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In our latest blog, we get to know our volunteer Gallery Steward, Teresa Sleet.

Tell us a little about yourself.
Eighteen months ago after over thirty years in education, I decided to take early retirement in order to have opportunities to do different things. I had felt that the pressures of work had taken over my life and I had little energy or enthusiasm for life beyond the job.

Having made the decision and given in my notice the doubts began, from a working life that occupied my every waking moment, what would I do with my time? From a profession where I talked and listened to children, fellow teachers, parents and other professionals all day would I be able to stand my own company and long periods of not communicating with others?
Why did you choose to volunteer at the gallery?
Volunteering at Jerwood Gallery was the ideal solution. I had been involved with the Start project in the last two years of teaching so knew the gallery fairly well. I have an arts background and had neglected my creative side for a long time so when I found out the gallery was looking for volunteers I wasted no time in getting in touch with Becky. This would be an opportunity to continue my links with the gallery, meet the public and renew my interest in art.
How have you found the experience so far?
After my first session I honestly thought I would not be able to continue. Standing for three hours gave me such backache but I was obviously out of condition and now it is no problem at all,  I rarely sit on the chairs provided.

It is a real pleasure to volunteer at the gallery and I would recommend it to anyone who has some spare time. Apart from being in a beautiful building surrounded by a wonderful collection of paintings and sculptures, the staff are all really friendly and welcoming and make us volunteers feel truly appreciated and part of the gallery set up.
What do you enjoy most about volunteering?
There are many things about volunteering that I find enjoyable. I enjoy engaging in conversations with visitors about their interests, likes and dislikes of works on view and I am often surprised about how far people have travelled to come to the gallery. 

I enjoy meeting up with fellow volunteers and the chance to really get to know and enjoy the paintings. Not forgetting the enjoyment of the magnificent and ever changing view of the fishing beach and seascape from the upstairs window which is a work of art in itself.

However the best part of all for me is the first few minutes of my shift when I go upstairs and have the gallery all to myself to look at the paintings undisturbed. To remind myself of familiar favourites, noticing colours, forms, composition, brush strokes and always finding details that have previously gone unnoticed. It's like meeting old friends.
Can you tell us something new that you have learnt since volunteering at the gallery?
I have learned to really look at paintings. Having visited countless galleries over the years and only glanced at the artwork. Volunteering has provided me with the opportunity to build up a relationship with works of art, from the first initial emotional response to a more in depth analysis of the way it has been constructed. To see a painting in different light and when rehung in a different position adds to the understanding.
The experience of volunteering has made me realise how little I knew about the artists and the times in which they lived, as a consequence I have enrolled on the WEA course in Twentieth Century Art History. This has given me confidence to talk more knowledgeably to visitors.
What is your favourite painting in the Jerwood Collection and why?
This is actually quite a difficult question to answer as over time my opinion changes and I have surprised myself by liking paintings I would not previously have liked.
One such painting is the small Keith Vaughn, Seated figure, circa 1971-72. It is a dark painting with thickly applied blue and black paint and a small, white, simply painted, male figure, slumped in front of what I assume to be a mountain. The figure appears to be down-cast and whole painting gives an air of total depression, but for one small dash of orange paint beside his left foot which I interpret as a small glow of hope.

I think this sums up nicely how I was feeling before I gave up work.
01 July, 2015
Written by Teresa Sleet