Introduction by Evelyne Bell

The Colchester Art Society was founded seventy years ago, in 1946, by John Nash, Cedric Morris, Henry Collins, Roderic Barrett and Arthur Lett-Haines. In the same year the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts became the Arts Council, a new enterprise partly dedicated to promoting art and culture in the British provinces at a time of post-war austerity. The Colchester Art Society shared this aim, and was one of the first post-war provincial art societies to foster interest in the fine arts outside the British capital by organising exhibitions, the first being held at Colchester Castle in the foundation year.

In the succeeding years the Society has held many outstanding exhibitions and built a unique collection which is catalogued here. Acquired by the Society over more than half a century, this collection reflects the varied work of the membership, including some of the best East Anglian artists of the past century. The purpose of this catalogue is to give an overview of the collection and help to understand the men and women who produced such individual works. Researching and writing the catalogue has been a memorable experience, particularly in my exploration of the achievements of these talented people.

The artists whose work features in the collection come from a wide range of backgrounds: some trained in art as professionals; others as amateurs, developing skills later in life. Although I had a profound enthusiasm for the collection I did not realise until I started how valuable this research would prove to be.

The difficulties of my task were rendered easier by the help of a number of people to whom I am most grateful. My primary thanks must be to Dr William Kennedy and Dr Sarah Symmons for their invaluable support in editing the text, but I would also like to thank the following people for their varied and indispensable contribution: Charles Debenham, Ian Hay, Mick Smee (for their long knowledge of the Society and its membership), Mel King (for his curatorial support), Alan Ellis (for his detailed research in the Society’s archives), Elaine Coppen (for her history of the Society), Bryan Whiteley and Pauline Fletcher (for their encouragement) and Douglas Atfield (for his beautiful photography). I would also like to thank the following people for the information they gave me on individual artists: Hattie Bawden, Ronald Blythe, Nicholas Butler, Ciara Canning (Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service), Stephen Cassidy (Ipswich Art Society), Aileen Farnell (Harwich and Manningtree Standard), Michael Fletcher, Peter Hall, Maggi Hambling, Linda Morgan (Archivist at the Harwich Society), Pamela Neighbour, Chad Nugent (Colchester Daily Gazette and Essex County Standard), Dione Page, Sally Patrick (Hayletts Gallery), Seven Rivers Cheshire Homes, Jaqueline Taber (Geedon Gallery), Nigel Weaver (the Fry Gallery), Graham Wilson and family members - not to mention the artists themselves who provided facts on their own background and work. Finally I would like to thank Daphne Sandham for her expertise in setting up the catalogue on line and the Essex Heritage Trust for making the entire project possible through their generous funding.

Evelyne Bell

June 2016

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