'We’ve had good times here': 50 Years at Watts Gallery

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Posted 21st March 2016

'We've seen it all really. We've seen people come and go . . . We've had good times here, no doubt about that.'

After fifty years as an employee and active supporter and member of the Watts Gallery – Artists' Village community, Malcolm Hodgson will be retiring as Estate Assistant on 24 March 2016. Malcolm and his wife Christine have been involved with the gallery for over fifty years, after they moved to Down Lane at the suggestion of Christine's father who opened a local grocer's in the 1950s in the Pottery Building, which is now the Artists' Village Visitor Centre.

The couple soon became involved with Watts Gallery after befriending the curator Wilfrid Blunt, who gave Malcolm an old potting shed to use as a garage in exchange for doing odd jobs and grounds work around the gallery. When the custodians Mr & Mrs Westbury retired soon after, Malcolm and Christine took over.

The couple raised their two children while living in a flat above Watts Gallery before moving into their current home nearby. Malcolm recalls his son and daughter exploring the valley around the Artists' Village, playing with curator Richard Jefferies' children and climbing onto the roof to spy through the window of Mr Blunt's dining room.

Malcolm and Christine remember Blunt as 'an honest man' and 'absolutely marvellous with children.' Blunt once wrote a children's book called I am a Jolly Bandersnatch about an animal that learned to talk and write, and he involved the Hodgson's son Mark by having him contribute drawings and images of his handwriting. Living up to G F and Mary Wattses' ethos of Art for All, Blunt encouraged the children to experiment with art and especially painting.

During their time at Watts Gallery Malcolm and Christine have seen many people come and go including curators Rowland Alston, Wilfrid Blunt and Richard Jefferies. The Pottery Building has gone from housing Christine's father's grocery to being a furniture store, a Danish bakery and a designer carpet store before being refurbished as the Visitor Centre and Tea Shop.

The couple remember overgrown flowerbeds and one occasion where a large silver birch tree fell and took a corner off the Foyle Pottery Studio. Malcolm says, 'Before this was refurbished, they used to have evening 'dos to raise money, and people would be in overcoats all evening. It was that cold in here.'

As talented ballroom dancers who taught dance lessons, the Hodgsons often hosted fundraisers and dances in the gallery. Christine recalls one eventful occasion when visitors came for a dance and their caravans became stuck at the gallery over New Year because of the snowy weather.

Another fond memory is of Mrs Westbury, the retired housekeeper, and her Sunday visits. 'Every Sunday morning she would bring me over a glass of sherry,' Malcolm remembers. 'I'd get the car out to clean it or do something, and every time she saw me, she'd bring a glass of sherry over.'

Of the many changes that have occurred at the gallery, the couple are especially proud of the recent physical transformation. Malcolm says, 'Mr Blunt had quite a lot done. He had the roof patched, and we raised quite a lot of money for that. And then nothing was done until Perdita came and raised the money to have it done properly.' He adds, 'It's nice to see the place back to its former glory.'

When asked to describe his time at the Artists' Village, Malcolm said, 'It's been really lovely. We've had it good here. We're lucky, but I think we've given in return for what we've got.'

After over fifty years of involvement, Watts Gallery - Artists' Village extends our most heartfelt congratulations to Malcolm and Christine and best wishes on your well-deserved retirement.