Generations of artists have honed their skills at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) and its predecessor institutions – playing a vital role in shaping the story of Leicester itself.
This week Leicester Sketch Club helped join the dots between the city’s heyday as a textile manufacturing powerhouse, Leicester’s championing of art and artists, and DMU’s predecessor Leicester School of Art.
Image courtesy of Sue Sansome
Club past president Emma Fitzpatrick gave the first in a series of events celebrating DMU’s 150th anniversary sharing the results of her research into links between the city’s art societies, industry and the art school.
Using material from DMU’s archives, the New Walk Museum collection, Leicester Sketch Club members and the Leicestershire Record Office, she traced the story of the club and its members and their influence on arts education.
Leicester School of Art became the Leicester Municipal Technical and Art School in 1897. In 1929, it became Leicester College of Arts and Crafts and the Leicester College of Technology as it expanded to cover subjects and courses in response to industry demand – such as boot and shoe manufacture, hosiery, lithography, sign writing.
A decade later, and the Leicester Chamber of Commerce boasted “Leicester Clothes the World” and Leicester was the second richest city in Europe, according to the Bureau of Statistics Leage of Nations report.
Emma said: “In Leicester in general, around the 1900's a small group of prominent people are involved in everything , with many groups and institutions. These are people who have a general ethos of trying to improve Leicester.
“The same people who were running Leicester Sketch Club were also the teachers at Leicester School of Art and also involved in the Leicester Society of Artists. New Walk Museum also has a role to play.
“This was a very deliberate system to make sure the design industry is supported with good design at a time when people preferred to buy European products as they felt they were designed better than those in Britain.
“Everything is interconnected – a lot of college teachers were also teaching elementary art in primary schools, so when students come to them they hit the ground running. People who went into industry as apprentices were sent to the School to study in the evening.
“Most of the teachers also worked in industry, as it was considered important that they remained in touch with industry standards.”
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* More events for DMU's 150th anniversary
Many members of Leicester Sketch Club worked in design companies, as technical illustrators, fashion designers, architects and more. The club gave a creative outlet as well as the opportunity to improve through regular critiques. Today it has more than 120 members.
John Pettinger, described as one of Leicester's finest artists
“We have a hidden history I think,” said Emma. “I hope that my work has helped to shine a spotlight on artists past and present. It is fantastic that we have their work in our city, and I would love it if they were on public display.”
Leicester reputation for design continues today with the city having the second largest cluster of design firms outside of London. “It’s no co-incidence,” she said. “It’s all part of this story.”
• An exhibition of work by Leicester Sketch Club members is on at Trinity House Gallery, The Newarke, until April 30th. It is free to all.
Posted on Friday 21st February 2020