Stiwdio Maelor is a residency stiwdio in Corris, mid Wales – a place where artists and writers can take time apart from their busy lives in order to create. It has no permanent gallery space, or events budget. However, occasionally an artist on an extended residency, will express the desire to exhibit new work. Then, depending on space and timetabling the Stiwdio will host an exhibition.
Now, in case you haven’t realised, I do not have a visual arts background. When Veronica left, within twenty four hours of my arriving in Wales (yes, unavoidably bad timing) I began to realise the challenges I would face. Within days, I found myself taking down an exhibition, part of which involved dismantling delicate glass-domed landscape reproductions with white gloves and re-packing them into numbered polystyrene layers of protection. Driving home in the car afterwards, Jonathan Syltie, the artist who’d been roped into helping me, said:
‘You don’t know much about art. But you seem to have a fair amount of common sense which is almost as good in the long run.’
The comment filled me with a ridiculous level of pride.
I used the same common sense a few weeks later when the ‘organiser’ of Jonathan’s exhibition flew to Portugal, without telling us, on the morning of the opening.
Setting up for Helfa Gelf – Gwynedd’s open arts trail – was decidedly tricker. Two of our Stiwdio artists had cancelled at the last minute leaving me alone with a big empty house and an American artist, Cindy Steiler. Fortunately, Cindy was more than adequate to the task. Between us, we managed to fill the house with art-work and people. After going through the Stiwdio one elderly gentleman said: ‘I haven’t seen anything this good in years.’
‘Seriously,’ Cindy said, when I mentioned it later. ‘That old guy needs to get out more.’
She was right. But that didn’t stop me feeling blue ribbon proud of what we had achieved.
When Mita Solanky, our British born artist in residence with a Gujarati heritage, expressed an interest in showing her new body of work, Veronica came up with the idea of asking, Mayur Raj Verma, a former Bollywood actor who now lives in Dolgellau to open the exhibition. He agreed and, as the dates of Raj’s availability, coincided with Diwali – the Hindu Festival of Lights – we decided to run with a Diwali theme – complete with candles, rangoli lights and Indian nibbles.
My job was to set up the Facebook publicity and to write the press releases. Stiwdio Maelor hasn’t hitherto enjoyed much success with the local papers. This time we hit their sweet spot. I like to think it had something to do with my excellent turn of phrase but, more likely, the name Raj Verma provided the entry point. Whatever the case, we were in there, on page twenty six right after the headlines: Boss hits employee on head head with broom, and, Police make arrest after part of man’s ear bitten off. Indeed! It’s all happening in West Wales.
In the lead up to the exhibition, we stripped the wallpaper and re-painted the common room. Found out the framers could not get our donated works ready in time for the exhibition. Spent a day framing them ourselves and another day hanging them. The latter was a serious business, involving hammers, nails, and plumb lines.
‘Damn!’ Veronica said, soon after she arrived. ‘I have forgotten my drill.
‘No, you haven’t,’ I replied, pointing to a big orange drill on the bench.
‘That’s not my drill. It’s Inge’s.’
At which point , I realised I had missed out on one of life’s foundational experiences. Drill ownership. ‘I’ve never had a drill.’ I confessed.
‘Every woman needs her own drill.’ Veronica replied, with a disbelieving shake of her head.
We planned a rough program for the afternoon:
2pm – doors opened
2.30 – Veronica welcomed everyone
2.35 – Raj made a speech and opened the exhibition
2.45 – Mita’s work was open for viewing
3.00 – artist talk by Mita Solanky
4.00 – short documentary on the Bollywood film industry
The afternoon went without a hitch – apart from floods making the Machynlleth Bridge impassable, Mita’s sister’s car breaking down, the Stiwdio doors getting accidentally locked so that people were standing in the rain, and Veronica announcing she lived in Dolgellau with Raj. Fortunately she corrected her error – perhaps it had something to do with the startled look on his wife’s face? Otherwise, Stiwdio Maelor may have enjoyed an altogether different headline in the local paper. Something like: Bollywood star’s wife hits stiwdio owner over head with broom.