Where better to view modern art than in a family home with a stylish, contemporary interior? Ruth Campbell finds out how Sarah Collier hit upon her idea for a gallery with a difference

As a smiling Sarah Collier opens her front door, I am greeted by the virtual explosion of colour, shapes and textures on the canvases that grace the walls behind her. For this 51-year-old mother-of-two with an infectious passion for contemporary paintings, sculpture, textiles and ceramics, home is, literally, where the art is.

Having collected modern art herself for years, part-time radiographer Sarah transformed her family home, an elegant Victorian villa in a quiet residential street, just off Harrogate’s fashionable and bustling Cold Bath Road, into a stunning gallery. Her eye for fresh talent was confirmed when her largely unknown signing Suman Kaur won the BBC’s 2017 Big Painting Challenge, making the artist’s work more sought-after, and valuable, than ever.

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Now works by a host of Sarah’s favourite emerging and established Yorkshire artists fill her spacious hall and stairway and a large and light-filled front room which has been tastefully converted to a dedicated gallery space.

It’s an unusual idea, but it works, for what better setting for art lovers to view these highly covetable pieces than in the sort of domestic surroundings where they will, inevitably, end up?

Some larger works have spilled over into Sarah’s stylish living room, where they hang on high-ceilinged pale stone pink walls beside pieces from her private collection.

Her minimalist kitchen-cum-dining room, which housed an Aga and Shaker cupboards until Sarah replaced them with a modern Mercury steel range and streamlined white, high-gloss units, provides the perfect setting for contemporary art.

“People have always commented on the art hanging in our home, saying how good my choices were and asking how I knew what to buy,” says Sarah. “I had never really appreciated how some people really need advice and guidance when choosing art and knowing where to hang it. I guess I have tapped into a skill I didn’t realise I had.”

She started collecting in her 30s with a semi-abstract triptych called Flightpath, by Toby Macphee, bought when she and auditor husband Shaun Mullins lived in Toronto in the 1990s, going on to buy work on holiday in Cornwall on their return to the UK: “There are fantastic galleries there and I would pick something up if we could afford it.”

When Shaun’s work brought him to Leeds in 2000, Sarah got a job at Harrogate Hospital: “We thought Harrogate would be a lovely place to live, it’s a nice, small town with good schools and there is such beautiful countryside on the doorstep, I feel very comfortable here.”

Sarah was inspired to follow her dream after attending art appreciation classes eight years ago, run by former University of Leeds art history lecturer Dr Paul Street, in Harrogate: “It made me want to learn more.”

After gaining a first-class degree in art history with the Open University, she decided to work in the art industry: “It gave me the confidence I needed to go and do it,” she says.

Sarah felt Harrogate needed a new contemporary art gallery, following the closure of the Godfrey and Watt gallery about six years earlier. So she volunteered in galleries to gain experience and got advice from people in the business: “I knocked on lots of doors. I was determined to get it right, and I believed in my idea,” she says. “At first, I was going to concentrate on northern artists, but found so many I liked in Yorkshire, I didn’t need to go any further.”

She spent a year visiting artists and convincing those she wanted - some still at art school, some with long-established careers - to sign up with her. “I love going to the artists’ studios. I have to like everything I show, “she explains. Sarah named her gallery after her Yorkshire maternal grandparents, called Silson: “They were very much lovers of the county,” says Gloucestershire-born Sarah, who recalls visiting Yorkshire as a child: “The name is my homage to them.”

She spent £8,000 to create the gallery rooms, with smart wooden floors and professional hanging and lighting systems, in her home. “I wanted it to be very professional, to create the right impression,” she says. Her investment paid off: “I am risk averse and I didn’t want to use any of our savings but I more than covered my costs early on and am now in credit, which is nice. I get such a buzz out of selling the work of artists I love.”

Now studying for her masters degree, Sarah has 24 permanent artists on her books and has been overwhelmed by the support she has received from visitors and artists alike: “People comment on how friendly and welcoming the gallery is, which was exactly my aim. They appreciate and feel comfortable with it being in a home. It helps them to imagine how works might look in their own.”

About 80 people regularly attend each private viewing: “Word is spreading. I now have artists contacting me, wanting to be part of the gallery, which makes me feel very proud. Apart from having my boys, this is the best thing I have ever done. I finally feel like ‘me’,” says Sarah.

W: silsoncontemporaryart.co.uk

T: 07940 742029

The gallery opens every Friday and one weekend a month, or by arrangement. One Year Anniversary Show opens on October 7.


Jake Mullins, a new graduate of Leeds College of Art, was shortlisted for the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition. He creates bold, stylised compositions and still life paintings: “I first met Jake when he was a shy student, but with a real talent and self-belief. Definitely one to watch.”

Gina Bean, a former hair salon owner living outside Boroughbridge, started painting seriously just a couple of years ago. Sarah discovered her stunning semi-abstract landscapes and seascapes in a local shop window: “When I saw the makeshift display of her work I knew I had to contact her. She’s now one of the gallery’s best sellers.”

Michael Bilton, who lives in Swaledale, worked as an art lecturer at Loughborough College of Art for 30 years before retiring to Yorkshire. He produces large paintings, up to six feet square, inspired by the landscape. Not easy to contact, Sarah had to hunt him down: “He doesn’t have a website, mobile phone or email. Like all the best artists, he just gets on with his work and don’t spend much time promoting himself.”

Suman Kaur, a largely self-taught experimental artist and winner of the BBC Big Painting Challenge. Sarah first saw her work in an open exhibition for artists in Harrogate: “I loved a prize-winning charcoal portrait she had done and went to see her in Leeds. She was one of my first artists and since she won the BBC competition, I have had people phoning here about her work. I am so proud of everything she has achieved.”

Terence Lister, a former engineer who graduated in fine art from Leeds College of Art last year, he makes bronze and limestone sculptures: “Another person who was eventually able to follow his dreams. His small Giacometti-inspired bronze figures are a particular favourite. A fantastic sculptor.”