Downland Art Society celebrates 70 years of its creative enterprise

The current Committee and two past Chairmen SUS-141021-125717001
The current Committee and two past Chairmen SUS-141021-125717001

This year while the nation is commemorating a significant milestone in its history, Downland Art Society too has something to mark.

Founded in 1944, at a time of national emergency, it has become a vibrant and friendly club with around 100 members.

Fifty members and friends met at Arun Yacht Club on Friday October 17, to celebrate this 70th anniversary.

Jules Simons, local artist and art historian entertained the party with her inimitable take on the murky world of International Art before dinner was served in the club dining room overlooking the sparkling Arun River and the twinkling lights of Littlehampton.

Between June 1944 and March 1945 more than 6,000 people died and almost 18,000 were injured by the German V weapons offensive which was aimed primarily at London but also more locally at Southampton and Portsmouth.

In the midst of this onslaught the residents of Barnham, needing to do something practical to help the war effort, decided to try and raise funds to buy an ambulance. One of the fund-raising projects was an Arts and Crafts Exhibition.

This was put together by a group of local artists, who, fired by the success of their enterprise, hatched a plan to meet up regularly and form an Art Society.

Six people attended the inaugural meeting on 16 December 1944 in the studio of professional artist Maurice Randall.

They decided to call themselves ‘Walberton and District Arts and Crafts Society’. At a subsequent meeting they opted to be the ‘Southdown Villages Arts and Crafts Society’ and with a burgeoning membership of twelve people they continued to meet monthly.

By July 1945 they had held their first exhibition at Barnham School and later that year were able to mount an exhibition of 80 paintings in Bognor Regis Library.

By the time of the first AGM the nation had been at peace for over 6 months and the society had the grand total of £5.16s.7d in the bank. The most noteworthy decision that President Maurice Randall’s new committee made on this occasion, was to rename the group ‘Downland Art Society’.

One of the number, Sidney Carter, was their first Secretary and later served as Treasurer until 1969. His daughter, Josephine Carter, is currently Vice Chairman of the Society.

Since the darkest days of WWII, the Society has provided a creative hub for the residents of West Sussex. It is still providing a forum for professional and amateur artists to come together through exhibitions, workshops, demonstrations and talks and it has another exciting programme planned for 2015.

Report and pictures contributed by Pat Wright.