I’m Karen Sherwood.
I’m a gallery owner/ artist/ curator.
I am based in Hillsborough, Sheffield, UK.
I run a private, non funded, contemporary art gallery and a bespoke picture framing business. I work very hard showcasing and selling work by living contemporary artists across all media, including but not limited to: Painting, drawing, printmaking, glass, jewellery, textiles, photography, artist’s books
The gallery hosts approximately 10 solo or themed exhibitions a year alongside a constantly evolving selection of art and fine craft. If talent is local we show it, but don’t show anything just because it is local, it has to be good enough. Work on display is local, national and international.
How I do it, is a much more difficult question to answer. Constantly seeking out and showcasing new talent helps keep things fresh and interesting. Engaging and thoughtful ‘themed’ exhibitions and carefully selected solo shows create new and retain existing audiences. It is a difficult profession especially outside of a major capital city as the buying audiences are relatively small and new customers need to be won all the time. The framing business is a good source of cash flow as the gallery has both good times and not so good times. Keeping the ‘love’ and ‘passion’ going for what I do is essential in order to make my business sustainable.
What path did your career take to get where you are now?
I didn’t have a career path! As is my want, I made my own. There was nowhere in the city of Sheffield to showcase and sell contemporary art and fine craft when I graduated from fine art in 1990.
After some time registered as a freelance artist and working part time, a couple of fortuitous circumstances converged and that, combined that with a strong desire to open a gallery that everyone told me ‘would never work’ was the motivation I needed to open Cupola Gallery. No experience, no career progression, just desire and a certain amount of fearlessness (or stupidity). At the time I argued, if you have no money, you have no money to lose!
Have you found it difficult to enter your profession as a woman?
I think this profession is difficult for anyone to enter! However, it got very very tricky when I had children and I would say that having a family and working in the arts is an issue that the arts as a whole does not either address nor manage well at all. Late nights, unsociable hours, you name it and the arts has it. I took my children to work with me and forged my own path as the system was not set up to support that aspect at all.
Did you have any help during your career?
I had no formal help in the early years as I was reliably informed by numerous parties that no-one knew how to help – honestly! However, I was blessed by a chance encounter with a customer who turned into the best mentor anyone could have wished for! A man named David Butterfield walked into my gallery about 3 months after I opened and gave me three months of his time and expertise for nothing. He was ex marketing director of London Weekend Television and was amazing.
Importantly he gave me the belief I could ‘do it’ and the skills to understand my strengths and weaknesses and practical advice too. He was an absolute God send and I still thank God to this day for him.
What do you wish you had known when you started out?
I wish I’d had a greater understanding of the value of my time.
If you could talk to your younger self now, what would you tell them?
If I could talk to my younger self I would tell me to keep believing but charge more for my time (not for its own sake, but to make sure the business is sustainable).
Who has most inspired you and why?
It is very hard to say who has most inspired me. Clearly David B gave me a lot, but without the love and support of my family, particularly from my mum, I’d never have had the confidence to do what I did.
I’m inspired by small acts of kindness, everyday events and often by small children. Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes and it is character, selflessness and creativity that constantly inspire me.
What tips would you give someone just starting out?
Let others help you but don’t be steered off course. Make sure you ‘keep the love’ and something that David B taught me ‘Know yourself to show yourself’. Unless you get a true understanding of who you are, you never know just what you are capable of achieving.
What was the best piece of advice anyone gave you?
See above ‘know yourself to show yourself’.
What inspiring quote to you love and where does it come from?
I like this quote from Elenore Roosevelt – She was an inspirational woman – Women are like tea bags – you don’t know how strong they are until you put them in hot water!
Do you use any useful apps, systems or websites that you would like to share?
Thats a tough one. I’m currently investigating ‘curator space’ and I currently use Everypost for cross platform social media sharing, although as social media changes so fast, I may move on to something new soon.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
The only thing I would like to add is to say is that success needs to be measured in your own terms. Don’t hold yourself up again anyone else or compare what you do with others.
Learn to create your own systems of value that please yourself. You can often be your own worse critic too, so definitely make sure you cut yourself a break every so often as well! Keep the love, keep it sexy, have fun as often as you can. Go for it!!
Photo Credit: Light and Dark Photography.