‘A PLACE FOR ART: The Davies Gift’ – New exhibition at the School of Art 26/03-04/05/2018

Davies Gift Poster_webONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO, sisters Gwendoline and Margaret Davies of Plas Dinam, Montgomeryshire, endowed Aberystwyth University with funds to establish an Arts and Crafts Museum.

In 1917, an Art and Crafts Department was set up within the Education Department. Dr Thomas Jones, Secretary to the Cabinet of Prime Minister Lloyd George and close confidante to the Davies sisters, together with Geography Professor Herbert J. Fleure, persuaded the sisters of the need for a teaching collection. They hoped that training art teachers and fostering local craft industries would lead to an arts and crafts revival in Wales.
In 1918, the Davies sisters donated £5,000. The interest accrued was to provide income for the Museum’s needs. Sidney Greenslade was appointed as Consulting Curator. Greenslade was the architect of the National Library of Wales. He also modernised Gregynog Hall, future home of the Davies sisters.
With an annual budget of £250, Greenslade bought works from galleries, society exhibitions, artists’ studios and antique shops. On display here are objects he added to our collection between 1920 and 1934. They include prints, ceramics, glassware, basketwork, calligraphy and private press books. The ethnographic focus of the collection during that time is represented by artefacts from Africa, the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and the South Seas.
From 1924 to 1934, the Arts and Crafts Museum in Old College was run by Daniel Rowland Jones, our drawing master. In 1934, Ifor L. Evans became Principal. Evans argued that the practical arts could ‘hardly form part of a normal academic curriculum.’ There could be ‘no place for art at Aberystwyth.’
Evans redirected all but £1,000 of the Museum funds to finance a new agricultural science building. Greenslade was dismissed, the Museum wound down. The collection was dispersed within the university. Fleure had left Aberystwyth in 1929 after ‘ten desolate years fighting parochial attitudes.’ The Davies sisters became disillusioned with Aberystwyth University.
In the late 1970s, staff of the newly independent Visual Art Department reassembled and catalogued the collection. Grants enabled acquisitions to resume. Over the last 40 years, our collections have grown to over 25,000 artefacts. Today, we are one of only two Art Schools in the UK that have Accredited Museum status. Our collections continue to make invaluable contributions to teaching and research. In the words of one of our curators in 1925, these works are meant ‘to instruct and inspire for the welfare of the coming generations.’
Professor Robert Meyrick
Head of the School of Art and Keeper of Art
Aberystwyth University

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