Local artist: Jayne Hepsibah Sullivan

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Jayne Hepsibah tells Jo Reynolds about faking it.

When did you move to the area?
About 24 years ago.

Why here?
My sister lived here. Because I’m Welsh, when you come off the M4, you get to Hammersmith and think it’s London. The aim was always to go in, in, in – in to Soho, up to some lofty chambre de bonne, some maid’s room, looking out over the city.

What do you love about the village?
I love the mix of people. It’s ever changing. One of the nicest things is sitting on the shop step with the dog, Larry – or Laurence Olivier if you’re being posh – he’s a lurcher from Birmingham. We sit and watch the world go by.

And hate?
I don’t like all the building work. And Hammersmith itself. All those plastic signs, they’re ruining every high street. They hide all the beautiful buildings. And it’s getting worse. It’s the planners. All they’d have to do is change the signs.

You’re known as Jayne Hepsibah? Is Hepsibah your real name?
It’s my middle name. I wasn’t born with it. My sister is a lawyer and changed my name by deed poll. She gave it to me. I’ve always loved the name and thought it was from ‘Silas Marner’, but recently I was watching a re-run of ‘Bewitched’ and saw that Hepsibah was the Queen of the Witches so maybe I got it from that rather than George Eliot.

You’re also known as The Hat Lady. What got you into hats?
When I was a little girl, my 95-year-old grandmother used to put a few coins in my hand – not for sweets – she used to say, go and buy yourself a hat. I went to Saint Martins and entered the Welsh Fashion Awards. I hadn’t made a hat before, but I had a great tutor, Serafina Grafton Beaves, and I won the Accessories prize. I was sponsored by the Welsh Development Agency for four years and suddenly all the big shops in the States ordered my hats and overnight I had to clear out my studio, which was like a junk shop, and get it ready for all these important people.

What inspires your designs?
Vintage trim. I gave up eight years ago and said I wouldn’t make another hat. I gave my apprentice all my clients and auctioned everything, all my equipment, but I couldn’t let go of the trim. It’s all so exquisite. A bird of paradise feather costs a thousand pounds, but that’s the problem: I can’t cut corners. I use the most beautiful trims possible but not even the mega money wants to spend more than £700 on a hat. So, I continue to rent out the hats. There are lines of limos outside for Ascot week. It keeps the gallery going. I also teach millinery. I’m teaching my chiropodist who wants to be a milliner. She pays me in kind by looking after my feet, but I don’t have enough toes so she does my friends as well. All my friends have lovely feet.

Who are your favourite designers?
Milliners aren’t usually very friendly to each other because they’re all after the same work, but Siggi on Fulham Palace Road is my favourite. And I like Philip Treacy and Cosmo Jenks.

How long does it take to make a hat?
Generally a couple of days but they’re all different. It depends on the trims and the drying time.
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Are you patient?
I am. I’m very nitpicking. A good milliner always turns a hat upside down. Stitches always cover your tracks. You can tell a milliner from how they secure their bow, like the band on a trilby.

Do you make hats for men?
Men’s hats are better made by machines. Luton is still the capital of hats in this country, but Borsalino, the Italians, they’re the hats everyone wants. I did make hats for my father.

Did your parents approve of your work?
Mum never wanted me to be an artist. They never do.

Have any famous heads worn your hats?
Lots. Lots of the Royal Family. Most recently, Sheila Hancock.

These days, hats are often only worn at weddings. Are you married?
No, I’m happily divorced. But my new partner, Alan, won’t marry me. You can say that. I’m always asking him. Once we were on the beach and I wrote, will you marry me? in the sand and before the waves washed it away he wrote, no. My friends think it’s hilarious and keep sending me photos from all around the world where they’ve written, Alan, will you marry Jayne?

You’re also known for your gallery in the middle of the village. How many exhibitions do you put on a year?
In a good year, one a week. I keep it simple. I don’t charge commission. I charge £450 per week or £250 for a three-day pop-up over the weekend. They’ve become popular and seem to work well. A lot of people pair up and invite their friends. Not just paintings, but ceramics, and rugs, and clothing. Toto,who sell kid’s clothes, they had a pop-up show in the spring. I painted blossom in the window. It sold out.

What’s on in the gallery now?
The Hammersmith & Fulham Arts Festival has sponsored us to paint Scarlet, the park keeper’s daughter. She’s divine. She’ll be modelling here for a group of artists from the 8th of June. And from Saturday, 14th June, Julienne and Jason Braham are exhibiting their paintings and pots. When I’m not exhibiting, I also teach painting in the gallery. Because I was a faker, my knowledge of technique is extensive. And I have perfect colour vision.

You were an art forger?!
Before I was a milliner, I was a fine art faker. I specialised in (John Singer) Sargent because he’s very beautiful and very decorative.

What did you mother have to say about that?
I always hid it. Mostly it was for interior designers. I still do portraits, but what I love now is teaching art. It’s an experiment. I teach rank amateurs or artists wanting to brush up on their technique. Anyone can learn. I feel like a scientist. It’s one on one. It’s all very calming.

What’s your advice to local artists?
Come and talk to me. My door is always open. If I’m not in the gallery, I’m beavering away downstairs.

Thank you, Jayne. It’s been a pleasure to meet you.

Read more about Jayne and her gallery at http://hepsibahgallery.com/
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Alan and me.

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Larry and me.