Viva survivor

I’m really pleased to announce that I passed my viva on Friday, at the University of Central Lancashire.

I was examined by Dr Sarah Mills from the University of Loughborough, who has done a lot of work about the history of twentieth century British youth movements in relationship to informal education and citizenship, and Dr Keith Vernon from UCLan, whose work I had come across in the context of adult education and the co-operative movement.

I talked them through my research and methodologies, at the same time as giving them more detail about how the scheme worked in practice, including the voluntary involvement of the artists involved and the ways in which the artists chose the pictures that they submitted to be exhibited. They asked me some interesting questions about the ways in which I framed my research – including the extent to which the ideas which informed Pictures for Schools were new ideas, or the extent to which they were older ideas that found a receptive environment for implementation in the post-war period; the extent to which the recent interest in post-war Britain is informed by nostalgia; and critical reactions to Pictures for Schools, and the extent to which I maintained a critical distance from Nan Youngman, despite my admiration of her as the founder of the scheme.

I spoke to several former PhD students before my viva, and the best bit of advice I was given was to try to enjoy my viva, and to bear in mind that it was a one-off opportunity to discuss my work in-depth with people who had read it more thoroughly than it is likely to be read by anyone else. I certainly felt really encouraged by my examiners’ interest in and enthusiasm for Pictures for Schools.


‘Woman’s Outlook’ book chapter in ‘Women’s Periodicals and Print Culture in Britain, 1918-1939: The Interwar Period’

Unrelated to Pictures for Schools (but related to historical, archival and educational research)I’m really delighted to have a chapter about the twentieth century co-operative women’s magazine Woman’s Outlook in the new collection Women’s Periodicals and Print Culture in Britain, 1918-1939: The Interwar Period, published by Edinburgh University Press (I’m also really pleased that the book features an image of Woman’s Outlook on its cover!).

Woman’s Outlook, a magazine for the campaigning women of the co-operative movement, was published by the Co-operative Press in Manchester between 1919 and 1967 and combined information about political and social issues with domestic tips and advice. The chapter is based on research into the magazine in the National Co-operative Archive in Manchester, which holds a complete set of the publication.

To find out more about the book and other contributors, visit

‘Everything is interesting: losing yourself in the archive and knowing when to stop’

Co-op College posterI am looking forward to running a lunchtime CPD session for my work colleagues at my day job, the Co-operative College, a small, specialist educational charity in Manchester which also houses the National Co-operative Archive, on Tuesday 29 September. I am aiming to introduce colleagues to my PhD research into Pictures for Schools and get their feedback and perspectives on this area of post-war history, culture and education.

The session is part of a series of research sessions open to all members of staff at the College (around thirty), as it seeks to raise and promote its research profile.

I am aiming to give an overview not just of Pictures for Schools and its history, but of some of the methodological approaches and decisions I have had to make, including the use of biography to discuss Pictures for Schools founder Nan Youngman. The majority of my research has been archival, and I will be sharing some of my findings, particularly those with a visual appeal. I will also highlight one of the difficulties I have encountered: narrowing down the avenues of exploration and knowing where to stop when everything is so interesting and there is so much surrounding context to explore! For this reason, I have entitled my session ‘Everything is interesting: losing yourself in the arch220px-HolyoakeHouseive and knowing when to stop’.

Reflections on Pictures for Schools paper at International Conference of Historical Geographers, London

Artworks in Schools of Every Kind-1My 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.

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.

Reflections on presentation at RGS-IBG conference

Natalie Bradbury Pictures for Schools Educating the Aesthetic citizen-1Although I talked about my PhD project at an internal research seminar for my school at UCLan (the Grenfell-Baines School of Architecture, Construction and Environment) earlier this year, the paper I presented at the RGS-IBG (Royal Geographical Society – Institute of British Geographers) annual summer conference was a great opportunity to share my research and get more specialist feedback among researchers in my field – cultural and historical geography.

Despite only attending one day of the three-day conference (partly due to cost and partly so I could use my time in London to spend a day in the Tate Archives either side), which was spread out over the premises of the RGS and Imperial College around Exhibition Road in London, I was able to spend a stimulating and enjoyable day dipping in and out of other sessions. Whether or not they related directly to my research, this gave me a real flavour of the diversity of practitioners, topics and approaches encompassed within geographical research, from hearing about different methodologies such as walking, and how it can inform experiences and understandings of place, to learning more about the study of ‘childhood geographies’. I particularly enjoyed some of the sessions in smaller meeting rooms, which had a more informal feel than those which took place in lecture theatres.

The session I took part in, which was one of three entitled ‘New and emerging research in historical geography’ and organised by the Historical Geography Research Group (my Director of Studies, Dr Hannah Neate, is on the committee of this group), was specifically aimed at researchers at a similar stage to me. It was beneficial to hear and see how other PhD students both went about undertaking research in historical geography, and presenting their research – I was relieved to discover that I was not the only presenter to read from a script, although I did feel that the one paper in my session which was not read out benefited from a more natural and less stilted style, and I hope that I will have the confidence to do this in future without relying on a written-out paper. Another thing I observed was that other presentations dwelt far more on archival research and empirical findings, whereas I really tried to explicitly situate my research in a wider thematic context, in relation to previous or similar research in the field, something which other speakers seemed to focus upon less.

As my presentation was only fifteen minutes long (I think it actually lasted slightly less time than this, maybe 12/13 minutes) I aimed to really focus on one aspect of my research, calling my paper ‘Pictures for Schools: Educating the aesthetic citizen 1947-1969′. In this, I discussed Pictures for Schools and art education in relation to ideas of taste and aesthetic appreciation. Despite a phone going off for what seemed like ages during my paper (every presenter’s worst nightmare!) people commented that they found my paper really interesting, and I received some perceptive questions. Although I only had five minutes to answer questions, so could not provide answers as fully as I would have liked, they have given me useful points of consideration to bear in mind as I start to write up my research. These included questions about how many children were involved in Pictures for Schools over its lifespan and how the success of the project can be evaluated; whether I had looked at similar schemes such as the Victoria and Albert Museum’s ‘Circ’ collection, and notions of engaging with art through schemes such as Pictures for Schools and how this differed from owning art; how Pictures for Schools was linked to or differed from schemes circulating reproductions of artworks and what happened to the artworks sold through Pictures for Schools. It was also great to hear from an audience member who had attended one of the Cambridgeshire Village Colleges set up by innovative Director of Education Henry Morris, who I discussed in my presentation – Comberton School – in the 1980s (the school was the last village college to be built, opening in 1960, a year before Morris’ death in 1961). He commented that he didn’t like it at the time, but that since he left the school he has had memories of being surrounded by sculptures and other artworks which gave the impression of a cared-for environment, which was crafted and designed. He asked whether there was a legacy of this kind of approach being taken forward after Morris died. I have also continued conversations started at the conference over email, and have been invited to contribute a collaborative piece of writing for the Visit 1862 research blog, drawing parallels between post-war ideas of taste and nineteenth century ideas of raising standards of taste through exhibitions of design.

All in all the RGS-IBG conference provided a really valuable and useful introduction to presenting at conferences and has given me lots of ideas and pointers to put into practice in future – I look forward to the next time!

Manchester Art Gallery’s Rutherston Loan Scheme

Last week I finally had chance to follow up a reference from my last visit to the Nan Youngman collection in Reading: a trail of correspondence between the organisers of Pictures for Schools and the keepers of the Rutherston Loan Scheme at Manchester Art Gallery. The correspondence dated back to the 1960s, when Keepers of the Rutherston scheme were visitors to the Pictures for Schools exhibitions in London each year and made a number of purchases of sculptures, drawings, paintings and prints. At the exhibitions, the Keeper made a list of reserved artworks which, if they were not sold to schools or education authorities first, were sent to Manchester to be approved for purchase for the collection by a council committee.

The Rutherston Loan Scheme was aimed at educational institutions and art galleries in the North of England. I am curious to find out what happened to some of the artworks and how they were used once they left Pictures for Schools, yet I could find very little reference to the scheme on the art gallery’s website. I made an enquiry about whether the scheme and collection was still in existence, and what kind of records existed relating to its history and was informed that the scheme ran until the late-1970s, when a public aspect was introduced to the scheme, with local ratepayers able to borrow works for their homes. Later, in the 1980s, the scheme became a community scheme with exhibitions lent to schools and community centres. The scheme finally came to an end in the early-’90s, following rate caps and a resultant reduction in staffing levels, and artworks were accessioned into the main collection. Like many other instances of loan collections, insurance too was increasingly problematic. Today, the gallery has corporate loan schemes, which lend work suitable for the offices of local firms such as barristers’ offices. New work is acquired for this collection, often by young talent, which can later be accessioned into the main collection. Following an exhibition about nineteenth century philanthropist and Ancoats museum founder Thomas Horsfall, which worked alongside a local primary, it is encouraging to hear that artworks will once again be going into schools.

Manchester Art Gallery gallery has a useful set of records relating to the Rutherston Loan Scheme, dating back to the 1920s when the collection was founded by Bradford businessman and art collector Charles Rutherston. A transcript of a speech made at Manchester Art Gallery in 1926 reveals that after searching for a place to house his collection, he settled on Manchester due to the need for the provinces to have access to art, the good example set by existing levels of cultural provision in the city, and a pre-existing relationship with curator Lawrence Haward and his interest in modern layouts for art galleries. Manchester was also chosen because of its relative proximity to Rutherston’s home city of Bradford, which would enable circulation to institutions across Lancashire and Yorkshire. Rutherston considered it to be important that the collection could be circulated rather than having a permanent home at one gallery, acting as an educational aid, and initially anticipated that schools of art would be the most regular borrowers (it turned out that secondary schools in fact made most use of the scheme). The Arts Council later picked up on this, and circulated the collection regionally to stimulate interest in similar schemes in other parts of the country.

The pilot version of the scheme loaned artworks for one year, although this was felt to be too long to maintain students’ interest and termly loans were initiated instead. The scheme worked by lending groups of pictures to borrowers, either grouped by artistic theme or by ‘different methods of approach to artistic problems’, which could be supplemented from a pool of pictures. Borrowers could visit the collection to make a choice for themselves, or the Keeper could make a choice on their behalf, and the Keeper was also available for illustrated talks. Borrowers had to pay for transport by road or rail, and insurance arranged at ‘reasonable rates’ through the Manchester Corporation. The art gallery has lists of local schools which made use of the scheme, as well as annual reports, which reveal that the scheme was used extensively by elementary and secondary schools throughout Manchester and Salford, along with those in towns in the surrounding area such as Warrington and Bury, as well as specialist schools such as a school in the countryside for epileptics and an experimental boarding school near Clitheroe for children from Salford where students would otherwise have had little opportunity of seeing art. Schools of art made use of loans by displaying examples of work from the collection in the dedicated studios in which that medium was taught – for example, figurative work was shown in the life drawing room. Exhibitions of selections from the collection were also held at Platt Hall, the art gallery’s south Manchester outpost in Fallowfield.

Rutherston was first inspired to collect art by his brother, the painter Will Rothenstein, and, through Will, become part of a social circle that included members of the New English Art Club. This group was drawn on heavily for the collection, along with other groups of artists such as the London Group and the Camden Town Group. Although Rutherson also collected examples of ‘ancient Oriental Pottery, Bronzes and Carvings’, and the collection contained a few examples of foreign artists, his aim was the ‘cultivation of the Modern School of English Art’. In this way, like Pictures for Schools, the scheme offered support for young and unrecognised artists alongside more established names (albeit supplemented by reproductions of masterpieces if it was found to be necessary). The acquisition of work by living artists continued throughout the collection’s existence, with an emphasis on the modern, contemporary and progressive, and the collection aimed to provide a wide survey of twentieth century art and the ‘modern outlook’, aiming to stimulate interest in ‘new forms of visual expression’ among borrowers. Rutherston saw his gift as the ‘nucleus’ of a collection which would grow with gifts and further acquisitions, and a number of donations came from the Contemporary Art Society. Other artworks were purchased at exhibitions of local artists. During the Second World War, the Rutherston Scheme had links with CEMA (the Council for the Encouragement of Music and Art), and works were acquired from the War Artists’ Advisory Council. Other works in the collection were humbler forms, such as linocuts, which were thought to be of particular interest to schools as students often made linocuts in art classes.

I was able to view a few of the works which were purchased through Pictures for Schools in the 1960s in the art gallery’s store. Although sculpture is stored elsewhere in Manchester (the curator mentioned that much of the gallery’s post-war sculpture is small in scale, something which fits in with my observations of the sculpture in the Derbyshire County Council school loan collection), I was able to view an extraordinary (yet probably slightly disturbing for schoolchildren) drawing by Elisabeth Frink, Bird Man (1963), which depicts movement through an unusual drawing technique and diagonal composition. Another artwork, Studies in Line (1964), a print by Conrad Atkinson, appeared to be a snapshot of an endless variation of experiments into the possibilities of line and form which drew the eye back again and again. An artwork by Pauline Smith, Museum Study (1968), was a real curiosity, a proscenium arch drawn on graph paper in the luminous oranges and purples characteristic of the era. Unframed, it appeared to be more of a study or demonstration exercise to be shown to students than something designed to beautify a wall. One of the artworks purchased through Pictures for Schools, however, is currently on loan to the office of Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council.

One of the most interesting chapters of the Rutherston collection’s history relates to the Second World War and the continuing importance of the arts at that time. Despite difficulties such as transport limitations, the evacuation of Manchester schools and the storage of some of the more valuable works safely away from Manchester, the collection was in high demand and schools continued to make good use of artworks even in temporary accommodation. Loans from the collection were also distributed to YMCAs, service camps, factory hostels, hospitals, factories and local firms, as well as the local Juvenile Employment Bureau where children discussed the pictures informally amongst themselves whilst waiting to be seen.

Another interesting aspect to the scheme was the lively interest taken by Rutherston’s widow, Essil R. Elmslie (1880–1952), an artist and owner of the Redfern Gallery in London, after his death in 1927. A steady stream of correspondence between Mrs Rutherston and the Keeper of the collection reveals that she made regular visits to Manchester, and was keen to visit schools and other borrowers to see how they were making use of the collection (as well as trying to encourage those schools which weren’t making use of the collection, such as Manchester Grammar, where paintings were only displayed in the Masters’ areas, to do so, and giving suggestions for schools which felt they had nowhere to display artwork). Mrs Rutherston made regular purchases for the scheme, both from gallery exhibitions as well as student potters at the school of art local to her in Farnham.

Along with the artworks purchased from Pictures for Schools for the Rutherston Loan Scheme, there are other interesting links between the schemes. ‘Rutherston’ was an anglicised version of the surname ‘Rothenstein’, and Charles Rutherston was the uncle of John Rothenstein, director of the Tate Gallery from 1938-1964, who was involved in selecting artworks for early instalments of Pictures for Schools. Youngman also knew John Rothenstein’s brother, the painter Michael Rothenstein, socially as part of a group of East Anglian painters. Another possible link with Nan Youngman is through the Society for Education in Art, under whose name Pictures for Schools was organised: Mrs Rutherston was actively involved in the local branch at Farnham in Surrey, helping to organise a wartime exhibition in aid of the Red Cross, and wrote with enthusiasm about attending an SEA conference at Somerville College, Oxford, addressed by Herbert Read and the art critic Eric Newton (a Manchester man who wrote regularly about Pictures for Schools in the press), where she tried to spread the word about the Rutherston Loan Scheme among those she met.

It is hoped that there will eventually be an exhibition of work from the Rutherston Loan Collection at Manchester Art Gallery, which I think is a great idea given its long and fascinating history.