Today’s post has been written by our Archives Cataloguer, Clare Connolly. Clare recently joined our team and will predominantly be cataloguing the archive of the Society of Wood Engravers ahead of its centenary next year.
“I have recently joined the team at Special Collections for six months in the post of Archives Cataloguer. My main role while working here is to catalogue the archive of the Society of Wood Engravers (SWE) which ranges from the foundation of the Society in 1920 to the present day. It is a significant time for the records to be made accessible to a wider audience with the imminent centenary of the SWE in 2020.
The Society of Wood Engravers was established by a group of artists who were keen to promote and exhibit wood engravings, raising their profile as an art form. The founder members included Robert Gibbings, Eric Gill, Philip Hagreen, Lucien Pissarro, Gwen Raverat and Noel Rooke. They were shortly joined by artists such as John and Paul Nash, David Jones, Clare Leighton and Eric Ravilious. The minutes record the first meeting of the Society which was held at Philip Hagreen’s studio on 27th March 1920.A significant addition to the membership in 1921 was the artist Margaret Pilkington who had previously been a student at the Central School of Arts and Crafts where she studied wood engraving under Noel Rooke. She became a great patron of the arts and supported and championed the SWE. She was their Honorary Secretary from 1924 and Chairman from 1952 to 1967. She had a lifelong involvement with the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester and organised a number of SWE exhibitions there. She was the Whitworth’s Honorary Director between 1936 and 1959.
While looking through the material in the SWE archive I am interested to come across the work of artists I am familiar with and learn about their involvement in wood engraving. I am also discovering the work of artists who are new to me and have played a very significant role in the Society. The collection reveals how widely wood engravings have been used and continue to be so in the fields of book illustration, advertising and fine art. I am initially listing the material and organising it into series, and will be creating an online catalogue to make the content more easily accessible for researchers. This will reveal more details about the development of the Society and the members’ involvement in its organisation. The collection holds a wide range of material ranging from personal letters, committee minutes, financial records and press cuttings including exhibition advertisements and reviews. In addition there are papers relating to the formation and constitution of the Society, the organisation of annual exhibitions and the production of the Society’s newsletter ‘Multiples’ which continues to be published today.
The archive reflects the changing fortunes and developments of the SWE, such as a slowing down of exhibitions and production of work due to the interruptions of the Second World War and the revival of the Society in the 1980s. The Society has never had a permanent headquarters and has been administered by individuals from various locations. This is reflected in the Society’s archive which has been collected and deposited by a number of its members. SWE is a very active society today and I am pleased to have the opportunity to work with this unique collection.I am delighted to have joined the Special Collections team and learn about the wide variety of work my colleagues are involved in and discover more about the fascinating collections that are held here.”