During my visits to the Nan Youngman collection at the University of Reading I had seen various references to BBC radio programmes which discussed Pictures for Schools. After following this up with archivists at the BBC I arranged a visit to the BBC Written Archives, tucked away in a bungalow in a residential area of Caversham in Reading, where they found me out several scripts on microfilm as well as material relating to other post-war BBC programming on art education.
Among the programmes was an extensive review of the 1955 Pictures for Schools exhibition on Children’s Hour by in-house art critic WR Dalzell (also a senior art master at independent Bedford School), who spent a considerable amount of time discussing and describing individual works, their subject matter and their effects – including painting, sculpture and embroidery – in detail, as well as explaining different artistic methods and media such as lithograph prints, and linking these techniques with children’s own work at school. Dalzell urged listeners to visit the exhibition for themselves, discussing the voting system for children to choose their favourite artworks, and ended by offering detailed public transport directions to get to the exhibition.
An episode of Today also included a brief segment on the 1965 Pictures for Schools exhibition, alongside an eclectic mix of items including George Melly on Nat King Cole and features on Esperanto, Dungeness Fish, falcons and an Islington building row, with Nan Youngman quizzed on students’ seeming preferences for abstract art that might be regarded as incomprehensible to their parents.
Another programme, a 1963 episode of World of Books, featured Nan Youngman interviewing Sybil Marshall about her 1963 book An Experiment in Education, which drew on her experiences in Cambridgeshire. Marshall was a teacher in a tiny village school in rural Cambridgeshire during Youngman’s time as county art advisor (1944-1954) and also attended Youngman’s classes for amateur painters and teachers. Youngman found Marshall’s work inspiring and encouraging, and took groups of overseas teachers to visit her students at school. The discussion encompassed the influence of educators such as Marion Richardson and Herbert Read, the pace of educational change and the extent to which educational innovation and experiment received acceptance or met with indifference or acceptance depending on the attitudes of individual teachers or heads.
I was also able to see correspondence regarding other programmes which were under discussion, including a proposed collaboration between writer Colin MacInnes and Nan Youngman on a programme about the British Council’s art education work overseas (Youngman acted as a lecturer and inspector for the British Council in various African and Caribbean countries) which appears never to have come to fruition.
Although I didn’t see any scripts, and it didn’t relate explicitly to Pictures for Schools, another file which absolutely fascinated me was a set of memos and reports dating from the late-1940s to the 1960s relating to a long-running radio series called Looking at Things. Designed as an educational course, the series appears to have been aimed primarily at secondary modern schools (though junior schools also made use of it) and accompanied by pamphlets which contained pictures of the ‘things’ under discussion as well as preparatory and writing activities for children to do in class. In keeping with a central theme I have identified in post-war discourse around education and reconstruction, the programme aimed to raise children’s standards of taste by encouraging them to look closely at everyday objects and places, from changes in fashion and interior decoration to modes and design of public transport, the style and function of buildings ranging from village churches and gothic cathedrals to new schools and civic centres, environments ranging from market or port towns and cathedral cities to new towns such as Peterlee, and new materials for manufacture and building. Experts were approached and enlisted to explain and present the topics under discussion, from eminent modern architects and professors to members of the Council for Industrial Design and furniture designers, although sometimes it was felt that the programme was too middle class, that experts did not fully understand the limitations of their audience, and that some of the language was unfamiliar to children, especially those from more deprived or urban backgrounds, to whom these objects or places may be out of reach. Although the programmes only occasionally seemed to refer directly to art per se, I felt that there were interesting educational parallels with Pictures for Schools, particularly in the way the programme really aimed to encourage children’s skills of close looking and seeing, particularly with reference to their future consumer purchases. There was also discussion of the series building links with Alexander Barclay Russell of the Society for Education through Art, under whose name Pictures for Schools was organised.
This week I made my fourth and final visit to see Nan Youngman’s papers at the University of Reading. It felt very much like a finishing up and plugging the gaps visit, and I know feel like I’ve looked at everything in the collection and seen the full scope of what’s there. I found out about some more minor details of the Pictures for Schools exhibitions such as how they were publicised – this included advertising at underground stations, and writing to London borough libraries to ask them to display leaflets.
One of the things I got from the trip was a real sense of who the educational buyers were from Pictures for Schools, and what types of artworks and which artists were particularly popular, through looking at a series of invoice books from 1949 to 1968 (although there are some gaps where invoice books are missing, including a long period in the 1950s).
Schools of all kinds, including secondary moderns, grammars, junior schools and independent schools purchased work from Pictures for Schools, sometimes on a one-off basis and sometimes as repeat buyers, with Manchester Grammar School being a particularly regular buyer (this interested me as Mrs Rutherston was frustrated that it failed to make use of Manchester Art Gallery’s Rutherston Loan Scheme, and seemed generally unimpressed with the quality of art teaching at the school). Other regular buyers included Greenwich Library in the 1960s, as well as various training colleges around the country, and occasionally adult, further and higher education establishments. Other buyers included county or city loan services linked with museums, including Reading Museum and Art Gallery (this service is still in operation and embroideries by artists including Constance Howard and Sadie Allen purchased through Pictures for Schools in the 1960s are still available for schools to borrow), Ferens Art Gallery, who made purchases on behalf of Hull Education Committee and the Leeds Loan Collection which was linked both with Leeds College of Art and Leeds Art Gallery.
Although, as I already knew, Derbyshire Museum Service made regular and extensive purchases, I revised my opinion a little about the number of local authorities making use of the scheme, who seem to be slightly less numerous and widespread than I thought, although Essex County Council, Kent, Cambridgeshire, Great Yarmouth, Cumberland/Carlisle, Northumberland/Newcastle, Lancashire, City of Coventry, Cambridgeshire/City of Cambridge, West Bromwich, City of Manchester, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Buckinghamshire, Oxford, Rochdale, the London County Council and later Nottingham and Scunthorpe and Bromley were enthusiastic and regular buyers from the scheme, with West Sussex, East Sussex, Norfolk, Bristol, Somerset, Devon, Dorset, East Yorkshire, Gloucester, Southampton, Bradford, Croydon, Kingston upon Thames, Rotherham, Birmingham and Harrow Schools Art Library making purchases more intermittently. I also realised I may have overstated the links between Pictures for Schools and counties such as the West Riding, Hertfordshire and Leicestershire, who I know to have had extensive loan collections and to have valued art in schools. Whilst they did certainly support Pictures for Schools in its early years, they appear to have stopped being regular purchasers by the late-1950s and 1960s, perhaps because they had become accustomed to buying art on a more year-round basis and approaching and liaising with artists and galleries direct. Educational buyers from Wales (and very occasionally Scotland) also made occasional purchases, although Wales had its own Pictures for Welsh Schools exhibitions from 1951 and a one-off Pictures for Scottish Schools exhibition was held in 1967. One thing I am interested in finding out more about are the art advisers who visited Pictures for Schools on behalf of county education committees, some of whom seem to have had interesting artistic careers and involvement in their own right, including Robert Washington, long-running art advisor for Essex.
I noticed that prints were by far the most popular item, probably due to their affordability (many buyers purchased prints unframed) with embroidery also popular and sculpture noticeably unpopular. One name which really stood out was the print-maker Peter Green, who seemed to make extensive sales at each exhibition, as did fellow print-makers Philip Greenwood, Michael Stokoe and Richard Tavener. Something else I noticed was that buyers often stuck with one artist and continued to collect their work year on year. As I’d observed previously, I also came across more correspondence from schools and local authorities which had purchased work from artists and wished to follow up by contacting the artists to ask for biographical or other information to complement the use of the works as learning resources, and sometimes to arrange local exhibitions of particular artists’ work.
I recently made my third visit to the Nan Youngman collection at the University of Reading, and I now feel like what I look at is more about filling in the details and adding to a more complete picture of Pictures for Schools than helping to build my general understanding of Pictures for Schools and Nan Youngman.
Some of the interesting things I found during this visit included correspondence with the auctioneers Bonham’s regarding artwork which had been left unsold and uncollected after Pictures for Schools exhibitions in the 1960s: after debating whether it should be destroyed (it seems to me to be a real shame that this was even an option, if it was considered to be of good enough quality to have been selected for the exhibitions in the first place!), it was put up for auction. I also read correspondence between the Pictures for Schools organisers and Manchester Art Galley regarding the Rutherston Collection which was lent to educational establishments in the North of England. The keeper of the collection visited the Pictures for Schools exhibitions each year and reserved artworks which, if they were not sold first, were sent to Manchester to be approved for purchase for the collection by committee. I would love to know if the collection, which purchased work by Elisabeth Frink among other artists from Pictures for Schools, still exists. Another interesting set of correspondence related to the guide lecturers – who were seconded from Whitechapel Gallery’s Upper Gallery, or were Directors of Education – who took school parties around the Pictures for Schools exhibitions. There was some debate over how to provide the best experience for school parties and it was concluded that schools usually got more out of the visits if they had time to explore for themselves and ask questions rather than having each artwork explained to them. A large volume of correspondence from schools booking school visits and talks demonstrated the large volume of school visits which were made to the exhibition, with groups typically bringing between 20 and 30 and sometimes up to 70 children. Often, letters were followed up by notes of thanks saying how much the visits had been appreciated, but occasionally letters also expressed regret that the behaviour of students had got out of hand.
Shortly after reading Nan Youngman’s autobiography in the Tate Archive in London, which described a difference of opinion between Youngman and the rest of the Society for Education in Art when the Society voted to move overwhelmingly towards Herbert Read‘s ideas after 1945, it was interesting to find a chain of correspondence between Pictures for Schools exhibition treasurer Katharine Baker and Organising Secretary Joan Bartlett, and between Youngman and Joan Bartlett, in which some parties could barely conceal their frustration about the perceived inefficiency of the SEA and the lack of understanding it showed about its role in relation to the exhibition. Something else which backed up what I read in Nan Youngman’s autobiography, where she described the influence of Marion Richardson and her visualisation method, was a set of ‘O’ Level exam papers Youngman set for the Oxford Local Examination Board in the 1950s and 1960s, which asked examinees to choose a title from the list to help them conjure up a visual image.
Of tangential interest were photographs and reports relating to courses Youngman ran for the British Council both overseas and for overseas teachers in the UK. It was also nice to see another photo of Nan Youngman, this time holding a student’s work at the 1931 exhibition she held of children’s art at Wertheim Gallery. One curio was a bag filled with plastic discs which were used to draw lots at the Pictures for Schools exhibitions when more than one buyer was interested in the same artwork.
Something I am increasingly finding is that even if the basic information given in a catalogue listing does not seem promising, it is still worth looking at everything if possible as often information seems to have been put together in folders that does not seem to belong together – for example, a folder might seem to based on one topic, but then some interesting press cuttings have also crept in which show the critical attitude towards the exhibitions at different times. I had hoped to have finished looking at the collection during this visit, but it seems that I will need to return to Reading again to get a complete idea of what is there.
Last week I spent a day and a half browsing Nan Youngman’s papers in the special collections at the University of Reading. Nan Youngman was the founder of Pictures for Schools and, as an artist and art teacher, she was heavily involved in both the Artists International Association and then the Society for Education in Art (SEA). The collection (or at least the parts I saw, which wasn’t a huge proportion of it) was concerned mainly with the history, development and documentation of Pictures for Schools over its two decades-plus existence through correspondence, scripts, exhibition catalogues, photographs and press cuttings. I had been unsure of the date when Pictures for Schools finished, although I had suspected 1969 as I hadn’t seen any references to it in archive/gallery collections after that year, and correspondence between Youngman and the president of SEA revealed that, although 1969’s exhibition was the most successful yet, Pictures for Schools was forced to draw to a close due to the difficulty of finding a venue — the Royal Academy, where the exhibition was held in preceding years, massively increased its charges for hiring rooms, a lack of financial commitment from the Arts Council, who had previously guaranteed the exhibitions against loss, and increasing financial pressures on schools at the time.
I started with an oversize scrapbook entitled ‘Nan Youngman’s Pictures for Schools file’, which contained exhibition catalogues and several pages of press cuttings per show documenting the Pictures for Schools exhibitions which took place between 1947 and 1966. This gave me a really good sense of the public profile of Pictures for Schools: it appears to have received considerable press coverage, not just in specialist arts, culture and education publications, but in the national press, publications related to specific sections of society such as the Daily Worker and Jewish and Christian newspapers, and local newspapers, who often highlighted artists from their local area who had submitted or sold work through the show, and visits and acquisitions by local education authorities and particular schools. Among the writers were John Berger who, as well as submitting paintings to Pictures for Schools, wrote praising the initiative in the New Statesman, and several articles by broadsheet art critic Eric Newton who I believe may have acted as an advisor to Directors of Education in local authorities. As well as previewing and publicising Pictures for Schools, and reiterating the organisers’ aims of improving children’s standards of taste and judgement by helping create a stimulating environment in schools, press coverage often made a lot of children’s selections of their favourite work in the show: each year, child visitors to Pictures for Schools were given questionnaires and asked to vote for their five favourite works of art in the exhibition (broken down into girls’ favourites, boys’ favourites and overall favourites), which were then shown in a special section of the exhibition the following year. Many press reports were concerned with the question of choosing artworks for children, and the success of the selection panel in maintaining a balance between artworks which did not go beyond children’s levels of visual and emotional understanding, and at the same time ensuring that artists did not patronise or ‘talk down’ to children in their style or subject matter. The general consensus was that Pictures for Schools accomplished this with a high level of success, with some critics even praising Pictures for Schools as one of the best group exhibitions and displays of contemporary modern art of the year. However, several writers expressed concerns that Pictures for Schools relied too much on social realism, and did not show much in the way of more challenging abstract art.
Depressingly, after 1966 the next batch of press cuttings date from the 1990s, and concern local and national press coverage of lost, stolen, damaged and misplaced artworks in schools and mismanagement of local authority and county art collections in places such as West Yorkshire and Leicestershire. Youngman estimated that 10 per cent of education authorities bought work through Pictures for Schools exhibitions, and snippets of information in the collection suggest that among these were: West Riding, Nottinghamshire, Hull, Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire, London County Council, Croydon, Manchester, Oxford City Education Committee, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Essex, Kent, West Sussex, Middlesex, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Worcestershire, City of Gloucester, Coventry, West Bromwich, Shropshire, Northumberland, Lancashire, Cumberland, Durham, Carlisle (and, in Wales, Glamorgan, Flintshire, Merthyr Tydfil and Monmouthshire, and in Scotland, Ross and Cromarty, Argyll, Sutherland, Banffshire, Midlothian, Fife, Edinburgh and Dunbartonshire). The Derbyshire, Cambridgeshire and Leicestershire collections still exist in some form and are listed on the BBC’S Your Paintings website which catalogues all of the country’s publicly-owned oil paintings. But, online and through email at least, it is hard to find any reference let alone any information about any other local education authority or council art collections separate from gallery and museum collections, which begs the question: if these collections existed, what happened to them, where are they now and who is responsible for them?
I was also intrigued elsewhere in the collection by several typewritten scripts and references relating to television and radio broadcasts featuring Pictures for Schools, including a transcript of the BBC’s Observation Post from May 1947, presented by Richard Bennett and featuring art teacher Vera Rambaut discussing Pictures for Schools, Elizabeth Ayrton visiting Pictures for Schools for Woman’s Hour in February 1956, an unnamed TV script dating from around 1960 featuring Nan Youngman on Pictures for Schools, a 1960s transcript of The Critics covering a debate on Pictures for Schools which took place at Whitechapel Gallery between somebody (unnamed) Allen, Malcolm Muggeridge, Denis Mathews, Philip Hope Wallace, Dilys Powell and Peter De Francia, a BBC External Services production from 1964 hosted by Henry Swanzy and an appearance by Nan Youngman on the BBC’s regional news programme ‘Town and Around’ in 1965.
Another file related to Pictures for Welsh Schools, which took place at various venues across Wales, from libraries and colleges to the National of Museum of Wales, between 1951 and at least the late-1980s, and an attempt to initiate Pictures for Scottish Schools (in the event it appears that only one exhibition was held, in the mid-1960s). These items included exhibition catalogues, artists’ notes and preview invitations, and it was interesting to see the relationship between Nan Youngman and Pictures for Schools in England, and the versions of Pictures for Schools held in Wales and Scotland. Although Nan Youngman was involved in these exhibitions, including helping select artists and artworks, and there was crossover between artists represented in the London, Wales and Scotland exhibitions, they were administered more locally under the guidance of national art galleries in Scotland and Wales.
Correspondence between Nan Youngman and the Arts Council reveals that a selection of artworks from Pictures for Schools, too (generally easily-transportable paintings), toured following the London exhibitions to regional galleries in places such as Plymouth, Cirencester, Bolton, Keighley and Hull. Another minor but interesting piece of correspondence was a letter from a young girl at a school in London, who wrote to Nan Youngman following a class visit to Pictures for Schools expressing her enjoyment of the exhibition (the back page of the letter showed pencil drawings of her favourite artworks in the show).
I finally had chance to read an elusive dissertation by Nick Arnfield, written at the University of Manchester in 1985 at undergraduate or Master’s level and presented to the Department of Art Gallery and Museum Studies. Arnfield combined archival research (I recognised several of the items referred to in the dissertation, which are now in the Nan Youngman collection) with interviews with people involved with Pictures for Schools, including Nan Youngman and Eric Woodward from the Schools Museum Service in the West Riding of Yorkshire (Woodward is now 86, and I am going to meet with him tomorrow at the National Arts Education Archive at Yorkshire Sculpture Park where he volunteers one day a week). The dissertation was annotated with comments, presumably by Nan Youngman, where she agreed, disagreed or had additions to his observations about the scheme. Arnfield contextualised Pictures for Schools with a brief history of loan schemes for schools, including the nineteenth century museum loan services of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Liverpool Museum and Sheffield City Museum, and the establishment of county art collections, assisted by financial support from the Carnegie Trust from the 1930s. He concluded the dissertation with a section on the situation of art education in the mid-1980s, the survival, status, adaptation and use of collections such as those built up by local education authorities in the post-war period through Pictures for Schools, and economic and curricular pressures on schools which threatened the place of art in the school day. Arnfield took issue with the writing of Herbert Read, and his notions of artworks in schools as static objects which conferred benefits on the students through mere ‘osmosis’, focusing largely on the life and career of Nan Youngman and the links and networks of artists, educators and teachers Youngman built up around her which allowed Pictures for Schools to thrive for twenty-two years. Interestingly, despite much reference to Pictures for Schools in the Society for Education in Art’s journal Athene, and prominent references to the Society both on exhibition catalogues and in press reports, Arnfield suggests that the SEA always played a background role in the initiation, administration and development of the exhibitions, with Youngman driving the exhibitions from the start.
Among the most illuminating content in the collection was photographs of Pictures for Schools exhibitions, dating mostly from the early-1960s, which gave a glimpse into the selection and hanging process, as well as a sense of what the exhibitions were like for visitors and the variety of the work on show. Photographs of artworks ranged from the crisp, technically-accurate realism of Carel Weight’s 1963 Street Scene, the impressionistic landscape painting of Gilbert Mason and the fluid motion of Jon Patterson’s 1964 oil painting Fairground Horses to the cartoon-like rockets in Bill Maynard’s 1966 painting the Planet, the rugged relief of John Addyman’s 1964 ceramic Rock Face, the organic, smooth-worn forms of Willi Soukop, the delicate embroideries of Eirian Short and the recognisable, serene figures and expressions of children cast in Betty Rea’s sculptures Standing Girl (1963) and After School (1966). Artworks are shown hung on top of each other in a crowded, slightly-old fashioned manner that reminded me of the way in which collections of historic, important artworks are shown off in the living rooms of country houses, but the photographs are brought to life by the appearance of children, who crowd around paintings in discussion and point at particular artworks or objects, appear to debate the meaning of more abstract, non-representational sculptures, turn their heads to try and get the best angle on unfamiliar forms, cluster in conversation and are captured with pen in mouth, questionnaires in hand and deep in concentration.