The story of a boutique art gallery that grew from an acorn into an oak is being celebrated as Cambridge’s Heritage Gallery marks its quarter century.
It was 25 years ago in early December that Sandra Webb and her friend Gail Kelman opened an art gallery in Victoria St, just a few paces from the village green. They arrived at that point from two different directions.
“I was a studio potter,” said Sandra. “For eight years I made and sold pots from my basement, a place I called ‘Studio 65’; I also sold bits and pieces on behalf of other artists. Eventually, I got to the stage when I was sick of being elbow-deep in clay, but I found I enjoyed the retail side of the operation.
Meanwhile Gail, who had a craft outlet in Hamilton’s Centre Place, was wearying of having to remain open most of the time. “We thought a retail space in Cambridge’s main street might work for us both,” Sandra added, “and allow me to continue making my pots.”
They opened originally in what is now In-Stone, and Sandra soon realised throwing pots and running the gallery wasn’t workable. “It took two weeks for that to become obvious. Clay needs different things at different times, and I couldn’t be there to make it happen. I had to stop doing my pottery.”
About four years later, Gail wanted a change and Sandra bought her out. Then, in the early 2000s, the adjacent takeaway/restaurant became vacant and Sandra leapt at the opportunity to almost double her retail and exhibition space. “Family and friends did a fantastic job of helping me get it ready to open before Christmas. We had to re-structure the inside, re-paint and re-carpet … my late husband Michael had a huge part in doing it.”
They re-opened to a buoyant spending boom which put paid to earlier concerns about expanding, but there were speedbumps ahead. “First to hit was 9/11, then the global financial meltdown and now Covid-19. I was lucky to have a generous landlord during the two months we were closed during lockdown.”
Business returned to near-normal once we reached level one, but took another hit with the Auckland lockdown.
Throughout the years, Sandra has adopted an innovative way to bring her selection of paintings, prints, studio glass, ceramics and jewellery to customers. She focuses on quality pieces sourced from throughout New Zealand and is up with the play in terms of a social media presence and online marketing.
In 2014, concerned at a lack of official merchandise available to mark the visit to Cambridge of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, she commissioned award-winning artist and friend, Carole Hughes, to do a painting for the occasion and marketed it alongside an initiative to raise funds for Plunket.
A private celebration is planned for the gallery’s 25th, and until early December, Sandra is offering customers making a purchase of over $50 a chance to go into a draw to win a $500 voucher.