The first thing you notice about Bils and Rye is how relaxed the place feels. Given that this delightful contemporary art gallery has hundreds of precious ceramics, paintings and sculpture on display there is nothing remotely hands-off about the space.
The second thing you are aware of as you start to wander around the different rooms is the sheer variety and volume of art that the gallery, nestled in the courtyard of Nunnington Studios, has on show.
Bils and Rye (The name comes from the first part of Bilsdale and Ryedale) was set up by Nick and Kate Bentley three years ago after they had relocated to North Yorkshire from Canterbury. The fantastic light was the pull (Kate is an artist and it was a toss up between Cornwall and Yorkshire – and as you’ve figured, God’s own country won. Well if it’s good enough for Hockney…….need I say more?).
As Nick hands me a coffee in one of the cups that he sells (all robust enough to survive a good swish around in the dishwasher. Really? Yes, really, and it will still emerge in one piece), he says the gallery is used to the tread of ramblers’ boots and Sunday strollers which is why the floorboards are painted black or tiled rather than covered with plush pile carpets.
The courtyard buildings are the sandy mellow stone that is a feature of many villages in the Howardian Hills. A combination of colourfully painted walls, exposed stone, comfy sofas and rustic furniture (all for sale so you can buy the ornaments and the wooden dressers too) create a cosy feel inside.
Each of the four rooms are filled with beautiful items of original art ranging in price to suit all pockets. There are lots of pieces that would make original and cherished presents and other works of art that I would have adorning my shelves or walls – in my dreams.
The building that Bils and Rye occupies was part built by sculptor John Bunting, whose work was prominent in the second half of the 20th century. One half of the building was his workshop where he chipped away at his sculptures. Bunting trained and studied with Henry Moore and Robert Thompson (The Mouseman) and he went on to teach Sir Anthony Gormley (Angel of the North, Another Place, Crosby beach) at Ampleforth College. A carving by Bunting is etched into the wall of Bils and Rye.
Bunting’s daughter, the journalist Madeleine Bunting, wrote a book called The Plot, partly about her father and the little chapel he built on the plot of the title (It’s at Scot’s Corner, close to Hambleton, above Oldstead, on the edge of the North York Moors National Park and is open on certain days to visitors***).
I went along to a talk that Madeleine was giving at Helmsley Arts Centre a couple of years ago when the book came out. It was fascinating to hear about the history of this acre of land and of the people who have occupied it through time.
It seems quite apt that this charming courtyard building is once again home to an eclectic collection of handmade works of art thanks to Bils and Rye. There is also a very nice interiors shop, Victoria Rose Interiors, here and stop press, a new café (On the Rye) is about to open (it was in the middle of renovations when I visited) so all the more reason to pop over to Nunnington for a visit.
Oh, and just to let you know, I will be absent for a couple of weeks as I am heading off to, ahem, Cornwall, for a short break. No doubt I’ll be checking out the light when I am down there…… See you soon!
***The next open days are Sunday, April 17th, Sunday, June 12th and Saturday, August 27th.