Lise and Amanda-Sue, founders of Grove Vale Ceramics, on their thoughtfully curated gallery and studio space in East Dulwich.
Grove Vale Ceramics was established by makers Lise Herud Braten and Amanda-Sue Rope in 2020. Together, they thoughtfully curate the gallery on Grove Vale to showcase and champion the work of local contemporary ceramicists alongside guest makers from around the UK. Stepping through the front door of the shopfront, visitors are immediately surrounded by beautiful ceramic pieces of all shapes and sizes, displayed intentionally as if they were a collection in someone’s home. There is also the opportunity to meet and talk with the makers, who all participate in the running of the space when Lise and Amanda are working in the light-filled studio at the end of a corridor at the back of the gallery, which beautifully connects the making to the displaying of the pieces.
‘I grew up far away in Norway and came to London in 1996, whereas Amanda grew up in Herne Hill just around the corner. We met in communal studio space in Peckham, and decided to open a gallery and studio together. We never thought that we’d be gallerists, but when the opportunity came up we knew it wouldn’t come again, so we took it’
‘A friend told us about this beautiful shop on Grove Vale that was available. We didn’t know we wanted to create a gallery and studio, as these spaces are usually kept separate, but when we saw the space the idea just presented itself to us; the opportunity for a gallery at the front and studio at the back just seemed really beautiful and natural for this space.’
‘When we took on the space in February 2020, the whole building had been redeveloped, to create a separate entrance for the flat above us and shop below. So we had this amazing clean blank canvas to work on, quite literally; the walls were dazzling white and the white flooring had been laid already. We of course had a very limited budget to create our vision of a clean and simple space, but we didn’t want it to just be a white cube. We wanted to use wood to bring warmth, and we fantasised about having a stand out piece of characterful furniture somewhere to create drama, which we found in our prefect butchers block that we bought in an online auction. We made all the wooden work benches bespoke, as well as the oak shelves.’
‘When you make ceramics, (apart from allowing for a lot of dust and mess!), you need a lot of space for the various different stages; for example when the pieces are glazed the surfaces are very precious so they need an area where they won’t be touched before they go into the kiln. The building just worked perfectly to create those different spaces.
‘We wanted to create a space that people could relate to and feel at home in, the skinny oak shelves on our walls could be mantle pieces in a lounge, the butchers block could be a dining table, and the central display could be a kitchen island; they all have a relation to how people can imagine having the pieces in their own environment. We also mix the pieces up and arrange the pieces not by maker, but just by what goes together, as if it’s someone’s collection in their home that they’ve massed over time.’
‘Over the last two years, we’ve truly created our own little community with the artists we have on board, and the neighbourhood. It’s a good and lovely environment and street to be working on, and we get clients from all the other businesses in the local area! Jones of Brockley next door always have a queue, and people look through our window while they are waiting for their morning coffee or bread, so during the pandemic we would write little notes to go in the window to say hello and tell the morning shoppers a little about us. People even come to browse while they are waiting to have their tyres changed at Kwik Fit! What’s remarkable is that we’ve done no advertising, it’s just grown organically through the communities’ love for ceramics.’
‘The gallery is run as a collective, where the artists take part in manning the shop and displaying their work. We don’t dictate what we want them to make or do, we just see what comes out of the studio and kiln and each time it’s like Christmas! It’s always so exciting seeing the new pieces.’
‘It’s an amazing thing for a maker to have a permanent place that they are in control of, to show their work. Normally makers have an open studio once or twice a year, with art fairs or displaying works in galleries for a few weeks at a time. It’s been amazing to be able to extend this opportunity to other makers at different stages in their careers’
‘It’s also a great experience for the visitors, as all the makers are able to share their knowledge of all the different techniques involved in ceramics. We all have a different inspiration, a different focus, different training and a different background and so we learn a lot from each other as well.
‘There’s a common thing that all ceramicists find daunting; opening the kiln to see a result of weeks of work. While it is really exciting, a lot can go wrong, there is a lot of experiment involved and it can be very scary. It’s also very uninspiring to open a kiln in a dusty studio environment and to look at the pieces you’ve made. Here we can take the piece from the kiln and immediately bring it to the front of the shop, into the gallery setting, put it on a nice clean surface and see it immediately in the right context. It really changes your perception about the piece, usually for the better. I think the makers find seeing their work in the gallery context rather than just a studio to be really beneficial for their development as artists.’
‘This year we started having well known guests artists come from elsewhere in the UK, to display their pieces for a 6 week period. We missed the buzz of community during the pandemic, so it’s been amazing to start welcoming guest artists in, especially when we hold the artists launch event, where everyone is welcome to come and talk to the makers, drink wine and enjoy the gallery space.’
‘It’s especially nice when newcomers visit, see something they like but perhaps want a different version to fit into their space at home. We love it when people are brave enough to commission something new, it’s a real leap of faith when you don’t know what the exact outcome is going to be, so the level of trust people show in the makers is really nice.’
‘Our favourite thing about the gallery has been to be able to bring together a creative and talented group of London ceramicists whose works are highly individual and beautifully made, and we all support and inspire each other in our creative processes and development. Being part of the local community in East Dulwich and beyond, and to share our passion for ceramics with the visitors to the gallery gives us great joy every day. Making something with your hands, and surrounding yourself with handmade objects gives a real sense of wellbeing, which through the turbulent last couple of years has become more important than ever. We feel very fortunate to be able to do this on a daily basis, and to share it with so many people.’