Back in 2012 Kate and I were approached to take over a business in Helmsley, we immediately set out to find a bit more about the town and Bils & Rye was born! A quick Wikipedia search revealed that Helmsley is where the two valleys of Bilsdale and Ryedale meet. Kate shortened them to Bils & Rye and we registered the name.
The deal fell through for a variety of reasons and then the units in our home village of Nunnington were offered to us. Kate initially took them for her studio space as she prepared for a big show of her Highland Cow paintings at the Great Yorkshire Show. We soon realised that we had more space than she needed and as I also needed a low impact job having been ill for a few years the gallery idea was born. In five weeks we turned one room into a gallery with 15 artists and 100 pieces of stock. We opened on Valentine's Day 2013 with no idea what might happen. Nothing much did for the first couple of weeks but gradually people arrived at the door and they seemed to like what we were doing!
Five weeks on and we held a small party! It snowed across Yorkshire and the whole of the North East, yet Nunnington remained lusciously green. In the end around 100 people braved the elements and arrived at the gallery and we nigh on sold out! It was remarkable, so we took a risk and expanded the gallery to twice the size, just three month later doing the same again. Another three months and we had the four rooms we now operate from.
It has not been an easy journey, being located close to the North York Moors has it's advantages and drawbacks. The site had been closed for a few years so wasn't on the radar and despite us having a great National Trust property in Nunnington Hall on our doorstep, footfall continues to be lower than we would ideally like.
That said, half of our visitors become customers and we continue to get great reviews online and verbally. We have now sold to many different countries via our online store too adding another dimension to our reach!
Kate no longer paints at the studios, having been evicted to our home until we can build her a studio in the gardens! We continue to be determined to make a mark in our relaxed and passionate way. One of our ceramicists described the gallery as 'the maddest place he'd visited' before adding that 'it works and challenges everything I have ever learnt about the display of my work'. As he is one of Britain's leading potters we take this as high praise indeed.
This year sees our first grown-up external exhibition at HIVE 2015 in Harrogate. We do hope you will come and see how we challenge the show circuit too!
Rounding off the journey to this point, we wish to thank all our clients, visitors, artists and supporters who have helped to make this a joyful escapade and one that fills us with hope for the British art and craft market for years to come. We have many plans!