The gallery owner who went from studying seaweed to sketches

Words and photograph of Olwen by Chloe Morgan | Originally featured in Liverpool Life
Photograph of Editions Gallery by Colin McMahon

Tucked away on Cook Street in one of Liverpool’s grand 19th century buildings is the small independent art gallery Editions. The route to fine art wasn’t a straightforward one for owner Olwen McLaughlin, who began her career studying seaweed.

Olwen told Liverpool Life: “My degree has nothing to do with the arts – it was actually a science degree in botany and zoology.”

After moving to Liverpool from Dublin over 30 years ago, Olwen was working at the University of Liverpool researching the uses of seaweed. She said “Working in a lab wasn’t really for me. I wanted to talk to people.

“I ended up getting involved with the Open Eye Gallery.” Around the same time, founder Colin Wilkinson was setting up his business Light Impressions.

“Because of my science training I ran the dark rooms and did all the colour printing. in those days everything was done by hand, it took hours to print out the most simple scene. It was actually a very enjoyable job.”

For her first 17 years in the business Olwen was based in the Bluecoat until she moved to Cook Street. She said: “It’s a smaller space but it’s a bit like a Tardis. you can barely swing a cat but I have 50 pieces of art in here.”

Inside are four walls expertly hung with a collection of prints from the gallery’s current exhibition.

Every six weeks a new exhibition takes place and the space is once again transformed by the Olwen. She aims to work with local artists or artists that are connected to Liverpool in some way.

The introduction and rise of social media has affected a number of businesses over the years, Editions is no exception.

“There’s so few galleries now. Their days are numbered because there are so many ways to view art on your phone.” Olwen explained, “When people see a painting or photograph that they like on the internet they feel ownership of it, they don’t feel like they are lacking it.”

Olwen hopes to see more people visiting independent galleries and breaking down the stigma around art galleries. She said: “Galleries are always seen as elitist but they’re actually not, they’ve just a place selling pieces of art”

She added: “Most people have walked into the Tate or a well-known art gallery but they won’t spend much time in an independent one.”

Competing with other galleries is a challenge for Editions. The main income for the business is the framing service based in the gallery.

“A lot of galleries in London for example can take huge percentages because they have big reputations and can take thousands of pounds but we’re talking about local artists here,” Olwen explained.

Olwen is under no illusion buying art is not something everyone can afford. She said: “I think if anybody comes here there is almost always something they would like to take home but for some people it’s hard to justify buying if you have a young family or anything.”

She added, “But art is an investment. To invest in artwork is to invest in something that lifts your heart every time you look at it.”

Her main message, however is to urge people to take time to view the artwork she displays.

“We’re located in city centre, people can walk in for ten minutes to view some beautiful art.”

Full feature, including a digital interview can be found at Issuu.