Mercer Gallery celebrates commitment of Mercer Friends founder Judith Thomas

The founder of the Friends of the Mercer Art Gallery, Judith Thomas has been celebrated at the Friends summer party, which took place at the Harrogate gallery on Friday 19th August 2022.

Judith has been a long-standing advocate, colleague and friend of the Mercer Gallery seeing it through its redevelopment from a dilapidated, disused Rates Office in 1989 into the beautiful gallery space that it is today.

During those 33 years, the work of the Friends has contributed to a number of changes and developments at the gallery. The refurbishment of the North Gallery, security upgrades to ensure the safekeeping of high value artworks loaned from leading national institutions, as well as a big interior redesign in 2011 to modernise the display space. The Friends support has also helped with the development and conservation of the Fine Art Collection, supported major exhibitions by Victorian greats such as W.P. Frith and Atkinson Grimshaw, alongside the popular biennial Harrogate Open and the sponsorship of the latest Celebration exhibition which has boosted the gallery's recovery from lockdown and delighted many visitors over the summer months.

The annual summer celebration included drinks, canapés and a raffle supported by local retailers and businesses. A presentation was made to mark Judith's contribution to the Mercer Art Gallery along with a series of tributes.

Wallace Sampson, Chief Executive of Harrogate Borough Council gave thanks to Judith for her years of dedicated service to the Mercer Gallery and Harrogate. He said: “Although I'm sure it wasn't always easy, Judith exemplifies both inspiration, resilience and determination. Judith and the Friends have shown commitment and determination from the outset, bringing our gallery back to its glory and building on its success ever since.

Judith has always advocated for younger visitors, with her aim of “getting children involved and to know that there is a gallery for them” thus making the Mercer Art Gallery a welcoming place for people of all ages from the start. This has meant that we have been able to build audiences across generations, a remarkable legacy, and I am confident that this will continue as we move over to the new North Yorkshire Authority next year.”

Friends of the Mercer Art Gallery chair Julie Goldsmith said: “For more than three decades, the Mercer Art Gallery and the Friends Trust have shared an ambition to create a gallery that Harrogate is rightly proud of. The success of this enduring relationship is thanks not only to the vision of the gallery's curators past and present but also to the extraordinary passion of the Friends’ founder Judith Thomas for the visual arts and her unstinting commitment to the trust and its role. Friends membership now numbers over 300 and we will continue to offer unerring support to the Mercer Gallery as it moves from the guardianship of Harrogate Borough Council to North Yorkshire Council.”

May Catt, Visitor and Cultural Services Manager added: “Without the Friends, with Judith at the helm, the Mercer would simply not have been able to establish itself as the excellent arts venue that it is today, alongside the significant and ongoing funding and support from Harrogate Borough Council.

This continued support allows us to put on an exciting programme of events and exhibitions, such as the upcoming Yorkshire Open. As well as allowing us to be members of the Contemporary Art Society which helps us to bring in artworks to our permanent collection for the benefit of local residents and visitors alike.”

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Published: 22nd August 2022