Leek School of Art – memories revived

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Yesterday afternoon I went to Leek and stopped outside my old college Leek School of Art, where I went in 1970 at the age of 16, and spent probably the most influential three years in my life. I stopped just to take a photograph outside, when I saw they had some of the plaster casts that inhabited the School in the foyer, I moved closer.

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One of the current staff kindly suggested I go in and we had a chat about why I was there and my time there. I couldn’t stay long, so just took a few shots.

It was a quite overwhelming feeling, not of nostalgia, but of memory. I have previously written about the smell of oil paint which filled the senses when I first entered the corridor, that wasn’t there, but the quality of light in the old life room was.

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ImageThis was late afternoon and looking at what I took there is a sense of pervasive calm and timelessness. In my time the cherub strangling the swan was next to the entrance door and in what I thought an amusing act of defiance I used to tie my scarf on it each day. I took little notice of these casts, they were left over from another era, and yet are still there overseeing the struggles of potential artists.

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Leek School of Art was built in the bowels of The Nicholson Institute an Art Nouveau influenced building as can be seen on the gate of an attached building. The town was famous for textiles so design and arts skills very important. When I went most people were beginning a career in design or craft skills, fine art was less common then. The staff possessed very high quality technical skills and these they tried to pass on, I was not greatly receptive, I wanted a freedom of action, maybe not realising at the time that you can’t really have the freedom without learning the skills first, just look now at Damien Hurst.

I am reasonably pleased with these photographs and I asked to return to make more considered photographs. They will soon move and nearly 150 years of history will cease. But I hope the architects of the new building retain the qualities of light available to the students, it is so important, the large north facing windows offer a true light hard to find in new buildings.

The photographs were taken at 4.30 on a blustery bright afternoon.

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