Kitty French whose work is showing in the Stormont Gallery, Rye Art Gallery (RAG) until March 8 was well known and a recognisable figure in the local town. Not only was she an artist with a particular style but also an inspirational and innovative art teacher. Local artist David Crew said: “I have happy memories being taught by her at the Rye Grammar School doing my O levels.” Some of his work is also shown with Kitty’s.
Kitty was born 1924 in Yorkshire and followed her family’s commitment to social justice, eventually joining the communist party. It was at the pioneering Bath Academy of Art where she was inspired in her teaching style, following the educator Clifford Ellis who said: “Our aim is to show that children are persons, with different potentialities and worthy of respect – to show children at their best.” This was in 1953. Kitty arrived in Rye in 1959 which was commented on in “Red Hot News”, a publication of the Hastings branch of the Communist Party, as she was a member. She stayed for 27 years and the thriving art community happily embraced the new resident.
In 1962 she had her first showing as a non-member of the Rye Society of Artists, a piece of collage called “Brighton”, priced at 13 guineas. She joined the society a year later and became their chairman in 1971. Her home, just off Church Square became a hub for many friends enjoying coffee and supper with her as she was known always to hold open house.
The works shown in the RAG, are part of the permanent collection and feature her influence and her legacy as a pioneer in arts education. For more events go to the Rye Art Gallery website. To celebrate International Women’s day, the Workers’ Educational Association has organised a talk with curator Julian Day at RAG. He delves into the life of the famous Rye resident, March 7, 2pm to 4pm, £9 (course reference C3745286). On Sunday, March 8 there is a creative drawing workshop in the gallery guided by Judy Sillem, also 2pm to 4pm, £10 (course reference C3745301) where you can make your own artwork, inspired by Kitty French. To book a place quote the reference either online at wea.org.uk or phone 0300 303 3464.
Kitty died in 1989. More information about her and more of her art can be seen here.
Image Credits: Heidi Foster .