The gallery was opened by her father Simon Dolby when Polly was 11, and she grew up above the shop with her two sisters. Polly said: ‘Every time there was an exhibition, we got very excited. We could come along and see the private view and all the people coming in.’
Art has always been a large part of Polly’s life; her mother is an illustrator, and her father, a painter.
‘We were always encouraged to be creative. We’ve drawn, painted and made things ever since we were little. But I’m the one who has taken that to heart and used it in my own life. Both my sisters work for the NHS, one is a doctor and the other a nurse. Even though they are creative, they have taken a different path, whereas I was very active in art at school and studied art history, and still paint and do a lot of art now. I’ve always worked in the art world.’
At the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, Polly studied history of art, mainly focusing on modernism. She explored her interests in her dissertation on Matisse and his late jazz cutouts, and she researched Picasso and that whole period of French modernism, when everything was changing in Paris in architecture and music. ‘That’s the period that I get most excited about.’
After finishing university in 2009, Polly worked at several different galleries in London as an intern or as an assistant, working her way up. Before leaving London, Polly worked in art marketing and for the Crafts Council as the sales and marketing manager for their crafts magazine. She then worked freelance in arts project management, and was running arts events such as open studios in the southwest and in galleries in Bristol, before moving back to Oundle with her partner, who is a furniture maker, to be closer to her family, and to take up the opportunity to run the gallery.
As a result of Polly’s wide range of experience working in arts marketing, she has been transforming the gallery’s online profile, both on the website and on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as redesigning the marketing print material.
The contacts she has made in the art industry over the last years, whether artists or buyers or events organisers, have facilitated her running of the gallery. ‘It’s quite a small world, really. People think the art world is massive, but the commercial art world is actually quite small.’
There is a very active program planned for the gallery, with five more exhibitions scheduled for the rest of the year. Polly said her aim is to have a mixture of local artists, celebrating people who live and work in the region. She said she would like to do other shows that are more modern or more conceptual, to make the programme more diverse. When asked what her favourite area to promote in the gallery was, Polly said: ‘I love craft and design. I really like makers’ work in contemporary ceramics, basketry and furniture; artists who use materials from the local area but put a contemporary spin to what they’re doing.’
However, there is to some extent a limit to what will work in the local market. Although Polly wants to be innovative, she is conscious of what will work commercially and what will sell locally.
‘For instance, with the Modern Masters poster show, we found that while people are interested in the work, they like to see it from a historical point of view, they’re not necessarily interested in buying it. People tend to like buying local artists’ work. People have known the artists’ work over the years and like to follow their careers, and keep collecting more of their work. It would be silly to not keep doing that, because as a gallery it has always worked for us, so I don’t want to change it too much. It’s about adding things into an already successful programme.’
She has to also bear in mind what the area market is prepared to spend for original art. The gallery keeps to a mid-range below £1000 and up to £2000.
However, it also stocks a variety of smaller priced items such as artists’ greeting cards, as well as hand-crafted jewellery and ceramics that sell for under £100. The Dolby Gallery’s exhibits of unique works by artists in an affordable range is one of the reasons why people keep coming back.
Originally the gallery hosted six to seven exhibitions per year, however Polly is aiming to push this up to ten.
The current exhibition includes a diverse selection of prints and originals in mixed media, with forthcoming exhibitions featuring the work of Robert Hunter, Geri Waddington and a Summer Mixed Show.
By Minna Coke and Jemima Gurney
Photo by Pavel Lipskiy