I’m excited to be presenting about my Pictures for Schools research at the Society of Architectural Historians’ annual workshop for postgraduates and early career researchers, which takes place at the Gallery, 70 Cowcross Street, London on Saturday 23 March.
The following is what I have proposed to talk about:
Pictures for Schools: Landscapes of post-war Britain
Between 1947 and 1969, the annual Pictures for Schools exhibitions sold original works of art to schools, local education authorities and teacher training colleges at affordable prices. Whilst county council patronage of the arts in counties such as Hertfordshire, in the form of site-specific commissions such as murals and sculptures, has been the subject of both academic and public interest, Pictures for Schools has remained understudied.
The artworks sold at Pictures for Schools, many of which fitted broadly into a landscape genre, contributed to the changing physical environment of post-war schools. More significant, however, is the role they played in changing educational experiences and ways of looking at the world.
Many of the pictures depicted everyday places and timeless activities that, at first sight, gave an illusion of continuity, far-removed from the changing face of modern Britain. Despite this, this paper argues that the Pictures for Schools made a significant contribution to the cultural and educational aims of reconstruction and the changing experiences of post-war Britain. It encouraged children to develop skills as critical viewers, looking closely at and responding to the places around them, important skills for the post-war citizen.
For more information visit www.sahgb.org.uk/ahw.html.
I’m looking forward to presenting at the History of Education annual conference in Limerick, Ireland, next week, which is themed ‘Revolution, Remembrance and Re-vision: Charting the Path of Education’. My paper will be part of the session ‘Education and periods of social, political, civil and cultural unrest’, on Saturday 10 November. My abstract is as follows:
Education through Art: Nan Youngman and Pictures for Schools
Between 1947 and 1969, Pictures for Schools aimed to embed art in Britain’s schools by selling affordably priced artworks at annual exhibitions. Although it emerged at the same time as state-sponsored patronage schemes, Pictures for Schools operated both within and outside of this context. Despite benefiting from a receptive educational and funding climate, it was initiated and driven by the personal, artistic and political convictions of the artist and educationalist Nan Youngman (1906-1995).
Youngman studied at the Slade in the 1920s before training as a teacher. She taught in girls’ schools and worked as Art Adviser to Henry Morris in Cambridgeshire for ten years, alongside running evening and residential classes for painters and teachers. She remained active in education until the end of her life, at the same time as continuing to paint, exhibit and sell work. These two aspects of her life and work sat alongside one another, and both influenced the shape and direction of Pictures for Schools.
Paying attention to Nan Youngman’s life and career through biographical research, drawn from archival collections relating to both her educational and artistic work, enables a history of Pictures for Schools to be told that is individual rather than institutional. It also shows how Youngman’s personal beliefs and actions intersected with wider cultural, social and political shifts in attitudes and educational priorities. Furthermore, it places post-war developments in art education in a longer lineage that was deeply rooted in the experiences of those working in art and education in the interwar years.
For more information visit www.hesc.mic.ul.ie.
I was briefly in Harlow earlier this week, and took the opportunity to track down a couple of sculptures on residential estates, which I didn’t manage to get to on my previous visit to Harlow.
One of the sculptures I was most excited about seeing was Willi Soukop’s bronze donkey, which sits in a quiet residential estate called Pittman’s Fields.
One of the reasons I was so keen to see the donkey was that I have seen a photo of a cast of the sculpture that was exhibited at the 1949 Pictures for Schools exhibition at Whitechapel Art Gallery. Soukop was involved in Pictures for Schools for many years, and was a member of the committees that selected sculptures for display at the exhibitions.
The Donkey sculpture was originally commissioned for Dartington Hall; Soukop taught sculpture at the independent Dartington Hall School, as well as other private schools and art colleges. I believe it was installed as a play sculpture in Harlow 1955.
The sculpture was smaller than I expected, but rather sweet, and I was encouraged that local people were well aware of its existence (it was quite hidden; after walking around in circles for some time, I was directed to it by three different people).
I’ve written an appreciation of two sacred and secular 1960s murals by Pictures for Schools contributing artist Steven Sykes, in Coventry Cathedral and New Century Hall in Manchester, for the latest issue of the modernist magazine, which is themed ‘Faith’.
To purchase the magazine (which has inexplicably renamed Steven Sykes ‘David’ in the title) visit www.the-modernist.org/faith.
Reflections on Pictures for Schools paper at International Conference of Historical Geographers, LondonPosted: July 7, 2015
My presentation at this year’s International Conference of Historical Geographers at the Royal Geographical Society was a step up from last year’s RGS-IBG summer conference. Whereas last year I presented a particular aspect of my PhD research on Pictures for Schools in a general session for post-graduates to share their ongoing research, this time I was invited to be one of five speakers contributing to a session themed ‘Making post-war Britain: Mobility, planning and the modern nation’.
Papers explored research already undertaken as well as projects in their early stages. My Director of Studies, Hannah Neate, chaired the session, linking each paper through pointing out shared themes and overlaps. Papers included Ruth Craggs on returning colonial administrators, co-written with Hannah. This attempted to direct attention away from a focus on the often-told national and domestic story towards wider international motilities and geopolitical shifts and changes, as told through the figure of one administrator, RW Phelps, as part of a bigger picture of people such as architects and planners. Ian R. Cook then spoke engagingly on post-war planners’ organised study tours abroad, and the way in which certain organisations shaped the way in which planners and policy-makers thought about post war development. Heike Jons’ work on the location and development of post-war universities was well-illustrated with maps and diagrammes. Finally, Ben Rogaly presented his ongoing work with Rebecca Taylor on the experiences of strangeness and belonging in post-war new towns, and the way in which communities were unsettled in the 1950s and 1960s due to building and redevelopment and large-scale migration from places such as London to new and expanding towns such as Peterborough.
As ever, it was hard to narrow down the focus of my research to fit a fifteen-minute slot, but I attempted to convey something of the story of the Pictures for Schools exhibitions and the way in which they aimed at – and succeeded in – distributing original artworks to not just schools but to county councils, education authorities, universities (including Imperial College, where the session took place!) and teacher training colleges across the country. My presentation was led heavily by the use of visuals and archival finds such as exhibition posters and photographs of visitors to the exhibitions, as well as a selection of representative artworks purchased by educational buyers, offering an opportunity to revisit and make use of material I hadn’t yet highlighted elsewhere. The visuals received particularly positive conference from members of the audience, unsurprisingly, particularly a series of 1960s posters advertising the exhibitions. I was also keen to demonstrate that, although Pictures for Schools was enabled by specific post-war developments such as the post-war school building programme, the formation and support of the Arts Council and Ministry of Education endorsement of the role of the arts in schools, it operated autonomously of the state and was driven by the ideas, values and experience of its founder, the painter and teacher Nan Youngman. I aimed to show how Pictures for Schools benefited particularly from the support and engagement of networks of geographically dispersed artists and organisations Youngman encountered both in her dual career as an educationalist and a painter, and in her social life, and to suggest that I have experienced the value of biographical approaches in historical geographical research.
The panel format for taking questions meant that unfortunately I wasn’t asked any questions in detail – beyond whether there was any measurement of the impact and engagement of the artworks sold through Pictures for Schools. I answered that the exhibitions must be understood on more than one level – firstly, engagement with artworks at the exhibitions themselves, by visitors to the exhibitions, which was measured to some extent through questionnaires and voting boxes, and secondly the life of the artworks once they had left the exhibitions, which strangely did not seem to be of interest to the organisers. Some interesting questions were put to the panel, including: whether it was possible to see any specific outcomes of the influences of study tours abroad on post-war British planning; the apparent tensions between a time in Britain’s history generally regarded as being dominated by leftist welfare statism, and the fact that people such as returning colonial administrators were often part of a more old-fashioned establishment and old boys’ network culture; and what motivated and drove individual reformers such as planners, and whether it was political or ideological or otherwise.
The conference was a great chance to hear from people who’d been at the previous talk I did and said I’d made interesting progress, both in my research and presentation and in the discussion of my findings. It was also great to meet researchers, elsewhere at the conference, who were interested in related figures and ideas, from Henry Morris, Director of Education in Cambridgeshire and founder of the county’s village colleges (who employed Youngman as a peripatetic art adviser from 1944-1954, travelling around these colleges as well as other rural schools), an influence highlighted in my presentation, to the Rosc exhibitions in 1960s Ireland, which I was told about by another delegate.
I also enjoyed the plenary from Catherine Hall, historian at UCL, on slavery and freedom, which touched on not just the ways in which the fields of history and historical geography inform and are informed by one another, but showed how historical research can frame and be framed by contemporary issues and discourses, in this case the construction and perception of race in society, though economics, society and culture.
Finally, I was pleased to receive a bursary from the Historical Geography Research Group covering half the price of my ticket, which assisted greatly in covering my conference expenses.
ICHG paper ‘Artworks in schools of every kind: the Pictures for Schools exhibitions 1947-1969’, Monday 6 JulyPosted: June 30, 2015
Next Monday (6 July) I am excited to be talking about my Pictures for Schools research at the International Conference of Historical Geographers at the Royal Geographical Society in London. I will be speaking in the session ‘Making post-war Britain: Mobility, planning and the modern nation’ (Royal School of Mines Room G05, from 2.15pm), alongside papers on subjects such as new towns and new universities.
For more information about the session, including abstracts, visit http://conference.rgs.org/ICHG/33.
A poster about an aspect of my research for another of the annual in-school research events for members of the Grenfell Baines School of Architecture, Construction and Environment at the University of Central Lancashire to share what they have been working on.
Next week is the second meeting of the Modern Futures network (I attended the first in Preston in January), which will take place in London with options to visit either the Southbank or Barkingside in the morning with a view to producing some kind of response. I have decided to visit Barkingside, for the following reasons:
I’ve been interested lately in the idea of the suburb and the perception and representation of suburbs, and what constitutes a place as a town, village or suburb as distinct from one another (a general observational interest grounded in my everyday experiences and encounters, not one which has led to any specific reading as yet). I’m interested in changing ideas across the last century of what types of buildings and facilities you might expect to find as a prerequisite to make somewhere an attractive place to live or work according to common understandings or definitions, and which of these were included or excluded, prioritised or passed over in new developments such as model villages and garden cities, new towns and estates, or as existing towns and outlying suburbs expanded. These might include but are not limited to schools, housing, health centres, shops, work places and transport links at a fundamental level to the optional ‘extras’ and life enhancers such as swimming pools, churches, town halls, public parks, cinemas, pubs and sports and social clubs.
I’m also interested in the relationship between the metropolis and its outlying areas; a friend recently told me that due to rising costs of living in central London more and more people were looking towards living in places like Barking. To what extent do suburbs function as places in their own right, independent of the metropolis, where one can live without ever feeling the need to venture into central London, and to what extent are they dormitories for London with the majority of people working and socialising in central London, and is this changing? I picked Barkingside as it probably isn’t somewhere I would have had reason to visit otherwise. I’m interested in what you can understand about a place as somewhere to live just by walking around or passing through it, how accurate an impression of a place you can get from its built environment, and to what extent this indicates how successful or pleasant it is as a place to live. I’m interested in how the places and facilities listed above have changed in priority or gone out of fashion as needs and interests have changed and what types of buildings have stood the test of time and what have been replaced, updated or made obsolete altogether, eg Fulwell Cross library is still functioning as a library, whereas the old Odeon is now a bingo hall (has it been replaced by a modern multiplex?). Were these places themselves updated or modernised versions of existing facilities, or were they initiatives prompted by the new needs of a growing population?
I’m also interested in how places such as Barking have changed over time to be regarded as part of Greater London as opposed to being defined by more traditional county boundaries such as Kent, Surrey, or Essex in this case, and whether there is a sense of this dual identity visible in the streetscapes of Barkingside. Do such places still retain a strong sense of separate character or identity as one small area of, or as close to but distinct from, London? This is something I have noticed in the outlying towns and suburbs around Greater Manchester, which would previously have been part of either Lancashire (to the North and West) or Cheshire (to the South and West) before local government boundary changes. Some of these towns are insistent on being identified as part of the city (for example Failsworth, officially part of Oldham, Middleton, part of the Rochdale borough, the former mill towns of Tyldesley and Atherton, formally part of the Wigan borough and separated from Manchester by the city of Salford and its outlying suburbs) – as is apparent in local business names, etc – whereas others are keen on maintaining and highlighting geographical links to their former counties, particularly the Cheshire towns (such as Sale, Altrincham and Cheadle).
I’m not sure what, if anything, this has to do with my PhD, although it could be interesting to bear in mind some popular education pamphlets I looked at earlier this year around reconstruction, published by RIBA and others during the war and in the years immediately afterwards. In this strand of reconstruction literature there was a strong emphasis not just on educating the public about the architectural styles and traditions which had made British towns, villages and cities look the way they did, and celebrating examples of ‘good’ architecture and town planning, but on encouraging the public as individuals to develop and be ready to express informed individual opinions on what they wanted from builders, architects and planners and what their needs and preferences were in terms of building styles and types, facilities and town and cityscapes. As well as looking ahead to the future and the opportunities offered by new styles of buildings and construction methods and the opportunity provided by the reconstruction process for a high degree of control over town planning, these pamphlets also provided a cautionary and provocative tale about avoiding the mistakes of the past, which were in many cases attributed to the sprawl of suburbia and inter-war ribbon development.
Pictures for Schools: educating the aesthetic citizen 1947-1969 (paper at the New and Emerging postgraduate research in historical geography session, RGS-IBG conference)Posted: March 3, 2014
I have recently been accepted to do a 15-minute paper in the New and Emerging postgraduate research in historical geography session, sponsored by the Historical Geography Research Group, at the RGS-IBG summer conference in London at the end of August. Abstract below.
Pictures for Schools: educating the aesthetic citizen 1947-1969
This paper will show how Pictures for Schools, a scheme which has been the subject of little previous research, aimed to develop the so-called ‘aesthetic citizen’ and emphasised the part that making aesthetically-informed choices could play in the development of a new ‘design for life’ for modern, post-war Britain.
The inter- and post-war years saw an increased emphasis on developing British citizens’ awareness of their power to improve their own environments. Matless (1996) has identified a form of ‘aesthetic citizenship’, prioritising visual education and aesthetic appreciation, which, whilst partly linked to enjoyment, tied into ideas about the responsibilities of the citizen, their role in the reconstruction process and the creation of a future vision of Britain.
Part of the nation’s visual education was the move to make art and design more accessible to the population in the post-war period. One scheme for widening access to original works of art was Pictures for Schools, an annual series of exhibitions of artworks by British artists which took place between 1947 and 1969. Pictures for Schools was aimed explicitly at developing the visual skills and discernment of the next generation of citizens, targeting works for sale to schools and local education authorities and highlighting the individual and social benefits of exposure to original works of art as children grew up.
In this paper I explore how the organisers of Pictures for Schools emphasised the importance of environment on children’s education, prioritising modes of education which encouraged children develop their skills of looking, seeing and describing what was around them; skills they could then take forward into their adult lives as citizens capable of making effective taste judgments and actively shaping their environments.