Bringing art to the factory

Dr Rennie at Rye Art Gallery

As one of our regular Rye Art Gallery events, the Friends organized an excellent talk by Dr Paul Rennie on World War Two posters including one by Paul Nash, who lived in Rye, Iden and Dymchurch at various points in his life, and was a war artist in both world wars. Dr Rennie, who is Head of Context in Design at Central St. Martins, London has an art shop in Folkestone.

In 1941, four large prints were produced from the works of Paul Nash, Barnett Freedman, Edward Ardizzone and Stanley Spencer reflecting various aspects of Britain’s war effort, military and civilian, and Dr Rennie explained how the Ministry of Information decided that all four images should be printed and distributed, at cost, to factory canteens and other venues. This was a serious attempt by the National Gallery to widen access to the work of the Official War Artists. Kenneth Clark, who was on the War Artists committee and became one of the pioneers in making art accessible to all, went on to present the 1960s television art programme ‘Civilisation’.

The prints were images selected to show both military and civilian engagement and had a wide circulation, being put up in factories across the country. And, despite the wartime paper shortage, many other posters and booklets were printed in a drive to improve safety and increase production for the war effort. Dr Rennie made an interesting connection between this drive for safety and today’s health and safety regulations when he pointed out that before WW2 health and safety measures did not exist. Instead all major employers supported a charity for their employees’ widows and orphans, or in some cases even maintained an orphanage. Despite the number of posters and booklets produced they have become something of a lost story and very few examples have survived.

When Dr Rennie is not teaching at Central St. Martins, he and his wife run an art shop in the Old High St in Folkestone (open Thursday to Sunday). They opened the shop eight years ago and specialise in British art and design of the 20th century and other interesting items from a forgotten past. In 2013 their shop came third in Homes & Antiques magazine’s best vintage shop category.

Our next event “Watercolour, A Peculiarly English Art?” will be on the Thursday June 11 at 7.30 pm and the speaker is Andy Wood, President of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours. All are welcome to come to the talk. The Friends of Rye Art Gallery hold regular monthly events, and you can keep up to date by joining the Friends. Application forms are always available in the Gallery.

Photo by Paddy Harvey