In 2019 I am one of six writers based in the north of England who are writing for new arts writing platform the Fourdrinier, which focuses on art on paper. My latest article, in June’s issue, is an interview with Manchester-based artist Jenny Steele about her new wallpaper for Crosby’s modernist library, which draws on the history of the building and discusses the changing uses of libraries and their importance as social and educational centres. Read it here.
For the April issue I interviewed Jade Montserrat about her commission for Art on the Underground, which was installed across the London Underground network. Read it here.
I’m looking forward to attending a discussion about creating art and gallery experiences for children, which takes place at the Bluecoat in Liverpool next Thursday (18 January, 6pm, free). It’s the second in a series of panel discussions entitled ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Work’, bringing together UK and international artists, curators and other practitioners.
For more information and to book visit www.thebluecoat.org.uk/events/view/events/3798.
Over the summer I got an email from the Head of Fine Art at National Museums Liverpool, who’d spotted on Twitter that I’d just moved house into Stockport, her neck of the woods. She was interested in hearing more about my Pictures for Schools research, and also very kindly sent me some photocopies in the post relating to a historic loan scheme at the city’s Walker Art Gallery.
As well as a typewritten list of works, which was interesting to see, as there were a number of overlaps with some of the artists who sold work through Pictures for Schools (including LS Lowry, Carel Weight, John Bratby, Edward Middleditch, Anthony Gross, Richard Eurich, Stephen Bone, Helen Markson, Graham Sutherland, Ceri Richards, Michael Rothenstein, Julian Trevelyan, Tadek Beutlich and Elizabeth Blackadder), she sent me a copy of a chapter on art education from the recent book A History of the Walker Art Gallery Liverpool 1878-2000 by former curators Edward Morris and Timothy Stevens.
Setting out a historical context of art galleries being established for educational purposes, initially for the benefit of the artist and then for the ‘consumer, the visitor, the spectator, the general public’, the art education chapter briefly discussed the history of regional museum services and loan collections in Manchester, Leicester, Leeds and Bristol, as well as on a national basis at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The authors argue that initially the emphasis was often more on museum objects than art objects as they were seen as being more engaging to children.
Although there are a couple of brief references to Pictures for Schools in the chapter, and the importance of art in schools in the post-war period, like much of the writing on art in schools I have read elsewhere, the authors consider little to have been achieved in embedding artworks in schools. They attribute this to artists preferring to ‘work for the generous commissions provided by commercial galleries rather than for the meagre wages offered by local authority education departments suffering from tight budgets’.
With regards to art education in Liverpool the chapter has a focus on the work of local teachers and educators employed directly as education officers for the Walker Art Gallery, before going on to discuss the history of the gallery’s own loan service. Although the gallery had been lending museum specimens in boxes since the 1880s, it seems that the idea of lending original art work to schools grew out of a programme of lending work from the reserve collections to municipal galleries, hospitals and other public buildings, along with art schools. During the war the lending of art had a practical purpose, with valuable paintings distributed to private schools in the countryside for safekeeping, moving to a different school each term. This remained small-scale, with works only being lent to ten schools, until the 1950s, when the loan collection of late Victorian and Edwardian paintings was extended by the addition of lithographs by modern artists such as Picasso, Braque and Ernst which was more representative of the gallery’s collection as a whole. Between this time and the metropolitan reorganisation of 1974 when the gallery was transferred from the control of Liverpool City Council to Merseyside County Council, more than 200 more works were acquired by contemporary British and American artists, with the gallery matching an annual purchase grant of £500 from the city council. The majority were prints such as lithographs and screen-prints, which could eventually be integrated into the main collections, although forty paintings were also bought. The wider geographical area served by the scheme, and the increased number of schools it encompassed, eventually led to difficulties with transport, staffing and availability of paintings to go round, and the service was axed in 1979 and the work integrated into the permanent collection.
“If you think of the building as a boiler and the works of art, the water, which circulates around the radiators, and the radiators are the schools”: Eric WoodwardPosted: September 9, 2013
“If you think of the building as a boiler house, a boiler, and the works of art, the water, which circulates around the radiators, and the radiators are the schools then that’s a practical way of having a large collection because it’s not in one place at any one time.”
Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Eric Woodward at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where we chatted about his experiences as Senior Advisor to Alec Clegg, Director of Education in the West Riding, between 1956 and 1985, and I later interviewed him at the National Arts Education Archive at Bretton Hall, where Woodward currently volunteers one day a week. Woodward is clearly a great admirer of Alec Clegg, who he first became aware of when he heard a speech by Clegg at an SEA conference, citing “his honesty, his truthfulness, his humanity, his idealism” and his straightforwardness as inspiration, and appreciating the freedom and encouragement he was given by Clegg. In 1991 Woodward compiled a book of quotes, Sir Alec Clegg 1909-1986: His Own Words, from Clegg’s speeches and books, for which he also wrote the foreword (copies are in the National Arts Education Archive).
Woodward explained that after the Second World War he studied for a four-year National Diploma in art and design in Liverpool and followed it with a one-year certificate in teaching before teaching art in Liverpool schools. As an art teacher, Woodward noticed that junior and infant school students were uninhibited about drawing and painting, but by secondary school age students were beginning to say they couldn’t draw so art became a specialism. Woodward tried to rectify this by taking art out into the school, and encouraging students to paint murals around the building rather than confining it to something which took place in the art room. Woodward left teaching to join the West Riding School Museum Service as Senior Advisor, going to Wakefield in 1956 and living in nearby Woolley. He remained there until his retirement in 1985 and, in 1978, was appointed MBE.
The West Riding School Museum Service was set up in the 1940s under Alec Clegg, inspired by a similar service in Derbyshire run by Barbara Winstanley, and when Woodward took up the post he was sent on a two-week trip to to Derbyshire to see how the service worked. Originally consisting of visual aids such as film strips, after Woodward joined the service expanded and eventually contained a number of original works of art, as well as museum objects such as stuffed animals. Woodward explained that be did not influence the choice of artworks much beyond making suggestions about how practical the works would be to transport, but the county’s art advisors, Basil and Rosemary Rocke, went to the London galleries each year and brought back a selection of artworks which were then chosen for purchase by a committee of elected education officers and Helen Kapp, Director of Wakefield City Art Gallery. In 1953 there were 149 paintings; by 1964, the collection contained more than 400 paintings and pieces of sculpture. Schools could borrow something like three works per term, and chose from a catalogue, although this was not illustrated so teachers had to make choices by title alone. The West Riding had about 1,500 schools and Woodward thinks that primary schools made more use of the service than secondary schools, partly because there were more of them. He visited schools and advised on how to hang artworks such as paintings, for example by displaying them at children’s eye level, as well as how to keep more valuable paintings, such as those by Lowry, secure out of school hours. I asked Woodward if he thought the paintings were chosen to appeal to children, as was the case with Pictures for Schools, but he said that as far as he was aware no, the main consideration was quality. He wasn’t aware of much abstract work, aside from an Alexander Calder mobile and decorative, non-representational wall hangings and tapestries. Woodward describes exposure to original works of art as a “profound experience”, especially important because most homes in the West Riding would not have contained original works of art, and thinks that seeing artworks in books or through reproductions can’t match seeing the scale, colour and texture of works of art, particularly those such as oils, in real life.
Woodward has a really interesting way of visualising the collection and how it was circulated: “Obviously if you have a large collection of artefacts or museum objects, paintings, the size of the building limits the size of the collection. Well if you think of the building as a boiler house, a boiler, and the works of art, the water, which circulates around the radiators, and the radiators are the schools then that’s a practical way of having a large collection because it’s not in one place at any one time.” As well as meaning the collection could grow in size and circulate efficiently, I also read this quote as meaning that you could add new, clean water to the collection with the acquisition of new works of art, meaning the collection remained fresh, relevant and interesting. Woodward said there was an annual stock check, to ensure that there were no ‘leaks’, to continue the metaphor, and that everything was in working order.
Woodward was also involved in other initiatives for schools, which tie in with ideas about learning through experience (something I have encountered a lot in the writing of John Dewey). One of these was purchasing a working water mill near Barnsley, which was becoming increasingly dilapidated and dangerous but received a lot of visits from groups of schoolchildren, and restoring it with the help of the new Countryside Act which enabled county councils to set up country parks with match funding. Another was developing the educational use of Harewood Bird Garden, which included appointing a teacher advisor and providing art materials for visiting schools. Woodward was also involved in acquiring seventeenth century Clarke Hall in Wakefield and developing it into an education museum for role play, where children and teachers could go and dress up and cook like they were living in the seventeenth century. This remained open until this year, when it fell victim to museum budget cuts.
After his retirement at the age of sixty, Woodward found it hard to remain in touch with what was happening with the service without appearing to ‘interfere’ and several of the more valuable artworks, including those by Lowry, have since been sold. Woodward has found it difficult to obtain accurate information about the collection’s whereabouts, although he has ascertained some information about sales from Millers’ Guide.
Since retiring Woodward has held one-man exhibitions of his artwork, and one of his paintings is in the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield. In 2000, he wrote the unpublished manuscript A Brief History of the West Riding School Museum Service 1956-1985, primarily, he says for his children to know what he did. A copy is now in the National Arts Education Archive along with other material relating to the West Riding Museum Service such as catalogues, which archive manager Leonard Bartle found out for me ready for my visit as well as archival material relating to the Society for Education in Art and Pictures for Schools.