Plymouth History Heroes: Robert Borlase Smart

Robert Borlase Smart was born in Kingsbridge, Devon in 1881.

During his early life he attended Plymouth School of Art and Plymouth College of Art. From 1900-01 he attended the Royal College of Art, training as a teacher.

From 1903-1913 he lived in Plymouth and worked as an art critic for the Western Morning News.

In 1913 he moved to St Ives to study seascape painting under the Anglo-Swedish painter Julius Olsson, only for the First World War to temporarily interrupt his plans.

Robert Borlase Smart standing by his work 'Munitions'
Robert Borlase Smart (1881-1947)

At the outbreak of the War, Smart joined the Artist’s Rifles as a volunteer. In 1915 he was employed to make technical drawings for the Machine Gun Training Centre. Then, in July 1916, he saw active service and was stationed on the Somme.

It was a brief posting as he was recalled to Britain in the September to join the Machine Gun Corps. Despite this, the experience had a profound effect on him and he produced almost 40 war drawings – many of which featured scenes from his time in France. Some were purchased by the Imperial War Museum while others are in the collections here in Plymouth.

Smart’s short time at the front meant he had to work mostly from memory, sometimes aided by photographs. This did not diminish the quality of his work however. Like the examples shown in this post, his drawings are subtle yet powerful and clearly show the impact of the conflict.

Morning Hymn of Hate by Borlase Smart © Plymouth City Council (Museums Galleries Archives)
‘The Morning Hymn of Hate’ by Borlase Smart © Plymouth City Council (Museums Galleries Archives)
Grandmother prepares to distribute her cough lozenges by Borlase Smart © Plymouth City Council (Museums Galleries Archives)
‘Grandmother Prepares to Distribute her Cough Lozenges’ by Borlase Smart © Plymouth City Council (Museums Galleries Archives)

In August 1917, Smart applied to become an Officer in the Indian Army. On his application he referred to himself as an artist, a specialist in instruction diagrams for Cavalry, Infantry and Machine Gun Training and a camouflage expert.

Given both his teaching and art qualifications, Smart found his niche as an instructor, particularly relating to camouflage, and he was very well-regarded. In fact, his application to the Indian Army was rejected because he could not be spared!

Lifelong friend, fellow WWI veteran and artist Leonard Fuller described him as someone who should be noted for his ‘boundless enthusiasm, his forthrightness and his helpfulness. These three things governed his life.’

Shell swept road north of Arras by Borlase Smart © Plymouth City Council (Museums Galleries Archives)
A shell swept road north of Arras by Borlase Smart © Plymouth City Council (Museums Galleries Archives)

In autumn 1917, Smart married nineteen year old Irene Godson in Surrey. She was the sister of a friend who had been killed in action. They settled in St Ives. With the exception of 1926 when they lived in Salcombe, he remained there until his death from a heart attack in 1947. During his post-war years he immersed himself in the life of St Ives and contributed greatly to its artistic community.

Today he is usually described as a coastal artist but he also produced a series of highly accomplished industrial and architectural drawings. In addition, his works from the First World War endure as a first-hand record of an artist and soldier’s experience.

You can find out more about Borlase Smart’s life and work on his official website.

As part of our ‘Plymouth Remembers’ programme you can hear a talk by one of our curators about Borlase Smart on 8 November. Find out all the details here.

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Museum On Tour, 7 September 2017: We The People Are The Work

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

In 2016 Plymouth was awarded £635,000 from Arts Council England’s ‘Ambition for Excellence’ funding scheme. The money has enabled a number of organisations in the city to come together to establish ‘Horizon’ – a two-year visual arts programme which, amongst other things, will support a series of talent development opportunities for artists and enable four major arts festivals and events to take place.

Two of these major events will be this and next year’s Plymouth Art Weekender (22-24 September). An international public art festival called the ‘Atlantic Project’ is scheduled for 2018 (more about this in the future). First though, we have ‘We The People Are The Work’.

Photograph of The Council House, Armada Way, Plymouth
The Council House, Armada Way, Plymouth

We’ve been collaborating on this project with four other arts venues: Peninsula Arts at the University of Plymouth, The Gallery at Plymouth College of Art, Plymouth Arts Centre and KARST. It will take the form of a multi-site exhibition which opens on 22 September. As the Museum and Art Gallery is closed our venue is the Council House. The exhibition has been curated by Simon Morrissey, the director of a Frome-based organisation called ‘Foreground’ which aims to bring new art to new audiences. Simon has been assisted by Plymouth-based producer Vickie Fear.

Six international artists will be showcased in ‘We The People Are The Work’. You can find out more about them all here.

Photograph of UK artist Peter Liversidge. Image by Martyn Hayne
Artist Peter Liversidge photographed by Martyn Hayne

The artist whose work will be displayed at the Council House is Lincoln-born, London-based Peter Liversidge.

Liversidge is an artist who ‘experiments with the idea of what is possible’, and who has always been interested in work that finds itself slightly outside of what is, at first, thought of as ‘fine art’.

All his artworks begin at his kitchen table with him sitting alone writing proposals on a manual typewriter. Some of these come to fruition, others don’t. What they all have in common is their ‘gently persistent questioning of the world around us’.

Over the last ten years Liversidge has worked with organisations in the UK, Germany, Holland, Iceland and the USA. In 2016 he developed a collection of songs and vocalisations inspired by the public’s relationship with Tate Modern’s iconic Turbine Hall. ‘The Bridge (A Choral Piece for Tate Modern)’ was performed in the Hall by a choir of 500 amateur singers.

Photograph of Peter Liversidge's choral performance at Tate Modern called 'The Bridge'
The Bridge (Choral Piece for Tate Modern), June 2016, courtesy of the artist

For this particular commission the audience was just as much a part of the work as the work itself. This has interesting parallels with the ideas and aspirations behind our project, which has seen all six artists involve locally-based communities in the development or production of their artworks.

Liversidge’s ‘Sign Paintings for Plymouth’ brings together the ideas and voices of a range of individuals – many of which often go unheard. These provide the inspiration for a series of placards that you will be able to see being made in the Council House. The signs will be spread around the city, used in a ritual burning in the bonfire on The Hoe on 5 November and in a special Closing Day Party on 18 November. Liversidge will also have a temporary public artwork on the flagpoles on The Hoe in October and November.

Curator Simon Morrissey and artist Peter Liversidge in a workshop session with members of Plymouth's Youth Parliament
Curator Simon Morrissey and artist Peter Liversidge in a workshop session with members of Plymouth’s Youth Parliament

Liversidge has worked with a number of participants including children from Salisbury Road Primary School, the Pioneers Project at Tamar View Community Resource Centre and members of Plymouth’s Youth Parliament.

If you’d like to find out more about him this 2009 article from The Guardian and 2013 ‘In The Studio’ feature from The Independent are interesting reads. You can also hear him give a Lunchtime Talk on Tuesday 7 November at the Plymouth Athenaeum.

Take a look at the website for full details about the exhibition and the wide-ranging programme of events that’s taking place while it’s on display.

‘We The People Are The Work’ runs from 22 September to 18 November.

Behind The Scenes, 30 August 2017: A trip to the offsite store

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

I went to our offsite store for the first time recently and was given a tour by our Registrar Nicki Thomas. I took a few snaps while she was showing me around which I thought I would share with you in this week’s post.

Our works are stored over two floors. On one floor we have our Cottonian Collection, objects from our world cultures collection and, as shown in the photo below, crated works of art and some items that have recently returned to us from Buckland Abbey where they have been on loan.

We also have some enormous rolled canvases. This one is called ‘The Release of St Peter’. The frame, which as you can imagine is also huge, is stored separately. Storing large-scale items in this way is a much more practical solution.

When we were decanting the Museum last year our curators talked a lot about how the process was enabling them to learn more about the collections, verify and update our documentation and highlight areas that need to be prioritised for research. Nicki echoed this while she was showing me around.

This part of the store also contains some pieces of sculpture………

……….and our costume collection, all of which would have been frozen to minimise the likelihood of any bugs or pests in the fabrics, and then gone through a period of defrosting before being placed into storage.

On the other floor we have more art, some archaeology and more world cultures. We also have other resources and equipment. This floor is warmer and staff monitor the environment at all times to ensure everything is being stored in the most appropriate conditions. There are also workstation areas for staff and prep areas where works of art can be unwrapped or wrapped if needs be.

This wonderful artwork shown in one of the prep areas is ‘Kilchurn Castle’ by JMW Turner. It’s due to go on loan to the Scottish Portrait Gallery soon. They will be touring it and a number of other works by Turner to Japan. It’s likely that we’ll have a small number of additional loans going out to international venues in the near future. We’ll fill you in on these in a future post!

Plymouth History Heroes: Beryl Cook OBE

With the ‘Our Beryl’ exhibition currently on display at the Council House and receiving brilliant feedback from everyone who visits it, we just had to feature Beryl Cook OBE (1926-2008) as this month’s History Hero!

Photograph of Beryl Cook OBE

Born Beryl Frances Lansley in Egham, Surrey in 1926, she would go on to produce an array of artworks full of larger than life characters that ‘ranged from stout lady bowlers goosing each other to middle-aged men in bikinis being serviced by Miss Whiplash.’ Many of her paintings feature scenes and locations from Plymouth. 

Her work is instantly recognisable and highlights the fascination she had with people. Throughout her career she made no apology for the playfulness of her work: “What excites me is the joy, the animation, the pleasure in life,” she once told the Guardian.

“Beryl took great interest in people and loved to see them performing and enjoying themselves,” says her son John Cook. “From nightlife of all varieties, to the more innocent pursuits of line dancing and sunbathing, a diverse spectrum of human activity can be found in her paintings.”

Despite her strong sense of fun and popularity, Beryl was quite reserved and actually found fame hard to deal with: “She loved to imagine herself as an extrovert though,” says John. “She often painted herself in various guises such as on a motorbike, in a shiny corset, as a cheerleader or even dancing the tango.”

'John and Beryl Do the Tango' by Beryl Cook. Image copyright John Cook 2017. www.ourberylcook.com

Our exhibition has been co-curated with Beryl’s family and they have a fantastic website where you can find out even more about her.

Visit the Arty Facts page to see a timeline which highlights key moments in her life – including her marriage to John Cook in 1948, her first exhibition at Plymouth Arts Centre in 1975 and receiving her OBE in 1995. Her ‘Girls on the Town’ painting was featured on a 1st class postage stamp the same year!

Photograph of the Great British postage stamp featuring 'Girls on the Town' by Beryl Cook, 1995

On the website you can also see a selection of family photos and take a look at some of the obituaries that were published when she sadly passed away in 2008.

You can also read a great personal account written by her son John. His biography covers her early life, marriage, time in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), return to the UK, move to Plymouth in 1968 and artistic career.

Happy reading and don’t forget, the ‘Our Beryl: Beryl Cook at Home’ exhibition runs until the end of Saturday 9 September and is free to visit. Find out more about it here.

 

 

 

 

Museum On Tour, 9 August 2017: In at the deep end!

by Stacey Turner, Events and Audience Development Coordinator

Nothing quite makes you learn like jumping into the deep end. That has been my mantra since starting as the Events and Audience Development Coordinator for Plymouth Museums Galleries Archives in late April 2017.

Local Studies Day, the first event in the city-wide Plymouth History Festival programme, was my initiation. Since then I have been lucky enough to have worked on some awesome projects, from exhibition previews through to launching The Box at Drake Circus. Not bad for the first twelve weeks in a new job!

My first event was the 2017 Local Studies Day which kicked off the Plymouth History Festival

I have quickly learned that for an event to be successful we must all be working as one team. We release a new exhibitions and events programme each season and each department has a crucial role in the process. From initial concepts and ideas with the Programmes and Collections Teams to procurement and bookings with the Business Support Team (affectionately known as BuST), support from Front of House and advertising and social media support from Marketing.

It all adds up to a wide-ranging events and activities programme that we are currently calling our ‘Museum On Tour’ programme. Every 3 months we launch a new series of, on average 30+ activities that aim to engage with all our audiences in different ways.

Our autumn/winter programme will be released shortly and the team have come up with some cracking events for the rest of 2017.

Out and about at a recent community event

We’re one of the partners for ‘We The People Are The Work’, a multi-site visual arts project with an exhibition that will be based across 5 sites in Plymouth, including the Council House. Opening to coincide with the start of the Plymouth Art Weekender (22–24 September), internationally renowned artists from Britain, France, Canada and Mexico will present their work to the public. Over 40 events will run at the various sites until mid-November. The perfect antidote to the days that will soon be drawing in and the lack of Love Island, Poldark and Game of Thrones……….

We’ll also have lots of other events and activities happening between now and Christmas – details of which will shortly go live on our website. I hope to see you soon at one or more of them!

Behind The Scenes, 3 August 2017: Working together to create a splash

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

By now hopefully those of you who follow us will know that we have launched a new name and brand for what was previously known as the Plymouth History Centre (working title). As a marketeer I can’t tell you how great it is to now be working with a definitive title and visual identity for this exciting project and to finally be able to ditch those brackets!

The Box logo - July 2017

Our launch took the form of a teaser campaign and ‘top secret’ volunteer call out in the local press and social media, followed by a reveal on our promotional leaflets, construction site hoardings and website on 22 July. This was backed up with some great press coverage and two fantastic performances in the Drake Circus shopping mall. The performances were commissioned from the Barbican Theatre and featured a number of local performers, choreographers, artists and musicians.

Our new name has generated a great deal of debate which we really welcome. There are a number of reasons why we chose it. These are outlined in our official press release which I’d encourage anyone who would like to understand more about the development process we’ve been through and the rationale behind the brand to read.

Photograph of the front of The Box leaflet - July 2017

I’ve been involved in a number of branding projects and launch events during my career and they all bring their own set of unique challenges with them – especially when there’s a great deal of interest and expectation in the project or organisation they represent. There are three things that really stand out for me about this particular launh.

The first thing is the great teamwork that took place. Getting ready for the launch required a number of people with a wide range of skills to collaborate. Along with myself it involved contributions from colleagues in public art, events and audience development, digital engagement, volunteer coordination and business support. We also had to engage with a range of suppliers from graphic design, web development, film and video production, to photography, public relations, merchandising, printing – even air filling for balloons!

The second thing was the amount of help we received. We had a lovely group of enthusiastic volunteers assisting us throughout the day. We were also lucky enough to benefit from a great deal of support and cooperation from the local media as well as the team who manage Drake Circus and the mall’s retailers, especially Marks and Spencer and Yo Sushi. We are very grateful to everyone.

The third thing was the quality of the performances devised and directed by the Barbican Theatre which were pieces of global contemporary dance combined with street theatre, rap and folk music.

Curious ‘choruses’ of walking boxes wove their way around the shopping mall before aerial dancers and performers gathered to open and unwrap a series of objects. Our new strapline, ‘Where the greatest explorer is you’ was referenced, with Polynesian-influenced moves inspired by our world cultures collections, and the discovery of a character representing the female mountaineer Gertrude Benham in a packing case. Huge thanks and congratulations to the directors, choreographers, designers, artists, performers and musicians involved.

As our CEO Paul Brookes said: “Like our architecture, ‘The Box’ as our title is a brave, contemporary move. As the launch performances from the Barbican Theatre team showed, although at first glance it may appear simple it actually holds a multitude of meanings. The performances also illustrated how Plymouth’s cultural sector can work with the businesses and facilities within the city centre to showcase the artistic journey we are all on together.”

Greg Lumley, Drake Circus Centre Director said: “A massive congratulations to The Box team. It looks like it will be an exciting and welcome addition to the city. The Drake Circus team look forward to working with The Box to ensure we continue to create a compelling visitor offer that positively impacts the local economy.”

I’ll leave you with the links to our official launch video and the images from the performances. Until next time…..

Main performance images:

10

Curious chorus images:

16

Official launch video:

History Centre Heroes: Benjamin Robert Haydon

Plymouth-born Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846) was an historical painter, teacher and writer who had a stormy life and career.

Intensely ambitious, he was the only son of another Benjamin Robert Haydon, a prosperous printer, stationer and publisher, and his wife Mary, the daughter of the Reverend Benjamin Cobley, rector of Dodbrooke, near Kingsbridge.

Haydon showed a love for study at an early age which was encouraged by his mother. He went to Plympton Grammar School where one of our other famous artists, Sir Joshua Reynolds had also received his education.

In May 1804 Haydon left home full of energy and hope and went to London where he studied at the Royal Academy Schools.

His ambition was to become the greatest historical painter England had ever known and he produced a series of huge canvases featuring biblical and classical subjects. Unfortunately these were out of favour with the public at the time. Haydon was unwilling to compromise his ideals and suffered a series of bankruptcies and imprisonments. Throughout his career he also had many disagreements with his peers and patrons.

The Maid of Saragossa – one of Haydon’s history paintings. Image © Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage).

One of his works entitled ‘Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem’ took him six years to complete during which he refused other work and was effectively without an income. His preference for working on a vast scale was also hampered by an eye defect that apparently enabled him to see only one part of a canvas at a time.

Aside from the difficulties he had with his painting, he was actually a very talented writer who produced a number of diaries, pamphlets, journals and an autobiography.

Overcome by his debts and disappointments Haydon committed suicide on 22 June 1846, shooting himself and then cutting his throat when the bullet failed.

He would have been in his mid-30s when this portrait from our collections by Scottish artist William Nicholson RSA (1781-1844) was painted around 1820.

Portrait of Haydon by William Nicholson RSA (1781-1844), circa 1820. Image © Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage).

His tragic end made him a victim of his own ambition just as much as of the changing tastes of the time.

But, his love for his art was a passion he was never afraid to hide and one critic commented that: ‘His great monument…..is the massive collection of…..writings he left behind…..which give fascinating insights into the contemporary artistic scene…..’