Newark Arts Club, 1945 – 49

By Dr Malcolm Moyes

NEWARK-ON-TRENT ARTS CLUB MINUTES BOOK No 1

At first glance, Nottinghamshire Archives Document DD 2625/1 seems an unexceptional, albeit well-preserved, quarto notebook. The title on the front wrapper, however, indicates that the notebook is an important record of the formative years of the Newark Arts Club in the second half of the 1940’s, a document which was once held in the Appletongate Museum and thought lost.

Front cover of Document DD 2625/1, courtesy of Nottinghamshire Archives

The earliest meeting recorded in the document is dated 27th July 1945, which was attended by twenty people, with fourteen apologies received. The Minutes of this meeting are preceded in the notebook by a short list of sixteen rules, which enshrine a statement of intent and the terms of reference under which the proposed organisation would function. Membership was to be open to artists, art students and art lovers who lived in Newark, Southwell and district. Its mission statement is an ambitious and bold one of advancing the Arts in the area, as well as promoting “social intercourse amongst its members”. The definition of the Arts is a broad one which focusses upon “painting, sculpture, architecture and various crafts”. Meetings of members for purposes of “study and discussion” are vaguely calendared with the catch-all formula of “at such times as may be arranged.” However, exhibitions of the work of the members would be held “at least once annually” and there would be a Selection Panel of three people appointed to adjudicate on all works submitted for these annual exhibitions.

Routine business of the Club was to be conducted by a Committee consisting of a Chairman, a Secretary, a Treasurer and five elected members. Any special General Meeting of members could be called if necessary, either by order of the Committee or at the request of ten elected members.

The twenty people attending the meeting are fully recorded as follows:

Miss E C Pask; Miss M G Maisey; Miss Easterfield; Mr J S Speirs; Mr Peter Holbard; Mr P E Clark; Mrs Clark; Mr H S Dury; Miss B Bagguley; Mr H N Beck; Mr H G Newman; Mr J N Douse; Mr J C Hooper; Miss W J Snell; Mr B J Minton; Mr G Brown; Mr T W Howes; Dr M D A Reddan; Mr R Kiddey and Mr S Gibbon.

The meeting was chaired by Robert Kiddey, and the setting up a Newark Art Society was proposed by Mr T W Howes, seconded by Mr H Beck and unanimously supported, although an agreed name for the Club was yet to be decided.

During the course of the evening, key officers were appointed: Mr S Gibbon was appointed as Honorary Secretary and Mr J C Hooper as Treasurer. The Committee would consist of Mr. Kiddey, Mr Pickup, Mr Eddowes, Mr Cafferata, Mr Percival, Mr Saunders and Miss M Dolman – unfortunately the latter two declared themselves unable to serve at the next meeting.

A list of activities was also agreed. Predictably, the programme of activities at this early point in the organisation’s evolution is a broad shopping list, rather than a strategically coherent means of fulfilling its good intentions. These were:

  • Sketch Club meeting regularly
  • Puppets
  • Town Planning of Newark
  • Lectures
  • Photography
  • Films
  • Joint meetings with Newark Musical Society
  • House Planning
  • Organised visits to Stratford-on-Avon Theatre, Sheffield Art Gallery, Medieval Library of Lincoln Cathedral etc etc.

The comprehensive nature of the list, rounded off with a double “et cetera”, suggests an initial brain storming of ideas, reflecting the interests and skill-sets of the members, as much as a planned implementation of the organisation’s philosophy. During the course of the following five years most of these activities would take place in various guises; however, in terms of the core value of promoting the Arts in the area, it was the lectures and demonstrations by members and invited speakers which became central in establishing the organisation’s presence in the town.

Throughout the notebook, clippings from both the “Newark Advertiser” and the “Newark Herald” have been pasted in, as a kind of supplement to the Minutes. Generally speaking the news reports of the meetings reflect the Minutes as recorded in the document, although occasionally there is additional information. The cutting from the “Newark Advertiser”, dated 1st August 1945, with the headline “Arts Society – Large Membership Anticipated”, for example, mentions the proposed visit to a Sheffield Art Gallery, but specifically refers to the Graves Gallery; curiously, and as it turned out, wrongly, it reported a proposal to nominate “a famous artist” as President and “a well-known art critic” as Vice President.

The next meeting took place on the 13th August, 1945, chaired by Cafferata, and if the Minutes are a true record, it was rather modest in terms of moving the enterprise forward, although one important decision was taken: the name of the organisation, the Newark Arts Club, rather than the Newark Art Society with all its implied limitations, was formally adopted, as were its rules. On the other hand, two decisions were deferred: to pursue formal links with the Arts Council of Great Britain (ACGB); and to admit non-members to the lecture programme. The deferment of the decision may have been related to the absence of Robert Kiddey and the elected Chairman, Mr F W Pickup, both of whom had sent their apologies. However, a decision was reached to decline the offer from the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) to send a representative to serve on the Committee.

The next meeting of 3rd September 1945, was essentially a follow up from the previous meeting. According to the Minutes, there were two main items on the agenda: a resolution of one of the deferred decisions from the previous meeting and a re-consideration of the WEA’s overtures. As far as possible filiation with the ACGB was concerned, the Meeting instructed the Honorary Secretary to make an approach: this was probably a pragmatic decision given the possibility of funding, as much as a sensible strengthening of the Club’s status. The re-visiting of the WEA’s proposal to send a representative to serve on the Committee ended with a compromise solution of welcoming individuals from the WEA to join the Club as members, rather than representing the institution on the Committee. The other two minuted items relate to a gratuity of five shillings to be paid to the caretaker of the Technical College for each monthly lantern lecture, and the formal approval of lectures arranged up to December by Sidney Gibbon.

Whilst the Minutes record the formalities of necessary administrative matters, it is clear that a good deal of work was taking place to publicise the Club’s existence and raise its profile in the local community. Two newspaper clippings stuck in the notebook advertise a lantern lecture (in colour) on the evening of 2nd November 1945 by Mr Trevor Thomas, Director of the Leicester City Art Gallery, on the subject of “Contemporary Art”. The invitation to local Gallery Directors to deliver a lecture was to become a familiar theme over the next few years; a direction which not only supported the Club’s cultural aspirations in promoting the Arts, but also contributed to essential regional networking.

Despite the setback of losing the services of Mr F W Pickup as Chairman due to ill-health, the final meeting of 1945 took place on the 16th November, with Cafferata deputising. Practical issues of finance and publicity were very much at the fore of the meeting: financial support from the ACGB was discussed, presumably as part of the debate concerning possible filiation; whilst Mr Lynn, a recently co-opted member, was to be asked to act as press correspondent for all future lectures. Interestingly, the purpose of establishing an effective line of communication was not just to disseminate information and gain publicity for the Club, but more earnestly to “attract the Man in the Street”.

The notion of making the Arts more accessible to a broader range of people perhaps explains one of the more curious decisions of the meeting. The Minutes list four approved subjects for future lectures: Cartooning and Drawing for the Press; English Church Architecture; Mural Painting and the Permanence of Artist’s Colours; and Painting. The first three on these activities are listed without comment or explanation; whereas the subject of Painting is to be “treated in a very simple way”, and more insistently, “Highbrowism to be avoided”.

There is no indication in the Minutes concerning reasons for the choice of three very specific topics, but the fact that the services of the lecturers were promptly obtained suggests that the decision was driven by the known availability of expertise. According to the Annual Report delivered at the Club’s AGM, on 6th September 1946, the services of the well-known historian of ecclesiastical buildings, M D Anderson, had been obtained to give a lecture on “How to understand English Church Architecture” on the previous February; whilst the “Newark Advertiser”, dated 29th March 1946, records that the distinguished Punch cartoonist, William Augustus Sillince (1906-1974), gave a lecture on “The Development of Humorous Art”. It is probably less surprising that the speaker on the more abstruse topic, relating to murals and the chemical composition of paint, was the artist and Club’s Chairman, B J Cafferata, who was booked in to give a lantern lecture in November of 1946. The title of the lecture, “The Permanence of Colours” duplicates the title of Carrerata’s book published in 1948: as with Robert Kiddey during this period, the Club clearly made good use of the talent and expertise of its members.

Sidney Gibbon’s buoyant Annual Report of September 1946 also provides further details of the varied diet of lecture topics delivered between September 1945 and June 1946, including C F Pitman, Director of Nottingham Art Gallery, speaking on “Pictorial Pleasures” and H M Sutton, Principal of Mansfield School of Art, giving a talk on “Abstract Painting”. The list also includes a lecture on The C18th architect Robert Milne, by the distinguished architect Professor Albert Richardson (1880-1964), who was later to accept the Presidency of the Club in July 1946. The involvement of a national expert on Architecture, specifically Georgian Architecture, and who in less than ten years would be elected President of the Royal Academy, not surprisingly was a cause for celebration in the town and it was declared “a great event”. During his two day stay in Newark, the eminent guest clearly ingratiated himself with his presence and his declared admiration for the town.

What is only a passing reference to a lecture on “Housing” in the Annual Report is given more substance in a pasted cutting from the “Newark Herald”. It reports in detail on the talk given on the 29th January 1946 by Mr E Philipps, the Nottingham City Housing Architect, and recalls “House Planning” as one of the agreed topics from the inaugural meeting of 1945. The lecture was a sturdy mixture of utopian vision and practical problems from Mr Philipps, ending in a lively discussion of kitchen design, specifically “the type of kitchen the average woman really wanted”! The article ends with the triumphant news that the Club had received official recognition from the ACGB.

The meeting of 13th April 1946 put an emphasis upon new departures. Free admission to members of the Mansfield Art Society to all future lectures was agreed upon; and the encouragement of younger members was evident in the decision to fund a prize for the best submission of a painting or drawing from a junior member of the Club. In line with the inaugural meeting’s avowed intentions to work closely with the Newark Musical Society, the Secretary was instructed to make enquiries to the Society to test out interest in a Dance Recital to be given by Mrs Hamilton, a former student of Isadora Duncan.

At the same time, continuities with previous meetings were recorded: the ACGB had kindly offered financial assistance to the Club, necessitating the appointment of Miss Hurst to act as the official auditor; whilst a further push on effective communication with the local community was formalised when My Lynn agreed to act with the Honorary Secretary as a reporter on all subsequent lectures and to supply an account to the local press.

The agreed programme of activities for the rest of the calendar year was an interesting one. The Nottingham artist Arthur Spooner RBA (1873-1962) was to be invited to do a presentation on “Painting a landscape in oils”; failing that, the services of Miss Evelyn Gibbs (1905-1991), the London artist who had founded the Nottingham–based Midlands Art Group during the war, were to be called upon. This was the only planned lecture which was minuted, other than the lantern lecture by Caffereta mentioned above. Perhaps the highlight of the programme, and again fulfilling one of the original aims of the Club, was a series of excursions proposed for June and July. The destinations were the Tate and National Galleries; Lincoln Cathedral and the Usher Gallery; the Sheffield Art Galleries and the picturesque ruins of Roche Abbey. In terms of essential practicalities, a date of 3rd May was set for exhibition submissions in preparation for an October show of members’ work.

Pasted cuttings from the local press once again supplement the Minutes, reporting three other lectures between September and November, 1946. Mr A Parker gave a lantern lecture on the Arnold born artist Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-1822), a friend of Eugene Delacroix, titled “Richard Bonington, Nottingham Genius”; whilst Robert Kiddey gave a lecture demonstration on “Modelling a Head”. The implied requirement for diversity in the inaugural meeting’s stated intentions is further reflected in Julia Cairns, a Weldon’s fashion magazine editor, giving a talk on “Interior Decoration”.

Interesting details of the latter two lecture-demonstrations are provided in the Secretary’s Annual Report presented at the AGM on the 12th September 1947, reviewing the lectures delivered between September 1946 and March 1947. The talk from the prestigious magazine editor had been accompanied by an exhibition of “modern fabrics and pottery, kindly lent by Messrs Heal of London and John Lewis of Manchester”; whilst Robert Kiddey’s sculpture demonstration had “proved to be one of our most interesting meetings”. The Honorary Secretary also took the opportunity to congratulate Kiddey on his success at the Royal Academy. The Report also notes, in passing, lectures delivered by the artist weaver Theo Moorman (1907-1990) on the subject of “Yorkshire Artists”; by Hans Hess (1907-1975), a refugee from Germany who was working under Trevor Thomas at the Leicester City Art Gallery, on the topic of “Art and Society”; and by Dr Eric Westbrook (1915-2005), Director of Wakefield City Art Gallery, on “French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists”. The choice of Westbrook was an especially imaginative one: the previous year he had become the youngest ever Director of the City Gallery, and was a champion of the sculptor Henry Moore.

A significant departure from a mere factual list of lectures and lecturers in the 1947 Annual Report is a detailed account of the talk given by the Chairman, B J Cafferata, on “The Permanence of Colours”, which explored “the chemical and artistic aspects of colours, with special reference to the Old Masters”. It also presented to the audience the results of experimentation “into the fading of colours when exposed to light”.

The Minutes of the following meeting of 16th July 1946 are a mixture of celebration, ambition and practical housekeeping. The receipt of a letter from Albert Richardson, accepting the Presidency of the Club, was clearly welcomed by the Committee with great pleasure. Perhaps slightly less joyous, but still welcome, was the receipt of a ten pound cheque from the ASGB. There is clearly a realisation of the importance of creating further awareness of the lecture programme, and possibly enlarge the audience, in the proposal to place posters with such important Newark companies as Ransome & Marles, Worthington & Simpson, Caffereta and Cooper. Slightly further afield, adverts were to be placed with the “Nottingham Evening News”. In terms of more domestic matters, the AGM was fixed for the 6th September, 1946, to include a performance of “Aladdin” by the junior members of the Puppet Theatre; in addition, the proposal to increase subscription charges was proposed and agreed.

The final business of the calendar year, at the meeting of 6th November 1946, involved a discussion of the letter received from the ACGB, also pasted in the Minute Book, offering formal association and financial support for the Club, subject to the usual proviso of accounts being in good order. It was also noted that a Mr Free had agreed to exhibit the works of members in his shop window, for a fee of 15% on each sale. The kind offer from John Alfred Free, who ran his business from 33 Cartergate, was not altogether altruistic, as he was a gilder by trade and possibly sensed opportunities above and beyond his 15% fee.

The first meeting of 1947, on the 16th May, suggests a sense of confidence and optimism, if the list of invited lecturers and topics is a reliable indicator. The diversity of activities was again maintained, offering a performance of “Faust” by the Lilliput Marionette Theatre, a lecture demonstration on “The Art of Ballet” and a debate on the relative merits of modern and antique furniture. There was also a stimulating variety of topics to be offered throughout the year related to painting and sculpture, ranging from Chinese Art to Modern Painting, as well as another modelling demonstration by Robert Kiddey, this time of the human figure.

What is most striking about the list is the number of distinguished national speakers which the Club seemed able to attract. The lecture demonstration on ballet was to be delivered by Arnold Haskell (1903-1980), the Headmaster of the Royal Ballet School and author of several standard books on the subject. One of the speakers in the debate relating to the relative merits of modern furniture was Gordon Russell (1882-1980), champion of post-War Utility furniture, who was appointed as the Director of the Council of Industrial Design that year. In addition, the architect and creator of Portmeirion, Clough Williams-Ellis (1873-1978), also featured on the list of invited lecturers, although unfortunately there is no topic assigned to his name.

At the same time, the Club continued to draw upon speakers with local connections: Edward Sylvester Hynes (1897-1982), political cartoonist, caricaturist, illustrator and painter, was brought up in Nottingham; and the Nottingham-based artist, Evelyn Gibbs, mentioned in the previous year’s meeting of April 1946, was to be asked to lecture on the subject of “Children’s Art”.

The networking of the Club with prominent educational institutions and galleries is again seen in the proposed invitation to F W Hounsell, Principal of Derby School of Art, to do a Water Colour demonstration, and again to Dr Eric Westbrook to speak on “Modern Painting”. It is no surprise that the suggested annual outing was a visit to the Wakefield City Art Gallery.

The other main item of business was a proposal by Robert Kiddey, which was carried, to reduce the admission price to lectures by a third. Perhaps this was part of the strategy to “attract the Man in the Street”, voiced in 1945, and to consequently boost membership. Additionally, there was discussion of a fund-raising scheme to design Christmas cards and calendars, on sale to members, but also to be marketed to non-members through Thurman’s.

At this point in the Club’s evolution, there is a sense of many of the declared intentions at the inaugural meeting of 1945 being fulfilled and that it had established a strong presence in the local community. As well as listing the fulfilment of the diverse lecture programme, the Annual Report of September 1947 also notes the exhibition of the members’ work at the town’s Museum in October 1946. It also confirmed that Mr Free’s shop was indeed used to profile the work of members, with a painting having been displayed and changed every three to four weeks, from January 1947 onwards.

To some extent, the Minutes of the meetings of 1948 and the AGM Report delivered to the fifty-two members on the 10th October 1948, which record the Club’s activities between September 1947 and April 30th 1948, suggest continuing success; but at the same time, there is a gathering sense that difficulties were arising, especially in terms of the annual exhibition.

The first meeting of the year, on the 12th February, noted a letter from Mr Woods, a Director of the Rowney Company the renowned suppliers of artists’ materials, offering to lecture on “The Technology of Artists’ Materials”. The offer was accepted and it was also agreed that local schools -should be informed “so that teachers might attend”.

The following meeting of 18th June 1948 listed a variety of interesting proposals for lectures and activities. These included the familiar names of Pitman to talk on “The Dutch Painters”, Westbrook to lecture on “Contemporary Painters” and Edward Hynes to deliver a talk on “Humorous Art”. A new name to the list was Mr G Ellis Flack, Librarian of Nottingham University, who was to speak on “The Printed Book”. There were also some new names on the roster with a less academic focus. Constance Spry, the well-known author on floristry, was to talk about “The Art of Flower Arrangement” and a Dance Recital by Miss Jacqueline Robinson, in conjunction with the Newark Musical Society, was proposed. The more populist theme continues with a talk offered by Sidney Gibbon, the Honorary Secretary, on “Modern Furniture” and a return visit from the West End fashion expert, Arthur Banks, to do a “Dress Show”. Inevitably, the ubiquitous puppet show was also included in the schedule, in the form of The Hogarth Puppets.

The next meeting, dated 1st September 1948, focusses mainly on practical issues relating to the organisation of the Arthur Banks “Dress Show” and also to problems with the Technical College relating to priority lettings.

Sidney Gibbon’s Report for the 1948 AGM indicates another full programme of lectures and activities successfully delivered, albeit with some changes of personnel and topics from the original proposals. An additional highlight to the Members’ year was a bus trip to view the Van Gogh Exhibition at the Birmingham City Art Gallery on the 14th February, 1948. Personal success was noted in the congratulations offered once again to Robert Kiddey on his success at the Royal Academy and to B J Cafferata on the publication of his book “The Permanence of Colours”. Once again, the putting on of the Annual Exhibition between the 13th and 15th October 1947 at the Municipal Gallery was noted: its success, or otherwise, receives no comment.

From this point onwards, there is a strong suggestion of a crisis slowly unfolding in the identity, direction and confidence of the Club.

In the next meeting of 20th October 1948 it seems to be business as usual with buoyant ticket sales for the forthcoming Arthur Banks “Dress Show” reported and discussion of possible speakers for the year recorded. However, some vagueness and uncertainty concerning who to invite and what to present contrasts sharply with the clarity and certainties of previous meetings, especially that of 16th May 1947. Also in contrast to that meeting, the names put forward and discussed lack the gravitas of national speakers of the earlier years. More ominously, one of the agenda items was a discussion of the aims and functions of the Club.

The final meeting of 1948, on the 21st December, would have brought little Christmas cheer, as the Committee had to head off a proposal from the Regional Director of the ACGB that the Club should consider amalgamating with the Newark Music Club to form a “Three Arts Society”. Probably even more damaging to morale was the postponement of the Annual Exhibition until August 1949. In a sense, this comes as no surprise as the Club on a previous occasion had to relinquish the opportunity, offered by Arthur Smith, to make use of the Museum Gallery for exhibition purposes, because “the number of paintings by members may be insufficient to fill the Gallery – unless some other exhibition was also combined.”

Extract from Minutes of Newark Arts Club, 6th September 1949, courtesy of Nottinghamshire Archives

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first meeting of 1949, on 12th March, perhaps was only papering over the cracks hinted at in the last two meetings of 1948. There was discussion of raising the profile of the Club by way of a leaflet campaign and an intention to produce enough paintings for the Newark Civic Weekend, as well as for the Annual Exhibition, now given additional seriousness by an invitation to a sympathetic guest critic, possibly along the Lincolnshire Artists’ Society model, in the form of Dr Westbrook. The list of possible speakers seems even more shapeless than that of the meeting of the 20th October, and resembles an inchoate wish list of random lecturers and topics, rather than a formal plan of campaign.

Any pretence that the Club could move forward without change, was dispelled in the meeting of 6th September 1949. There is a sense of tired resignation in the words of the Honorary Secretary, even in this dry world of minuted meetings, when he writes: “A long discussion followed on how to infuse new life into the Club – for although our financial position was strong our artistic soul was weak. The number of members who produced new paintings and drawings was very small.” The other topic of discussion in the meeting was the design of the Club poster: perhaps symptomatically, it was “the subject of fierce debate.”

The documentation related to the AGM of the 9th September, 1949, is oddly different from previous years. There is some handwritten recording of the business of the meeting, as expected, mainly relating to changes of personnel and votes of thanks for work done. In previous years, however, the Annual Report was typewritten and stuck into the relevant section of the Minutes. In contrast, the AGM Report for 1949 takes the form of a cutting from the “Newark Advertiser” with the headline “Newark Arts Club – Last Night’s Meeting”, which has been pasted over the words “Annual Report Here” at the top of the page. The report is possibly based upon a copy supplied by the Club to the newspaper, but oddly it includes some of the words noted above from the meeting of the 6th September.

Any doubts about the difficulties in which the Club now found itself were on full public view. There was some optimism expressed in the continued success of the lectures and demonstrations formulated mainly in the meeting of 18th June 1948. However, the report of falling numbers in the membership from fifty-two to forty-one only added further woe to the dismal speculation that “We are possibly entering our ‘teething troubles’ and are in danger from the apathy which may follow when novelty has fallen away.” The words from the meeting of the 6th September were used verbatim except for one small, but deadly change: the phrase referring to the lack of painting by the membership shifted from “very small” to “lamentably small”. Whether this was journalistic license or a true record of the report, is impossible to tell.

After the brave optimism of July 1945, the Club’s year ends in a crisis of identity, urgently needing to find a new direction and re-gain its “artistic soul”. Ironically, in its decision to be known as the Newark Arts Club, appealing to as broad a range of interests as possible, it seems to have perhaps lost sight of the original starting point for the project of forming a Newark Art Society, with all its associations of encouraging and nurturing individual artistic creativity in the locality.

All extracts and images are reproduced by kind permission of the Nottinghamshire Archives.

 

Malcolm Moyes, April 2018