WE WEREÂ founded 80 years ago, and back then were called an ‘art club’. Our President was recorded as being Mary, Marchioness of Abergavenny, and the club was connected with 17 other societies who pledged their support to help us get suitable premises. We now reside at 61 The Pantiles.
Our records date back to 1945, and we have photos and reports of many of our past events, including the then Vice President, Mr C Tattershall Dodd, giving a talk on the painter John Ruskin. Ray Campbell Smith, a famous watercolour artist, and Winston Churchill even exhibited!
Since it was established, the Royal Tunbridge Wells Arts Society [RTWAS] has changed considerably, becoming far more relaxed, informal and
a fun place to be, but we still keep art as the central focus.
We now boast 158 members and work with a voluntary committee. We have the most brilliant exhibition secretary in Janet Richardson, and without her I, as Chairperson, would have far more sleepless nights than I do!
The society hosts weekly demonstrations as well as three regular portrait painting groups and Saturday workshops. In the summer there is the opportunity to go and paint outside.
We hold three main exhibitions every year in spring, summer and winter at our premises on The Pantiles, and each one lasts roughly two weeks. Our Spring Exhibition this year runs to April 23 and was opened by Clare Hyland, a Senior Partner at Cripps.
We also run three ‘private’ exhibitions each summer, when members who have belonged to the society for three years can join with two or three others and take over the whole premises for two weeks each. ‘Private’ is a misnomer, though, as anyone is welcome to come and view.
There are certain rules in place about how to present pictures for hanging, and any picture is accepted, as long as it is of a reasonable standard and deemed suitable for public view.
But as art is such an intangible thing, we try to be open-minded. The majority of the work submitted is of a very high calibre, and lots of our visitors comment on this.
Some people don’t realise that, given the opportunity, they would love art and may well show an aptitude for it. Young people especially need the chance to be able to find this out and exploit it. To art lovers like myself, it is not a part of everyday life – it is the whole of life, and because we love it so much we long to share it with others because art has the ability to enrich and deepen life.
In terms of the future, the Royal Tunbridge Wells Art Society will continue as we are – a longstanding, large, and very successful group of artists and enthusiasts. And anyone who would like to explore it is welcome to join.
We do have a ‘try before you buy’ policy, where people can come along for a visit to see if they like us and if it is what they’re looking for. We are always very friendly, helpful and welcoming.
In mid-June, we are holding a charity postcard exhibition for Hospice in the Weald. These are painted by members and professional artists, but only signed on the back, so you only find out who has painted them if you buy them!
Also, next summer, we are planning a big two- week exhibition based on Tunbridge Wells – any aspect of it or person connected with it. It will be opened by our MP, Greg Clark, and based on the town’s motto, which is ‘Do Well and Doubt Not’.
We want to keep the society as a rich source of artistic availability to all its members, and would encourage anyone who is interested in art to come along and see us.
We have been running successfully for 80 years so, without being complacent in any way, I think we’re doing something right.
For more details, see www.rtwas.org