Sheffield's Cupola Gallery still going strong after 30 years of showing art from around the world

“How on earth did that happen?” said a slightly bewildered Karen Sherwood, celebrating the 30th anniversary of her Sheffield art gallery.

By Julia Armstrong
Tuesday, 27th July 2021, 11:30 am

Karen recalled that she opened The Cupola Gallery as an ambitious, optimistic and “slightly deluded” 23-year-old in ‘unfashionable’ Hillsborough in August 1991.

The gallery opened in between a betting shop and a launderette, around the corner from the Sheffield Wednesday ground. It remains in the same location on Middlewood Road, although the betting shop has been replaced by Cupola’s bespoke picture framing service and the launderette is long gone.

The gallery is celebrating with a large exhibition, from artists old and new, alongside a free programme of arts activities.

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Karen Sherwood, celebrating 30 years at her Cupola Gallery

Cupola 30 – celebrating 30 years – started this week (July 24) and runs to August 28. More than 70 artists are exhibiting work which is for sale.

The gallery, also known as Cupola Contemporary Art, opened to fill what Karen saw as a huge need for an exhibition and sales venue for the city’s many contemporary artists.

As a fine art graduate herself, she was shocked at the lack of display and sales opportunities for artists in a city the size of Sheffield.

This seemed even more shocking as the city art college had been established for more than 150 years and there were at least three vibrant studio groups in operation.

Karen Sherwood at the Cupola Gallerys Secret Postcard Show last year

Karen said: “I wanted to open a welcoming, accessible, high-quality contemporary art gallery to celebrate the talents of artists and to sell their work. Too many artists were packing it in because they could not make a living. I hated seeing that.

“When people talk to me about all the challenges the gallery has faced, I’m often told I should write a book. However I am afraid that, like Mark Twain, I’d have to publish it 100 years after I’ve died!

"To be honest, rather than worrying about all the things that have gone wrong, I’d rather concentrate on the fact that the gallery is still here. I find that amazing enough.

The Cupola Gallery, which has outlived a betting shop and a launderette in Middlewood Road, Hillsborough

"I keep thinking I can’t possibly be old enough to have run the gallery for 30 years, until I see the children of my customers I remember seeing as babies in arms, with their own children!”

Cupola Gallery has shown the work of more than 10,000 artists from all corners of the world, as well as nurturing locally-based talent.

Karen says that the current exhibition cannot hope to represent the breadth and diversity of artists the gallery has shown “but we hope it reminds people that we never stand still, are just as keen now to experiment and push boundaries, whilst remaining accessible and friendly as when the gallery started.

"Cupola is a non-funded independent gallery which does not fit into a neat category and nor does it want to. It is a gallery of passion and welcome. Oh and cake!”

Gallery manager Graham Shapley pictured in April, setting up the Cupola Gallery's famous yearly Under The Bed Sale, where artists sell their older and early work for bargain prices, starting at under £1

Work on exhibition includes, painting, printmaking, sculpture, installation, glass, jewellery, photography, ceramics, textiles and mixed media.

All four gallery exhibition spaces plus Cupola's award-winning sculpture garden will be filled with art.

To find out about the activities and events, which run from July 31 to October 11, go to