A Museum and Art Gallery for N.E. Lincs
There is no civic museum or art gallery in Grimsby or Cleethorpes. On 24th November 2011, the Civic Society held a public meeting on the subject. Following a report on the meeting, you will find our earlier articles; Dr Alan Dowling makes the case for creating such an institution, while Alf Ludlam considers the local treasures which could be displayed and outlines the long history of failing to provide a museum or art gallery. Do you believe there should be an Arts Centre and Museum for Grimsby and Cleethorpes? If so, send your support to firstname.lastname@example.org
MUSEUM AND GALLERY PUBLIC MEETING
For nearly two years, the Museum and Gallery Group has been meeting with experts - staff from local authorities, successful galleries and museums and funding groups. The aim has been to find out what makes a successful venue and how an independent group - working in partnership with a local authority - might put in a successful bid. The group has recognised that the local authority is not in a position to fund such a venture.
Finally, on 24th November, the civic Society called a public meeting at Grimsby Town hall. 58 citizens attended. This is what happened;
Chair: Ann Turner. Speakers: Martyn Turner, Dr Alan Dowling, Alf Ludlam, Gill Gibbon
After a welcome by Ann Turner, Martyn Turner outlined the objectives of the group and confirmed it was not competing with other groups such as Great Grimsby ice Factory Trust, or existing museums in Waltham and Immingham.
Dr Alan Dowling spoke about the need for a museum - to tell the story of the people of North East Lincolnshire, and Alf Ludlam related the sad 100 year sage of failure to provide a museum and gallery (more detail in our earlier articles below). Gill Gibbon,proprietor, with Elaine Munson, of the Abbey Walk Gallery, explained how they put on the “Out of the Dark” exhibition, which took over two empty units in Freshney Place Shopping Centre to display internationally acclaimed original art. Freshney Place reported a phenomenal increase in footfall over the period of the exhibition. Visitors were drawn from a very wide area outside of the town and North East Lincolnshire. The exhibition demonstrated both that there was an appetite within North East Lincolnshire for art, and that art could have a positive effect on the trading economy of the area.
Ann then opened the meeting to comments from the floor. A wide ranging discussion covered every aspect, but all comments appeared genuinely positive and committed to the idea of a museum and art gallery.Among the subjects covered were funding, alternate sites, and the attitude of councillors to a project such as this.
WHAT DO WE WANT?
By Dr Alan Dowling
At intervals, letters appear in the local press complaining that we do not have a dedicated municipal museum and art gallery in Grimsby and/or Cleethorpes. This is a matter which has been of concern to members of the Civic Society. Accordingly, representatives of the Society's executive committee had a meeting with senior officers of the North East Lincolnshire Council. The purpose of the meeting was to express concern at the lack of these services and to hear the NELC response.
There is not enough space here to go into details of the meeting but the following three points which arose will be of interest to Civic Society members. Firstly, NELC are involved in putting together a scheme to enlarge the Fishing Heritage Centre in order to incorporate what may be termed a conventional museum facility. The time-scale on this is about three years and will depend on the raising of the necessary capital outlay.
Secondly, NELC have no plans for the provision of a municipal art gallery but will continue their present practice of putting on exhibitions at such venues as the Fishing Heritage Centre, the Cleethorpes Discovery Centre, the Central Library and the Cleethorpes Library.
Thirdly, NELC museum staff have been involved in listing and packing the contents of the unsuitable Welholme galleries and having them transferred to two industrial units on the Pyewipe industrial estate. Here they will be in a secure and controlled environment and staff will be engaged in getting the collection fully catalogued and prepared for limited public access,
So what are my own reflections on the subject? And I must emphasise that the contents of the rest of this article are my own thoughts and should not be taken in any way as civic Society policy. My first observation is that museum staff are working hard to make the best of the facilities at their disposal. However, these facilities are not the municipal museum and art gallery which we need.
I will, of course, be accused of being quite unrealistic when I say that what we really need is a municipal museum and art gallery in both Grimsby and Cleethorpes. Take the model of the NELC public library service where we have both a central library and branch libraries. A central museum and gallery would mimic the central library in being the main provider and manager of the service. A much smaller Cleethorpes branch museum an gallery would specialise in the needs of Cleethorpes and its visitors. The majority of seaside resorts of any size have at least one museum - which they publicise as part of their visitor attractions. A museum at Cleethorpes run with imagination and flair could prove to be a popular tourist attraction.
Apart from being tourist attractions, museums and galleries could bring many other benefits to Grimsby and Cleethorpes - including that thing we all seem to be talking about nowadays - civic pride. Museums could house permanent displays on the rich history of the area, raising awareness of our history and encouraging interest in it. They would also safeguard and conserve local artefacts, encourage the donation of historical material and foster research into local history.
Municipal art galleries could bring similar benefits. These would include: permanent displays of the extensive art collections held by NELC and other bodies (of which most of us have little knowledge); touring exhibitions; staging exhibitions of work by local artists, schools and minority groups (including the disabled and disadvantaged); and the crucial role of stimulating public interest in art by special events, demonstrations, and lecture series.
Of course, coming down to earth, we have to consider such things as finance, suitable buildings and staffing. But has anyone considered any different types of approach such as adopting a partnership strategy based on co-operation between NELC and local interested groups? These matters raise many questions and many problems which would have to be solved. But such problems are 'small fry' compared with what our two towns have encountered in the past - and solved.
From my researches into the histories of both towns I have discerned some attributes which have driven pioneers to achieve their goals. One was vision, another was determination, yet another was risk-taking. Of course, the pioneers always had to fight against the doubters and cynics who poured water on their aspirations. So start practising the following chant:
WHAT DO WE WANT? - WE WANT DEDICATED MUNICIPAL MUSEUMS AND ART GALLERIES! WHEN DO WE WANT THEM? - WE WANT THEM NOW!
WHAT DO WE SAY TO THE DOUBTERS AND CYNICS? - GET LOST!
(First appeared in the GCD Civic Society Newsletter, May 2009).
By Alf Ludlam
In the photo above, Alf Ludlam shows other members of the Civic Society
around the Council store of art treasures.
When I was a student at Grimsby School of Art in Silver Street, from 1958 to 1960, the only art I saw was in exhibitions by local societies.
The work on show was pretty much of a similar size; the kind of size that would sit happily on someone's living room wall. Nothing wrong with that. All other images of paintings were the same size because they were reproduced in books.
Imagine my surprise upon my first visit to the National Gallery and seeing the actual paintings for the first time; the huge canvases by Rubens, the power of the life-sized figures of Caravaggio. Not only the size and scale, but also the surface of the paintings was a revelation. They were not flat like photographs. In places the paint on the Rembrandts was an inch thick, applied by a palette knife quite freely. This contrasted with a delicately painted area and thinly painted areas, all within an area of perhaps a meter square. Step back from all this textural virtuosity and you were presented by an image of powerful humanity.
Admittedly today we have more images available to us in North east Lincolnshire. We have two galleries - the Gate in Brighowgate and the Abbey Walk Gallery showing cutting edge work and providing workshop spaces for artists.
The only downside is that the Municipal collection hangs in racks unseen. Paintings are occasionally taken out and shown for brief periods, but that is not the point. When I go to the National and Tate Galleries I know what is there. It's like visiting old friends. My relationship with my favourite paintings has , like me, changed and developed over the years. They remind me of the family that is art, which extends back 2,000 years. The survival of a fragile Greek vase is a testament to the human spirit. Everyone who attempts to paint, at whatever level, becomes a part of the family that is art.
The Municipal collection has a strong maritime content, which is appropriate for this area. Many of the paintings and drawings are local. We have images made by James Jillott during the mid-19th century when Grimsby was beginning to change from a run-down place into what became the largest fishing port in the world. We have portraits of many of the people who were instrumental in these changes. Some of these were painted by Thomas Kennington, who left Grimsby to become a successful London-based portrait painter. He died in the early 20th century, but until recently his family ran Kennington's off-licence at the rear of the White Hart in Wellowgate.
We have trawler portraits by George Race, who lived in Suggitts Lane. He made paintings of the trawlers as they arrived in port and sold them to the skipper or mate for 5/-. He is now a nationally regarded pierhead painter.
We have a wonderful collection of drawings by George Skelton showing Edwardian Grimsby and the surrounding villages. Ernest Worrall, who taught at Wintringham Grammar School, was the borough of Grmsby's official war artist. He painted views of the wartime docks, bomb damaged houses and churches including St James.
We have more modern views of the town and docks by Peter Hancocks, David Tarttelin, John Hopkinson and Sue Stone, All of this is our heritage, at present locked away. It should be on permanent display for us all to enjoy and for our children to know who we are.
Background to the Grimsby Municipal Art Collection
by Alf Ludlam
In 1941 Wilfrid Vere Doughty left a bequest to Grimsby; it included some fine paintings and over a hundred ship models which included the much coveted Napoleonic war bone ship models. Although he left his birthplace, Wilfrid never forgot it, leaving his collection to the Borough of Grimsby.
Since that time, the collection has been an embarrassment to the town, which has had the contents of a gallery/museum but no building in which it can be housed. In 1911, the Grimsby Arts Club launched an appeal for £150 to buy Thomas Somerscales’ painting, “The Rescue”,(showing the crew of the stricken Russian barque “Anna Matilda” being rescued by the Grimsby Trawler “Clyde” ). The appeal failed but Wilfrid bought the painting himself for £400, and presented it to the Borough in 1927. Millionaire coal merchant Edward Bannister bought a number of paintings which he presented to the Corporation, including the remarkable “Reigate Cattle Fair” by Charles Collins.
In 1911 the Mayor suggested an art gallery would be a good way to mark the Coronation of George V. The gallery would cost £20,000 and if nine gentlemen would each contribute £1,000 he would also give £1,000 and the council would pay the remainder. Nothing happened.
In 1918 John Carlbom, who donated the ‘Boy with the Leaking Boot’ to Cleethorpes, bought the collection of antiquities accrued by Captain Arthur Trollope of Lincoln. He intended to present it to Grimsby when it had a museum to display it. In the interim it went to Lincoln from where it has never returned.
In 1938 town councillor Richard Atkinson bequeathed eleven oil paintings to the town “to form the nucleus of an art gallery for the town.” The 4th Earl of Yarborough offered his family’s superb carriages to the town. They were refused and can be seen today in Hull’s Transport Museum.
Many potential benefactors steered their generosity elsewhere knowing that Grimsby Corporation was at least half-heartedand at worst entirely indifferent. It was the intervention of Wilfrid Vere Doughty’s widow, Maude, that brought things to a head. She wrote to the Town Clerk in 1957 saying, “My husband’s wishes have not been carried out. He asked that the collection be on view to the public.” She also reminded the Town Clerk that Hull had a second option on the collection.
The crisis was resolved by the opening of the Doughty Museum opposite the Municipal Offices in Town Hall Square. A third of the ship models were moved into the building but there was no room for the paintings. However, during its ten year lifespan, the little museum was visited by thousands of people.
Through the efforts of Councillor Chesney Brocklesby the council was persuaded to convert the former Congregational Chapel in Hainton Avenue into the Welholme Galleries (opened by Mayor Brocklesby in 1979). In the early 1990’s, the council reconsidered its level of support for the Galleries in the light of its plans for the Fishing Heritage Centre. It was closed in 1991, reverting to the role of a very expensive storage facility. In 2008, the collections were moved out of the Welholme Galleries to storage in two industrial units on the Pyewipe Estate. It is well cared for by a group of volunteers but, almost one hundred years after the first proposal for a gallery in Grimsby; it still has no permanent home.