Friday, 25 September 2009

Annual General Meeting















The Bewick Society held its AGM on Thursday evening. After the formalities we visited the Bewick display on floor 6 of the City Library. We were able to leaf through some rare items from the collection including Moral Instructions of a Father to his Son..and Select Fables of the most important occasions in life, extracted from Dodsley, and others, adorned with emblematical cuts. The third edition.Newcastle: printed by and for T.Saint, 1775. [Number 2 in the Pease Bequest]

Here is the Chairman's Report.

The Bewick Society's 21st Annual General Meeting
24th September 2009
The Chairman's Report
Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is an honour to welcome you to the 21st Annual General Meeting of the Bewick Society. It is a pleasure to do so in Newcastle City Library, now transformed phoenix-like from its old self into this great new Charles Avison Building. And for us it is particularly good to be here in the new Bewick Hall! This is the kind of recognition we like for Thomas. We congratulate all concerned on the new building, and we extend thanks to the Director of Library and Information Services and the staff for making this meeting possible. In particular we are grateful to Katherine Cassidy, Senior Librarian and now Service Manager: Heritage, for suggesting that we should meet here and for making the arrangements; we look forward to her guided tour after this meeting.

It has been another busy year. Your Committee met on seven occasions and there have also been sub-committee meetings for projects which will be mentioned in a moment. Our activities have followed a familiar pattern. Following this meeting last year, David Gray spoke on Bewick's influence on French engraving; and in November Jenny Uglow united two of her interests in talking on gardening in Bewick's time. Members joined National Trust Volunteers at Cherryburn for a Christmas gathering hosted by Stewart Thirkell. In January there was a very well attended 'Enthusiasms' meeting in the novel setting of the Friends Meeting House in Jesmond. The many contributions included a memorable poetic interlude from Keith Armstrong, some thoughts on Bewick and the Brontes from Peter Osborne, and the discovery by Peter Quinn of an edition of Bewick's Memoir in Swedish! As in the past, we hope that some of these enthusiasms will be developed into wider discussion or publication.

For our summer walk we went north, and David Gardner-Medwin unravelled the background and connections of Thomas Bewick's paternal grandparents as we walked from Kirkheaton to Kirkharle. The weather was kind most of the time; spirits were not dampened even if other bits were. Success of activities relies on support of members; and yet again our Membership Secretary, June Holmes, can report an increase in membership. The growth and retention of members is the result in no small measure of June's friendly administration and her splendid Newsletter. Under the careful stewardship of our Hon. Treasurer, Peter Quinn, our healthy finances made it possible, along with normal Society expenditure, to assist with the purchase of books generously made available at half value from her collection by Society member Ada Radford. The books were allocated to the Natural History Society of Northumbria and Cherryburn. David Gray, as our Editor, has produced two editions of Cherryburn Times giving permanence to two of our excellent lectures: Peter Osborne on Ruskin's Annotations to Bewick's Birds and Peter Quinn on Bewick and Scotland. With Ian McKie's technical assistance, and contributions from others, David has also revised the Society's website with excellent results.

On the publicity front we have made what I hope you will agree is one striking advance. The Society's advertising banner, displayed for the first time at Bewick's 256th Birthday celebrations at Cherryburn in August, and now here tonight, is the result of contributions from Stewart Thirkell, Peter Osborne, David Gray and our technical wizard consultant Ian Mckie. We are grateful to them all; and we believe that the banner will be a great help in promoting Bewick on many occasions.

We have also started work on two projects which should be of great significance to Bewick studies. Thomas Bewick had a profound interest in the illustration of fables throughout his working life from the Select Fables of the 1770s to two majestic editions of his own Aesop in 1818 and 1823. In partnership with the University of Newcastle we intend to hold a study day on Fables early next year. There will be contributions from authorities on fables setting Thomas Bewick's contribution in context. It is intended to publish the proceedings. Please keep watch for further information. The other project will be more time-consuming but equally useful. The purpose is to record all Thomas Bewick's vignettes, their first appearance and subsequent use. This mammoth task, proposed by Peter Osborne is being led by Peter and David Gardner-Medwin and will need a team of researchers.

That there is still work to do is shown by the Hancock Museum. This has been rebuilt and extended as the Great North Museum: Hancock which now embraces the Museum of Antiquities, and the University's Greek and Egyptian collections. While respecting the museum's novel focus, it difficult not to comment from our particular viewpoint. Thomas Bewick was, arguably, the greatest artist - that the North East has produced, pre-eminent as engraver and illustrator; he was also one of our most important pioneering naturalists. This was acknowledged in the old Hancock Museum with a small but telling exhibition. It is disappointing to record that no space has been found for Bewick in the museum's splendid new displays. The only mention of Thomas Bewick is in relation to a present sent to the Literary and Philosophical Society by James Hunter, the second Governor of New South Wales. This, the first Wombat specimen to be seen in England, appeared in the 4th edition (1800) of Bewick's A General History of Quadrupeds. No doubt, as exhibitions develop, there will opportunities for fuller acknowledgement of Thomas Bewick's significance, and it will be our business to ensure that those opportunities are not missed.

We are keen to acknowledge the efforts of others in promoting the name of Bewick. An excellent exhibition on Bewick's Tailpieces mounted by the IKON Gallery in consultation with Iain Bain has had a spell at Birmingham and is on show at the Laing Art Gallery until Sunday 18th October. We hope members will see the exhibition and will join a valedictory visit and discussion at the Gallery on 17th October. I am grateful to colleagues for noting two other Bewickian events both in December - the opening of a large new restaurant in Gateshead Civic Centre called Bewicks with appropriate decorations including metallic versions of TB's signature. As dramatic but more ephemeral was the Glow Festival's projection of Bewick images onto Newcastle's Town Walls.

Next year promises much. As well as the usual programme of events, and the activity around the fables and vignettes projects, we look forward with excitement to the publication of Nigel Tattersfield's study of The Illustrated Work of Thomas Bewick. This multi-volumed work promises to be a major event in the long and distinguished history of publications on Bewick. We expect publication in the spring; we have invited Nigel to come to a northern launch; and, in return for a modest contribution towards publication costs from the Society, it is hoped to offer members copies at a modest discount. We hope to have more precise information soon. The Bewick Society exists to promote interest in Thomas Bewick, to conserve, exhibit and publicise his work. With your help, that is what we will continue to do into our second twenty-one years.
Hugh Dixon 2009

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