2020 End of Years No.2 —

Laura Tisdall, A Progressive Education? How childhood changed in mid-twentieth-century English and Welsh Schools (Manchester University Press, 2020). A hugely impressive, critical and deeply researched work of scholarship using archival sources and interviews with teachers to challenge many of the perceived narratives about changing experiences in twentieth-century classrooms, asking how widespread so-called progressive education really […]

2020 End of Years No.2 —

London (and everywhere else) —

Owen Hatherley – Red Metropolis: Socialism and the Government of London (Repeater, 2020) Red Metropolis, the most recent book by the admirably prodigious and prolific writer Owen Hatherley, makes the case that, for all its wealth and concentration of power, London has often been left wing. Telling the story of London’s local government administrations, he […]

London (and everywhere else) —

Walter Hoyle: a versatile artist — The Fry Art Gallery Blog

The Fry Art Gallery’s retrospective of work by Walter Hoyle, Walter Hoyle: a versatile artist has been extended to the 6th of December 2020.  The show is a rare chance to appreciate the full achievement of an artist who was central to the Great Bardfield scene during its 1950s heyday, became an influential teacher in […]

Walter Hoyle: a versatile artist — The Fry Art Gallery Blog

New monograph on Richard Eurich by Andrew Lambirth

One of the most popular artists at Pictures for Schools in the 1940s and 1950s was the painter Richard Eurich, who combined an interest in the landscapes, places and everyday life around with a strong sense of imagination.

Like Pictures for Schools founder Nan Youngman, Eurich trained at the Slade in the 1920s.

He was interested in creating work appealing to children, and in 1946 held an exhibition at the Redfren Gallery in London entitled Paintings for Children.

A regular contributor to Pictures for Schools, his work sold to education authorities around the country, including Kent, Cambridge, Hull, Oxfordshire and London County Council, and schools including Keighley Girls’ Grammar School.

His work ranged from relatable, familial and domestic scenes, such as a table set for a birthday tea party, a Christmas-time performance of Twelfth Night, and a seaside cottage with a neatly arranged garden, to epic, panoramic seascapes. His paintings were voted favourites by child visitors to the Pictures for Schools exhibitions, who appreciated their sense of detail, several times.

A native of Bradford, Eurich’s work is represented in public collections including Cartwright Hall in Bradford and Nottingham Castle Museum.

A fascinating new book written by Andrew Lambirth and published by Lund Humphries explores Eurich’s work, influences and career, from his time as a war artist to his preoccupation with the sea and his admiration of JMW Turner.

The book can be purchased online at https://www.lundhumphries.com/products/75467. There is also a recording of the book launch, featuring Eurich’s daughter Philippa Bambach, as well as the art historian Frances Spalding, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkTudq8m0EA&feature=youtu.be&mc_cid=37a134f4d3&mc_eid=15aa79c702.

On the trail of Nan and Betty: a visit to Cambridge

One of the things I’ve missed during this strange time has been the ability to visit and explore different cities. At the start of September I decided to squeeze in a mini-break in Cambridge.

In many ways, Cambridgeshire was the epicentre of my PhD research (it’s where Nan Youngman lived and worked for most of her adult life, from the Second World War, until her death in 1995), yet I didn’t visit during my PhD.

Primarily, this is because Youngman’s papers were held between the Tate Archive and the University of Reading special collections, yet I decided to visit a few key sites relating to her life and career.

Paper Mills (now turned into flats), which is situated next to a leper chapel on Newmarket Road, is a picturesque early-eighteenth century paper mill conversion where Nan Youngman and Betty Rea set up home in the 1940s after the school in which Youngman taught was evacuated to Huntingdon. After a period in nearby Godmanchester, they rented Paper Mills until Betty’s untimely death in 1965 and it was a social hive for visiting artists, writers and intellectuals from across East Anglia. As well as artworks hung on the walls, Rea and Youngman collaborated on a mural with another Cambridge artist, Elisabeth Vellacott. Fom Paper Mills, Youngman ran art classes for local teachers and became involved in the Cambridge Society of Painters and Sculptors.

Like Nan, Betty was committed to the social power of art and education and was also active in education and art in Cambridge. She taught at Homerton Teacher Training College (now the Institute of Education at the University of Cambridge) and some of her work is on display at Homerton. I intended to go to Homerton to see if I could see any of Betty’s sculptures but didn’t have time. I did see her sculpture the Swimmers, commissioned for Parkside Pools (the current pool is a modern replacement) – finished posthumously by Youngman and Rea’s close friend John W Mills in 1966. Situated in a shady spot on the edge of Donkey Common, rather than depicting the physical act of swimming the sculpture instead captures a social moment, a group of youngsters stopped for a chat; I’d love to know what they were talking about.

I also took some buses out to villages in the countryside outside Cambridgeshire to see two of the village colleges established by Cambridgeshire’s Director of Education from 1922-1954, Henry Morris. Conceived to combat a perceived rural decline, Morris embraced education that was lifelong, practical and vocational as well as academic and aimed to bring the community together around education, seeing these colleges as providing focal points and facilities for their local community. In 1944, Youngman made a speculative approach to Morris offering to be his part-time art adviser, and spent the next decade travelling around schools such as these aiming to improve teachers’ confidence in teaching art. Morris was a keen believer in the importance of art in schools, and the potential for well-designed environments (including works of art) to have a beneficial impact on children’s education. He supported Nan Youngman in organising an exhibition of contemporary art at Homerton College for teachers in Cambridgeshire in 1945; the Cambridgeshire Collection of Original Artworks for Children, initiated by Morris and Youngman, became one of the largest and most impressive and long-running school loan collections in the country (it was finally auctioned in 2017).

At colleges such as Sawston (opened in 1930) and the Fry and Gropius-designed Impington (opened in 1939) she engaged children in collaborative projects such as creating murals based on their lives and their experiences of the local area.

Finally, I fulfilled a long-held ambition to visit the contemporary art gallery Kettle’s Yard (where Youngman had a retrospective in 1987), which was established in the home of curator and collector Jim Ede in 1957 and converted from a series of formerly run-down cottages. Ede wanted Kettle’s Yard to be a place of conviviality and socialising – a meeting place, where relationships were formed, culture was experienced and discussed. He believed that young people – students in this case – should be exposed to contemporary art. He invited students from Cambridge University to his home for tea and to see and discuss the artworks from his collection and later initiated a scheme to lend artworks for their rooms (students from Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin Universities continue to be able to borrow artworks from his collection to this day).

Today, Ede’s home is maintained as a museum, with his artworks displayed in a domestic setting alongside collections of found objects such as pebbles, and carefully arranged plants. Whilst very well-known British and international artists are represented in the collection, from Ben Nicholson and Alfred Wallis to Joan Miro, perhaps my favourite work – set off by its setting next to stacks of plants situated in front of a light-filled window – was Bare Trees and Hills (circa 1960), a delicate pencil drawing by Youngman and Rea’s friend and contemporary Elisabeth Vellacott – an artist whose name I have seen often before, but whose work I had only ever from a distance online or in books.

Guest blog post on Revolutionary Red Tape

Thanks to Dr Emma West for inviting me to write a guest blog post about Pictures for Schools founder Nan Youngman for her research blog Revolutionary Red Tape, as part of ‘Advocates for the Arts’, a series about pioneering women. Emma is currently undertaking an enviable post-doc at Birmingham University focusing on culture in public places in twentieth-century Britain.

Read my blog post online here: https://emmawest.art.blog/2020/05/04/advocates-for-the-arts-nan-youngman/ 

George Chapman Rhondda Valley picture on Antiques Roadshow

It was nice to be alerted to a picture by George Chapman that was once part of the Inner London Education Authority art collection popping up on Antiques Roadshow, filmed at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, at the end of March.

The picture was inherited from the owner of a junk shop – who had possibly acquired it from a dustman (something that is sadly indicative of the value in which many of these former collections are now held)!

George Chapman’s pictures of industrial life and townscapes in the Rhondda Valley were best-sellers at Pictures for Schools, along with many of the artists associated with the Great Bardfield Group in Essex.

The Antiques Roadshow presenter/expert explained that the purpose of such socialist realist pictures was to teach children from inner London about subjects outside London.

The organisers of Pictures for Schools also believed that children needed to see original artworks by contemporary British artists close-up in order to appreciate and understand their materiality (something you couldn’t get from books or reproductions), and one thing that struck me (having only seen Chapman pieces in books and online) was how big this piece is.

Industry and the Welsh landscape was a common theme among artists who exhibited at Pictures for Schools and there was a parallel series of Pictures for Welsh Schools exhibitions between 1951 and the mid-1980s aimed specifically at providing artworks for Welsh schools (with a greater proportion of Welsh artists showing than at the English exhibitions.

Thankfully the current owner of the picture holds it in higher value than its former owners and intends for it to be given to a rural art space in Wales.

Watch the Antiques Roadshow episode online at https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000gpqg/antiques-roadshow-series-42-national-botanic-garden-of-wales-1.

Find out more about George Chapman and see more of his work at the Fry Art Gallery: https://fryartgallery.blog/category/exhibitions/george-chapman-1908-1993-from-bardfield-to-the-rhondda/

Exhibition visit: ‘Art in an Electric Atmosphere’, Treasures of the Brotherton, University of Leeds

I spent my PhD reading books by and about the writer, poet, anarchist and critic Herbert Read – a supporter of Pictures for Schools, who believed in the power of art education and children’s potential as artists – but never fully felt I got the measure of his multifaceted life and career.

A small but extremely thoughtfully curated exhibition at Treasure of the Brotherton, in the library building at the University of Leeds (where Read, a Yorkshireman’s papers are held), offers an interesting way into Read’s life and work. Curated by the artist Stephen Sutcliffe, it picks out ephemera from his archive, highlighting different sides of his life, from Yorkshire family man, to intellectual and anti-war campaigner, and the matters that were important to him.

One of the things that comes across most strongly in the exhibition – through correspondence from figures such as Isa and Walter Gropius and many of the leading artists of the day, as well as a series of annotated napkins from his 70th birthday dinner in London in 1967 – was his place in the British and international intelligentsia, and the high regard in which he was held as a friend, writer and thinker, in the fields of art, design and beyond.

‘Art in an Electric Atmosphere’ is on until Saturday 1 August. For more information visit https://library.leeds.ac.uk/events/event/1900/galleries/224/art-in-an-electric-atmosphere-the-library-and-archive-of-herbert-read.

Exhibition visit: Out of the Crate, Manchester Art Gallery

Following hot on the heels of But What If We Tried? at Touchstones, Rochdale in 2019, which attempted to display the entirety of the borough’s publicly owned art collection at once, Manchester Art Gallery is offering an insight into its sculpture stores (only 3 per cent of the collection is usually on display at any one time). About 25 per cent can be seen in the current exhibition, Out of the Crate, which explores and highlights how the work came to be in the collection and asks for information about some of the work (it’s not always clear who the work is by or how it got there!).

Many of Britain’s best-known nineteenth, twentieth century and contemporary sculptors are represented in the collection, working across a variety of styles and media, from portraiture to modernism. My favourite piece was ‘Rocking Chair No. 4’ (1950), a tiny bronze sculpture by Henry Moore, which was bequeathed to the gallery in 2012 by Harry M Fairhurst, architect of the UMIST campus and the renowned Hollaway Wall. Freeze-framing a small moment of familiar tenderness, but blurring both human and animal forms, its intimate scale made me long to pick it up and handle it and see if it actually rocked!

Some of the sculptures in the collection had been purchased for educational purposes, from the Horsfall Art Museum, which aimed to bring beauty to industrial Ancoats, to pieces from the Rutherston Loan Collection (now accessioned into the main collection) which was established in the 1920s to lend work to schools and educational establishments in the north of England.

Although this scheme is no longer in operation, one of the most interesting aspects of the exhibition is documentation of a project involving a group of boys from Burnage Academy, who were asked to choose a sculpture to display in their school for a day via Art UK’s ‘Masterpieces in Schools’ initiative. Just as Pictures for Schools aimed to ask searching questions of child visitors through the provision of questionnaires about the exhibitions, and to encourage them to see themselves as patrons of art, the students were encouraged to look critically at the artworks, how they were made and what they represented, as well as to think about the role of a curator. It was fascinating to read their rationale about what would stimulate discussion and what their peers would find interesting, and the types of questions they asked of the work, such as “Is the paper ball an actual sculpture?” (their eventual choice of ‘Cobra’, a 1925 sculpture by Jean Demand, narrowly beat Martin Creed’s conceptual ‘Work No 88: A Sheet of A4 Paper Crumpled Into A Ball’).

Out of the Crate is at Manchester Art Gallery until Sunday 28 November 2021: https://manchesterartgallery.org/exhibitions-and-events/exhibition/out-of-the-crate/

Chandigarh College of Architecture, India