A precursor to Pictures for Schools? The School Prints projectPosted: April 11, 2013
One project which aimed to embed art in schools in the post-war period was the School Prints scheme, which was started in 1946 under the direction of Brenda Rawnsley, who built upon a company started by her late husband Derek Rawnsley which rented reproductions of famous artworks to both state and private schools with accompanying notes. Artists were invited to submit sketches for School Prints, and successful submissions were reproduced in return for a fee and ongoing royalties. Subscribers to School Prints received four lithograph prints per term, or twelve per year, and prints were also available to the public at a slightly higher price. Like many attempts to expose schoolchildren to art, School Prints relied upon the enthusiasm and dedication of an individual: Brenda Rawnsley, whom Ruth Artmonsky portrays in her history of the scheme as a “feisty, energetic, enthusiastic woman finding her way in the post-war art world” (Artmonsky, 2010). Artmonsky places School Prints within a zeitgeist of bringing ‘good’ art to the people, and educating people’s ‘aesthetic discernment’. Like other attempts to take original artworks into schools, the School Prints scheme was guided by a committee of ‘experts’, the Art Advisory Council, which included Herbert Read and Nan Youngman as well as a representative from the Arts Council, a child psychologist, the Chief Art Inspector to the London County Council, Audrey Martin, Art advisor for Hertfordshire and Alex Barclay-Russell, art master at Charterhouse.
However, there are clear differences between the School Prints project and Pictures for Schools. Unlike Pictures for Schools, which encompassed a variety of art forms, artworks were confined to lithographs, and there was ongoing uncertainty on the part of Rawnsley about the extent to which artworks reproduced in editions in the thousands could be sold as original artworks. Unlike Pictures for Schools, School Prints was aimed solely at primary schools. School Prints met with limited success as, although Artmonsky characterises the artists involved as being largely ‘parochial and conventional’, the artworks and their subject matters were nevertheless found to be too ‘novel and advanced’ for schools, and the project extended only to three series of prints; a later scheme, initiated by Rawnsley in the 1950s, which involved selling schools moulds of artists’ sculptures through the Victoria and Albert Museum, which they could reproduce themselves, was similarly a commercial failure. Whereas Pictures for Schools often featured the work of young artists and recent graduates, School Prints invited contributions from more established artists, several of whom had been part of the state-sponsored ‘Recording Britain’ scheme in wartime – this type of subject matter was considered suitable for children. Finally, the scope of School Prints was not geographically limited to schools in England and Wales as with Pictures for Schools, nor featured solely British artists, as Pictures for Schools did: Rawnsley aimed to eventually extend the project to the countries across the Empire, as well as the United States, and prints were sold as far away as Antigua, South Africa, Kenya and India. Furthermore, the final instalment of School Prints featured the work of famous European artists such as Picasso who were reaching the end of their careers (Artmonsky, 2010).
School Prints followed on from earlier schemes to introduce original artworks to schools in the form of prints, such as prints given to schools as part of a series produced by the Post Office. Another print series for educational establishments, Contemporary Lithographs, ran between 1937 and 1938 and aimed to sensitise students to really looking at pictures and inspire their own creativity, in line with contemporary ideas that people had an innate desire to learn and respond if they were given the opportunity. Contemporary Lithographs focused on original prints by living artists, working on the assumption that good pictures did not always belong in museums, and considering prints to be better value for schools than watercolours and oil paintings. Its unique selling points were ‘quality, accessibility and originality’. However, like other schemes for aesthetic education, the public and schools often did not share the taste of those behind Contemporary Lithographs and found the abstract and non-representational artwork included in the scheme challenging (Artmonsky, 2010).