History of Salisbury Group of Artists 1940’s – 2021
In the mid 1940’s, the Arts Council set up a cultural organisation known as the Salisbury Society of Arts. One of its functions was to arrange for an Art Exhibition annually. The contributors were both members and non-members and their submitted works were judged by well known artists and these included Edward Seago and Henry Lamb.
The Art section broke away to be formed as the Salisbury Group of Artists under the chairmanship of Mr. John Bennett, part owner of the ‘Salisbury Journal’. He was a man of artistic integrity and the new society increased in membership and prestige. It held all its meetings and exhibitions in the College of Art in New Street, Salisbury. The Principal and his staff were friendly to us and gave us so much help. We met for criticisms of our work by professional artists or members of the staff of the Art College. We had lectures or demonstrations. Each Monday from 4pm until 6pm some members met to draw and paint and each took it in turn to set up the subject, or suggest a theme or bring a model. Once a month in the Autumn and Winter terms, on Saturday afternoons there was a life class and both of these meetings were popular with a number of members.
The cost, if there was one, for running these events, came from the members’ annual subscriptions.
The idea of one day painting schools for five occasions, held on Saturdays or Sundays evolved. We joined forces with the Lawrence Arts Society of Devizes. They or we arranged the venue and tutor alternately. On more than one occasion we were tutored splendidly by Richard Cusden a well known artist at the time.
Each year there were two exhibitions: one Open and one for members. The former was always judged by a panel of professional artists one of the more flamboyant being Lord Weymouth.
At first the Members’ exhibition was not judged, each member being permitted to show two or three pictures. The standard dropped noticeably and several of the more competent members refused to submit pictures. Eventually at an Annual General Meeting it was agreed that all exhibitions of Members or Non-Members work must be judged by a panel of competent artists. This rule has since been relaxed.
When the Art College moved into its new premises on the Southampton Road the good relationship between the College and ourselves deteriorated and we had to find new premises for our meetings and exhibitions. The Headmaster and Governors of the Cathedral School in Salisbury lent us their large gymnasium with a plan for the latter purpose.
Then the new Library was opened and it has an excellent art gallery. We were allowed the use of this annually in the spring for our Open exhibition. The cinema loaned us an upstairs room for our Members’ exhibition there for a time then the Salisbury Playhouse allowed it to be mounted there in the autumn. Subsequently the City Hall also loaned their walls for this annual exhibition. To celebrate our 50th year the annual Open Exhibition was held in Salisbury Guildhall. In more recent years Salisbury District Hospital has included the Group’s annual members exhibition in their programme of exhibitions in association with ArtCare.
The group made annual visits to the Royal Academy for its Summer Exhibition and the Royal West of England Academy in November. Outings were a popular events in the calendar and there are very few art collections of note in southern England that the Group has not visited over the years.
In the 1960’s to meet the needs of some of the members, Friday’s studio was established at the Art College. Some twenty members met for ten Friday afternoons in the winter term and ten in the Spring term with a tutor. This was financed by each member in the class paying a fee.
Under the strong leadership of the past chairmanship of Agnes Bourne, Colin Macnaught, Ron Bleathman, John Baverstock, Marshall Kearney, Kenneth Wiltshire and Austin Thorp the group has been able to expand its activities into painting courses, painting days, visits to Bruges and Monet’s Garden at Giverney, numerous lectures and demonstrations by well known artists such as Diana Armfield RA and John Maine RA. The Group has also participated in the Salisbury Art Trail from its earliest days.
The Group has also benefited from the interest and encouragement of their former Presidents such as The Hon. Aylmer Tryon, Lady Iona Carnegie, Tim Scott-Bolton and Austin Thorp and the close support of the curator of the Edwin Young Collection, Peter Riley, who gives invaluable help during the setting up of the annual exhibition in the Library Galleries.
In more recent years, after initially organising the Annual Summer Exhibition at the Library for three years, Sandra Hammer, took over the role as Chairman. Under her strong leadership and guidance the SGA became reinvigorated and membership expanded. A full programme of activities was initiated; tutored workshops became a regular monthly feature that continue to attract good membership participation.
Jane Taylor stepped up to revive the weekly Friday Art Group and Susan Wiltshire set up Salisbury Sketchers. However after tirelessly giving her time to the Group, in 2018 Sandra stepped down.
Sandra’s legacy was a strong organisation and enthusiasm by a new committee. Fred Westmoreland became Chairman in 2019, with Martin Webster taking over in 2020 .
Backed up by a willing group of enthusiastic committee volunteers in various spheres, the Salisbury Group of Artists continues to be a thriving and popular art group leading the way in promoting and producing art within the City and adhering to their logo of ‘Making art to enhance life’.