How the matter proceeded from that point I am unclear but what ever did happen, I found myself with an appointment to attend an interview at Winchester School of Art in North Walls, with samples of my drawings and paintings. How my parents felt about the prospect of me becoming an Art Student I’m unsure but I suspect that Mum was more afraid of having to deal with this unexpected turn of events than proud of what it all meant, I even question that she even knew what an Art Student was because I didn’t really know myself.
One thing I did know was that I attended that interview on my own and without any parental support and that did rile me particularly as mums lack of confidence had undermined my own. I remember that day very well, I went to Aunt Kits house before going down to the school and must have walked backwards and forwards a long North Walls in front the school entrance a good dozen times before I plucked up enough courage to enter the building. I don’t remember much about the interview accept to say it was successful and became a student after I left Day School at the age of 14+ in September in 1947.
Winchester School of Art was, as already mentioned, situated on the southside of North Walls, a street which ran east to west in the town. The school was housed in a three floored red brick Victorian building at the north end of the building, with the rest of the building taken up by the County Library. To the west was the Crown Hotel and to it’s east was the Odeon Cinema and car park, both now pulled down, to the north it overlooked a very well kept Bowling Green with a an impressive Clubhouse and a couple of tennis courts, all belonging to Marston Burton Ales Brewery, with the brewery buildings immediately beyond the green.
The school had about eleven rooms spread over the three floors and catered not only for fine art but also illustration, dressmaking and other design subjects. Six of the class rooms, or should I say ‘studios’ abutted North Walls with the entrance, corridors and a broad staircase between each pair of rooms. The northern and western elevations of the building was quite plain and unimposing but the eastern side had three sets of large bay windows on the first two floors with large flat windows set in gables above them on the top floor, all overlooking a narrow lawn, between the school and the cinema. Three of north facing studios were of a reasonable size, something like fifty feet X twenty but apart from the Life Room on the top floor ,which was the largest room, the rest were identical in size and about a third of the size of the larger rooms.
There were only two studios on the ground floor, the larger one was for modelling and pottery and the other for general design. Again on the first floor there were two rooms devoted to dressmaking and design with other rooms for the School Secretary, the Principal and two staff rooms. On the top floor the largest studio was a general purpose studio for with painting, drawing and all the other subjects that we had to study including composition, anatomy, perspective, the histories of architecture, costume, furniture and of course the history of art, we also had draw from larger than life antique castes of famous sculptures such as Venus and David, there was also a human skeleton to draw from. The remaining rooms were for fabric design, illustration and litho and finally, the Life Studio with a large north facing roof-light. There was another studio on the ground floor away from the main school which was for woodwork and also housed the kiln.
There were roughly six art and design teachers, Dr. Dawson was the Principal with a secretary, a Registrar who also was in charge of the art and craft supplies, [we had to pay for what ever supplies we needed], None of the teachers were super talented themselves but they all had their strengths and it was in this building with mostly the same staff that I was to spend the next five years studying the subject of art.
Thinking back to that era, I realise just how ignorant I was, I knew absolutely nothing about ART, I had never been to an Art Gallery nor ever seen an original painting, I’m unaware that a knew a single artist by name, although at day school we supposedly studied art, I can’t remember ever being taught a single thing about the subject, all I did in that class was draw or paint pictures and as it happened, managed to come top all but one year when I came second. The only occasion that I saw any Art was when a set of coloured prints of some Abstract Artist work were shown us one day which as I remember I was unimpressed and did not understand it. It was not only painting but all the other forms of art which I was just as ignorant for although I loved music, the type that I was familiar with was either Popular, Church or school stuff and knew next to nothing about Classical Music or Opera. Mum could not stand Operatic music particularly Women singers ‘screeching’ as she described them and she would turn the radio off. At that point in time I really did feel inadequate the only consolation was I had a ‘bus pass’ to Winchester and I was ‘now a student’ and not a ‘farm hand’ or ‘labourer’.
As I have stated I had no idea what to expect, in what to me was going to be an alien world, as indeed it was, nothing in that building was in anyway familiar, to start with was its unique smell of oil paint and linseed oil which I immediately took too. Various sizes of artist easels were everywhere and there were what we call ‘donkeys’ which are like a short bench which the artist straddled with a vertical sloping board at one end to support a canvass or drawing board, In the modelling room were wooden modelling stands with circular tops which could be rotated. In another room was a stone litho press with loads of heavy litho stones piled ready for use, the press was very large and old a require quite a physical effort to use.
I don’t recall what happened on that first day, can’t recall the teacher either but I have a distinct feeling that my first task was to draw from an oversized caste of a nose from a Greek classical sculpture, to be followed by an eye, ear and mouth. by way of an introduction to drawing. One other thing that did strike me, was a decided lack of students, as there appeared to be only a couple of older ones in their last year, I remember, one was Roy Forder, the name of the other I know but it escapes me at the present. There was a mix of both male and female students at that time but how many there was at the school I don’t know , one thing I do know was that I was by far the youngest at fourteen, the others being nearer sixteen or older, on top of that I was the only one from the ‘working class’, and the only one with a quite broad Hampshire accent, the rest were very much from the middle and upwards class with ‘well spoken English’, under such circumstances I kept pretty quite.
It took me sometime to start to understand what ‘this art lark’ was all about, actually that is not strictly true because to be honest, I still don’t know ‘what it’s all about’, so I suppose I should say I ‘pretended to know.’ Whether I understood art or not I started to like ‘Art School’ were every day was devoted to my pet subject. ‘drawing.’