixture of affection, delight and awe.

Louise Connell ~ Director
Falmouth Art Gallery
This is a collection which celebrates Cornwall’s artistic heritage in all its diversity. The Gallery hosts a programme of seasonal exhibitions reflecting its significance not only within the county, but in the context of the wider art world. ‘Falmouth Frameworks’, the current exhibition, highlights an aspect of art practice which is often overlooked: the relationship between frame and work. Writing about the show in the September issue of ‘Here and Now’ magazine, Connell emphasises the port’s unique position and distinctive artistic identity, concluding that ‘the sense of Falmouth as a place where great art is made and enjoyed has never been stronger.’

Curious about the new director’s stance on the role of women artists, I was reassured when it transpired that she had read Art History at the University of Sussex under the professorship of leading feminist art historian Marcia Pointon. This was followed up with a postgraduate diploma in Museum Studies at the University of Manchester.

Connell’s fascination for the ‘stories behind the artworks’ is evident from a career including six years as Keeper of Social History at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery in Preston. This experience stood her in good stead when she took up the post of Curator of the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham in 2000. Here, she was involved in delivering projects to young people at risk of offending, encouraging them to create installations for the disused prison cells in the building. The Cell Project was influential in securing for the Galleries of Justice the inaugural Gulbenkian Art Prize in 2003 (coincidentally, Falmouth Art Gallery received a nomination for this award in the same year).

Her next challenge was as Senior Manager within the Bolton Museums Service, with a team of curators, archivists and technicians under her care across three sites. During her time there (2004 -2006) a major re-hang of the art galleries was undertaken, as a result of the successful submission of a bid for £200,000 worth of funding. Additional fund-raising activities under her curatorship facilitated the purchase of new works for the twentieth century collection, including a watercolour landscape by Winifred Nicholson.

Following a move to Cornwall, Connell put her talents to use as marketing co-ordinator for Miracle Theatre Company.

Since taking up her appointment at Falmouth Art Gallery in July of this year, she has initiated a number of projects encouraging the participation of the local community in art-based activities. In recent weeks Naomi Frears has led a series of print workshops for home-educated youngsters at the Gallery. I was delighted to see that this highly-regarded St Ives based artist is now represented in the collection, with an enigmatic work entitled ‘Still Here’.

Naomi Frears
‘Still Here’
Charcoal on paper
© Falmouth Art Gallery

Among the basement treasures were a selection of recent acquisitions by Grace Gardner. A renowned abstract colourist from Chicago who made her home in Cornwall in the 1980s, Gardner made a substantial donation of canvases to the Gallery in 2004. These latest works, including three silkscreen prints, make an impressive addition to the collection.

Grace Gardner
‘Untitled’ -  1968
Silkscreen print
© Falmouth Art Gallery

Connell also drew my attention to an arresting self-portrait by Bianca Cork entitled ‘Bare’, the representation of a personal experience of grief. The acquisition of this photographic etching underlines the director’s commitment to continue the Gallery’s policy of showcasing the achievements of outstanding graduates of University College Falmouth. Cork, who recently attained an MA in Photography, has produced a body of work which is highly individual, examining the artist’s position in relation to contemporary image-making.

Bianca Cork
‘Bare’ - 2011
© Falmouth Art Gallery

Plans are under way to acquire an important still life by a Victorian who influenced the Pre-Raphaelites. ‘Roses’ was painted by the French-born Sophie Gengembre Anderson in 1894, shortly after she settled in Falmouth, having spent much of her life in the USA and the island of Capri. Suffering from chronic ill-health, Anderson died in 1903 and is buried in Falmouth Cemetery.  Her grave, and those of a number of other important figures from Falmouth’s artistic past, can be visited by participating in a ‘Cemetery Tour’ – see details below.

Recalling the Gallery’s seminal 1996 exhibition ‘Women Artists in Cornwall 1880-1940’ curated by Catherine Wallace, I wondered whether the time had come for a celebration of women’s art practice in the post-modern era. Recent years have seen the emergence of individuals of such stature as Sandra Blow, Rose Hilton, Basma Ashworth, Partou Zia and the UCF-educated Tacita Dean, for instance, some of whom are not yet represented in the Gallery. However, Connell stressed the importance of presenting artworks within their historical and social context, in order to avoid the danger of marginalisation. A show on the subject of Cornwall’s colourists is under consideration, which would not be gender-specific, but would undoubtedly include some of the above. As a curator, she believes she has a responsibility to ‘uncover women artists who have been hidden from history’. The degree of women’s own complicity in their exclusion from the art historical canon is one which intrigues Connell, and it will be fascinating to see how this issue may be addressed in future exhibitions.

Brian Stewart was a much loved curator whose untimely death in December 2010 was a tremendous loss to the art world. But anyone meeting Louise Connell can have no doubt that she is the right person to inherit his legacy. Warm and approachable, she brings to Falmouth Art Gallery a wealth of experience combined with professionalism and commitment – qualities essential to a curatorship dedicated to engaging a diverse audience and enriching the cultural life of the community.

© 2011 Helen Hoyle

Falmouth Art Gallery is free of charge and is open daily (except Sundays) from 10.00 to 5.00. Works which are not on display may be viewed on weekdays without an appointment.

Guided tours of Falmouth Cemetery will resume next Spring.
A leaflet with a map is available in the Gallery should visitors prefer to explore the Cemetery independently.

‘Falmouth Frameworks’ continues until 19 November 2011.

The interview with Louise Connell took place on 27 September.


  1. I look forward to reading about future exhibitions at this gallery. Wendy LG

  2. Beautiful post. The pictures was very nice i wish to join you one day for enjoyment. Painters London