In 1982 the gallery
was established as Pyramid Contemporary Craft and Design by jewellery
designer and maker Robert Feather. We asked Robert about the early
What led towards setting up Pyramid?
In the early 80's a few local craftsmen and artists were looking to
up some sort of joint venture. We looked at using Monks Bar as a
workshop/exhibition space but nothing transpired and that fell
Apart from Grape Lane Gallery which was mostly art there was nowhere
York selling quality crafts and jewellery. At that time Gillygate was
mostly boarded up and a most unattractive and yet busy street. I made
approach to the owners of Priory Crafts at 4 and 6 Gillygate to let me
have number 6 which they did and that was it. The name was suggested
a friend because of the Chevron design style of rings I was making at
2) What were the difficulties?
If there were any I wasn't aware of them. Apart from setting up a
shop/gallery on a £3000 overdraft facility, secured on your home. I
never doubted it would work because there will always be a demand for
quality and if there was a problem it was keeping the focus on not
compromising the quality. I had a few good makers who lent me their
initially and as it sold I reinvested in their work by buying it. One
the difficulties was finding the quality of work which was affordable.
3) Did it work immediately?
Yes it did in a small way. Within three years the banks were prepared
lend me a substantial amount at that time to buy the freehold at
10. So we moved the business there in November 1984.
4) Did the business alter from your
The original idea was to open a gallery/shop with workshop where I
work and through which I could sell my own jewellery. The space
was too large for just myself and it seemed a good idea to sell other
makers work alongside my own. This would add shape, colour and texture
to the overall display and produce an attractive environment which
people would be drawn to particularly if we could provide quality
contemporary crafts. The only change took place when we moved premises
from number 6 to 10 Gillgate in 1984 which was an opportunity to start
again with a bigger budget.
5)How did you rate it in terms of
financial success, personal
satisfaction, success for the artists etc.
I do not believe it was a huge financial success whilst I owned it.
Although it needed to be financially viable that wasn't the main
objective. It was a means through which I could sell my jewellery and
that brought great satisfaction as well as the displaying and selling
other makers work and the relationships formed. I believe it must have
been a success for those whose work I sold because I preferred to buy
their work at that time.
6)Any amusing anecdotes?
Our cat Folly used to curl up in the shop window in a JohnDunn ceramic bowl which caused much interest from those passing
by andseeing her walk along the shelves
weaving amongst the work without ever
knocking anything off
over the ownership of Pyramid in 1986, buying it as a going concern
from Bob Feather.
I had graduated from Loughborough College of
Art in 1984 (Jewellery & Silversmithing BA Hons) and
then spent two years working as a
self-employed jeweller in Bob’s workshop and helping out in the shop.
When he decided to sell it was a natural business opportunity for me.
Why did you sell the
In 1989 I married and made the decision to move over the Pennines to
live on the Wirral Peninsula. I was pleased to sell Pyramid as a going
concern to Martin and Ann Jackson
as they were keen to continue running the gallery, supporting high
quality British makers.
What are you doing now?
Since moving to the Wirral I have continued to have a workshop
designing and making Silver jewellery supplying galleries and carrying
out commission items.
I have also established strong links with the Bluecoat Display Centre,
working in the Gallery and supplying work.
I recently exhibited in the 2011 Christmas show ‘Cultivate’.
Some reflections on your time running Pyramid?
I was the proud owner of Pyramid during the 80s in a boom period for
business and tourism. The majority of work was bought directly from
the makers, making selection of work a careful balance between
innovative design and saleability.
I enjoyed the hard work of being a sole owner with a workshop dealing
directly with customers. It was at this time I realised I needed
some help, Jenny Chilia came to my rescue working in the shop if I
needed to be out buying or in the workshop completing orders.
It was very satisfying to be discovering and displaying original
British crafts, getting to know customers and makers.
With a workshop accessible to the customers, talking with them about
designing their special piece made them feel part of the creative
Gillygate was a friendly business community with traders supporting
each other. I made many good friends, in particular Simon and Maureen
at Craft Basics – directly opposite Pyramid.
The run up to Christmas could be a little hairy when trying to produce
stock as well as unpack other maker’s work.
But I still remember the exhilaration of the final week before
Christmas when all the hard preparation was done and seeing the
wonderful pieces being excitedly bought as special, thoughtful presents.
taking over Pyramid in 1994 with Terry I was a Minerals Planning
Officer working for Warwickshire County Council. However, in my spare time I
would make ceramic pictures and loved to look around galleries. The
opportunity to take over Pyramid arose when I saw an advert in Ceramic
Review. It just seemed the right thing to do at the right time. So
we gave up our ‘safe’ professional jobs and took a gamble, dragging
our young girls with us. Fortunately, it paid off and very quickly
the business began to grow.
Gallery’s continuing success is assured as it shows only the best of
British art and craft. Housed in a 15th Century Grade
II Listed Building owned by the national Trust, the
gallery is a very special
place to visit.
It was with
some sadness that I left Pyramid Gallery in October 2009 to take over
Northern Lights Gallery in Keswick. I was no longer married to Terry
and felt it was time I did something on my own. I had always dreamed
of living in the Lake District so approached the previous owner of
Northern Lights Gallery to see if he would sell me his business. I
was shocked and excited when he agreed to sell. I bought the business on
Friday 13th November 2009. Maybe in hindsight Friday 13th
was not the best day as 6 days later Keswick experienced the worst
floods in living memory, badly affecting trade for 6 months. However,
with lots of new work and a ‘makeover’ business has been really good
since. Northern Lights Gallery specialises in selling original
contemporary paintings and photographs with lovely glass, ceramics,
jewellery and wood furniture, boxes and bowls. Please take a look at
I had a career as a Chartered Quantity Surveyor between
1976 and 1985, and then as a developer of Computer Aided Design
solutions for construction industry between 1985 and 1994. The
recession of 1987/1994 took a toll on my
well being as I ran my own consultancy offering training and
development services to many different types of client scattered
across the UK. Never one to turn work away, I found myself
working longer hours than my body could sustain.
Elaine and I had been
researching business premises to open a ceramics gallery in Warwick.
When she saw Pyramid for sale in York, she had us looking at the
business on Christmas Eve in 1993. Ann and Martin were please to show
us the business, but it must have been an extra stress for them on
such a busy day. We had a drink in Ye Old Starre Inn afterwards. I
recall sitting down and looking at a stained glass window panel that
bore the logo 'Brett Bros' (our family name). Seemed bizarre at the time. I had no idea
at that moment that we would be selling our house and moving the girls
out of their happy environment and into an adventure that would
see us almost completely broke for several months.
until the final handover on 1st June 1994. We had bought a business
that generated no income and that we knew nothing much about. We had
no where to live and were having to borrow money from relations. We
camped in the shop for 12 weeks while buying a house (made difficult
by Northern Rock who would not make a decision about a mortgage,
finally telling us we could not have one! Thank you Barclays Bank with
whom I had banked for several years - they came to our rescue and we
bought a small terrace in Haxby that needed renovation)
The first day in the
disastrous. I knocked over the shelves in the window and destroyed
several hundred pounds worth of glass and ceramics!
The second day, we
left open a jewellery display cabinet in a room to which we had shut
the door . A thief went in and stole 5 items of very expensive
enamelled silver jewellery
The third day a shoplifter
managed to force open the locks on the window display and ran off
with a tray of gold and diamond rings. We saw it happen, but he was
too quick. I sent our daughters Elinor and Suzy out to search the
streets for rings - they returned with 3 or 4 that he had dropped. The
laugh was on him really . He had stolen a tray of sample rings, not a
bit of gold or a single diamond. It was a set back though as we had
lost our ring samples and therefore our window display.
Things changed very quickly.
I remember one occasion in the first September, when I was down in
Redditch (I still carried on my consultancy work at first). Elaine was
running the shop on her own and rang me to tell me that she had sold
£1200 worth of work. It was the sign of a turn around. From that point
on sales kept increasing. I gave up the consultancy and have never
regretted doing so. There has never been a day when I have not felt
about owning Pyramid Gallery, even though there have been many
challenging moments, some where I really thought we were not going to
make it work. Somehow it always comes good.
2008 to PRESENT Elaine went her separate way in 2007. Finally
finishing at Pyramid in November 2009 having sold her share to me in
June. The girls had both left home and everything had changed. The
business had already been showing signs of pressure due to a recession
that had clearly started but not so named until the problems with
Northern Rock and Bradford and Bingley, later the Credit Crunch. We
knew a recession was coming a long time before Lehman Brothers
collapsed. When business stopped growing we were probably
questioning its sustainability and thinking 'what next?' Since then I
have had to learn new skills. Before the credit crunch, business was
easy. We just selected work we liked, put it out and most of it sold.
world of retail is different now with pressures from all directions,
especially the internet.
At this point, I would like
to thank all our regular customers for continuing to support Pyramid.
And that is from the artists and makers too, as I am sure they are
also very appreciative of the continuing enthusiasm of the people of
York and its hinterland and those from far flung places (such as
Australia, America and Hebden Bridge) who buy their lovingly made woks
I made a conscious decision
in 2010 not to sell out. It had been tempting to buy branded
merchandise, such as beaded charm bracelets and signed limited edition
art works by famous names. It had been tempting to develop an
Ecommerce website . But I knew that this would distract from the nice
friendly nature of the business that we know and cherish.
So, we are not going to have
a website from which customers can click and buy and we are not going to stock charm beads to
fit on well known makes of bracelet. We are though going to continue
talking to our customers and provide a rewarding and stimulating
experience for those that like to saunter around the wonderful streets
of York and just browse until they see something that they cannot be
without. Hopefully, there will continue to be enough of a reaction
against the on-line culture that is taking over the world of retail
and that enough people will want to enjoy the time honoured
tradition of browsing real shops and galleries. And from this side of
the counter, I have to say, 'it is still fun!'
Without Elaine here steering
the business and putting her expert touches to the shop displays, I
have had to learn new skills, such as guiding and
nurturing the 3 jewellery makers who now run the shop and on who I
rely. ('Guiding and nurturing ?' I hear them say. 'More like chiding
and torturing!' but it takes time to teach an old dog new tricks. We
will get there in the end.) So this is a big thank you to:
Sarah Chilia who has been
with Pyramid for 14 years (with a break to attend University in
Birmingham - where she graduated 1st class with Honours). Sarah
is now Assistant Manager and takes charge of matters to do with
jewellery displays and orders. A very successful jeweller herself for
over ten years, Sarah is often called upon to design and make special
Katharine Yelland started her
jewellery career with Rachel Gogerly, silversmith and enameller who
has had strong ties with Pyramid Gallery in the past. But immediately
before she came to Pyramid, Katharine had been an assistant to Robert
Feather, who ran his own gallery in the shop that used to be Pyramid
on Gillygate. Katharine is now selling her own unique range of
handcrafted jewellery known as 'Eclipse'
Kim Tortice is a jewellery
graduate from Loughborough College. She came to York and we took her on
as a sales assistant. While doing that, she has developed her own
range of cast fine silver jewellery that is now selling well in the
And thank you also to the
many assistants who have helped out in the past, and those who will be
part of the team in the future too.
In the meantime, I am
determined to take some time off. Hopefully in February, I will be in
India, checking out sources of contemporary crafts over there to see
if Indian craft workers have anything from which we can learn, or
maybe something worth exhibiting here. I also want to use this time to
develop my own creative work as the scribbler not yet widely known as
Bertt deBaldock . But that's another story for next year.
Jewellery and Silversmithing (BA Hons) at Loughborough College of Art
in the early 1980s before setting up her workshop in York where she
later became proprietor of Pyramid.
She was then lured
over the Pennines, married and set up her workshop on the Wirral.
Coastal walks with
the backdrop of the distant Welsh hills never cease to inspire and
influence Julia’s silverwork.
1984 BA(Hons) Jewellery and Silversmithing, Loughborough College of
Art and Design
1984 - 1989 Workshop in York, trading as Julia Parker Jewellery
1986 - 1989 Proprietor of Pyramid Contemporary Design gallery, York
1989 - 1993 Opened workshop on the Wirral
2003 - 2005 City and Guilds Embroidery
2007 Re-established workshop on Wirral
Bluecoat Display Centre, Liverpool
Counter Culture, Chester
Northern Lights, Keswick
2009 The Brindley Arts Centre, Runcorn
2009 Dee Fine Arts, Heswall
2010 Staacks, West Kirby
2011 Pyramid, York
MJMAN Merseyside Jewellers and Metal Artists Network
2005-2008 TX: Textile Exhibiting Group
Sarah Packington designs
and makes striking modern acrylic and silver jewellery in her Brighton
workshop. Her current collection includes earrings, bangles, necklaces
These images show Valerie's
latest collection, 'Wave' silver with gold detailing
Valerie Mead designs and makes elegant and
wearable contemporary jewellery in silver and gold. New pieces are
added each year to a collection of finely textured silver jewellery
which features tiny details in rose gold. This collection is available
direct from her workshop or via craft galleries and exhibitions
throughout the UK.
Individually commissioned pieces are designed and made in gold or
silver for special occasions; eg. wedding, engagement and partnership
rings, birthday and anniversary presents etc. Customers’ own ideas can
be incorporated into the design.
Inspiration for these clean cut designs
often comes from observations of architectural and man-made items.
Simplicity of line is the aim.
Valerie trained at Sheffield Polytechnic
School of Art and Design, followed by a Goldsmiths’ Company Graduate
Apprenticeship and a Residency at South Hill Park Arts Centre in
Berkshire. She works from her own studio in Oxford. Visitors are
welcome by appointment.
'titles of these
paintings will be added very soon - please come and look again?
I have lived in York for 35
years. I came to painting rather late in life after having a
family and another career. At first I attended evening
classes, but then decided to take an HNC in Fine Art at York
College which I completed in 2004.
The course made a fundamental difference to my work. To
begin with, working with landscape, I became fascinated with
texture. As I regularly attended a life drawing group, I
began to wonder how to incorporate the figure into textured
backgrounds and indeed how the figure itself could be
textured. About this time I was encouraged to try using oils
and this transformed my work.
I began to select figures from my sketch book and would
reproduce them on my canvas in acrylic paint. I paint the
background in another acrylic colour so as to have a clear
image to work from. I then paint the figure in white oil
paint. When this is completely dry I completely cover the
canvas in a selection of oil paints put on in an abstract
way. Then I work back into the paint to find echoes of the
figure using a brush, roller, white spirit etc. I use
highlights and colour to partly reveal the form. Sometimes
the figure may become distorted or changed.
I have been experimenting with this technique for about six
years. I struggle to achieve a creative tension between the
paint and colour and the form. I am trying to move towards
an almost abstract image without completely losing the
I shared an exhibition with two colleagues at the Friend’s
Meeting House in York in 2004 and then held one on my own at
the Blake Head bookshop in 2005. I have just taken part in
York Open Studios 2006. I sold paintings at all these shows.
April 2007, I had a succesful solo show at the Treasurer's
House in York. I exhibited at Bowery Gallery,
Headingly in 2008 and also in the Salon at East Street Arts’
Studios. Part of the Salon work was taken
to Germany in 2009 for a similar occasion and I sold a
picture in Dortmund.'
January 2010, Isabel exhibited for the first time at Pyramid
Gallery. This was just after the shocking news of an
earthquake in Haiti which devastated the city of Port
Au prince and made 1.5million people homeless. Isabel
decided to donate proceeds from this exhibition to
Medicin Sans Frontiers and donated £185 to the appeal.
Alison Varley uses a traditional 'forging'
techniques to make individual and unique works of art in silver and
gold. We like these at Pyramid Gallery because there is no way to
reproduce these except at the hands of a time served artisan. The
process is physically demanding and requires artistic talent as well
as knowledge about the materials used.