ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO, sisters Gwendoline and Margaret Davies of Plas Dinam, Montgomeryshire endowed £5,000 to the art department at Aberystwyth University. The gift was to help establish an Arts and Crafts Museum and build up a teaching collection in order that our students could appreciate original works of art. The first purchase using interest from the endowment was in 1920.
The teaching of art at Aberystwyth had begun in the late nineteenth century with a Drawing Master engaged by the Department of Education. Around 1917, with backing from the Davies sisters, a sub-Department of Art and Crafts emerged within the Department of Education. It was intended that the Museum collections be used to ‘instruct and inspire’ trainee teachers to carry on their good work in schools in Wales and foster revivals in local craft industries. With an annual budget of £250, the Museum acquired prints, ceramics, glass, basketwork, calligraphy and private press books as well as ethnographic material from Africa, the Americas and as far afield as Australia, New Zealand and the South Seas.
One hundred years on, the School of Art Museum and Galleries is now a UK government Accredited Museum with collections unique in Wales and of international significance. As Keeper of Art, and only the sixth head of the art department at Aberystwyth University, it is a pleasure for me to uphold a proud tradition. Our work has been made possible not only through the generosity of Gwendoline and Margaret Davies, but other major patrons such as George Powell of Nanteos (1882), Sir John Williams (1926), Dr Elvet Lewis (1981), Marian Evans-Quinn (2004) and Tessa Sidey (2011), all of whom shared our loyalty towards the University and our commitment to the practice, history and display of art in Wales. Were it not for their generosity, the cultural life of the School, University and the town would be greatly impoverished.
Today, the Museum continues to collect, document and display artifacts of educational and cultural value that are useful for teaching and research as well as enrich the student experience. Around the School of Art and throughout public spaces on campus, artworks are displayed in the belief that students’ lives will be enriched when living with original works of art. More so now than at any other time, the collections and our public galleries are used in training students who go on to become artists, art historians, museum curators and exhibition organisers.
Fittingly, it was twenty-five years ago that the School of Art – which became an autonomous university department in 1973 – was rehoused with its museum and galleries here in the newly-refurbished Edward Davies Building. Opened in 1907, it had been erected at the expense of Gwendoline and Margaret Davies, as well as their brother and step-mother, in memory of their father.
In this very special year, therefore, I am proud to introduce to you this exhibition staged and curated by some of our current PhD Fine Art students. They have selected from our collections not only paintings and prints to display but an African wooden xylophone and a Babylonian Cuneiform tablet. They have made new works in response to their chosen artifacts especially for this exhibition.
Professor Robert Meyrick
Head of the School of Art | Keeper of the School of Art Museum and Galleries
If you would like to find out more about the artists, please visit their websites: