The Moseley School of Art Association
Attended Moseley School of Art 1946-49
We were left very hard up after my father's death from TB in 1943. My mother worked part time mainly doing cleaning jobs. Born and brought up in a slum in Nechells, she was determined that her children should have a much better chance than she had had. I have two sisters both younger than me; the elder went to St. Paul's Grammar School, the younger to a small private school. How my mother managed the fees and other expenses for all this, I'll never know.
I reached the Art School by the 71 tram from Rubery to Belgrave Road, then the Outer Circle 11 to Moseley Road, finally a 200 yard walk.
Pictured right (L to R):
Barry Cooper, Lawrence Walton, Roy Seeley, David Sharman, Tony Boden, Ray Eccleston (rear), Maurice Hadley (front), Ennis Burnett, Ted Sayer, John Narbett (deceased), Trevor Corbett, Bob Ball. I'm taking the photo.
At the interview before we actually started at MSA, Harry Adams described something of the school and its aims to my mother, then startlingly added that unfortunately there was an evil man on the staff. I later supposed that he meant "Pa" Jenkins. This seems so improbable that I sometimes believed that I might have imagined it. But in recent years when comparing notes with former classmates met at reunions one or two of them said the same had been said to their parents.
On the first day, every first year pupil came equipped with two set squares and a tee square. The latter stuck out incongruously from every satchel and must have been lethal on tram and bus. These items were on our list of essential requirements but we never at all our time at MSA used them. Other essentials were watercolours and brushes, indian ink and pens, and, I presume, pencils, rubbers and rules. I think pens for writing were supplied.
Past pupils' work on the walls was very impressive. There were paintings, graphic art, bas-relief plaster carvings; inscriptions incised in roman lettering on plaster slabs; coats of arms painted in enamel on boards in the basement. There were cast classical figures on the stairs; a highly detailed model of a liner in a showcase in the middle of the Entrance Hall; framed photographs of evacuated school groups in the ground floor corridor .
The members of staff at the school during the time that I attended were :
At the end of assembly one morning, Mr Adams said how appalled he was that pupils had been seen at dinner time walking the streets eating greasy filth out of newspaper, and that he hoped the practice would stop forthwith. Immediately afterwards in maths, "Pa" told us that the Headmaster was talking absolute rubbish; that fish and chips was a cheap, well-balanced, highly nutritious meal. Long might we continue to eat it.
We marked our own maths exercises as "Pa" called out the answers. There was consequently some scope for cheating, although we were cautious, afraid that "Pa" would catch us. We lived in constant fear that one week he would actually collect the books in, as he was always threatening, and discover evidence of malpractices. In fact, over a year went by before he had the books collected. He went through over a year's work from over 40 pupils in one lesson simply endorsing our marking with rubber stamps: One marked R the other x. Nobody, happily, was called to task.
Once Pa had set the work for the particular lesson and read his newspaper, he would often wander to the communicating door in the partition screen and pass the time with whoever was teaching next door. He once (I think, in 1946) spent half an hour telling Miss Scott about a most remarkable and expensive pen he'd just bought. No ink as such, no nib, waterproof, usable at a high altitude; the pen of the future. It was the first time I'd heard of a Biro.
"Pa" could be very pedantic and liked to impress us with his erudition. "No, no, no, a ruler is someone who rules or commands: that, boy, is a rule!' pointing to the thing we measured and drew straight lines with. And, 'No, you can't have a new nib,' to a girl who'd been foolish enough to ask for one. 'It's impossible. A nib is merely the tip of the pen: it's not separable. What you call a nib is the pen. The device which holds the pen is the penholder .'
I could never fathom Pa's politics. He said it was absurd that every household should own, for example, a lawn mower; that such items should be held as common property among several, to be used by each household as needed. He belonged to the Co-operative Society - I think he even held some official position there. Inclined to the left, you might think. Yet he had no hesitation in proclaiming the supremacy of the white race. He said some pretty derogatory things about blacks. There was a Jewish lad called Weedman, whom Pa insisted on calling Veedman. He admired the Germans. He wore the same clothes for months on end.
There was, sadly, a lot of playing around in Mr Charlie Thomas's carving / modelling class. It was made for mischief - all that clay and plaster and Charlie being rather deaf. My efforts at carving a bell push from plaster weren't very successful, so I made a mockery of the project by deliberately making an even sloppier job of it to amuse people. But I panicked when Charlie said he was coming round to mark the work for our first report. I borrowed a classmate's who wasn't really keen on the idea. Even less so when he learned that I got nine out of ten. He got eight.
During my years at MSA I remember that the Head Boys were : 1946-1947 John Smith, 1947-1948 John Surman, 1948-1949 Raymond Eccleston.
Some artwork was preceded with an exercise called visual drawing on visual paper. This apparently contradictorily named exercise required that we first drew the intended subject with our eyes closed on mean bits of paper resembling the thin, semi-transparent toilet paper of the time. I can't remember being told why we did this. Most pupils didn't take it seriously.
We did work which I suppose could be called imaginative composition. Typical titles: "In the Fog", "Fishing Village", "Derby Day", "Alleyway", "Canal", "High Street", "Bombed House", "Bird of Prey".
We did a lot of commercial art, as it was then called. Subjects: trademarks (the term logo was yet to come) or symbols for the Birmingham Association for Old People, a dairy company; posters/showcards for Dial 999!, the theatre, cinema, circus, Brock's Fireworks, National Exhibition of Children's Art; and brochure and menu covers. For this work, poster paint was provided. Large jars of about five colours were sited at the front of the room; pupils dispensed small blobs onto the mixing wells of their paint boxes as required. "Dane's" poster colour, I think it was.
'Interlacing' stands out in my mind as a major design device. I recall Dicky Davies clearly instructing us to be sure to go strictly 'over then under' when we were making, say, a linking pattern of multiple knives, forks and spoons for a menu cover .
There was observational work. A fellow pupil posed sawing wood. A head and shoulders portrait of a posed classmate against a montage (this part from imagination) of items expressing his interests and associations, in the manner of Time magazine covers of the period.
Once, Norman Pett, a former MSA teacher and creator of Jane in the Daily Mirror, visited the school accompanied by a woman leading a small dachshund. Was she the model for his famous stripper - who also had a dachshund? She clearly had a nice figure under her open fur coat. But her face didn't quite measure up. This was Pett's wife, said the knowing ones, she's the model for Jane's body, he's got another model for her face. Pett arranged an art competition. The subject was 'Rescue at Sea' . I came second and won five bob and a Jane Annual.
We were encouraged to decorate our history and geography work as elaborately as we liked. There were some highly creative presentations. Some wouldn't have disgraced a medieval scribe. I got the impression that content often took second place. Exercise books were very grand with the school name in gilt across the middle of the finely textured cover. Each subject had its own colour; brown: history; green: geography, blue: English. Maths, I think, was plain.
We used various locations for games. Fields on the Pineapple Estate, I remember particularly. We walked there in a huge crocodile; Moggy Mason whizzing past in his car with a derisive wave; Pa Jenkins talking (in German) to German prisoners (POW stencilled on the backs of their field grey uniforms) tending the gardens beside the sports field.
We did a lot of outside observational drawing with Ted Mason. We went to the Botanical Gardens on many occasions; Kings Norton railways station; the guillotine canal lock also at Kings Norton. We went to the Art Gallery to see the permanent collection, the Van Gogh exhibition, and an exhibition of Art College students' work. Their nude studies were of particular interest. We went to a concert at the Town Hall at least once, and I'm sure for plays at the Rep Theatre.
In 1948 Pa Jenkins proposed exchange visits with boys and girls living in France and Belgium. There was much interest, but only about ten of us had any hope of raising the cash. My mother must have made enormous sacrifices to pay for my trip. This was just after the War so our parents were, not unnaturally, anxious. We were, after all, only fourteen or fifteen and each travelling independently. A meeting at school was arranged to, among other things, allay fears. 'Oh yes, said Pa breezily, I've arranged for couriers at Calais, Ostende, Brussels or wherever. Fear not.' None of the couriers materialised. One of the girls was abused by a Paris taxi driver. My host lived in a village in the Ardennes. My train arrived late at Liege at about 9.00 p.m. with no one to meet me, as Maurice, my exchange partner, had promised in a letter. Neither was there a bus till the following day to his village. I wandered around the station all night, moved on by gendarmes whenever I tried to kip on a bench. Next day a bus dropped me about half a mile from the village. I struggled up a steep hill with my suitcase. There was a paved yard in front of the house on which was parked an old Ford car with a crudely painted cardboard number plate. A girl leaning out of an upstairs window called down, 'Are you the English boy they're waiting for? I'm Rosemarie. I'm from Wales. I'm going home tomorrow: it's horrible here.' It wasn't, I had a whale of a time. The 'exchange' wasn't completed until Maurice came to visit me in England nearly 40 years' later .
Caps (for boys) were obligatory, but the uniform in general wasn't very strictly enforced. Clothes, of course, were rationed. I remember a lad wearing a khaki battledress top; Trevor Corbett favoured a grey pin-striped suit; Ray Eccleston sometimes wore a natty made-to-measure hacking jacket - they were all the rage - from Winter's in Selly Oak; and John Narbett wore a navy blue, single button blue suit that had been his dad's wedding suit. I had a shirt that I'd dyed very dark brown and wore with a light-coloured tie. Roger Smith and I bought American style ties from Morgan and Ball in New St. They were very wide and garish. Mine had had a vertical line of two-inch overlapping diamonds in orange yellow and red, Roger's had a splodge design in red on silver, which looked like the result of having his throat cut. Billy Davies commented on mine, 'I suppose you think you're Fwank Sinatwa, Wichardson. Go and show Mr Adams.' Harry nodded gravely and merely said, 'Mmm,' conveying, it seemed, What on earth is the world coming to? The 'New Look' from Dior arrived with a bang in, 1947. Girls inserted wide bands of fabric into their existing short frocks and skirts to achieve the prescribed length. They only wore them at school, though, on special occasions.
Apart from the villas near the school on Moseley Road, many of which had become commercial premises, the neighbourhood was largely one of terraced houses and small family shops. Many houses had used their coal cellars as air raid shelters and to improve their security the vulnerable cellar gratings in the street were protected with three-foot brick walls topped with a slab of reinforced concrete. They and public air raid shelters and bombsites sprouting rosebay willow herb were still much in evidence. There were cafes and fish and chip shops which were well patronised by the pupils. One chip shop was much cheaper than the others because, it was said, the fat was adulterated with paraffin. The chips certainly tasted that way. The trams that ran along the Moseley Road were the open-ended type. Trams and buses wore the old cream and dark blue livery.
I have a feeling that the art teaching at MSA wasn't quite at its best during my three years: perhaps the result of continuing wartime dislocation. Gone it seemed was the meticulous, highly disciplined work of former years: the broader, more liberal work of later days was yet to be properly established. Moggy Mason, brought a breath of much needed fresh air. Many of us did our best work with Moggy: he inspired confidence. Mind, the mere gathering together of a number of gifted young people was enough in itself to create a hothouse atmosphere in which even the least able seemed to flourish. With all my reservations, I feel privileged to have been at MSA.
The Moseley School of Art Association is an association formed to:
- promote and maintain, through exhibitions, reunions and other means personal contact between all former pupils and staff members of the Moseley Secondary School of Art, Moseley Road, Birmingham 12 England- promote the restoration and continued maintenance of the Moseley School of Art building, and
- to promote the activities of members who are active in any of the fields of art and the crafts, by means of publicity, sponsorship and procurement of artist materials at discount rates
© Graeme Llewellyn Collins 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007
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The Moseley School of Art Association 2003