For Art’s Sake

Perhaps this blog should actually be called ‘for people’s sake’ as what has become clear over the years we have been running our community art groups is that it is as much about the social interaction, experiences, developing skills, building confidence and meeting new people as it is about painting. Catherine, our art group leader showcases what the groups get up to and some of the things that happen in museums that you might not know about!

Some of the groups’ work on display

Sandwell Museums Community Art Groups.

How our lives have changed the last few weeks. Everything is different for most of us; routines, social life, daily habits, seeing family and friends, and a big one for a lot of us, WORK. Everyone is struggling in their own way and what I’m missing most, after my family, is my day to day routine which revolves around running painting groups quietly behind the scenes at Wednesbury Museum and Art Gallery. Actually thinking about it, it can be quite raucous at times! So what’s it all about?

some of the painters work on display

This is how it goes. Sandwell Museums run oil painting sessions over three days with a different group participating on each day. The groups are open to anyone and interested participants are kept on a waiting list until an available space becomes available. You don’t need to have any experience or have painted before and anyone can join. Most members are retired, ‘persons of leisure’, or for whatever reason can’t work at the moment or perhaps the session falls on their day off. The sessions are informal, cost £5.35 which includes all the materials ,tea, coffee, the odd biscuit or cake (hence my waistline!) and we’ve even been known to have hot buttered toast! What a bargain you may say. And why oil paint? Isn’t that REALLY difficult?

The group was started by an now retired colleague who was, and still is, a talented amateur oil painter. He suggested starting the group after chatting with visitors at our Galton Valley Heritage site where sometimes he would sit and paint industrial scenes to engage with visitors. There are many watercolour classes running but not many oil painting groups. Most people will use water colours or acrylics at home because they are cleaner and easier to use and dry quickly. So ‘hey!’ learn how to use oil paint with us, make a mess and leave it for us to clear up! The group started with one session and, when we vacated the larger premises and moved the visitors centre into Galton valley pumping station, the group was moved to Wednesbury Museum and Art Gallery where there was more space and sessions increased to three days. After all his hard work our ‘founder’ retired and that was where I took over nearly ten years ago after working for the museum service on a casual basis for nine years. And for those who know me, yes I know I can’t be that old but thank you all the same!  And why me? Well many moons ago I completed a fine art degree specialising in painting and had mentioned it, although I hadn’t painted for years, (other than the sitting room wall!! ) so I took up the challenge and applied for the job.

So what happens in the ‘day in the life’ of the painting group? The sessions run from 10am-2.30pm but people can come anytime between those hours. Some do the whole session and bring their lunch. Some come early and leave early. And some come late …. yes you know who you are!… and stay till the end. It’s very informal and there can be as much chatting as painting. But that’s ok. That’s what it’s about.

I’m not a trained teacher and it isn’t a taught lesson, but I can ‘facilitate’ our members to start painting, show them how to use oil paint, mix colours, use different brushes and pallet knives, show them different techniques and styles. We have painters who love landscapes, seascapes, abstract and figurative work, animals, trains, boats and planes! Starting to sound like a song! The most important thing is it’s about the individual painter and everyone is unique. Everyone helps each other if they are struggling and, not wanting to sound too ‘arty’, I have always thought that the most important part of painting is the process and act of ‘doing’ it not the end result. I really feel anyone can paint because of this and that’s what we promote in the group.

Our members all have different reasons to join. A life long  talent or interest which was left a long time ago to get a ‘proper’ job and revisited in older age. The learning of a new skill and the social aspect of being part of the group. A way to invest in some ‘me’ time and have a break from the responsibilities of normal life. A way of coping with illness, bereavement and other personal issues. Painting allows you to be you and unique and have a weight lifted off your shoulders and ‘loose’ yourself for a few hours. I think we can all see the good in that.

A project the group got involved with exploring textures which they could later introduce into their work. The project was delivered by a university student studying art.

practising with and exploring using textures
A finished experimental piece

Now we know why people love to be part of the group and why we offer the sessions but what else do we get involved in? Over the years our members have sold their work to raise money for charity. One of our talented members has raised nearly £1000 for the Multiply Sclerosis charities and much more outside of the group. We have a collection at Christmas and donate to a different cause every year. We have drawing classes and we’ve even had life drawing sessions which was a new experience for many of our painters. Workshops and projects in photography, printing, large scale painting of murals on the gallery walls which was great fun!

Gallery take over exhibition, where the group created a Parisian scene on the walls of the gallery.
the group created a Parisian cafe in the gallery and enjoyed a Parisian style event in the space.

Trips to galleries, university art departments and even a barge trip on the canal. That trip was my favourite. Blessed with a sunny day, wildlife, photography, a bit of local history, lots of tea and biscuits and plenty of chat. Some of us even had a go at steering the barge . And the best bit was it was accessible for all our painters including one in a wheelchair who thought they would never be able to go on a barge trip. We have regular exhibitions of the groups work which some of our visitors may have seen over the years.

A trip out to see sculpture before undertaking a sculpture project.
A trip on the canal followed by stopping to sketch.

Students and professional artists have joined us for one off projects or for a few weeks as we’re such a friendly bunch. We’ve had parties, meals out and many of the painters have made life long friends through the group and socialise outside of the sessions. I’m finding it hard to stop ‘going on’ about the painting groups as they’ve all achieved such a lot over the years. But I will stop now.

Art group showcase at Wednesbury Museum

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this insight into one of the many activities Sandwell Museum and Art Service run. The reason why I’ve popped up on our Blog page is because during current conditions the groups are cancelled until it is safe for normality to be resumed and our sites open to the public again. While we are waiting for this to happen reach for a scrap of paper, a pen, a pencil, and have a little go at some art yourself, There’s no rules, no right or wrong. Just like music everyone has there own taste and it doesn’t matter what you do, how you do it or what it looks like. Paint on your fence if you have a garden. Yes one of members is doing this and it looks great! Do some colouring, make something, do something creative. The painting group have found their little haven for a few hours a week so find yours in music, nature, TV and film or give art a go. These are the things that will help us cope and ‘get through’ this strange time. Do one of the challenges on our Facebook page and share it with us. I will if you will. And don’t forget, stay safe. 

Catherine – Art Group Leader and Visitor Services Assistant

An art group exhibition going onto the community wall at Wednesbury Museum

Published by Sandwell Museums & Arts

Sandwell Museums & Arts Service is a local authority organisation part of Sandwell Council. We have some fantastic heritage buildings to visit with fascinating stories to tell as well as a lively programme of events, activities and exhibitions each year between April and December.

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