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Sunday, 6 August 2023

Looking Round the First Floor of the Civic Offices and Media articles

 Although Swindon Museum and Art Gallery is currently closed, work is about to begin to convert the first floor of the Civic Offices in Euclid Street into a new museum and gallery. The Civic Offices were built in 1937-39 in the Moderne style, a variant of Art Deco which features smooth surfaces, curved corners and horizontal lines. The building was Grade II listed in 2020, and certainly has a feeling of ambition and elegance about it; one gets the feeling that Swindon had ambition at the time this building was commissioned.

Three members of the Friends were very pleased to be invited to have a look round the first floor before work begins. We were met by Frances Yeo, Swindon Museums Manager and Cabinet Member for Culture, Arts and Heritage, Marina Strinkovsky and received the following presentation:

The three museums used to function separately, since 2020, they have worked under one team with Frances Yeo in overall charge.
Even made as large as it can be on the screen, it's hard to see the plan. Visitors will walk up the stairs, or use the lift if they want to do so, and access the museum and art gallery ahead of them. The lower part of the picture shows rooms which will be galleries, a room for school parties and a library/study room whereas the rooms in the top part of the diagram will be storage areas. There's 40% more space in this building than at Apsley House and room for more items to be stored on site.
So what will be in the museum:
I took a few photos, but really there are just large rooms and lots of small rooms with stud walls at the moment.
Above Frances Yeo and Cllr Strinkovsky posing for the camera, and below one of the impressively large rooms on the first floor..
On the way down from being shown around, we posed for a photo on the stairs:
Before we left we were shown some of the results of the rebranding exercise, a new logo, statements and name. We'll let you know more soon...
Today came the latest press release with a later opening date than we had anticipated:
which wasn't something that had been shared, so why this figure of 2 years was plucked out of the air I don't understand. We have been assured it will open much sooner than that.
And what's more the Civic Offices are now being considered as the permanent home for Swindon Museum and Art Gallery: Swindon council officers could be long-term home of museum and gallery | Swindon Advertiser

Saturday, 5 August 2023

July talk: Running out of Steam

 Our July talk was also called 'Two Painters and a Poet' referring to three men who started life in the railway works and in the case of Hubert Cook (1901-1966) and Leslie Cole (1910-1976) became artists and Alfred Williams (1877-1930) was known as the Hammerman Poet. Philip Garrahan, an academic and art historian, who gave the talk was initially interested in the Ashington Group of painters who were in existence from 1934-84; they were a group of miners also known as the Pitmen Painters depicting life down the pit.

Philip was interested to explore Swindon artists who started working life at the railway works and went onto become artists. Hubert Cook and Leslie Cole were obvious contenders; both starting life in the works and leaving to become artists. What did they paint? And what did they have to say?

Here are 2 self portraits of the two artists, Cook on the left and Cole on the right; they are remarkably similar in their expressions, bearing and what they are wearing:

Hubert Cook studied at Swindon School of Art 1926-34 under Harold Dearden and then went on to Central Art School from 1935-38 and subsequently taught at Portsmouth Polytechnic
Here are a couple of his paintings, above a 'shingler' heating up metal and below a painting entitled 'The Toilers' conveying the heat and dirt in the works.
Leslie Cole went to Swindon Art School and was also taught by Harold Dearden and then went to the Royal College of Art where Ravilious and Bawden were teaching.
These first examples of his work depict social life in a pub, probably in Swindon, please see later comments from a member of the Friends.
This is one of his railway works paintings
Then we were shown several paintings made when he became a war artist from 1942-45 which depict another level of painting altogether. I have just looked at the Imperial War Museum website and found 4 pages of Leslie Cole paintings he produced as a War Artist from 1941- 46. His work is phenomenal and cranked up several gears from paintings he produced before he became a war artist.
Above 'Mother Mourning the Death of a Village Priest'.
The painting above is titled 'Malta: Preparing for the Night in the Crypt of St.Augustine's Valetta'
Above 'No Time to Lose: Soldiers Dockers unloading a Convoy during a Raid'
This one is' Belsen Camp- The Compound for Women' and below: 'Dentistry during the Hour of Gas Practice'
Interestingly after the talk, a member of the Friends emailed with the following:

'I enjoy all the SMAG talks.... but I wish my husband had watched 2 painters and a poet - the Railway artists in Swindon . I know you record them. How do I see them? .. I heard you mention UTUBE but where would I look?
My husband's father "Grandad Cooke " worked in the railway as did they all. He was in the foundry and worked on a steam hammer. When he finished  his shift he went into one of the pubs on the corner of the Railway village. No not as a sad drunk but to slake his thirst after the tremendous heat. 
The Glue pot is still there and relates to the workmen needing to keep their glue warm and  pliable  so they were able to put their glue pot down whist trying to overcome their thirst . Bet there was a nasty smell from those glues.. boiled animal bones.'
And talking of the Glue Pot, I looked it up and found an Adver article on the pub by Graham Carter, isn't it amazing how on thing runs onto another. Do have a look at his article.

To clarify the situation regarding recordings: as many talks as possible are recorded and then put onto the website under 'Videos' and can be found here:
They are not edited, so there are interruptions which one would normally edit out.

Monday, 31 July 2023

June talk: The Ken Stradling Collection

 A Friend's group first visited the Stradling Collection in 2014; the first year it opened, and here's the post about that visit. After his death last year, aged 100, I hoped the Stradling Collection would be able to continue operating as a wonderful resource and repository of some exceptionally beautiful arts and crafts items for the home collected over the 60 years Ken was a buyer for the Bristol Guild.

Cleo Saunders, a Trustee of the Ken Stradling Collection gave us a wonderful illustrated talk via Zoom in June. A recording is on our website, but I'll include photos I took from the screen here along with some notes. Cleo started by talking about the fact that after the war, Ken, in 1948 went to work at the Bristol Guild which was responsible for bringing the best of design to Bristol. Local craftspeople showcased their work in the shop.

In the late 50s and 60s, people were interested in buying modern furniture such as moulded plywood seen below.
The Festival of Britain in 1951, an inspirational exhibition to demonstrate to people that art and design was about the future.
Below an interior illustrating many pieces of furniture which became available in the Guild 
In 1958 Ken travelled to Scandinavia with his wife to buy some pieces of furniture in a break from tradition of buying locally made furniture and things to decorate the home.
And also to Italy, buying stock for the Guild, but also beginning his own collection of fine things.
This table has very small drawers in it and the monkey is an articulated wooden toy
This Danish moulded glass piece is 2 foot tall;  glass was one of Ken's favourite things to collect
The Design Council in London would only stock British designed objects, a few of which can be seen below
The desk lamp dates from 1966, it was designed by Robert Welch, inspired by an astronaut's helmet, and reflecting the interest in space. I think we can all remember the stainless steel kitchen items, many of us still may have a kettle similar to the one in the photo below
Below can be seen glass by Sam Herman, jug by John Leach and a wooden bowl by Jim Partridge. We were fortunate to have many of Sam Herman's pieces and the man himself at a talk in 2016. I really like them and thought I'd see how much they are to buy; they're in the region of £5-7k.
Below the oval Rooster dish by Nicholas Vergette is gorgeous, as is the coffee pot by Michael Cardew and the bull by William Neweland
A trip to the Stradling Collection is on the cards again for me when they reopen after an August break. In the meantime, they have a window exhibition of Captain Ed's hand made shirts, what a fabulous idea.
In the photo above you can get an idea idea of what the house full of Ken's treasures looks like, and below a sample of his plate collection
This is what the outside of 48 Park Row looks like, it's small and easy to miss. I think this may be Ken and Cleo together.
Ken retired from The Guild in 2006, and transferred his lovely collection into 48 Park Row which comprises 4 stories and a cellar; it opened to the public in 2014. 
Above is the downstairs gallery area with its memorable Smile sculpture on the wall
Ken Stradling was awarded an MBE, given by Peaches Golding in 2021, and on 7 January 2022 celebrated his 100th birthday. Thank you Cleo for sharing the wonderful story of Ken Stradling MBE, and his legacy.

Friday, 28 July 2023

SM&AG: Work Starts in Major Step

 Good news re work beginning to the fabric of the Civic Offices to convert the first floor into the new Swindon Museum and Art Gallery in a press release this week which can be read here. Friends were asked for a quote which appears in the article. We will keep everyone informed via emails and this blog about progress being made towards opening Swindon Museum and Art Gallery in the Civic Offices.

Swindon Advertiser reporter Aled Thomas wrote the piece and ended it with this sentence: 'Work is expected until at least summer 2024'. This seemed a bit unclear, but maybe it's Aled's interpretation. I'm also unsure why the first floor of the Civic Offices is referred to as the second floor.

Above a photo of Cllr Marina Strinkovsky, Cabinet Member for Culture, Art and Heritage standing between two Dee Ferris paintings on display in Committee Room 3 in the Civic Offices, a gallery space open to the general public.

Friday, 14 July 2023

Friends' 30 year Celebrations held 7 July 2023

 Last Friday we held a party for the members of the Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery at Christ Church Community Centre; it was 30 years and a day after the first meeting of the Friends was held in the main gallery in Apsley House when our Patron Desmond Morris and the Mayor, Doreen Dart were present, along with 160 guests. We have been planning the event for almost a year, inviting former Chairs Ray Ward and Paul Ricketts to our committee's Christmas meal to ask for their ideas and whether they would be involved; they readily agreed to speak and bring slides of  the ceramics collection. Members of the committee really played to their strengths and pulled together to ensure the evening ran really smoothly, with barely a hitch. 

Barbara designed a plan of the room, bought cheese and biscuits, made vegan cakes and did masses of washing up, Brigid made the big cake and bought a topper for it which arrived 2 hours before the party. Rosemary and Martin bought the wine and crisps and served it with David and Lynda who also got out chairs and helped clear away; they also washed the glasses at the end of the evening. Martin and Kate moved masses of chairs and tables before and after the event. The other Martin also helped with the tables and chairs. Angela persuaded people to buy raffle tickets. Politicians and museum professionals came and stayed rather than just dropping in, and the evening was warm without being too unbearably hot.

Friends had some 14 years or so ago, paid for the ceramics collection to be photographed, the resulting slides showed continuously during the proceedings which was really interesting. Many of them had been photographed from several angles so you could see them really well. The running order was as follows:

  • 18.45 arrive
  • 19.00 canapes from Olive Tree cafe served and chatting
  • 19.15 speakers:
  • Paul Ricketts Friends' history 
  • Ray Ward Friends' talks series
  • John Walsh the Journals
  • Martin Newman archaeology
  • 20.00 eat cheese and biscuits, watch slides, look at Journals and chatting
  • 20.15 Cake cutting
  • 20.30 raffle drawing
  • 21.00 end
Of course it was difficult to keep to the times, but hopefully there was the right balance of chatting and  entertainment. I didn't take any photographs, but was sent some photos after the event which I'll add here. Starting with my favourite one:
You wouldn't think the backs of people's heads would be so good, but it gives a feeling of being in the room; it was sent to me by Phil Dearden, Harold's grandson who is researching a book about his grandfather, has recently joined the Friends and drove from Kidderminster where he lives to be with us.

I've included these general photos of the audience sent by Barend whose empty chair can be seen below as he takes photos
He's captured quite a few smiles
Above introducing speakers and below with Paul Ricketts who was Chair of the Friends before I was
Another nice photo
Here's  Ray Ward talking:
 and below John Walsh, who was on the committee when I joined and talked very movingly about editing the Journals
And here's a photo of Martin Newman who is on the present committee talking about the importance of being an archaeological repository
Then came the cake cutting and the photo just before the cutting of the gorgeous cake with its topper.
and here's a better photo of the cake:

Above Kate, Gillian and Stan looking at a map Stan had brought for us to look at
Above Pauline and Martin Styles chatting
Above a general view of people milling around and below people chatting outside where it was a wonderfully balmy evening
Thank you to all those who came along to help us celebrate and to everyone who continues to support us and Swindon Museum and Art Gallery. I had hoped to have a quote from our Patron Desmond Morris who now he is living in Ireland, could not join us, but I'll pass it on when he gets in touch.