artists' open houses

Open Houses and family life by Emma Troy of Polish & Pin

Emma Troy is a multimedia artist based in Hove, East Sussex. Her current work uses collage and printmaking to reinterpret familiar and iconographic images and text.

She has been taking part in Artists Open Houses for a number of years, currently with her collective "Polish & Pin" where a selection of prints, papercuts, painting, ceramics, jewellery, textiles, lighting, decoupage, stained glass and teapot creations are exhibited, all by artists who work with recycled or found materials.

She gives us her thoughts on the Open Houses that she has taken part in, including how it changes year on year and how she makes her Open House work with family life.

I first took part in Artists’ Open Houses in May 2009 when I opened my studio. My kids were really young then and I thought having an open house at home would be too much but, by the autumn of 2010, I was itching to have a go and decided to see what the family thought of the idea. My partner and kids (still only 3 and 5 years old at the time) were incredibly enthusiastic and supportive so I decided to go ahead.

The first thing I did was contact my friend, Sada Ray, who had just set up the wonderful Flutterby Bakery and she agreed to run the café in our kitchen. Then I contacted Sylvie Howitt, who I had met a couple of years before and really wanted to show with. Happily, Sylvie agreed and, as both our work made use of recycled paper, I decided to continue the theme and try to only show artists working with recycled materials. I’ve know Emily Lambert since we were at art school together and, as she had recently returned to the UK, I was determined to include her wonderful paintings. Sada introduced me to Katie Weiner, whose beautiful repurposed vintage jewellery was a perfect addition to the exhibition.

I found more artists on the AOH website, including Nina Mills (glassware) and Sarah Jane Whittaker (jewellery). One last minute artist, painter Tracy Lorna Nors, joined us after I saw an advert she had placed in our school newsletter!

After that first Christmas Open House, most of the artists I have shown since have contacted me because of the reputation of the house. I still keep an eye on the AOH website and will contact an artist and invite them if I really love their work and our exhibitions have increased in size every year.

Even though the trails don’t operate for the Christmas festival, Jill Tattersall of Hove Arts, met with me and gave me some very good advice. I had seen her wonderful house, Wolf at the Door, and hoped that we could pull off something approaching that quality. We have a fairly large Edwardian house and, at first, struggled to get the balance of space open to the public and family space right. For the first Christmas show, we opened the front room, kitchen and hall, stairs and landing. All the furniture was crammed into the back living room and, as almost all the artists that show with me have young children, a large group of children could usually be found gleefully leaping from sofa to sofa! The space worked well for most of the artists but Tracy’s paintings on the landing weren’t that well lit and, on a couple of occasions, we did find the bedroom doors had been opened by overenthusiastic visitors!

Before the first show, I had a meeting with some of the artists and we discussed how the show would be hung. I had the idea that artists could chose their own space but was quickly talked out of that and so I always allocate space, rotating regular artists to make sure that everyone gets the best wall at least once. I clear the rooms a week before we open and the artists install their own work over that week. We are usually still clearing away packaging moments before we open for the private view but (so far) we are always ready on time. All the artists agreed to help out with publicity and Sylvie drew up an Excel document – which I still use every year – to keep track of sales. I found a very useful website where I could list the invigilating shifts and people could sign up. We use this every year and it really helps everyone to see where help is needed and know their own schedule well in advance. As the café runs as a separate entity (we see them as another artist and the kitchen is their exhibition space) the artists don’t have to help with serving drinks but, as the café has grown each year - chef Gavin Leigh (husband of jeweller Dana Leigh) taking over in 2012 with his company Fruition Foods - we often take turns helping with table clearing and washing up.

I decided to open again in May 2011 and use the whole of the ground floor, leaving the family upstairs and part of the garden. This did mean moving one sofa upstairs but it’s amazing how much you can hide from view. I sometimes find ornaments hidden away in the piano stool or family photos carefully wrapped in bubble wrap and stuffed in the coal bucket months after we’ve closed the show. This arrangement worked really well and we have continued to use the whole ground floor – with the decking area open during May – and in May 2013 we added drumming workshops and storytelling in a bell tent on the grass for the Bank Holiday Weekend. The sun shone and it was like having our own tiny festival!

This May I decided to take a break after running five open houses in a row, but now Christmas is approaching and I have started to miss the hustle and bustle of Polish & Pin. My own work is going through some changes at the moment and a studio sale began to seem like a good idea. So, the idea of the Polish & Pin Marvellous Christmas Studio Sale was born. Intended as a small show of work at reduced prices, I contacted all of the artists who have shown here before and asked if any of them would like to take part. To my delight, so far, eleven artists have joined me. This time we will only be opening the living room and, for the first time, won’t have a café.

Each time we open, the way we run it and the artists we show evolves and never fails to surprise me. As my kids get older, they join in more. Often sneaking little bits of their own artwork into the browsers or onto the shelves. They love to be in charge of the ‘clicker’ and help on the sales desk and sometimes give guided tours to very important guests.

If you are going to host an Artists’ Open House this Christmas, I can highly recommend it. It is great fun, a fantastic way to get your work seen and sold, and can lead to lots more interesting opportunities.