The Harbour Cottage Gallery in Kirkcudbright is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its opening in September, with a special exhibition of work by artists who were active in and around the town in 1957.
The opening of the gallery in that year marked the successful end to a campaign to preserve the building from demolition.
The artist Dorothy Nesbitt, then a Kirkcudbright Town Councillor, initiated the campaign in 1955, enlisting the support of the National Trust for Scotland. The campaign group negotiated a stay of demolition and in September 1955 set about organising a local and national appeal to raise the funds needed to restore the building. Kirkcudbright’s leading artist of the time, Charles Oppenheimer, wrote an appeal letter which appeared in the national and local press. The local newspapers were particularly supportive in publicising the campaign.
Antony Wolffe was engaged as the project’s architect and an application for grant support was submitted to the Historic Buildings Council (Scotland), Ministry of Works. The public appeal eventually raised almost £800. In June 1956, the Historic Building Council offered a grant of £1000. All this enabled building works to proceed in January 1957, which were nearing completion by the end of May that year. Major Crichton-Stuart MC, a Vice-President of the NTS, formally opened the gallery on the 6th September 1957. The final cost of the project was £1,700 including all fees.
Although the main objective of the campaign was to preserve the building, a considerable secondary benefit was the creation of Kirkcudbright’s first public art gallery. The preservation campaign group handed over the building to a formally constituted Trust which took over the care of the building and operation of the gallery, as it still does very successfully 60 years later. Charles Oppenheimer arranged the gallery’s first exhibition, which highlighted the work of ‘deceased artists’ associated with Kirkcudbright. Now, 60 years later, the anniversary exhibition will show over 50 paintings and craft works to represent 29 artists and makers active in and around Kirkcudbright in 1957 – the gallery’s opening year. All the exhibits have been kindly lent by individuals and two – paintings by Tim Jeffs and T G McGill-Duncan – are also offered for sale by their lender. The exhibition runs from Friday, 1st September until Saturday, 16th September. The gallery opens daily from 10.30am – 5.00pm (except Sundays 2.00pm – 5.00pm). Admission is free.