Third visit to Nan Youngman collectionPosted: February 26, 2014
I recently made my third visit to the Nan Youngman collection at the University of Reading, and I now feel like what I look at is more about filling in the details and adding to a more complete picture of Pictures for Schools than helping to build my general understanding of Pictures for Schools and Nan Youngman.
Some of the interesting things I found during this visit included correspondence with the auctioneers Bonham’s regarding artwork which had been left unsold and uncollected after Pictures for Schools exhibitions in the 1960s: after debating whether it should be destroyed (it seems to me to be a real shame that this was even an option, if it was considered to be of good enough quality to have been selected for the exhibitions in the first place!), it was put up for auction. I also read correspondence between the Pictures for Schools organisers and Manchester Art Galley regarding the Rutherston Collection which was lent to educational establishments in the North of England. The keeper of the collection visited the Pictures for Schools exhibitions each year and reserved artworks which, if they were not sold first, were sent to Manchester to be approved for purchase for the collection by committee. I would love to know if the collection, which purchased work by Elisabeth Frink among other artists from Pictures for Schools, still exists. Another interesting set of correspondence related to the guide lecturers – who were seconded from Whitechapel Gallery’s Upper Gallery, or were Directors of Education – who took school parties around the Pictures for Schools exhibitions. There was some debate over how to provide the best experience for school parties and it was concluded that schools usually got more out of the visits if they had time to explore for themselves and ask questions rather than having each artwork explained to them. A large volume of correspondence from schools booking school visits and talks demonstrated the large volume of school visits which were made to the exhibition, with groups typically bringing between 20 and 30 and sometimes up to 70 children. Often, letters were followed up by notes of thanks saying how much the visits had been appreciated, but occasionally letters also expressed regret that the behaviour of students had got out of hand.
Shortly after reading Nan Youngman’s autobiography in the Tate Archive in London, which described a difference of opinion between Youngman and the rest of the Society for Education in Art when the Society voted to move overwhelmingly towards Herbert Read‘s ideas after 1945, it was interesting to find a chain of correspondence between Pictures for Schools exhibition treasurer Katharine Baker and Organising Secretary Joan Bartlett, and between Youngman and Joan Bartlett, in which some parties could barely conceal their frustration about the perceived inefficiency of the SEA and the lack of understanding it showed about its role in relation to the exhibition. Something else which backed up what I read in Nan Youngman’s autobiography, where she described the influence of Marion Richardson and her visualisation method, was a set of ‘O’ Level exam papers Youngman set for the Oxford Local Examination Board in the 1950s and 1960s, which asked examinees to choose a title from the list to help them conjure up a visual image.
Of tangential interest were photographs and reports relating to courses Youngman ran for the British Council both overseas and for overseas teachers in the UK. It was also nice to see another photo of Nan Youngman, this time holding a student’s work at the 1931 exhibition she held of children’s art at Wertheim Gallery. One curio was a bag filled with plastic discs which were used to draw lots at the Pictures for Schools exhibitions when more than one buyer was interested in the same artwork.
Something I am increasingly finding is that even if the basic information given in a catalogue listing does not seem promising, it is still worth looking at everything if possible as often information seems to have been put together in folders that does not seem to belong together – for example, a folder might seem to based on one topic, but then some interesting press cuttings have also crept in which show the critical attitude towards the exhibitions at different times. I had hoped to have finished looking at the collection during this visit, but it seems that I will need to return to Reading again to get a complete idea of what is there.