Guest blog post for the Cambridge Primary Review Trust (and a note on Isabel Alexander)

Further to the reference in my last blog post about the fascinating stories behind some of the artists submitting and selling work through Pictures for Schools, and the frustrations of trying to find information about some of these artists, many of whose names are no longer known, I recently received an email from Professor Robin Alexander, Chair of the Cambridge Primary Review Trust, whose mother, the painter Isabel Alexander, submitted several paintings and lithographs to Pictures for Schools over a five-year period in the 1960s. Professor Alexander told me that though she exhibited widely at the time and attracted “quite a following”, with her work represented in public collections, she remains relatively unknown today. I was able to tell Professor Alexander about some of the buyers of his mother’s work (primarily landscapes, although she had moved towards more abstract work by this point), which included Godolphin and Latymer School in Hammersmith, Nottingham Education Committee and Cambridge Education Committee (which still appears to have the work in its collection) and in return he sent me some images of her bold, vibrant paintings and illustrations and a brief biography.

Isabel Alexander had a long and interesting life and I wad pleased to hear about her story. After Birmingham School of Art she taught briefly and then attended the Slade, before returning to teaching in Bromley, Banbury and Rotherham and later lecturing at Saffron Walden Training College. Professor Alexander told me that she was a member of the Society for Education through Art and subscribed to its journal Athene, so was well aware of developments in education. She travelled in Europe and went on to work in the documentary film movement in the 1940s. Her painting and illustrative work included drawing for Mass Observation, social documentary work of Welsh towns and miners and illustrating Puffin picture books. Pictures for Schools had strong links with East Anglia and Essex (with the Great Bardfield group of artists being closely involved with the scheme), and Isabel Alexander lived in Thaxted in Essex. Along with Pictures for Schools, she also contributed to a scheme for Pictures in Essex Hospitals.

After corresponding about my research and the work of Isabel Alexander over email, Professor Alexander invited me to contribute a guest blog post to the CPRT blog, partly to raise awareness and partly to try and stimulate debate about the role of original artworks in schools today and the value of the creative curriculum, which has now been published at http://cprtrust.org.uk/cprt-blog/pictures-for-schools-a-brilliant-idea-worth-reviving-or-an-expensive-luxury.

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Mid-Century Modern Living

I’m looking forward to attending the first workshop of the Modern Future network at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston next Friday (23 January), in which I’ve been invited to participate by my Director of Studies, Dr Hannah Neate. Next Friday’s event includes a free film screening which is open to the public.


Dorothy Annan and Trevor Tennant discussion at Henry Moore Institute, Wednesday 21 January

I’m not involved, but I am looking forward to attending a seminar about Dorothy Annan and Trevor Tennant at the wonderful Henry Moore Institute in Leeds next week (and visiting the accompanying exhibition, which displays materials related to these two artists from HMI’s archive). I’m looking forward to hearing from Dawn Pereira, who wrote her PhD thesis on the London County Council’s post-war patronage scheme and is the recipient of a Henry Moore research fellowship, and Jeremy Howard of the Decorated School project.

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately trying to identify, look in more detail at and, if possible, speak to the artists who regularly submitted and sold work through Pictures for Schools. Although it is difficult to find much information about lots of the artists, many of the individuals have fascinating personal stories as artists and educators. Dorothy Annan, along with her husband Trevor Tennant, was among the artists who submitted and sold work through Pictures for Schools, and was one of a number of artists in the scheme who was also involved in the Artists’ International Association. She also went on to design murals and other artworks for schools. In my spare time, I publish my own small publication, the Shrieking Violet, and architect and blogger Joe Austin contributed an article featuring Dorothy Annan’s Farringon murals alongside other post-war murals a couple of years ago.

The seminar is free and can be booked here.