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Aroundtown MEETS


exhibit in meant I had lots of pieces to create so I spent many a night sat on the edge of my bed with a camping table set up on which to make my jewellery.”


But some light reprieve came in 2010; leading curator of Cupola Gallery, Karen Sherwood, had seen Gemma’s talents and offered her the chance of studio space in the Rotherham’s Imperial Buildings with which she was involved in developing.


And so, The Button Tin Kiosk was born.


Based in a listed building, the new studio was brimming with history which resonated with the jewellery that formed Gemma’s primary collection.


“Many of my early memories are of playing in Grandma’s button tin – the smell of the tin, the many colours inside. I wanted to recreate that warm, welcoming feel in a studio, like a giant hug filled with laughter and human connection


studio in Rotherham, they were left eating their words at the hidden surprise they were greeted with; an unexpected piece of art within itself. “A lot of people never took me all too seriously when I said I was based in Rotherham, but this made me more determined to prove you can be from a small town and still be successful.


“It was a fight to break the stigma and convince people to visit Rotherham, but one of the reasons I stayed there was to help generate interest which would then hopefully spread to other businesses in the town.”


The Button Tin quickly became an arts hub within the town, opening doors to extensive community projects which would go on to add yet another piece on to Gemma’s patchwork career.


Local charities sought Gemma’s help to create large-scale textile installations to engage with the community, each embroidered with


‘the end result was just electric and Elsecar was named the second best dressed village on the whole four-day route. All these tough old Yorkshiremen in the pub were crying saying it was the best village day they’d seen in 40 years’


that would evoke nostalgia, tears and euphoria.” People came from across the country and beyond to visit The Button Tin, from Newcastle to London, with Gemma also having an international following. Some had seen Gemma’s work in the various Yorkshire galleries, others in crafting magazines such as Mollie Makes and Handmade Living. And while most may have guffawed at the thought of a


their own personal message. A piano covered in vintage fabrics, poems and songs for Headway, a local brain injury support service. Vintage style flowers crafted from traditional ethnic fabrics for REMA, Rotherham Ethnic Minority Alliance, to outshine racism and hate crime faced in the town.


Celebrating faith and diversity with embellished wings for the Love is Louder Festival of Angels. And breaking down age barriers between


the elderly and schoolchildren with a patchwork quilt created for Holmfirth-based intergenerational project, Sharing Memories. But after seven happy years in the town, the building in which Gemma’s quirky kiosk stood was laced with problems and so Gemma was forced to move out of the eclectic studio she’d created. By then, Gemma had also welcomed a new addition to her brood with daughter, Frida, and so it was crucial she find alternative premises to help continue working. The family had moved to Elsecar in one of the Earl’s former mining cottages and, for the meantime, The Button Tin operated from Gemma’s garage which had been turned into a makeshift workshop.


“When you become a mum, people often presume you can’t or don’t want to work but for me it was the complete opposite. I’m self-employed so I had to carry on working and exhibiting, sometimes seven days a week.”


Community projects continued to come her way and Gemma found herself travelling near and far, creating textile boats in Leicester for People’s Express who work with people with autism and Asperger’s, or being the resident ‘make do and mender’ at York’s Vintage Festival – all with little Frida on board. A short stint in the Sorting Office arts space ensued before Gemma was approached by Great Place Wentworth and Elsecar; a new Heritage Lottery and Arts Council Funded project celebrating the fascinating heritage of Wentworth and Elsecar through the arts. This initiative is also in partnership and funded by both Rotherham and Barnsley Council.


The scheme’s first project was to paint Elsecar village blue and yellow for last summer’s Tour de Yorkshire, with Gemma commissioned to


engage the village through what they were calling a mass mobilisation. “It was the largest project I’ve ever worked on and, together with the local schools, businesses and residents, we managed to transform the village into an actual art installation.”


Inspired by King George V’s visit to Elsecar in the early 1900s, Gemma set about creating a true royal welcome. Banners with Yorkshire slang were hung from buildings. Trees in the park were yarn-bombed. Handmade flags, bunting, tassels and bows lined the route as spectators flocked in their thousands to see the cyclists flash through the village.


“It was really difficult to put together but the end result was just electric and Elsecar was named the second best dressed village on the whole four-day route. “All these tough old Yorkshiremen in the pub were crying saying it was the best village day they’d seen in 40 years. I didn’t have to buy my own pint for months which was a bonus!” Following Tour De Yorkshire’s success, Gemma was offered a workshop at the heritage centre – her little bright button stitched firmly back in place for all to see again. True to her heritage drenched mantra, the reincarnated Button Tin now stands proudly as The Way Station and is based in the Earl’s Station Lounge, a quaint stone building at the side of the former trainline. Here, esteemed guests of the Earl would have departed the train and entered the lounge for a glass of sherry or port before embarking up the grand mahogany staircase for their meeting with the Earl. Today, Gemma has given the studio a Victorian Parlour or Granny’s front room feel, a homely space filled with pin cushions, cotton bobbins and wooden dollies.


aroundtownmagazine.co.uk 5


Photo courtesy of Jennifer Booth


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