The ART of Doing @ Broomhill
A passion for collecting paintings and sculpture
The starting point for my love of art and my passion for collecting paintings and sculpture was a visit to a 1977 touring exhibition of original contemporary prints in Tilburg. There I made the decision to buy a lithograph by Pierre van Soest, an impression of a painting by Jan van Eyck of 'Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife'.
Living in the south of the Netherlands. modern art was not widely available. In the eighties, only a few galleries existed there; the scene was Amsterdam. Luckily I lived close to Eindhoven where the van Abbemuseum housed one of the best European contemporary art collections. That collection and their exhibition programme developed my personal interest and opened my eyes to the world of art. Over the years this encouraged me to visit many international collections and exhibitions in Europe and the United States.
Running a bakery business meant that my budget was limited, but often I made a deal with a gallery or the artist and paid for the work in small amounts. Once one piece was paid for, the excitement was in finding the next.
In 1991, I met the artist Marlies Vonk and her partner Ton van Loenen. They came back from the States and set up a temporary studio space in an industrial annexe in my Dutch home. It was to be the beginning of a strong friendship. Whilst Marlies was working in the studio, my wife Aniet and I started discussing how we would put our 250 square metre studio space into good future use: we loved the idea of creating a gallery - a stage for young artists. Given that we were both working hard at our bakery business and had plans for a family in the future, life was hectic enough without introducing a gallery. We discussed our plans with Vonk’s manager and partner Ton van Loenen he could understand our hesitancy and offered to help us set up a gallery and develop it during its first years - hence, our gallery: Kunst Kijkhuis Koestraat, was born.
Now began a fascinating period of discovery; how to stage exhibitions, to deal with artists, the visitors and the gallery clients. In the summer of 1994, the artist Claire Burke, at that time a student at St Martin’s College of Art, stayed with us in order to care for our six-month-old son, Bob. Claire was from Cornwall, and introduced us to her home county that autumn. We spent fourteen days travelling Devon and Cornwall. It is a time that we look back on with very fond memories. In fact, it was life changing to the extent that we never wanted to leave! We liked the idea of introducing sculpture into our exhibitions but needed a place With an appropriate sized garden. Holland was not an option as so many galleries and sculpture gardens already existed. We decided to concentrate on North Devon as we had fallen in love with its vast landscape and beautiful coastal scenery.
Devon attracts five million visitors annually and has both Bristol and London on its doorstep. We felt that it was an ideal location in which to establish a sculpture park with the potential for attaining national recognition.
After many visits to estate agents. and pondering over various various ideas, we eventually found Broomhill - then, a run down hotel - just outside Barnstaple in the centre of North Devon. It was the perfect size: ten acres of overgrown but potentially very beautiful gardens. The house featured a great ballroom which we could visualise as a fantastic gallery space. What's more, we could build an income around the rooms and restaurant and plough all the profits into developing the sculpture park.
By April 1997, we were ready to move in, but not before spending three hectic months renovating with help from our artist acquaintances local builders, family and our multi-talented Canadian au-pair Kate. The garden was a huge task in itself: overgrown with woodland and brambles it was in desperate need of cutting back and clearing to make way for paths, stands and monumental sculptures.
Thankfully, we were able to sell the bakery and house in Holland with the minimum of fuss and after twenty years of hard work we were in the fortunate position of having money in the bank. We decided to take a break before settling in the UK - travelling around southern Europe for four months with our two small children, Bob and Louisa. After a fantastic time we arrived at 'Little Comfort Farm' where we rented an adjoining cottage which proved, contrary to its name, a warm and comfortable experience with an enchanting welcome from the owners, the Alvsaker family.
It was whilst we were staying at the cottage that we met Barry Scobling, a self-employed builder. This man proved to be the answer to all our gardening and maintenance problems - (within three months of working with Barry we had cleared the bulk of the garden area, built steps and paths, and the sculpture stands were in position. By June the first stage of development was finished, a collection of sculptures had arrived, and the opening, therefore, was planned for mid-June 1997.
With an exhibition in the gallery, numerous sculptures in the garden, a band performing on the terrace and 150 invited guests set to enjoy the birth of Broomhill with us: it was a brilliant start to a new life.
The rest, they say, is history.
Broomhill is about passion and determination. We have established a wonderful relationship with each and every artist and this has made Broomhill what it is today. With the continuing help from Barry and Frank, two of our closest neighbours and both crucial members of the team, we know Broomhill’s success will continue to blossom in the years to come.