Changing Rooms: The Story of Art at Church High, 12th March 2016

Church High Art Corridor

To mark my 50th High Times post, I thought I’d loiter a little longer on the first floor of the old building.  As words aligned with visual images has always been my creative medium of choice, it’s probably no surprise to you all that I have chosen to meander back into Art.

Zoe and Nick White in Grant Wells' old Art Room. Grant's office (right) will now house the kiln.
Zoe and Nick White in Grant Wells’ old working space, the GCSE Art Room. Grant’s office (right) will now house the kiln.

The growth of Art at Newcastle High School/Church High School is actually a very interesting story.  A real case of ‘Changing Rooms’.  As I was accompanied by Zoe Robinson on my March 12th tour with Nick White, going round the Art Block was high on our list.  We already knew from the plans that NHSG is to have four Art rooms as opposed Church High’s three, but the size of the rooms was of great importance to Zoe in particular, knowing she will now only have one of the two smaller rooms designated for her use.  A very hard thing to take when the large Sixth Form space used to be her own domain.

A pensive moment for Zoe in her much-loved Sixth Form Art Room.
A pensive moment for Zoe in her much-loved Sixth Form Art Room.  The room is even bigger now that the Textiles Room has been incorporated into it, hence the new roof truss.

Artwork always spilled onto the surrounding corridors at Church High.  Because of this, the whole building felt vibrant and colourful.

Key Stage 3 sculpture display in the Art corridor.
Vibrant Key Stage 3 sculpture display in Art Block corridor.

This school has always possessed a very creative spirit, but you certainly knew what to expect once you were through the Art doors.

The familiar light wood doors of the Church High Art Department.
Familiar wooden doors of the Church High Art Department.
The Church High Art Department in the Barbour Wing.
Art Department & the 1999 Barbour Wing.
Church High Art Exhibition, June 2013.
Church High A Level and GCSE Art Exhibition, June 2013.

Although the Church High Art Department had only enjoyed the purpose-built, light and airy studio spaces in the Barbour Wing since 1999, the very first Art Room at Newcastle High School was actually situated only a few paces away.  Indeed, by my estimation, part of it will become the Creative Arts Faculty Office.  That full circle again.

It is clear from Miss Dickinson’s account of returning to her old school as a mistress in the Jubilee History, that the room beyond the Hall on the left side of the main corridor was ‘the drawing pantry.’  Whether the room known as The Studio by the late 1920s and credited with helping the Art teaching so much that ‘every year a number of girls go on to Art Schools’ (Page 43) is the same room, I really can’t be 100% sure.  The slanted beams in the picture below cause me to doubt this space is the room we know as Room 9 (RS).  If anyone does know, please leave a comment, as, in my time, the only area of the main building with slanted beams like this is the very top floor.

The Studio, the original Art room at Newcastle High School.
The Studio was an early Art room at Church High School (Image Church High School Prospectus, Tyne & Wear Archives).

My feeling is that The Studio – a wonderful room cited elsewhere as a favourite form room owing to a curtained area at its rear where marvellous things were stored on shelves – probably came into being following the first extension to the building in 1928.  It’s typical of ‘Church High thinking’ that interior expansion was made possible without sacrificing the outside space necessary for girls’ health.  The Jubilee History tells us that ‘a new laboratory’ was built ‘out on pillars over the playground, so that it was level with the first floor and could be reached through the old drawing pantry’ (Page 42).

The 1928 extension housed the first purpose-built laboratory.
The 1928 extension built on stilts over the playground housed the School’s first purpose-built Science laboratory.  (Images taken from the Church High School Centenary Book).
We know this area most recently as Geography classrooms .
We know this area most recently as Geography classrooms.
Year 10 say Goodbye to Geography 1, their form room, for the very last time in July 2014.
Year 10 say Goodbye to Geography 1, their form room, for the very last time in July 2014.  Note the sloping ceiling (left).

By the time I began teaching at Church High, this space had become a large Geography room once the Science Department moved to new premises in Curtis House in 1958.  Because of its size, the Geography room was always used as the Dressing Room for the cast of School productions.  This spacious room was a luxury and was divided up into two separate Geography rooms when the modern Art extension was added as part of the Millennium building programme.

Ian Darby Partnership plans for the First Floor 1999 extension and refurbishment.
Ian Darby Partnership plans for the 1999 First Floor of the new extension and the refurbishment of adjoining spaces.

For some time up to this point, the Art Department had been housed up the road in Gurney House which stood next to a bright red pillar box.  This building, 4 Tankerville Terrace, was bought in 1946 and opened in 1947 by Louisa Mary Gurney, the school’s longest serving & most influential Headmistress after whom the house was named.

Gurney House, home to the Church High Art, Home Economics and Computing Departments.
Gurney House, home to the Church High Art, Home Economics and Computing Departments.
Art and Textiles rooms in Gurney House as depicted in the 1985 Church High School prospectus. Note picture of Miss Gurney on the wall.
Art and Textiles rooms in Gurney House (1984 Church High School prospectus). Note picture of Miss Gurney on the wall.

Gurnney House 1984_Textiles

When I arrived, Jean Taylor was Head of Art.  After she left, there was an interim period of one year still in Gurney House when the department was lead by Frances Clark, most ably supported by Art Technician Scott Valentine, before Slade School of Art trained Grant Wells was appointed to move the department into its new building.

The Barbour Wing was built on a section of the old school playground. In the 21st Century, state-of-the-art teaching facilities outweigh outside space as a selling point for schools.
The Barbour Wing was built on a section of the old school playground behind the main building in 1999. Unlike the 1920s, by the 21st Century, state-of-the-art teaching facilities outweigh outside space as a selling point for schools.
One of the first photographs of the new Art Studio spaces in the Barbour Wing.
One of the first images of the new Barbour Wing Art Studio with its fabulous red beams.

Under Grant Wells’ creative leadership, the Art Department went from strength to strength.  There was more of a focus on Fine Art and, following the appointments of Zoe Robinson and Jessica Kinnersley, Sculpture and Textiles were integral to the curriculum.  Exam results were superb, girls went on to Art School and Church High artwork was regularly displayed at The Sage at Prize giving.

Grant Wells teaching in the north Art Studio.
Grant Wells teaches drawing in his Art Studio.
Jessica Kinnersley's Textiles Fashion Shows took place in the Hall.
Jessica Kinnersley held Textiles Fashion Shows in the Hall.
Zoe Robinson's trademark is wire sculptures, here being viewed by writer David Almond at The Biscuit Factory.
Zoe Robinson’s trademark is wire sculptures, here being viewed by writer David Almond at The Biscuit Factory.
Church High exam students' artwork and sculpture became a regular feature at The Sage.
Church High exam students’ artwork and sculpture became a regular feature at The Sage, Gateshead at Prizegiving time.
One of Church High's Fine Art successes in 2011: Abi Buchan having worked as a Freelance Graphic Designer is now Visual Designer for Amazon UK.
Two of Church High’s Fine Art successes who gained A*s at A Level in 2011: having worked as a Freelance Graphic Designer, Abi Buchan (above) is now Visual Designer for Amazon UK.  Tuesday Riddell (below), who took  inspiration from the human face, did an Art and Design Foundation Degree course at Kingston University, London  (Images by Gilbert Johnson).

It has been said that ‘The future is a blank canvas’ and this is surely ‘music’ to an artist’s ears, if you can excuse the mixed metaphor.  I am sure that Zoe, in her innately creative way,  will continue to pass on her passion for Art to NHSG girls even in a much smaller space.  Like you,  she now knows she will be working in a very special studio from September – in the room that was inventively created on stilts.

Church High's first extension space stripped back to the brick in November and now being divided into two new Graphic Art Rooms.
Church High’s first extension space stripped back to the brick in November & now divided into two new Art Rooms.

Newcastle High Art rooms

Church High Dream Team - Grant Wells and Zoe Robinson.
Church High Art: Grant Wells & Zoe Robinson.

 

2 thoughts on “Changing Rooms: The Story of Art at Church High, 12th March 2016”

  1. Both the Creative and Performing Arts departments of Church High and the teachers who inspired their pupils to be the most creative individuals we could be, will forever be fondly remembered.

    Painting sets and making props for the school musicals led to my year group forming the first regular backstage crew for our annual performances – which was my first step towards my career as a freelance theatre technician.

    May the new walls and corridors be filled with the ‘undefeatable and unbeatable’ creative outpourings of the Art nerds of the future!

    Former Church High Girl
    Forever an Art and Theatre nerd

  2. Since Church High produced so many talented artists (too many to mention by name here, sadly), I’ve now added another image of our Fine Art successes to this post since Tuesday is now following us on Twitter and 2011 was undoubtedly a ‘vintage’ year. The third and final part of the 12th March old building tour will be posted soon, I promise; I’ve had to prioritise my NHSG end of year English reports this weekend.

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