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The Corporation

Posted: 27/06/14

Students and staff celebrate art school memories

Current and former students and staff at West Nottinghamshire College have said an emotional farewell to a “special place of learning” that has produced generations of creative artists.

  • Charlotte Field, Lucy Betts, LB Abbott, Harriet Lawson, Jamie Whitworth and Jessica Mendham
  • Everyone gathered to cheer as they celebrated their time at the school of art
  • Chloe Whitmore, Florence Pick, Lindsey Coombs and Emily Whitmore are the best of friends
  • Colette Reders drawing images of the rooms at her old school of art
  • David Annable and Michael Hollingworth have known each other since the early 60s as students then staff
  • Nathan Rose, Kevin Strachan, Samantha Strachan say hello again to tutors Julian Bray and Rob Hart
  • Organiser of the event and tutor Julian Bray welcomed staff and students past and present to share their memories at Ashfield House
  • Past student and current tutor Catra Pegg looks at her classmates of yesteryear
  • Tutor Julian Bray reminisces with Bill Ming, Roy Pickering and Nadia Ming

In September, the college’s visual arts and design curriculum re-locates from its Chesterfield Road site to its main Derby Road campus to provide students with improved, modern facilities.

A £2.3 million scheme currently under way will see an existing building transformed into a contemporary two-storey visual arts centre boasting state-of-the-art resources, improved teaching space and bright and airy exhibition areas.

It means students and tutors on a range of visual arts and design courses will be located on the same campus as their counterparts from the rest of the college’s school of creative industries and digital technologies, which have been based at Derby Road since its £5 million ‘Create’ building opened in 2011.

The move brings the curtain down on more than 80 years of art, design and craft being taught at the Chesterfield Road site while also signalling the start of an exciting new era for creative artists in the town.

To mark the occasion, which was the brainchild of tutors Julian Bray and Robert Hart, people who had worked or studied at the building known as Ashfield House – which had its origins as the Mansfield School of Art –  gathered at a special event to celebrate how it had shaped their lives.

As well as catching up with ex-classmates and tutors, those attending took a trip down memory lane courtesy of an exhibition of old photographs while others brought in pieces of art to form a ‘pop-up’ exhibition.

Many people swapped stories about their time at college and paid emotional tributes to the building.

Florence Pick, 18

“We started coming to the Chesterfield Road campus aged 7 on the Saturday morning art workshops right up until we were 15. The girls I met are now lifelong friends and I spent my childhood with them. Even though we’re at university or doing other things, we still meet up and we always remember that this is where we met.

“We had such a great time at college and have so many fun memories.  We did lots of experimental art on our course.”

“I’m now going on to study fine art at Camberwell in London and I know I’ll be taking so many of the skills I learnt at West Notts with me. Art workshops gave me the confidence in art and we would always get really excited when we exhibited our work in Mansfield museum and felt proud of our year’s efforts.”

Lindsey Coombs, 19

“It was a really inspiring place to study. Things haven’t changed at all in this building. It’s quite emotional to be back!”

Colette Reders, 23

Colette was a student four years ago on the art foundation course.

“I went to Bristol to study illustration and then transferred to decorative arts in Nottingham.  This building has a great atmosphere and attracts good people and creates a friendly community.  For me it was one of the best years of my life.

“I’ve seen a few familiar faces here today. Today I’ve been drawing images of these rooms before it closes.”

Julian Bray, tutor

“It’s been an amazing day and I’m delighted with the response to the post on Facebook and it’s marvellous to see so many people turn up today.  It’s been an invaluable tool for keeping in touch with past students.  We’ve seen people from right across the generations turn up this afternoon including ex-tutors from the 70s, students from the 60s and current students.

“Everyone has such fond memories of this building. They’ve said how it reminds them of happy times when they were students and free from mortgages, free of adult concerns and when they were free to express themselves and to find out what they’re good at in life. 

“I’ve taught here for 25 years.  While I was in Wolverhampton I got the chance to do some part-time teaching. I then came here to teach and also maintained my professional art work outside of college.

Dave Annable, 72

“I came to college to study all forms of art in 1960 and then concentrated on ceramics.  After that I did my teaching certificate and taught in Birmingham and Sutton-in-Ashfield and then in the ceramics department here at Chesterfield Road.  I left seven years ago with many fond memories.

“It was nice to see Mick again as we were here together as students and have always kept in touch.  My son Jonathan was also a student here and has gone on to be a professional artist.”

Michael Hollingworth, 71

“I studied here from 1958 to 1963 and specialised in painting and graphic design and calligraphy. After that I went to Leicester to do a post-grad course to train to be an art teacher.

“I came back to Mansfield and taught in here until I retired at 50. I taught calligraphy, life drawing and painting in the evenings.  Some people visiting today said they came back here because of what I taught them.”

Kevin Strachan, 41 and Samantha Strachan, 43, who now live near Grantham.

Kevin said: “We met here in 1989 and got together as a couple in 1991. I was just 16 and Samantha was 18.  We studied on the general art and design course.  After leaving here I studied nursing and Samantha went to the Glasgow School of Art to study jewellery and she’s now a sonographer”

Samantha said: “Today’s the first time we’ve been back to the college and it’s great to see our tutor Julian and a few other faces. We pretty much lived here at the college for two years – always arriving early and finishing late.

“It really was the best opportunity to learn, be experimental and try out new things and have such great support from our tutors.”

Kevin added: “This building has a real character and it’s hardly changed. Coming here was my first time away from school so it felt like a big step into an adult world. It was a new-found freedom for me and you could be who you wanted to be.”

Samantha added: “Julian was one of our lecturers and he hasn’t changed at all – he’s exactly the same as he was 23 years ago. It’s a bit like coming home today and we’re really glad we came.”

Kevin and Samantha’s friend Nathan Rose, 42

“We all met on this course way back! I then did a degree in theatre design at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff.  I’ve worked in theatre-related roles ever since and now I’m head of props at Nottingham Playhouse where I’ve worked for over nine years.

“My memories are that being here were two really strong years of education. For me it was the best two years of education actually. We enjoyed lots of freedom, met lots of like-minded people and got the real artistic passion from our tutors.

“Even today, I still refer back to my time at the college in my job today and remember and use all the things I learnt. It’s great to be back today – where has time gone?!”

Jessica Mendham, 22 (far right of group picture)

“I was a student here four years ago and studied the foundation course with Julian Bray who is hosting this event today.  I then went to Norwich University to study fine art and graduated last year.

“I’ve just finished working in a school as artist in residence for a year and have also been helping to run an outpost gallery in Norwich and a gallery in Colchester.

“My foundation art year was the most important educational year for me as I felt it was a vital transition year from A Levels to Further Education. It was so important and liberating from a school environment. What I’ve learnt from Julian here will remain with me forever.

“This building really has a great feeling of history as it’s time as an art school. My friends and I all met here and we’re all over the country now but keep in touch.”

The Chesterfield Road site had been home to Mansfield’s arts provision since 1930 when the original School of Art moved from Carr Bank to Ashfield House and its purpose-built adjoining studio block, which still bears the engraved ‘School of Art’ sign above its pillared entrance – although it is believed the art school had existed in other parts of the town since the 1800s.

A former Georgian home, Ashfield House had been occupied by the Parsons family from the 1800s before being sold in 1922 for the temporary use as Mansfield Technical College while the main building at the front of the site was being built.

The new technical college fronting Chesterfield Road South was opened in 1928, with Ashfield House, at the rear of the site, becoming the School of Art two years later.

It consisted of rooms for painting, wood-carving, modelling, elementary art and life-drawing, along with a staff room and an office for headmaster Albert Sorby Buxton.

According to records, building costs were £8,214 and a further £1,000 was spent on furniture and equipment.

The school of art later became Mansfield College of Art and remained an autonomous institution until it became part of West Nottinghamshire College of Further Education in 1976.

The college’s new visual arts centre at Derby Road will boast many modern studios for visual arts, design, screen-print, fashion and textiles, graphic design and photography, along with a wood, metal and ceramics workshop. Its entrance foyer will serve as an exhibition space for students to display their work.

The centre forms part of the college’s ongoing £40 million investment in its buildings and facilities across Mansfield and Ashfield.

Steve McAlone, head of creative industries and digital technologies, said: “It was wonderful to see so many current and former members of staff and students come together to re-live happy memories and celebrate how the building has both inspired and shaped their lives.

“For many, it has been a special place of learning that has provided wonderful opportunities for the study of art, craft and design and the birthplace of their creative careers.

“The building had a very creative atmosphere and a real buzz, which we will take with us into the exciting new facilities at Derby Road to generate even more life-enhancing opportunities for creative artists of the future.”