Blackpool Art Club is a towering success

PUBLISHED: 18:28 24 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:01 20 February 2013

Carol Sanderson with her Blackpool townscape

Carol Sanderson with her Blackpool townscape

It was a group of Victorian art lovers who decided to set up Blackpool's first art club. Now, 125 years later they are celebrating. Stephanie Bartup reports

WHILE Monet was busy creating impressionist masterpieces, six men in Blackpool were launching an art society that would span 125 years. Ten years before the tower was opened, Blackpool Art Club was up and running and its now proud to be one of the oldest in Britain.

In 1884 George Dearden, who lived in the town's Buchanan Street 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 lamented the lack of art classes and then decided to do something about it. That night they created Blackpool Sketching Club.

Today, there are nearly 300 members from all walks of life; students to professionals.

'I think if those six founding members could see the club now, they would be very impressed, says president Lynne Cray. 'We're continuing their legacy of art in Blackpool from all those years ago, which is quite an achievement.'

'We have some members here in their 90s and some in their 20s and we're always looking out for more to join - especially young people. Even if you think you're no good at art, anyone who is interested can come and learn.'

Examples of acrylic, watercolour, pastel and embroidery work adorn the walls -and it seems members have had a helping hand from some famous faces from the art world.

'We've been very lucky to have artists such as David Bellamy, Keith Sutton and Ashley Jackson come here and give classes. They were very inspiring,' remembers Lynne.

The society has a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere, something that newcomer Kerry Kippax-Davis finds essential. 'I only joined about six weeks ago, but I really like the interaction between everyone. There's always someone to help if you need it, and there's never any rush to finish anything.'

Members of the group have the opportunity to sell their pieces at the three exhibitions held each year. 'We had one at the Solaris in May, and we're really looking forward to the next one, which begins in November. It's the biggest one of the year, ending in January. Some of our artists have sold their paintings for around 500, which is excellent. Some don't like to sell their pieces though, if they're very personal, or they've put a lot of time and effort into them.'

Brian Halligan, who has been a member for seven years, will not be selling on the landscape or life drawings that he is currently completing. 'My wife would kill me, she loves them!' he says.

Brian joined the group after he had a knee operation which forced him to give up his favourite hobby of hiking around Lancashire. 'When I was told I couldn't go walking, I found a new hobby. Now I can draw the landscapes that I loved.' The club also organise week-long trips away, to paint the landscapes and attractions which different cities have to offer. Last year, the group went away to Glasgow, and this year will see them fly over to Belgium. It's trips like these which Lynne believes makes their society so unique.

'We're always looking for fresh ideas, whether it be an excursion for the group, a new addition to the programme of classes, or a new fundraising idea. We like to keep things exciting for our members', she says.

The society is funded by member's fees, coffee mornings, and their annual summer and Christmas fairs.

'Because we have so many members, we can afford to keep the joining fee low, and still provide all the equipment', Lynne explains. 'One of our members sadly passed away a couple of years ago, and she left us 5,000 in her will, which was a wonderful gesture, and a great help.'

So what has been the society's secret to their success over the years?

'I believe it is one of the few hobbies that really takes your mind of all your problems and stresses- you can just forget them and enjoy yourself, and learn a new skill at the same time. I'm sure that the club will celebrate another 125 years', says Lynne.

And now, the group can be proud that Blackpool Art Society is officially Blackpool's oldest cultural society in the town- deservedly placing them at the 'art' of Blackpool.

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