Pat Sutcliffe, founder of The Art House

05.05.2016

It is with great sadness that we report the death of Pat Sutcliffe, a remarkable woman, passionate artist and the founder of The Art House.

In the late 1980s, having become disabled by severe arthritis, Pat decided to take a course in art at Calderdale College and followed this up with a Fine Art degree in Bradford.  As a wheelchair user, Pat spent much of her time battling with the college authorities to gain access to the course and the support she needed.  Lectures were held in inaccessible classrooms and tutors refused to be filmed or recorded.  The college provided 'carers' who provided 'personal care' but would not touch clay - Pat's preferred medium.  Eventually Pat wrested control of her access budget from the college authorities and was able to pay her own technicians whose support enabled her to make her signature large sculptural forms.

After gaining her degree, Pat found that artists' studios were primarily in old mills - cold, damp and inaccessible to someone with her condition.  There was no-one to support her and while her friends from the degree course could continue their practice, Pat could only go home.

However, Pat was not someone who would be defeated and in 1994, together with a number of artist friends - both disabled and not - she set up The Art House.  The minutes of the first meeting record the ambition: to build purpose-built studio space accessible to all artists with technician support for those who need it.

In 1995 Liz Whitehouse joined the organisation as Chair and funds were raised to pay for a Manager.  Jennifer Hallam, Arts Council Yorkshire's Visual Arts Officer, supported the project and The Art House was accepted onto the Arts Council's Lottery-funded Capital Programme with funds to conduct a feasibility study for building The Art House.

While the capital project progressed, Pat was at the centre of a range of art projects and exhibitions, always accessible and always inclusive.  The Art House never wanted to be a ghetto for disabled people - inclusion was at its heart.

Over the years, as The Art House moved from Halifax to Doncaster and then to Wakefield in search of the right site for the building and the support of an enlightened local authority to share its vision, Pat remained close to the project.  As her health varied so did her level of involvement, but Pat's vision, determination and drive remained.  There were to be no compromises - The Art House had to have exemplary access and support for disabled artists. Pat was part of the artists' consultation group for the new building and ensured that every aspect of access was considered.  She was the first artist to occupy the new flat at The Art House when it opened, taking a studio for a short period to enjoy the euphoria of success.  After 14 years the vision of studios, open and accessible to all, had been realised.

Sadly, living in Halifax meant that Pat could not maintain a permanent studio at The Art House, although she did have a studio during the first couple of years, once again able to work for a while in ceramics.  The stress of travelling meant that it was not possible for her to continue.  However, Pat continued to keep a close interest in the organisation and the building, coming to look round Drury Lane Library complete with hard hat.

Pat will be missed by her son Adam and all the artists whose lives she touched.