Tuesday 4 September 2012

Who is Daisy Laing?

Daisy Laing is not a person, but rather the newly-born retail baby of Kate Jones, and a welcome addition to the Chapel Street family. Tucked in among the huddle of commercial units at the upper end of the street, Kate's tiny shop, the former home of Dishotay, is a carefully curated boutique of vintage furniture and objets d'art. The aroma of coffee and exotic teas is now supplanted by the equally beguiling perfume of wood and bee's wax.

Kate's passion, and the shop's product focus, is classic pieces from the 50s and 60s, which nicely complements other sellers on the street. In fact, this increasingly popular genre has been underrepresented in the area, with the bias being on Antiques (with a capital 'A'). Those with a penchant for the simple beauty of G-Plan, Ercol and decorated ceramics will be delighted that they have a new retail sanctum in which to browse, covet, fondle and procure. It's a style that divides, like Marmite, but nevertheless there does appear to be a strong market, and the business is ticking over nicely. Kate also stocks a good selection of vinyl, a niche area of her trade that is surprisingly buoyant, with the shop attracting record collectors of all ages.


Inspiration for the shop stems from Kate and husband Jamie's time spent living in New York's East Village, where the vintage scene is a fanatical one. On their return to the UK, and their flat in Liverpool, they pined for the pizzazz of the Big Apple and sought a fresh lifestyle challenge. Many folk feel a strong connection with Cornwall, stirred by rosy memories of childhood holidays, but few make the leap to set up home, and shop, here. Kate's love of past eras and a need for a more Bohemian existence turned her in this direction, and the final push came when Jamie was offered work in the county. They moved to Newlyn in 2008, along with Martha, who's seven.

Both of them had careers in television production, but Kate was already had a successful sideline buying and selling vintage items on Ebay. While this online business is set to continue, the progression to upgrade the enterprise into a physical shop format seemed to be part and parcel of their new life plan. After a few initial enquiries into spaces were thwarted, she was suddenly presented with the opportunity of the unit she now inhabits, and she took it, almost without thinking. 


The shop space is small, but Kate likes it that way. Resisting the temptation to cram, she makes considered selections from the stockroom downstairs and gives each piece room to be appreciated. This way the shop changes weekly; as items are sold they are replaced. For locals, this regular revitalisation is crucial to hold interest. And locals, it turns out, are her main buyers, which bodes well for her long-term livelihood.

When any empty shop space is taken, we cheer. But when the new enterprise dovetails so neatly with our other independent shops and generally enhances the town, we jump for joy.

We did ask Kate the origin of the shop's name. She told us, with reluctance, on the condition that we kept it to ourselves. Sorry.


Words © Dee and Gerard Ivall. Images © Nik Strangelove

Monday 3 September 2012

New kids on the block

We kept hearing about a new gallery project with the strange name of LETH, and when we probed we were pleased to discover that it's the enterprise of Penzance Post personality, Sam Bassett.

The project currently known as 'Leth' (Cornish for 'milk') is housed in two previously unused Newlyn premises: the rooms above the charity shop on Jack Lane, and the gallery space on Badcock's Block. The former acts as the office and is referred to as 'Leth Office', and latter is used as the main public gallery and is, as yet, untitled. 

Penzance and Newlyn are hardly short of art galleries, but this is special because it's independent, and because it's run by a working artist rather than a businessperson or committee. As Sam reveals his motives and plans, he convinces us that his mission to showcase new and unrepresented local contemporary artists is pure, but that it's also about having fun. It's this tangible irreverence that makes it feel like an underground project, but at the same time, because of the high-profile gallery space, it comes across as entirely professional in its outlook.

The gallery was launched to coincide with the Newlyn Fish Festival and the buzz surrounding it was audible. On the day, Leth Office was also opened up to let us watch Alex Higglet and Georgina Hounsome making festival-related screenprints and Mat McIvor muralising.

Newlyn needs this. The main Newlyn Gallery is an excellent focal point, but it's shows are few and long, and it's artists are normally well-established and rarely local. Sam's project feels fresh and relevant; the current summer show is a deliciously discordant but joyous chorus of artistic voices and, in the main, the artists are based in Newlyn and Penzance or are working in this county. One of Sam's goals is to exhibit the best work from the colleges, as a way of crystalising the ambition of local students to follow the call of fine art as a realistic career.

We were also interested to learn that Sam is collaborating with another one of our featured persons, Henry Garfit, the founder of the Newlyn School of Art. Sam's vision and boundless drive is unquestioned, but Henry has already set up two successful art institutions and his experience will undoubtedly bring much credibility to this new venture.

It transpires that the Stevenson empire is involved too, being the landlords of the premises. In fact, one room of the gallery will be home to their exhibition of Newlyn's fishing heritage, which Sam will help curate by making it more of a interactive affair, with artists using the archive materials as inspiration for new works.

Overall then, rather than an exciting flash in the pan, this project looks set to become part of the fabric of the community – intrinsically tied to Newlyn's past and future.


Words © Dee and Gerard Ivall. Images © Nik Strangelove