Warwickshire events

New exhibition tells of life on the front line for Warwickshire woman


A drawing of Lady Dorothie Feilding by General Hely d’Oissel (Warwickshire County Record Office, CR2017/c582/81)

A new exhibition at Rugby Art Gallery and Museum tells the story of a brave local woman who left behind a life of privilege to help save people on the frontline of the First World War.
Lady Dorothie Feilding was the daughter of the Earl of Denbigh and grew up on the family estate at Newnham Paddox, near Rugby, with six sisters and three brothers, two of whom were killed fighting in the war.
In 1914, when she was 24, she travelled to France as a member of the Munro Ambulance Corps after completing her training at the Hospital of St Cross in Rugby. Belgium was the only country to allow women to work on the front line, so she was soon in Flanders. Dorothie’s aristocratic background also helped in gaining her this dangerous but obviously wanted job; she had three patrons, including a general whose daughter she had been with at a Paris boarding school, and another whose son had married one of her school friends.
Her daily round of picking up the wounded is detailed, and there are pictures of Dorothie, sometimes casually in the background, and other times obviously feted as someone important. In one photo she was next to a shell, in another lounging in a chair in a bomb-damaged house, and another with her little dog, who she returned to at night for a cuddle to escape the horrors of war.

Letters and photographs relating to the First World War by Dorothy Feilding.

Letters and photographs relating to the First World War by Dorothy Feilding.

This is more of a historical exhibition than an art show, with photos, letters, maps, drawings and information boards, though there are some attractive drawings friends and admirers drew of Dorothie at work.
She was on the front line from 1914-17, and was awarded the French military honour of the Croix du Guerre, and was made a Knight of the Order of Leopold I in Belgium, finally being awarded the Military Medal by the British Army.
Dorothie became engaged to an Irish captain in 1917, her engagement recorded on the front page of the Daily Sketch with a reference to her as “our Joan of Arc”, and photos of her.
After all her bravery during the war, it’s then rather sad to read that she did not live a long life; Dorothie married, lived in Ireland and had five children, before dying of heart failure aged only 46. She was brought back to Monks Kirby for burial in the Roman Catholic cemetery there.
*The exhibition is on until October 29, 2016.


Wartime works show different side to secret camouflage artists

Moss- camo factory buildings

Colin Moss, Camouflaged Factory Buildings, c.1939-1941, pencil and watercolour on paper, LSAG&M (Courtesy of the artist’s estate)


The wartime paintings of a secret group of artists drafted in to help keep the military mission safe during the Second World War are on show at Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum.

Concealment and Deception: The Art of the Camofleurs of Leamington Spa 1939-1945 tells how during the war many artists were brought to the town to work on developing camouflage for strategically important installations. The works in the exhibition are a mixture of their depictions of this work, and paintings and drawings they did on their down time, presumably to keep themselves busy while away from home. Some of the latter depict the local scenery, and others the area under attack.

Evelyn Dunbar’s Convalescing Nurses Making Camouflage shows the women working hard on table and floor to put together khaki-coloured cloth.

Dorothy Annan’s The Parade, Leamington Spa, 1944, shows the area just up from the Pump Room Gardens and is instantly recognisable, though it’s notable the streets are full of walking people and cyclists rather than cars. Stephen Bone’s Clarendon Street from 1940 shows the attractive street covered in snow, and Christopher Ironside (father of renowned agony aunt Virginia) did a watercolour of Lansdowne Circus, the attractive houses sporting taped-up windows to guard against blasts. Janey Ironside drew evacuees in Leamington, a sad looking boy and girl in outsize clothes.

Some works give hints of what has been lost. There is a sketch by Dorothy Annan of a panel for the British Restaurant in Leamington, which was to be one of six by different artists. It is drawn with a strange perspective, showing familiar sights such as the Jephson Gardens and the Parade, but sadly the mural is lost. Mary Adshead’s Grace at the Sausage Hatch depicted a woman serving some unidentifiable food at the British Restaurant in Coventry, as two gaunt and desperate looking men queued.

There are a lot of works by Colin Moss, who had studied under Oskar Kokoshka, including Camouflaged Factory Building, 1939-41, depicting the building painted to try to blend in with the ground from above. But he also did more landscape works, including House Seen From Picket Fence, and a cabbage field. They are in varied styles, influenced by colourful expressionism and his lifelong interest in depicting ordinary life. Danger Deep Water shows a wonky sign around a pool and bare trees, with a bombed out shed behind. The Big Tower shows a tower he painted in camouflage paint – and then painted in this picture.

Rodney Burn did watercolour cartoons often pointing out ironies of war; in one a group gather around a tiny cabbage, saying it’s just the start, a reference to the Dig for Victory idea. Robin Darwin, who went on to lead the Royal College of Art, painted the spraying of an airfield to disguise it as a field, and Edwin La Dell painted The Camouflage Workshop itself, a dark room with men peering at designs on desks.

Yunge-Btaeman Viewing TankJames Yunge-Bateman, The Outside Viewing Tank: Directorate of Camouflage, Naval Section, 1943, oil on canvas © Imperial War Museums

Unbelievably, Leamington also became the base for the naval camouflage unit, with a pool to test things – a slightly surreal painting by James Yunge-Bateman shows The Outside Viewing Tank, with what looks like a giant woman wrist-deep in the water with a tiny boat next to her.

It’s an excellent and fascinating exhibition, showing works by artists who went on to bright careers but who left behind these wonderful artistic reminders of their war time life in Leamington.

*On until October 16.

An age of dreams and designs is brought back for Compton Verney summer

Cona Rex Coffee Machine - Estate of Abram Games

Cona Rex Coffee Machine – Estate of Abram Games

A time when Britain was trying to shape a new future through stylish designs and dreams of a better life is being revisited for an exhibition.

Britain in the Fifties: Design and Aspiration at Compton Verney will be a trip back to the past for those old enough to have lived through it, and who may have their own feelings about a decade when post-war food rationing did not entirely end until 1954.

Some items will also seem familiar as they enjoy a new popularity through the retro and vintage craze. Others still lasted a long time; there is a display of the original illustrations for the Ladybird book Shopping with Mother by Harry Wingfried from 1958 but the book, with its social and gender stereotyping as noted in the gallery caption, was still popular in the 1970s.

Abram Games is one designer who appears several times. There are his original sketches for the Festival of Britain logo, and the logo itself, along with other festival souvenirs, pamphlets, a scarf and a model of the skylon, the huge structure Winston Churchill apparently ordered to be taken down as it reminded him of the socialist aspirations of the previous Labour government.

Image of Mobiles fabric ref. 220035 Image courtesy of Sanderson www.sanderson-uk.com

Image of Mobiles fabric ref. 220035 Image courtesy of Sanderson http://www.sanderson-uk.com


There are photographs of some of the new homes which were built, focusing on West Point in Allesley Village, Coventry, which still exists. One gallery is hung with beautiful colourful textile designs including influences in fruit and vegetable patterns from William Morris in one by Terence Conran. Another by Robert Stewart oddly features a man riding a fish.

Household gadgets are interesting for their innovation or not – a mechanical potato peeler does not seem to have stood the test of time. A coffee maker designed by Abram Games looks like something elegant but also straight out of a science lab. Ken Wood turns out to be a real person with an electric toaster on show and there is a toast rack by Robert Welch, whose firm also lives on today. There is a table and sideboard set with beautifully elegant crockery by firms including Derby and Midwinter.

In another room, you are invited to sit in a mock up of a 1950s living room to read the newspaper story about the climbing of Everest while watching on a replica TV the Queen’s coronation. More attractive crockery is on show including a cucumber plate.

Elegant looking cars, hiding simple designs, are celebrated through images of vehicles including a Triumph TR2 from 1953, made at Canley, Coventry.

A display of attractive dresses from Horrockses feature an unusual name as one designer; Graham Sutherland took time out from his Coventry Cathedral tapestry design to come up with a printed design dress for Liberty which showed busts of classical characters face to face, and a diagonal neckline and side-buttoning bodice.

Cathedral designer Basil Spence also created a poster promoting rail travel for British Rail, showing his design for it in 1967, several years before it was officially opened. Abram Games also designed a poster showing the shape of the country in railway livery.

Larger items on show include a Mini car, and a small caravan created as a gift for the young Prince Charles and Princess Anne.

The exhibition also draws interesting attention to social change – 90 per cent rented homes in the 1940s, to 60 per cent home ownership by 1959, and the fact that many apparently labour-saving devices actually kept women in the kitchen more. Sadly it seems design itself wasn’t enough to produce massive social change in certain areas.

*On until October 2, 2016.

Designer Sheila’s work finally given spotlight it deserves in exhibition

Immagine Da BTREE (RT)

Wally Dogs

The dedicated life of a designer who forged a long and successful career away from the spotlight is being celebrated – and her wonderful designs receiving a new audience –  nine years after her death.

Rugby Art Gallery & Museum is showing an exhibition dedicated to the life and work of Sheila Bownas, a fascinating textile designer, whose works show the different trends of several decades, and also the struggle to succeed as a woman in design.

Sheila moved from her home in Yorkshire to study at the Slade in London in 1946, then after returning home to teach she continued to do freelance designs for organisations including Liberty and Marks and Spencer. She returned to the capital towards the end of the 1950s, and produced work for the Natural History Museum and Botanical Society of the British Isles amongst others, but then she went back to her home village of Linton where she continued to work as a freelance artist.

She did not however give up hope of getting a job in a studio, as a 1959 letter in the exhibition tellingly quotes: “With reference to your desire to obtain a position in our studio, the director feels that should an appointment be made at all, a male designer would be preferable.

Bownas (below) was ‘discovered’ by Rugby-based Chelsea Cefai who bought an archive of 210 textile design prints from an auction while looking for items to decorate her home, and then set off on a quest to find out more about Bownas. Her research has discovered lots of letters and pictures, loaned from the artist’s cousins and god-daughter, as well as more of her work.

sheila bownas

Some early design works show her Linton, its buildings depicted without perspective. There are portraits, carried out to make money during the Slade years, still lifes which she excelled in, and one painting of her mother and cousin which made it into the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition.

Early textile designs used plant and fern motifs, and there are some beautiful detailed flower paintings. Some items are also borrowed from the Natural History Museum, where Bownas was commissioned in 1962 to make a series of micro-studies to go with a particular exhibition, and these detailed and delicate works show her skill.

Bownas’s sketch book shows the development of her work which often began as a doodle then got advanced into a sketch on baking parchment paper, then a painting.

There are three large walls of the exhibition showing her works from different decades; the 1950-59 section includes patterns, and lots of floral motifs, plus ‘wally dogs’ designed to show the popular mantelpiece ornaments of the time, with increasing use of abstracts and a bus scene, probably inspired by trips to the capital. The 1960s works include very bright colours, and still floral, with the 1970s introducing more geometric patterns and bold colours, and then a set that were just black and white gouache.

It’s a fascinating and well researched exhibition showing the creativity and talent behind a life full of making items that were seen in public, but with the designer staying in the shadows.

*On until September 3, 2016.

After 50 years, Pickford is a worthy successor to update the Warwickshire Pevsner


The definitive guide to the buildings of Coventry and Warwickshire has been revised after 50 years – and was launched at a venue chosen with some significance by the revising author.

The Buildings of England Warwickshire, by Chris Pickford and Nikolaus Pevsner was launched at the Governor’s House at the Chamberlaine Almshouses in Bedworth.

Mr Pickford, formerly Bedfordshire archivist, who has spent six years revising the 1966 original by Pevsner, said he had considered many grand houses for the launch before deciding on the almshouses just off Bedworth’s pedestrianised precinct (above).

He said: “Some of you who knew the old book will understand why. Pevsner called Bedworth a ‘depressing small town’ and dismissed its buildings in 16 small lines. He gave two lines to these wonderful Almshouses.”

He said many more buildings had been included in this revision and he aimed to right wrongs where necessary – Bedworth now has three and a half pages, including an engraving of the Chamberlaine Almshouses from 1839, and a suggested perambulation around the town to take in the sights.

Mr Pickford said Warwickshire had many places such as Warwick and Stratford to attract tourists, but he added: “One of the other reasons we have come to Bedworth is the north is less well known than the south. This is a county of immense richness and what we are saying is don’t ignore the north.”

He grew up in Warwickshire, and said he first explored the county’s buildings with the original Pevsner volume as his guide. A sixth form work experience at Warwickshire’s county record office set him off on a career in the archives.

Speaking at the launch, Charles O’Brien from Yale University Press (below right with author) said Chris Pickford had helped him with the Bedfordshire revision, which led to him being asked to revise Warwickshire. He said: “We were keen that we confound people’s expectations by finding buildings people knew nothing about and we think we have fulfilled that aim amply this evening.”

Chris Pickford

The 801-page book explores the county and Coventry in depth, commenting on the history and architecture of buildings. It covers churches, public buildings, plus other structures such as folly towers, toll houses, railway viaducts, mansions and other houses. There are walks around towns included so readers can use it to explore places.

Artworks and memorials inside buildings are also described and commented on, with an index of architects and artists so you can locate work by those you are interested in. The new version is also two and a half times the size of the first, so is a thorough guide to the buildings of the county. Information from the original Pevsner remains and is expanded on where Chris has more to say, though of course many buildings have been or gone since the original. Some of Pevsner’s more waspish comments have been questioned and challenged.

At the launch, Pickford added: “I have been revisiting many places from my youth. I was treading in my own footsteps as well as Pevsner’s and it was great fun meeting people who’d met him on his first visit. They said ‘he was a very rude man’!”

Someone he met at a remote farmhouse told how they had let Pevsner in, then wondered if they should have done, it being just a few days since the Great Train Robbery.

He said he hoped he had brought to the new book 50 years’ knowledge of the county and its buildings, and he in particular wanted to include more information on local architects and their buildings. Having road tested the new volume at various places in the county, it’s certainly true that it now answers many questions about who was the architect or firm behind various buildings.

There are also of course many new buildings included; in Pevsner’s day Coventry University as such did not exist, and there are references to Lanchester College of Technology and the College of Art, but in the new volume it has three pages to itself. Similarly, the University of Warwick had less than a page referring to the plans, but now it also has nearly three pages. Many other new buildings are also of course included for the first time.

• The Buildings of England, Warwickshire, by Chris Pickford and Nikolaus Pevsner is published by Yale University Press at £35.


Summer is here for artists at Deasil gallery in Leamington, anyway

Sea Moon

The Summer Exhibition at Deasil in Leamington brings together some artists from their stable of regulars whose works are shown in venues such as restaurants around the Midlands, plus some newer artists.

With pieces by about 14 people on show there is quite a variety of themes and styles of working.

Nancy Upshall

Coventry-based artist Nancy Upshall has three pieces here, including the oil painting Twisted Flax, a small work with a concentration on the turns in a material, and a larger work, Motley.


Susannah Rourke’s April Showers (above) are four paint and mixed media works of splashes of movement and colour, which can be rearranged into a different pattern if preferred, as can another set called Here I Am.

Chris Putt’s large digital print of St Ives is recognisably the resort, with colour added to the buildings. Stuart Ellis’s Sea Moon (top) has a gold base, with purples, oranges and golds going up into the sky, and is very effective.

Sonia Bublaitis’s works are very colourful, with vivid paint patterns on Perspex. In contrast, Mark Allan is showing close-up wildlife photographs to make the keen amateur envious.

Paul Jordan

Paul Jordan’s City Limits (above) is a mixed media piece, with buildings drawn in black lines over a board on which newspaper has been stuck, and painted over white. You can tell it’s recently done from the headlines about Johnson and May visible underneath.

It’s another enjoyable and varied exhibition from the gallery which changes its exhibitions every three weeks.


Artists Workhouse is setting for abstract painting exhibition

A new-ish gallery space is showing an exhibition entitled Windows, and it brings together two artists I’ve met running galleries in different places.

The Artists Workhouse in Studley is being developed by Dawn Harris, an artist currently studying for her MA in Fine Art at Gloucester University, and who previously was artist in residence at Ragley Hall where she also became Director of Ragley Gallery and Studios. There were several fun openings there, where visitors drove up to the stately home to enjoy drinks in the luxuriant setting, and then visit the exhibition in the atmospheric stable block.

This show is curated by Matthew Macaulay, a Coventry University art graduate who amongst other things set up the Pluspace Gallery in Coventry which made use of an empty space overlooking Broadgate and showed some good exhibitions, before he went on to work under the Pluspace banner for various other projects.

But good things at Ragley and Coventry city centre both came to an end, and Dawn has now moved on to establish The Artists Studio in Studley, which is being promoted as “an artist-led studio, gallery and project space benefiting from a collaborative environment”, with studios, workshops, events and exhibitions. And as Matthew put it, he was curated to curate the exhibition there.

window -3-

The show consists of 25 works by various artists from countries including the UK, Germany and Romania, and is over two floors at the venue.

The paintings are mostly abstracts, and include some by Matthew including the lagre and striking Southside (Lewis), a mostly-green abstract of his homeland.

Three works by Coventry University lecturer Graham Chorlton actually feature windows in the paintings; in one, bright blinds seem to stick out of a dull-coloured building, and another looks like it’s painted from within a building in another country, with wooden blinds and attractive architectural buildings visible through it.

window -5-

New works by another Coventry University graduate Mircea Teleaga, now studying at the Slade, both called Untitled (Night Clouds) are also different to previous ones I’ve seen, with dark blue/black swirls of what could be water or clouds. Damir Sobota’s criss-cross stripes of colour are a big contrast. Terry Greene’s ‘Water s very important for life but we need it to wash our hands’ has the longest title but is a smallish work with a U shape in blue, and Erin Lawlor’s small works seem to consist of several large brush strokes.

It’s an interesting exhibition in a good new space.



Celebrate Shakespeare’s influence on artists through the ages in Compton Verney exhibition

Visitors to an exhibition celebrating the plays of Shakespeare in art may feel they are stepping on to the stage themselves.

The exhibition at Compton Verney is arranged in eight acts focussing on different plays. It has been designed by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Director of Design Stephen Brimson Lewis and this brings a dramatic air to the gallery spaces, and really enhances the exhibition.

Entering Act 1 brings a disorienting feeling and it’s quickly clear that’s from the different slopes to the temporary wooden floor, with light shining through it, representing the shipwreck in The Tempest, and the sound of the sea. Works on show there include a large dramatic oil, The Shipwreck by Philip de Loutherbourg, showing two figures clinging to rocks. In contrast, there’s Antony Sher’s contemplative self portrait from 2009 of himself as Prospero. Karl Weschke’s image of Caliban shows a strange misshapen figure on the beach.

Act 2 explores the deaths of Ophelia and Lady Macbeth, and is dominated by a dark, carpeted side room featuring Davy and Kristin McGuire’s Ophelia’s Ghost (below), a holographic projection on to water. Kristin was filmed multiple times under water ‘drowning’ for this work which now looks beautiful and ethereal, the image seen through bubbling water and colourful flowers.

Ophelia’s Ghost © Kristin and Davy McGuire, photograph by Electric Egg

Also featured are Simeon Solomon’s Ophelia from 1887, a Rossetti drawing of Lady Macbeth and Bryan Organ’s 1973 work, Ophelia after Millais, the drawing gird marks still visible. Above them all stands the dramatic tall portrait of a crazed looking Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth by John Singer Sargent (below). A spooky soundtrack adds to the ambience.

Act 3 celebrates the work of designer, director and writer Edward Gordon Craig, with some lovely, clean cut modernist woodcuts included. Act 4 features a new commission by Tom Hunter, in which he re-enacts Ophelia’s death in modern costume, in the Compton Verney lake. You walk below green foliage, and movements trigger audio recordings of plays in this gallery.

Act 5 shows more of his dramatic photos showing samba dancers, a thrash metal band and Pearly Kings and Queens playing roles from A Midsummer Night’s Dream; the gallery is split up with a wall with a chink in it, drawing on a line from the play.

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth

Acts 6-8 features King Lear, Macbeth and Henry VIII. Henry Fuseli’s paintings from the late eighteenth century stand out for their dramatic use of light and dark, especially in The Weird Sisters and The Vision of Katharine of Aragon. A room of his work features a silver floor and moving lights.

Paired with Shakespeare in Art: Tempests, Tyrants and Tragedy, is Boydell’s Vision: The Shakespeare Gallery in the 18th Century, which examines the history of John Boydell’s gallery which opened in 1789 in London, using the Bard to develop a national form of history painting. It contains prints and paintings from that period, plus a digital re-enactment of what the gallery may have looked like.

It’s interesting, but the main exhibition can take a bow for being an appropriately and enjoyably dramatic show.

Double surprise with a sparkling start to exhibitions in Leamington

What’s better than one art exhibition opening with Prosecco on a Friday evening? Two! Specially when the second one was completely unexpected. And the artists are twins!

The exhibition opening at the Deasil Gallery in Oxford Street in Leamington offered pictures by about a dozen photographers and a painter.

After enjoying a chat with artists, fizz and nibbles with the two Kates who run Deasil, I was off home until I passed the Whitewall Gallery in Regent Street and was drawn in by the sight of a tray of sparkling full glasses in the window.

The occasion was the unveiling of a set of paintings by Chris and Steve Rocks, 30-year-old twins from Durham who studied art together in Leeds, and work together. The paintings are described as tributes to the power of nature, and are on a tour of Whitewall Galleries around the country, along with the artists.

Chris said they have their own technique and approach, both bringing something different to the works, with him working on textures and Steve concentrating more on detail. He said: “Some are more descriptive than others, they have that fantasy feel and maybe remind you of somewhere you have been.”

It seems the paintings will only be on show there for a few days before they and the artists move on.

At Deasil, you have until October 2 to see the new exhibition.

Stuart Ellis’s abstract paintings fill the small back room, and the photographs out front are vary varied in style. A number wouldn’t be out of place in a classy travel magazine; James Callaghan’s Antigua photographs make you long for the blue sea and sky, and Matthew Sugars’s works make St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall mysterious and Venice as attractive as it is. Hilary Roberts has, in her word, fiddled with the images digitally to make a Cuban car stand out against a fading background, and to turn wave marks in sand into trees. Ray Spence’s black and white images date from 25 years ago and use altered negatives taken on film.

Other artists use mixed media, cutting, collage and old postcards to interesting effect; more detail to follow in the Coventry Telegraph on Friday.

Poignant performance for works of talented composers killed in Gallipoli


A First World War commemoration event with an interesting approach is taking place in Warwickshire this week. It will remember the artistic creation of two people who died in the war, and what might have been had they survived.

A press release from the Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum explained that as part of the Gallipoli Music Memorial 2015, the gallery is hosting a free dance performance in the Royal Pump Rooms on Wednesday, 29 April from 6-7pm.

The London Central School of Ballet will perform The Comic Spirit, a short ballet by the Leamington-born pianist, organist, critic and composer William Denis Browne. This will be the first public performance of the ballet, which Browne wrote in 1912.

There will also be the first solo dance setting of Frederick ‘Cleg’ Kelly’s Elegy for Strings: in memoriam Rupert Brooke. An introduction to the performances will be given by Nick Peacey, William Denis Browne’s great-nephew.

Senior Curator Vicki Slade said: “William Denis Browne had a promising career as a composer before the First World War broke out. 100 years after his death at Gallipoli, it is fitting that the first ever performance of his only ballet should be given in his home town.”

This event is free, though places are limited. They must be booked by phoning Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum on 01926 742700, or calling in beforehand.

This event runs in conjunction with Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum’s exhibition A Leamington Musical Meteor: The Life of William Denis Browne (1888-1915) which runs until Sunday, 10 May. The exhibition, which was organised by Nick Peacey for the Gallipoli Music Memorial 2015 project, brings together family archive material alongside compositions by Browne, to celebrate his career.

Browne was born in Leamington on 3 November 1888 and grew up at Lynnwood, a large house on Lillington Road. He attended Greyfriars Preparatory School in the town and Rugby School, before attaining classical scholarship to study at Clare College, Cambridge.

It was there that his talents developed as a performer and composer. After university he was building a successful musical career, with performances at 10 Downing Street and Westminster Cathedral, when the First World War intervened. Browne was killed fighting at Gallipoli on 4 June 1915, aged just 26.

*The Gallipoli Music Memorial 2015 is a unique project looking at the vastness of the First World War through one battle. It will tell the stories of nine men who fought at Gallipoli and will set their wartime experiences against their peacetime lives. All nine men pursued artistic careers, and although they fought for different causes, they were united by their experiences of the battle. The Gallipoli Music Memorial 2015 project is funded by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.