The Early Years
In 1884 Mr George Dearden, of 15 Buchanan Street in Blackpool, and five young men (his two sons Joe and Arthur together with H. Wilson, Arthur Moss and J.W. Knott), all were moved by a desire to foster the love of Art. They met in his snug front room and lamented the fact that there were no art classes in Blackpool and no guidance for the young artist. But so keen were George Dearden and these five young men that before they separated that night they had created Blackpool Sketching Club. George Dearden having promised to act as Secretary and Treasurer, they formed themselves into a Committee. The first exhibition was presented at the YMCA Rooms in Church Street.
Around 1886 the club was firmly established and an exhibition of 226 exhibits was held in the Victoria Street schoolrooms. A monthly magazine was published consisting of articles and illustrations by the members.
It is interesting to note that the Patrons in this year included the Town Mayor, the Marquis of Hartington MP, Sir Matthew White Ridley MP and such eminent artists as Sir Frederick Leighton Bart., President of the Royal Institute of Watercolour Painters, Sir A. E. Millais RA, Sir John Gilbert, President of the Royal Watercolour Society and Mr M. Alma Tadema RA.
Into the 20th Century
The role of the Grundy Brothers within the Society is an interesting one, both being involved from the early beginnings. Cuthbert C. Grundy VPRCA was an active member of the Management Committee and also served a term as President during his time. His brother, John R.G. Grundy RCA was a Vice President. The other Vice Presidents in 1899 were Alderman R.B. Mather JP, Lord Ashton, the Right Hon. Sir M.W. Ridley, Bart. MP, H. Haworth, J. Blane, A. Moss and C.S. Fox.
In the summer of 1905 it was also decided to change the title and role of the Blackpool Sketching Club in order to enlarge the scope and influence of the club. Hence the name was changed to ‘The Blackpool Sketching Club and Arts and Craft Society’ It was stated that the ‘object of the Society will be the furtherance of culture and encouragement of Fine Art in all its branches by bringing together all who love art work and are interested in it’. The same philosophy applies today.
The Society celebrated its 25th year in 1909 but unfortunately celebration were tempered by the death of the founder member Mr George Dearden . The following year the President, Mr J. Battersby and Mr Grundy conducted sketching parties throughout the summer months and also included a visit to Southport Art Gallery.
When Councillor Collins was President in 1913 a dream became a reality when the Art Gallery in Queen Street, given to the town by the Grundy brothers, was opened and the Society was granted the use of the gallery for their annual exhibition. Since those days the Grundy Art Gallery has been the home of the Art Society’s Annual Exhibition for which the Society is extremely grateful.
The First World War Years
The clouds of war descended in 1914 and Blackpool became a gigantic barracks for 14000 soldiers, some of them becoming temporary members of the Society after the Society had written to the Commanding Officer inviting soldiers to join the Life Classes. As the war continued the Society still held its exhibitions and monthly lectures often in various cafes throughout Blackpool such a the Café Royal, Jenkinsons, the Station Café, the Nations Café and Collinsons.
The aftermath of World War One
The years following the war also proved very difficult and the Society had reason to be very grateful to its Honorary Secretary, Mr J.O. Wilde for keeping the Society running. He was, later in 1928, elected President.
It was with great pride that in 1920 the honour of a Knighthood was conferred on member Mr C.C. Grundy in recognition of his support of art throughout the country, an award truly deserved.
The Onset of World War Two and its Effects
During the 1940’s it is clear that, under its new name, The Fylde Art Society owed a significant debt to Mr Hayes for successfully steering the society through the war years. Many other art societies were not so fortunate. He could reasonably be described as a man for his time. He joined the Society in 1937, worked as a committee member and was then voted President in 1940, a position he held until 1946. As head of the Art Department at Blackpool Technical College and obviously well known in the wider art world he was in a particularly good position to support the society. Many of the committee meeting were held in his room at the college and he was instrumental, together with the Lecture Secretary the Rev. J.S.B. Wallis, in attracting some very influential and knowledgeable people to deliver lectures throughout this time. For example Professor Gilbert Spencer RCA, brother of Stanley Spencer. Great use was made of the “Epidiascope” to illustrate these talks.
In 1948 the Society changed its name from The Fylde Art Society to the Blackpool and Fylde Art Society. Two rooms at the Grundy Art Gallery were used for the annual exhibition (later increased to three), when the selection panel consisted of two Society members and one outside practising artist. A full syllabus for the whole of the winter session was arranged and joint meetings with the Blackpool Photographic Society commenced. The Rotary Club arranged a Hobbies Exhibition for the town and the Society took part in this and at the same time embarked on a programme of extending its activities with more attention being given to social events. Saturday afternoon sketching outings were once again becoming popular and it was with some eagerness that coach outings to places further afield occasionally took place.
A New Studio for the Society
1971 saw the start of the construction of the present Studio. The problem of co-ordinating all the services required in the building (electrics, plumbing, heating, glazing, kitchen equipment, toilets and cloakroom, painting and decorating, furniture and soft furnishings) was an immensely difficult one, but was tackled by the Building Committee in an enthusiastic and efficient manner as were the many fund-raising efforts of the various Sub- Committees within the Society. It was fortunate that the Society had within its ranks so many craftsmen capable of undertaking much of the work and who were generous and unstinting in their endeavours.
The 25th March 1972 was indeed a red letter day in the history of the Society. The official opening of the New Studio by Sir Harold Grime who, through the medium of his editorship of the Evening Gazette, had always supported the Arts in Blackpool. Many Past Presidents attended and the occasion is commemorated in the Studio by a wall plaque in the form of an artists palette.