Be Magnificent: Walthamstow School of Art, 1957-1967
These sound extracts were created from interviews with former staff and students of the former Walthamstow School of Art (now Waltham Forest College). They also relate to the exhibition in 2017 at the William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow which is further along Forest Road. The workshop was commissioned to interview a number of former staff and students and to create sound extracts to complement the exhibition through recorded testimony.
The School of Art was in fact part of South West Essex Technical College, one of four colleges opened by Essex County Council, in 1938. The School of Art was an autonomous part of the college with its own Principal. There were separate departments teaching the various aspects of art and design. Students generally spent four years working towards the achievement of a National Diploma in Design.
In 1951 Stuart Ray was appointed Principal of the School of Art. He had been a student at the Royal College of Art Painting School. This was critical to the development of the School of Art at Walthamstow. Ray was feared by many of the students, he could be very negative and quite cutting in his manner. Yet what happened in the decade from 1957 to 1967 was truly magnificent.
The main reason for this flowering of artist talent was that Ray, through his contacts at the Royal College of Art and the Royal Academy, was able to recruit young and emerging artists and designers. Artists such as Peter Blake and Ken Howard, textile designer Celia Birtwell were offered one or two days a week teaching contracts.
Ray himself was a traditional painter but he encouraged staff and students to experiment in their various media. Peter Blake and others introduced students to pop art whilst the fashion students went off to Paris to tour the fashion houses and their shows. Some students like Ian Dury and Terry Day also broke into the world of pop music whilst Ken Russell and Peter Greenaway branched out into film. Greenaway’s first film was shot in the college and in Epping Forest.
In 1960 the Coldstream Report on art education came out. It recommended a new structure of a smaller number (29) of art colleges accredited to award the new Diploma in Art and Design in place of the National Diploma in Design. Walthamstow was not one of the colleges chosen. This is very surprising given the number of students who went on from Walthamstow to the Royal College. Questions were asked in the House of Commons but to no avail. Whilst art and design was still taught at Walthamstow, the inability to award a national diploma meant the end of the experimental and creative reputation of the school of art.
Sound clips will be added soon.