With a riverside setting to die for, Art Evolution artist Tina Hartas has the perfect home for painting. The Journal’s Karen Wilson gets a preview before she opens it up to the public as part of the Art Tour.
Anyone who’s ever visited Wylam will have passed Bettina and Tony Hartas’s distinctive home. The couple live in the Toll House on the north side of the bridge, which used to collect the unpopular one penny tolls from pedestrians wishing to cross the bridge until they were abolished in 1936.
Built in 1899 to replace the original toll house on the south side, today the property is a light-filled family home with spectacular views over the Tyne providing the perfect backdrop to inspire Bettina’s artworks.
"We’ve still got the little safe in the lounge where they used to store the tolls," says Bettina, 51, who works part time for Relate Northumberland and Tyneside as a couple counsellor. "I love the colours, the history, the tall ceilings and the lighting. I never realised quite how important light is in your own home. Now I couldn’t live in a dark home."
Bettina, who is originally from London and Tony, from Liverpool, bought the property 25 years ago after renting a house in Ryton and getting a feel for the area.
Tony had received a government grant to set up his business APRAIS in the North East, which handles relationship management between advertising agencies.
It cost £90,000 – a lot in those days – and had been on market for 18 months. "Someone had looked at turning it into an art gallery," explains Bettina. "We walked in and just said, ‘This is it’!"
One of the main clinchers was the uninterrupted views over the river, as well as the close proximity to Newcastle.
"Having come from London I really like to be able to go into town," says Bettina. "I wouldn’t be the kind of person who could live on an isolated croft somewhere because I really like people and the busyness of town."
Sharing their four-bedroom home, for the time being anyway, is son Tom, 21, who’s training to teach ski instructors and hopes one day to open his own ski school and Charlotte, 18, who’s off to Bali after A-levels to work in an orphanage.
On entering their home, the first thing you notice are Bettina’s artworks dotted around the lovely spacious hallway, which is awash with natural light from the skylights.
This part of the house, along with the kitchen/breakfast room, conservatory and fourth bedroom above, was part of a side extension added when the children were young.
In the summer Bettina spends most of her time in the conservatory, a room that’s been painted in terracotta masonry paint, which sets off the abundance of vines and plants. "It feels a bit like south Europe," she says. It leads on to a small garden with patio at the rear overlooking the river and a larger side garden where they used to keep chickens and a goose.
Elsewhere there are three reception rooms with exposed floorboards and lots of inherited furniture, such as the reupholstered sofas.
"I quite like clean lines," says Bettina. "I don’t like it cluttered so we’ve gone for white walls with spots of colour."
One of the reception rooms, which is used as Tony’s study, features another historic remnant. "It must have had a copper dolly tub where you do your washing," says Bettina, "as we saw something similar in Beamish."
Dotted around the house are keepsakes with special memories, some of which Bettina has picked up on her travels. One is a mask from Venice, made by Gianni Cavalier. "The shop was recommended by a very good friend, but it is really difficult to find," says Bettina. "The myth is that it’s hard to find, you can walk past the shop many times and never ‘see’ it and then suddenly it’s there. It’s almost a bit magical, as though the shop will only let you find it if it wants you to."
Other favourite trinkets include a 30s-style wall hanging of a woman, which she bought in a antiques shop in Jesmond for her 30th birthday, and a Japanese painting by Daniel Kelly, which she bought for her 50th birthday.
Members of the public will be able to visit Bettina’s home as part of the Art Tour, the annual open studios event held each June featuring almost 90 artists around Northumberland.
On display will be several paintings available to buy from £90 to £495. Bettina has been painting for many years and has a degree in history of art and German as well as an MA in conservation and fine art.
Although couple counselling has provided her main income, she has sold her artwork through galleries in the UK, as well as in Geneva and Brussels.
"When I got to my 40th birthday I decided I needed to know if I could actually do something with my art," she explains.
"I started off as a graphic artist and then I discovered colour which gave me a new lease of life."
Over the years Bettina has moved from acrylics to oils, which she now prefers. "The saturation of the colours is amazing and I just love the smell," she says. She spends at least one day a week painting in her studio room off the master bedroom.
"It was supposed to be a bathroom but we never converted it," she explains. "One day we’ll extend the garage and put a studio on top."
Bettina has only taken part in the Art Tour once before – five years ago – and is really looking forward to welcoming art lovers into her home. "I really enjoyed it last time and sold quite a few pieces of work," she says. "But it’s quite a commitment so that’s why I haven’t done it in the intervening years. Now I’ve got enough work here, the kids have grown up, and it feels like the right time."
June 7, 2010 9:21pm
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