It’s my very great pleasure to introduce you to Debs Digby, creator and curator of Fillingdon Fine Art. I first met Debs through our Athena business networking group, and she talked about her colourful contemporary African Art gallery. Honestly, she had me at hello!
I’ve been to all her exhibitions since then, and normally have to be forcefully dragged away (just like my daughters), from her beautiful, meticulously prepared and stunning gallery. I’ve always found high quality, unique gifts there, (for every budget), plus the odd treat for myself!
I asked her to share her wonderful passion for contemporary African art with you, as it’s well worth a visit if you live withing driving distance. If it’s a few hours you can make a day of it, with the village of West Wycombe, West Wycombe Park and also the Hell Fire Caves located just five minutes up the road, so there’s plenty to combine on a day trip.
If you like what you see I strongly recommend having a look on the Fillingdon Fine Art website. Debs is more than happy to ship the item of your dreams directly to you if you’re unable to visit the gallery during the upcoming spring exhibition.
That’s all from me, it’s time to discover these gems from Debs!
“No-one’s wife, mother or daughter” is how I describe my status when I am on a sourcing trip, and any wife, mother or daughter will know how liberating that feels! For 26 years I have returned annually to the continent of my birth, to roam freely through the studios of artists, sculptors, potters, weavers, glass-blowers, wood-carvers and jewellery makers, hunting and gathering for my gallery.
From the majestic Drakensberg Mountains to the floor of the Rift Valley; from the rolling vineyards of the Cape to the shores of Lake Kariba; from The Kingdom of Swaziland overlooking Mozambique to the crashing of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans; I seek, I love, I buy.
Artistic creativity is inherent in Africa and natural materials such as wood, stone and minerals abound, as well as an ethic of self-sufficiency and a history of home adornment and personal embellishment. Not seeing any work of quality from Africa in London in the late 80’s, and wanting to be my own mistress if and when I began a family; I resigned my marketing job in the food sector and opened a contemporary African art and craft gallery in Knightsbridge in 1991.
Marriage and motherhood followed with a move to the country, and the gallery seamlessly relocated to its new home in a rustic 300 year old barn nestling in the Chiltern Hills.
Three times a year, our distinctive sign goes up on the A40 in Buckinghamshire, and the public are invited to view the latest curated exhibition; always a large mixed show with original paintings, sculpture, ceramics, jewellery and craft by over 100 different artists from Africa, who are not big enough to supply department stores or the mainstream galleries in UK.
Likening ourselves to ‘the slow art version of slow food’ we aim to be the complete antithesis of the urban shopping mall experience. With two and a half acres of Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, parking is plentiful; riders and ramblers are welcome; dogs, kids and grannies are encouraged; refreshments in the garden are available and excess home-grown produce is often given away as a ‘going home present’.
Everything is complimentary until the point of purchase, but we do encourage a donation for refreshments to the worthy charity Farm Africa (registered charity number 326901).
Many of our crafts are created in rural communities, and selected deprived agricultural areas benefit greatly from long-term assisted programs initiated by impressive organisation. To date, we are proud to have raised over five and a half thousand pounds for Farm Africa through our refreshment donations alone.
But rural, friendly and aesthetic ethos must not be mistaken for unprofessional. By personally choosing all the work; having reciprocal knowledge of the artists and 26 years’ experience of the market; customers can have confidence in our taste, judgement and expertise.
We promote each artist through our comprehensive website and work can always be viewed and purchased from there, in-between or concurrent to exhibitions. We are happy to pack & post at cost, and have recently sent work to USA, Australia, mainland Europe and Dubai.
We also issue customers with information sheets to complement their purchases. This is particularly popular for pieces which are gifts, as it enhances their provenance and originality as one-off unique works of art.
Having been chosen, commissioned and bought, the work is finalised before being packed ever so carefully by the artists themselves, and collated by a freight agent in Africa before flying overnight to London. Taxes and duties are all paid before the boxes are delivered to Fillingdon Farm and the great unpack begins, with my heart in my mouth, hoping nothing is broken and salvaging as much packaging as we can in the name of recycling.
We pride ourselves on paying the asking price to our artists as we are firm believers in, where possible, ‘trade not aid’. A fair price in exchange for perfect, beautiful and original work is our policy and it has never let us down.
Photographing, measuring, cataloguing, stock-listing and pricing are all the mundane necessities of running a gallery, alongside the important work of loading the website and posting on social media. We are @DebsFFA on Twitter and we’re also on Facebook.
PR, marketing and networking are all essential, as there is little point in having a fabulous product if no-one knows about it.
But by far the least glamorous job is cleaning. A gallery space – especially one in the country – does not stay spider-free for long! So a vacuum cleaner, long-handled broom and mop and bucket are employed amongst the ancient rafters, before my trusty little blue ladder comes out and the fun job of hanging begins.
We open and end a show on Saturdays, with the final Sunday being dismantle-day and one when customers can collect any artwork they have bought and left on show for the duration of the exhibition. Once we are up and running, we are open for fifteen days flat, including Sundays, 10am – 4pm.
We get so many lovely repeat customers, knowing they can find an original quality gift; happy they can meet their friends over an unhurried cup of tea; or comfortable just to enjoy the peace, colour and creativity of the show. But, like all businesses, we need fresh blood too, so referrals are appreciated and new faces are very welcome.
Our forthcoming exhibition “Freshly Found” opens on 25th March and runs until 8th April. As always, all details are on our website www.fillingdon.com and you can subscribe there to our newsletters so you will always be informed about our shows.
We have planted 1000 new daffodil bulbs down our drive which we hope will be a dancing ribbon of yellow to welcome you, and perhaps the first bluebells might be out in the nearby woods, so do bring your walking boots.
If you can’t make this spring exhibition, make a note of the July dates; 15th – 29th, and come and enjoy the magnificence of large stone sculptures from Zimbabwe set amongst a traditional English summer garden in full bloom. Finally, we’ll close the year with our ever-popular Christmas exhibition in November, where glass angels twinkle; decorations sparkle and a plethora of unique handcrafted items solve perennial gift dilemmas.
Come to one, two or all three shows, or visit the website. Whichever way, know you will be supporting Africa and her creative community as well as enjoying something unique and special. Let us be your guilty secret; you won’t be disappointed.