Carol Dunbar’s Thistle Gallery, which specialises in Scottish Contemporary Art opene in Park Road, Glasgow’s West End opened in November 2014. I love going to exhibitions at large galleries like Kelvingrove, The Hunterian and GOMA but I always tend to feel a bit uncomfortable in the smaller galleries. Not so in Thistle Gallery – it’s a particularly attractive gallery, where you can relax and browse to your heart’s content. Carol is warm, approachable and very happy to chat about the frequently changing exhibitions which she curates and which include: paintings, ceramics, sculptures, jewellery and textiles. She is passionate about her role as owner and organiser and the perfect example of how an interest can translate into a successful business.
I caught up with Carol for a coffee and chat in Sonny and Vito’s in Park Road – looking over towards her gallery. She was brought up in the West End, ‘not half a mile away’ and went to the local High School, where she met her husband, David. Both of them had a keen interest in art. and when he was starting out as an architect and she was a young ‘cub journalist’ working at Johnstone Press, they started buying art – ‘which they could not really afford but bought anyway’.
After studying to be a journalist in Edinburgh, for a number of years Carol worked at the Milngavie and Bearsden Herald where she progressed to being Editor in her late twenties. In her thirties she and David had three daughters Becca, Caitlin and Megan and it was during this time she was approached by Marie Curie to join their successful Daffodil Ball fundraising committee on a voluntary capacity. She found this work very rewarding and having always enjoyed event organising and, with a hard working committee on board, this was her opportunity to 'give something back'.
During this time she and three friends, also mums with young children, started up their own craft company Tapsalteerie (meaning topsy turvy - a bit like their lives at that time) designing, manufacturing and selling bespoke Shaker style gifts.
The next stage in her varied career path took her into the fast paced world of estate agency when she began work as a part time receptionist with Slater, Hogg and Howison then, when Corum Estate agents was founded, she was brought on to be the Senior Negotiator and Office Manager of their busy Bearsden office where she thrived for seven years.
As I spoke to Carol, I was aware of a pattern emerging where others spotted her potential and her own proclivity to rise to a challenge and make the most of every opportunity.
She is very family orientated so when her Mum died after fighting Alzheimer's for many years, she described it as a 'pivotal moment in her life' and she decided to step back from work and spend time with her growing girls.
During this time she also wanted to further explore her passion for art and signed up for a series of Appreciation of Art classes at the University of Glasgow. The courses were run by the very knowledgeable Maureen Park, a former curator at Kelvingrove, who 'brought the subject to life' and cemented Carol's interest in art. Their visits to various art galleries enabled her to 'appreciate art on a whole different level.' And it was at this time that the seed was sewn - one day she might open her own gallery.
Once again she found herself combining her love of art with fundraising and volunteered to help out during the annual two week much-respected Macmillan Art Show in Glasgow. The show had been running for 28 years raising millions of pounds for the Cancer charity.
She was then asked by the volunteer organising committee - run by a remarkable group of women aged 30 to 70 from all 'airts and pairts' of the city - to help them rebrand, refresh and relaunch their Event.
With the help of the other volunteers 'where everyone was encouraged to bring something to the table' and architect husband David's encouragement and design skills, she threw herself into the task, going out sourcing fresh talent the length and breadth of Scotland.
Then one day, as fate would have it, driving down Park Road she spotted a to let sign. 'I stopped the car ran across the road and peered through the window. My next call was to David to say I think I've found the perfect space for a Gallery.'
Although not 'fit for purpose', the location was ideal so the pair set about transforming the retail unit into the now spacious and welcoming Thistle Gallery.
Carol's aim was to create a Gallery that felt 'accessible, approachable and affordable' to break down the barriers for art lovers to 'feed their souls'. On the wall in the Gallery you will see a quote by Picasso, which sums it up. 'Art washes away from the soul, the dirt of everyday life.'
Carol's enthusiasm for art and her desire 'to give wall space, not just to established Scottish artists but to emerging talent also' is reflected in the vibrancy of the Thistle Gallery. Here she has 'tapped into the rich and diverse seam of talent that exists throughout Scotland today.' Since opening just over three years ago, she has organised numerous exhibitions featuring notable artists such as: Sylvia Von Hartmann, Jennifer Irvine, Cecilia Cardiff, Denise Findlay and Linda Park plus emerging artists like Jackie Henderson, Ross Muir, Dale Bissland and Gregory Moore.
In addition she also organises events within the Gallery like a 'Mad Hatter's Tea Party' and a 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' evening to raise funds for Macmillan.
I could have chatted to Carol all day as we meandered into the past and her family background ... but that's all for another day.
As Carol says: 'it's been an incredible journey!'
Pat Byrne, September, 2017
Thistle Gallery, 56 Park Road, Glasgow G4 9GF
Exhibiting the work of Jackie Henderson and Ian Rawnsley.