Why not have a look at our new online exhibitions section on the Arts and Crafts Museum website? We’ve reorganised the pages to make them easier to use, and launched a new exhibition on the Cheltenham Craftsmanship Exhibition of 1951.
1951 was the year of the Festival of Britain. The official festival mostly took place in London, but there were events all over the nation. Cheltenham was no exception. A series of events was put on as part of the Seventh Annual Cheltenham Arts Festival, including an Exhibition of Cotswold Craftsmanship, a celebration of fifty years of craft in the region.
The brains behind the exhibition was Daniel Herdman, Librarian Curator from 1922. It was his swansong, as he retired that year, a culmination of thirty years of working with local craftspeople. When he arrived in Cheltenham he immediately recognised the importance of the local crafts and industries. What architects and designers like Ernest Gimson and C R Ashbee had begun in moving to the county from the 1890s had continued. In the 1920s and 30s there were many craftspeople settled in the county: Peter Waals in Chalford near Stroud, Michael Cardew at the Winchcombe Pottery, Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher printing textiles in Painswick to name but a few.
What Herdman did was to make Cheltenham a centre for craft and design. In 1923 he put on his first show of local craftspeople in the Art Gallery. Ten years later the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen – and still going strong after 78 years – was founded and Herdman made sure that their annual show was shown in Cheltenham as well as either Painswick or Chipping Campden.
The 1951 exhibition took over the Montpellier Rotunda, originally one of Cheltenham’s spas and now Lloyd’s TSB bank. Leading craftspeople were advisors for the exhibition: silversmith George Hart, architect Norman Jewson, textile designer Dorothy Larcher, and husband and wife team, woodcarver William and embroiderer Eve Simmonds. The exhibition featured over 300 exhibits and Herdman said the display was ‘centred on regional glory’.
It was a huge success: unbelievably, the exhibition was on for only seventeen and half days, but over 10,000 people flocked to see it. Fifty-two groups visited from thirty-six colleges; from Cheltenham, Gloucester and the Cotswolds, of course, but from as far afield as Scunthorpe and Sheffield. The exhibition also attracted a large number of overseas visitors.
Find out more about the exhibition and see some of the exhibits that Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum has collected over the years, as well as ones by private lenders in the new Online Exhibition.