Category Archives: Arts & culture

Queen’s Park Celebration

Henna painting at Queen's Park Library's Community Cultural Celebration, February 2017Queen’s Park is an area known for its diversity, and on Thursday 9 February we held a Community Cultural Celebration in the library which recognised the wide mix of people who live in the area.

The event – part of the Made in Libraries festival – began with face-painting and badge-making for the kids and continued with henna, Indian head massage and jewellery-making.

Chinese calligraphy master Mr Zhu particularly impressed the crowd with his beautiful translations of people’s names, and the evening was rounded off with some lively African dancing provided by local health and well-being group Healthier Life 4 You.

Mr Zhu's calligraphy at Queen's Park Library's Community Cultural Celebration, February 2017  Mr Zhu's calligraphy at Queen's Park Library's Community Cultural Celebration, February 2017

North African, Caribbean and Bangladeshi food was on offer, courtesy of local businesses Timgad and Guava Nights, plus the libraries’ ESOL conversation class. Not surprisingly this proved very popular! The library was absolutely packed with a mix of old and young, familiar faces and curious newcomers all keen to sample the activities. To say the atmosphere was lively would be something of an understatement, although fortunately the Learning Centre was available for those who wanted an escape from it all.

Picture from ‘Women of Colour - an Exhibition of Samplism’ by Toby Laurent Belson. Queen's Park Library 2017

Complementing the event’s theme was ‘Women of Colour – an Exhibition of Samplism’ by the local artist Toby Laurent Belson, which runs until 7 March. Toby’s vivid collage pieces, which depict women of the African diaspora, are stunning and make a visit to Queen’s Park Library even more worthwhile.

[Lucy]

Let There Be Love

Thirty people turned up on a chilly February afternoon at Paddington Library for a St Valentine Day theme recital of Clarinet and Poetry.

I was very lucky to engage two wonderful professionals: Poet, Valerie Fry and Clarinettist, Chris Hooker who performed a number of love poems and music with a Romantic theme. Among the poems were ‘The Owl and the Pussy cat by Edward Lear and ‘To His Coy Mistress’ by Andrew Marvel.

The musical repertoire included a number of fairly modern pieces by Paul McCartney  (Yesterday), Honeysuckle Rose (Fats Waller) and I’ve Got You Under My Skin (Cole Porter).

The  audience feedback was overwhelmingly positive and many people stayed behind to talk to the performers over some refreshments

[Laurence]

 

How Westminster Libraries’ resources helped me to trace an elusive artist

'A view from the artist’s studio', print by Jessie Beswick

‘A view from the artist’s studio’ by Jessie Beswick

Recently I found this engraving in a junk shop. The print was crudely held in place with a sheet of cardboard and peeling masking tape. The frame was immediately recycled, the backing replaced with acid free mount board. However I must thank the anonymous framer for their work in keeping the print in its frame but also more importantly for scrawling in ballpoint ink biographical and geographical information about this print titled ‘A view from the artist’s studio’.

The writer also stated that the artist – Jessie Beswick – was a sister of their grandfather. Without this information this would have simply been a pleasing anonymous town view from a window.

Not so useful was the difficult handwriting which made interpretation difficult. Luckily from this text there was no ambiguity in interpreting the picture’s location, King Street Chester. What were more problematical to read were the artist’s maiden and married surnames which meant using possible name variations in any search for this artist!

With no stated date on the print it was not a just a case of Googling a name and finding her. Even if I was confident with the surname spelling of Beswick I found a number of alternative individuals with this name. I suspected that ‘my’ artist was active before 1945, on the basis that the writer was two generations younger than the artist and had written the information relatively recently – ballpoint pens did not come into mass use until the late 1950s. Another fact which proved to be a red herring in an initial search for her in Chester Street directories (located in the City of London’s Guildhall Library) was to assume that the King Street studio was her residence. In fact it turned out from census and other evidence that Jessie Beswick resided at other addresses in Chester.

It was time to bite the bullet and use Westminster’s ‘In House’ online resources for family history, Ancestry and Find My Past.

Having two surnames to deal with, I first checked marriage records using Find My Past. Success: after several false hits I found the marriage of Jessie Beswick to Walter W White (Walmsley-White) in Chester in 1914. The record usefully included her parents’ names and her age, thus narrowing down by date any census searches for further information. The 1901 census found her, aged 15, residing at her parents’ house. The 1911 census entry usefully reminded me that the census is a record of household occupation on a specific night which is not necessarily the home address. A Jessie Beswick was staying with friends in Lancashire but I am convinced that this is the same person as her occupation is listed as an artist and the birth year and place of birth matches the previous census entry.

I have mentioned my problem of reading original handwriting. Transcribed entries from the census enumerator returns can also provide evidence of transcription errors. Jessie’s name had been transcribed as ‘Lessie’ in Ancestry’s 1891 census entry for the Beswick household.

Find My Past also has a useful facility to search selected local newspapers. An October 1915 issue of the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette reports on a local art exhibition which was

“strengthened by the contributions of some new members, and a new feature is collection of etchings by … Jessie Beswick (Mrs. Walmsley White), the latter lady being also represented in the oils section by two excellent studies of Brittany”.

Confirmation of the move was found when I used print resources at Westminster Reference Library’s Art & Design Collection. Post 1914 entries all list Jessie Walmsley White with a Devon address and prior to marriage her maiden name together with a Chester address. With this information it is reasonable to date this print between 1900 and 1914.

Royal Academy Exhibitors, 1905-1970The first resource I used was Royal Academy exhibitors, 1905-1970: a dictionary of artists and their work in the Summer Exhibitions
Vol. 6: SHERR-ZUL. 

This dictionary revealed that she had paintings exhibited in three separate exhibitions. Unfortunately the dictionary does not include illustrations but listed the botanical subjects of these works.

On a previous visit to Westminster Reference Library I had noticed a long run of annual directories: The Year’s Art: a concise epitome of all matters relating to the arts of painting, sculpture, engraving and architecture. 

The Year's Art, volumes 1908 - 1913

The Year's Art, 1915At that point I had not discovered her birth date and confirmation of her surnames, so I hadn’t plunged in with a systematic search of these volumes. Now, armed with this information, I returned to consult this series. Her first entry occurs in the 1909 edition. Usefully, an artist’s entry includes their home address together with the location of any exhibited work in public galleries. Her address details from the 1915 edition confirm the permanent move to Devon.

Find My Past was also used to find her death record. Luckily my assumption that she had remained in Devon was correct and I found her death record. Jessie died in 1961 aged 75.

Having tracked down this artist my next quest is to find further examples of her work, either in a gallery or improbably lurking in another junk shop.

[Francis]

Art for Everyone’s Sake

Art books collage 1

Westminster Reference Library, home of the specialist Art & Design Collection, now has art books for loan. Visit us at 35 St Martin’s Street and browse through our growing collection of inclusive, engaging and expertly written books on a wide range of art interests. The publications shown here are just some of our most recent additions:

Hieronymus Bosch; The Complete WorksHieronymus Bosch; The Complete Works combines new research with superb reproductions to celebrate this unique and visionary painter. His fantasies, grotesques and drolleries, set in natural surroundings, appear as fresh and eloquent today as they were 500 years ago.

Menswear illustration, by Richard KilroyFashion students! The explosion of international sales in menswear means that drawing is no longer dominated by women’s fashions. Menswear Illustration is the first survey of this new trend and features 40 innovative illustrators of contemporary styles in menswear.

Natural histories: extraordinary rare book selections from the American Museum of Natural History library, by Tom BaioneNatural Histories presents selected masterpieces of scientific art from 16th century zoologies to 20th century treatises. Essays by experts in their field explain how these scientifically significant, richly illustrated studies played integral roles throughout the history of natural sciences.

The Craft Companion by Ramona BarryBeautiful or bonkers The Craft Companion offers 170 projects to learn 33 crafting techniques, with inspiration from 150 contemporary artists. Try working with traditional materials (wood, leather, gold leaf) or turn to page 378 and make a recycled Terrarium for your plastic dinosaurs.

Art photography, by David BateArt Photography provides a fascinating introduction to the crucial role of painting in the invention of photography, and the importance of photography in the development of modern art. Visual examples from the 19th – 21st centuries illustrate how global this field of art has become.

Bernard Leach by Edmund De WaalBernard Leach is the first biography and critical monograph of this renowned 20th century potter whose ceramics, writings and teaching hold a central place in the international history of the decorative arts.

 

Making sculpture from scrap metal by Peter ParkinsonMetal workers have recycled broken tools and other scrap since the Bronze Age, but only in the 20th century did artists start using such items to make sculpture. Making Sculpture from Scrap Metal puts this artistic practice into context, describes the concerns and techniques involved, and illustrates these with the work of contemporary sculptors.

Looking at pictures: an introduction to art for young people through the National Gallery collection, by Joy RichardsonWhat are paintings for? This and other topics including colour, light, symbols and techniques are discussed in Looking at Pictures, the National Gallery’s excellent introduction to art for young people. Don’t let this put you off: it’s an illuminating mini-history of European painting.

Contemporary design Africa by Tapiwa MatsindeContemporary Design Africa is the first book on the innovative and sophisticated uses of traditional crafts taking place across the continent.   Over the past 100 years communities have used manufactured “rubbish” to make footwear, household goods, even toys. This practice, alongside the cultural use of natural materials, is an inspiration for any designer.

Alfred Wallis by Matthew GaleAlfred Wallis fisherman and marine stores dealer, is now recognised as one of the most original British artists of the 20th century. In the light of new research, this book traces the development of his painting from when he started 1925, until his death in 1942 at the age of 87.

If you want to borrow these or other art books, bring in your membership card; or bring proof of your home address and join the library for free. We are off the south side of Leicester Square, behind the main wing of the National Gallery. For more information, contact the library.

Art books collage 2

[Philippa]

Art Book of the Month, December 2016

Title page from 'Shelter Sketch Book' by Henry Moore

Shelter Sketch Book by Henry Moore
London: Marlborough Fine Art, 1967

Limited Edition 80 facsimile collotype, each copy of which contains one specially designed lithograph by Henry Moore, pulled on the hand-press J. E. Wolfensberger, Zurich on handmade paper under the artist’s supervision, signed by the artist and numbered 1 – 180. This is No. 31.
Originally published as a portfolio of loose plates, now mounted and bound together.

Henry Moore (1898-1986), the son of a Yorkshire coalminer, is of course the most important British sculptor of the 20th century. But his expressive drawings of sleeping people in underground stations and air raid shelters during the London Blitz of the Second World War are an equally important part of his oeuvre. Moore produced them when he was appointed official war artist in 1940-42.

'Shelter Sketch Book' by Henry Moore

In the 1930s Moore had established himself as an avant-garde sculptor, but the horror of war changed the focus of his art. The war’s images of destruction and brutality would provide inspiration for many British artists. Kenneth Clark, then chairman of the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, tried to invite Moore to join the scheme. Clark was probably hoping to keep artists he cherished such as Moore, Graham Sutherland and John Piper in work and prevent them from being killed.  Sadly a few had already died or vanished.  Eric Ravilious was lost at only 39, while flying over Iceland, Albert Richards had died in Normandy and Thomas Hennell in Java.

Moore at first declined, feeling that he had seen enough of war during his spell at the front in 1917. But one night, during an air raid, he was trapped in the London underground. He was very moved by what he saw and began drawing the extraordinary scenes of people huddled together on the platform. The sight had been a revelation. He returned over the course of a year, producing 300 sketches. These would become known as the Shelter Drawings.

Since the Luftwaffe did not generally bomb London by day, Moore would sometimes spend an entire night in the Underground on his visits to London, returning to his Hertfordshire home at dawn, his mind seething with material. He soon became a connoisseur of Underground stations:

“Liverpool Street extension was the place that interested me most.  The new tunnel had been completed, and at night its entire length was occupied by a double row of sleeping figures”
– Roger Berthoud, The Life of Henry Moore

Moore also visited and recorded the ‘Tilbury’ shelter, part of the Liverpool Street goods station under Commercial Road and Cable Street. The officially designated shelter area rapidly became full and an adjacent warehouse was requisitioned. This damp complex eventually accommodated up to 14,000 people crammed beneath the railway arches in appalling conditions. As one employee of the government-backed Mass Observation project described it:

“There were thousands of people lying head to toe, all along the bays and with no facilities.  At the beginning there were only four earth buckets down the far end, behind screens, for toilets … The place was a hellhole, it was an outrage that people had to live in these conditions.”

In the early days of the Blitz, assailed by the terrible stench and wading through the effluvia of overflowing latrines, many refuge-seekers could not stand the primitive conditions in the shelters and preferred to return home. (Antony Clayton Subterranean City: Beneath the Streets of London, p.139)

To have openly drawn people dressing or sleeping would have been to intrude on their privacy and also to invite abuse or hostility. So Moore made a few notes in discreet corners. He spoke about the experience in a BBC interview:

“I had to make surreptitious notes in a little note book, and then next day when the sight of the scene was fresh in my mind, I began drawing from the note book.”

If anxious to retain a particular scene, he would walk past it several times, imprinting it on his excellent visual memory.

“What I was trying to show was my reaction to this dramatic suspense, the situation that you get of a tension between people and something about an impending disaster, impending doom, there‘s a drama in silence more than in shouting.”

The shelter drawings were a turning point for Moore. You can see in the drawings the beginnings of the themes that come to dominate his work in the years after the war, the mother and child and the family group. Antony Gormley said:

“Moore… believed that you could make art that talked to people universally, irrespective of creed, language and race and maybe invite them to look at the world in a new way.”

With their strong sense of compassion, these drawings are more than a documentary of suffering endured; rather they portray the ordeals of the victims of war as a whole. The sleeping women and children might be anywhere in 1940s Europe – and because of their actuality, in today’s war-torn Syria, the Gaza strip or Ukraine.

'Shelter Sketch Book' by Henry Moore

You can view this book in the Art & Design Collection at Westminster Reference Library.

[Rossella]

Henry Purcell – local boy makes good

Henry Purcell sculpture by Glynn Williams 1995, Christchurch Gardens SW1In a library situated between Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, there is a fine collection of music books and printed music – the one and only Westminster Music Library.

We’ve developed a bit of a reputation for obtaining money for all manner of music related activities, sometimes from the unlikeliest of sources…

So it was that following our MOD funded Joint Force Singers choral project last June, I started thinking about what Westminster Music Library could do next for the good citizens of the Borough. Maybe it was time to start looking a little closer to home for some inspiration.

Henry Purcell - portrait by John Closterman, 1660-1711

There have been hundreds of famous people who were born in Westminster, from Queen Anne to the First Earl of Zetland, but what about those who dedicated their lives to music? Composers like Thomas Busby, brothers George and Walter McFarren, all interesting but not exactly household names. I needed a show stopper, someone who had a real connection to Westminster throughout his life. How about the chap considered to be England’s greatest composer of the Baroque era, famously dubbed the “Orpheus Britannicus” for his ability to combine powerful English counterpoint with expressive, flexible, and dramatic word settings? None other than Henry Purcell.

Born in Old Pye Street, a stone’s throw from Westminster Abbey and Westminster’s present day City Archives, Purcell’s interest in music began when he was a young child. Even the street names in his neighbourhood are enough to get the imagination running riot: Abbey Orchard Street, Devil’s Acre, Thieving Lane.

Rumour has it that he started composing at the age of 9, his earliest work being the ode for King Charles’ birthday in 1670. The young Purcell attended Westminster School, was appointed copyist at Westminster Abbey in 1676, and landed the impressive post of Organist of Westminster Abbey by the time he was 20, in 1679. As organist of Westminster Abbey, he played at William and Mary’s coronation on 11 April 1689. An impressive pedigree for a local boy, and definitely someone we should be celebrating.

Henry Purcell: Chacony (MSS British Library)

While Purcell is well worth celebrating, I needed to think about how to do it – how could this celebration help residents to connect with their community, make the most of the local opportunities and assets available to them, and encourage them to celebrate Westminster’s unique historic heritage?

With musical expertise from our long-time partners the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the knowledgeable staff at Westminster City Archives (an Aladdin’s Cave of fascinating information, maps and photographs of the area), I put together a proposal which includes a series of intergenerational workshops for local residents and school children, resource packs for both adults and children, and an exhibition focusing on the life, music, history and heritage of Henry Purcell. And the beauty of Henry Purcell as far as Westminster Music Library is concerned? We have lots of books and scores in our collection with his name on them!

So we’re good to go for February 2017, with the generous help of the Westminster Cultural Partnerships Team and Westminster City Councillors – watch this space!

[Ruth]

Improbable Impro

Church Street Library & Improbable Theatre present:
IMPRO FOR ELDERS & LIFEGAME – A Double Bill Performance
Funded by Arts Council England and Create Church Street

Impro for Elders flyer front  Impro for Elders flyer back

Church Street Library has proudly embarked on this fantastic adventure with award-winning Improbable Theatre. Impro For Elders is a free weekly drama group for older residents of the Church Street area. During ten weekly rehearsal sessions a well-assorted group of energetic and sharply witted ladies and gentlemen is working towards two public performances, created from scratch, based on the practice of Improvisation. It will be performed at our local theatre The Cockpit in a double bill with Improbable’s show Lifegame (details below).

In the very capable hands of Workshop Directors Andre Pink and Caroline Williams, the group is shaping their understanding of Improvisation, exploring some of the great pillars of this ancient practice, such as Space Awareness, Space Substance, Imagination, and Voice to name but a few. Going by what I have witnessed so far, they are certainly having a lot of fun! Paraphrasing Andre after his last session

‘the group is doing amazingly well! They are effortlessly playful, always willing to take risks, which is vital when improvising and moving together on stage’.

Some comments from the participants so far:

Tony:
“As the rehearsals go on we are now more aware of where we’re heading.”

Joy:
“It has been a very inspiring experience getting to know people with such fascinating lives. Most especially to witness a sense of trust developing within the group. It feels we’re now able to communicate with our own eyes and body.”

Peter:
“Overall, quite a powerful experience from meeting like-minded people to the various drama games which make me conscious of what I’m doing and perhaps my own identity.”

Considering only a few of the group have had some drama experience in their lives, whilst a couple of others performed as professional musicians, they are quickly learning how to use voice and movement to act out autobiographical stories, thoughts and ideas, whether sharing their own or conveying the ones of their fellow performers.

Lucy Foster, Improbable Participation Director and Impro For Elders’ co-project manager, defines improvisation as a tool for social change:

“It is a deeply democratic art form that fosters a sense of community and empowerment amongst its participants and audiences alike and, in an age of increasing digital complexity, is determinedly live.”

Through the initial stage of recruiting performers, Improbable has promised ‘the sessions will above all be fun with lots of theatre games and lots of laughing’ – well I can wholeheartedly confirm this has been fulfilled beyond every possible expectation! There is a lot of sparkle in the room and I trust the trailer will prove that.

(Filming by Debora Gambera and Susie Italiano, video editing by Lucy Foster)

Find out more and book tickets to one of the performances by visiting the Church Street Library events page.


IMPRO FOR ELDERS: The wisdom of making it up as you go along.
LIFEGAME: Part chat show, part impro show.
Lifegame has been performed around the world since 1998.  A different guest every show, a different show every night. In this special version of Lifegame, a member of the Impro For Elders group (also a resident of the Church Street area) will be the guest. What are the stories that only a Church Street local could tell? Join us to find out!

About Improbable
Lead by Artistic Directors Phelim McDermott and Lee Simpson, Improbable is a theatre company that defies categorization. It presents shows on every scale from sumptuous productions in the great opera houses to tiny improvisation gigs in the tiniest venues; it is at the forefront of arts activism through Open Space and creates groundbreaking participation work. At the heart of its practice is improvisation. Following the Eldership Project at The Southbank Centre in 2014, Improbable continues to explore improvising with older performers. In March 2017 a new show Lost Without Words at the National Theatre works with a company of older professional actors to teach them how to improvise.

[Debora]