Dating from 1390, Percy House, Cockermouth’s oldest surviving town house, is undoubtedly of significant architectural and historical interest. The original property was renewed in 1598 when it was occupied by the bailiff of Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland.
Evidence of this can still be seen in the date on the carved plaster ceiling and in the coat of arms and family motto engraved above the fireplace in one of the upper rooms. In recent years after considerable restoration work by English Heritage, Vivien Austin and Karen Cottier converted it into its present use and opened it as a gallery and shop in 2002.
Both Karen and Vivien have brought valuable and complementary skills to their present business partnership: Karen having managed the gifts and British crafts department of Liberty’s of London, and Vivien having worked as a freelance graphic designer. However, it was their job-sharing work at the Groundwork Trust’s Regeneration project in Market Place that eventually brought them together in the field of arts management.
When government funding of this youth training scheme came to an end it seemed a natural step for Karen and Vivien to look elsewhere to develop their talent in selecting, displaying and marketing works of art. Little wonder then that they seized the opportunity to move about 100 yards across Cockermouth’s Market Place to become the first new tenants of the restored Percy House.
The house itself is stunning, with its split levels, low ceilings, exposed beams, fireplaces and differing spatial perspectives. Every nook and cranny of this fine building is tastefully utilised to show appropriate objects. A small alcove may contain a sandstone Chinese dragon, two Trevor Green pictures of Italian doorways and a fluted metal candle holder; a banister holds a richly decorated rug; a wool and felt creation adorns the back of a door; and delicate pots line some of the windowsills.
The work on display is principally by Cumbrian artists who cover the full range of media: for example you are likely to find textiles by Dianne Standen, Jenny Cowern, Christine Crofts and Angie Flynn; paintings by the artist in residence Shirley Shackleton, Jim Binns and Venus Griffiths; ceramics by John Tyler and John Kershaw; photographs by David Herrod, as well as a rich collection of jewellery, silver and glassware, wood carvings, pots and sculptures. A rolling series of mainly solo exhibitions are held in the upper rooms on a monthly basis.
As far as their aims are concerned, Karen and Vivien both agree that they seek “to encourage and promote new talent and to create a homely atmosphere where people can browse without feeling intimidated”.
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