After Susan’s kidney transplant in the year 2000 and a phenomenally successful summer at the Alan Reed Art Gallery in Eldon Gardens, Alan and Susan could both, at last, look forward to the future with a sense of security as post-transplant life for Susan was getting brighter each day. Indulging in their shared love of travel was of course top of their list.
During this time a member of their congregation, Christine, told them about a prophetic dream she had about the couple. The dream carried the message that God was going to uproot them and she had the word Jubilee, which in the Biblical sense refers to a concept of ‘jubilee’ a time when debts were cancelled. Perhaps most peculiar of all, Christine could vividly see a house in her dream, in which Alan was visible upstairs putting sold tickets on various paintings. Downstairs, there were “For Sale” signs in the window.
Neither Christine or Alan and Susan knew what any of it meant. Not long after, the couple were unexpectedly called into a meeting with the management of Eldon Gardens. They were to be given one month’s notice to pack up the gallery and find a new unit to rent as management had found a new, higher bidder to pay for the space. Suddenly their whole livelihood and future was thrown into uncertainty. The gallery had been doing exceptionally well – customers were already earmarking paintings for Christmas gifts and Alan’s artwork was earning a fantastic reputation across the region. Despite the sudden shock of having to close the gallery in Eldon Gardens and look for new premises, Alan and Susan remember feeling nothing but a remarkable sense of peace.
Did this have something to do with Christine’s dream, they wondered?
The gallery closed its doors after six years in March 2002, giving Alan and Susan a renewed sense of freedom. Until they decided where to open a new gallery, they were technically free to do as they pleased. It had been so long since they had been to Italy together due to Susan’s ill health, they decided to book a trip to Italy’s “green heart” – the lush valleys of Umbria, an Italian region bordering Tuscany, Lazio and Le Marche. Beloved for its medieval hilltop towns, dense forests and local cuisine, particularly foraged truffles and wines, Umbria would be a new adventure for the couple – little did they know that this would be the start of a very special relationship. Alan and Susan had booked to stay in the Relais il Canalicchio, a picturesque hotel overlooking olive groves and rolling countryside.
As they drove along the winding drive and enjoyed a simple supper of tomato and mozzarella salad on the patio in the warm evening sun: it was the perfect retreat Or it was, until they woke up the next day snowed in!
Waking up to blankets of snow carpeting the rolling hills they had admired only the day before in t-shirts, Alan and Susan found themselves snowed in for the day unable to go anywhere. Instead, they explored the hotel, the kitchens brought warming soups to the guests and Alan sat by the log fire and sketched.
As if by magic, the snow had vanished by the next morning and the couple were free to explore the various hilltop towns of Perugia, Spello, Assisi, Spoletto, Orvietto and everything in between over the next two weeks. Hunting out some of the local cuisine, Alan and Susan remember coming across a traditional family-run pizzeria in search of a light meal. Though they spoke no English, it gave Susan an opportunity to recall her Italian after living in Italy and learning the language many years ago. Fully immersed in the Italian culture, something shifted…
Life had been such a struggle lately with Susan’s illness and now the gallery being uprooted, they had the opportunity to sit back and enjoyed a slower pace of life here in Umbria. Blessed with endless beauty spots and inspiration for Alan’s Italian Collection of paintings, his working method even began to change. Having previously used a watercolour block (a pad of pre stretched watercolour paper) to paint, Alan would sometimes lament the fact that his reference of that place, or moment in time was lost once the painting was sold. He would work carefully in pencil sketching various features and scenes, but after a day trip to Fabiano, he decided to buy a selection of leather bound sketchbooks which fitted neatly in his pocket.
The region of Fabriano has a long heritage of making paper for Italian bank notes and Alan immediately fell in love with these beautiful, distinctive sketchbooks. Instead, Alan now found himself working directly with a brush filled with watercolour paint as he painted various scenes in his new sketchbooks. A type of shorthand for himself, Alan could record what he saw and paint it larger on a sheet of stretched hand made watercolour paper whilst still keeping his original references.
The sketchbooks were a catalyst in bringing back memories of the beautiful places he’d visited and remain so today. Umbria also refreshed Susan’s love of food and cooking. Often, Susan would look out for unusual oils or ingredients you couldn’t buy at home to recreate real Italian flavour in her dishes. Prior to this trip, the couple had been given a bottle of truffle oil as a gift but didn’t enjoy the flavour. Known for its rich source of truffles, Umbria completely changed the couple’s feelings about truffles as they were served them in pasta and sauces, on bruschetta and even scrambled eggs in the morning. Suddenly, they couldn’t get enough of it and even today they still love truffles – the taste taking them back to their very first trip to Umbria in 2002. Umbria was a fantastic tonic for both Alan and Susan, and it’s little surprise why it is their chosen location for their Reedart Italian Painting Holidays.
With so much to enjoy and explore, Alan and Susan returned home after their trip and decided for now, to run the Alan Reed Art Gallery from their home in Northumberland. But what did Christine mean when she said she saw Alan in a house with “for sale” signs in her dream? In December 2002 Alan received a phone call from one of the local estate agents, out of the blue, to say there were some rooms available for rent above her shop in Ponteland which could be used as a studio and gallery. Looking around, she was quite right. The space was large enough to create a beautiful gallery and give Alan a studio to work in. Shortly after, Alan could be seen hanging paintings upstairs, putting price tickets on his work as “for sale” signs could be seen in the windows of the estate agent below…