Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Chairman’s Report 2009-2010

The Bewick Society’s 22nd Annual General Meeting
Saturday 25th September 2010
The Chairman’s Report 2009-2010

Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen, again, it is my pleasure to report on the activities of the Bewick Society. It has been a busy year, with a full range of activities, some events now customary others more experimental, as well as less visible work on important projects.

The most ambitious event, organised in partnership with the University of Newcastle, was a conference entitled ‘Illustrating Fables: Bewick and Beyond’ on Friday 26th February. Stimulating contributions from an international panel of lecturers — Brian Alderson, Graham Williams, Andrea Immel, John Vernon Lord, and our own Peter Osborne and Peter Quinn — were interwoven with much discussion on a neglected area of study. It is intended that publication will follow. The Society is particularly indebted to Peter Osborne, of our Committee, and to Dr Matthew Grenby, of the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics, Newcastle University, who together shaped and delivered a very worthwhile day.

Our popular Bewick Enthusiasms meetings are a forum for unusual snippets of Bewickiana and also a proving ground for developing ideas. The latter was the case with Anne French’s lecture on 1st April; but she was not fooling when she included Lapland in her fascinating study of ‘Thomas Bewick, Lapland and the Grand Tour ’. Bewick’s own contribution, the copperplate illustrations to Matthew Consett’s T our through Sweden, Swedish Lapland Finland and Denmark (1789) made their first appearance before the Society as a ten-minute Enthusiasm almost a decade ago.

The Bewick Enthusiasms meeting itself, held on 24th April, produced a crop of surprises including Peter Osborne’s sampling of an untapped source of Bewick material in local newspapers, and his linking of Bewick with Vincent Van Gogh.  June Holmes discussed Bewick’s influence on the Italian naturalist Paolo Savi. As before we hope that some subjects will lend themselves to fuller study.

The summer outing, again organised and led by David Gardner-Medwin, traced the (footsteps of Thomas Bewick to north Yorkshire where, at Wycliffe Hall, for two .months in 1791 he recorded bird specimens in the collection of the then late •Marmaduke Tunstall (1743-90) — for whom, two years earlier, Bewick had engraved The Chillingham Bull. The results of his visit contributed to the production of his History of British Birds (1797and 1804) which many regard as the highpoint of Bewick’s combined career as engraver, artist and author.

Thomas Bewick’s 257th Birthday was celebrated at Cherryburn on 15th August with the usual ‘Conversation’ including contributions from David Gray on Thornton’s Family Herbal, 1810, with illustrations by ‘Bewick’, (in reality by the apprentices Isaac Nicholson, John Bewick [nephew] and Edward Willis, supervised by TB); from David Gardner-Medwin on documents relating to Bewick forbears around Kirkheaton; and from Peter Quinn on possible links between Bewick’s work and Dutch genre painting. Lots of visitors joined the conversation, and helped with the cake afterwards.

We have had a share of sadder moments, too. Dilys Harding, who died of cancer on 16th April, served a full term as our highly efficient and delightful Secretary. She also provided a vital link with the City Library and the riches of the Pease Collection, hosting committee meetings and full society events including a memorable evening combining Bewick’s musical connections with actual music from members of the Avison Society. The success of the rebuilt City Library (opened last November), especially in the new display and arrangement of the Bewick material in the Pease Collection, owes much to Dilys’s planning just prior to her retirement.

We are fortunate that the link with the Library has been kept by recruiting to the Committee, Dilys’s friend and successor as Head of Heritage, Kath Cassidy. And,when our excellent Meetings Secretary, Felicity Stimpson, moved with her husband, (the recently retired Professor of French at Newcastle University) to the south coast, Kath agreed to take over her responsibility, too. Through Kath’s help, the Library has accommodated many of our Committee meetings and indeed last year’s Annual General Meeting — in the new Bewick Hall, of course!

In passing on the Chairmanship of the Society after a second term, as the Constitution requires, I wish to conclude my report with a tribute to the members of your Committee. I am acutely aware that business on other fronts in recent years, has made me more of a titular head than I would have wished. The reason that this has not been, I hope, too obvious is because of the dedication and hard work of my colleagues on the Committee. I have been extremely lucky to have had such an excellent team. Much of what they do is not in the limelight yet it is vital to the Society’s progress.

David Gardner-Medwin and Peter Osborne have done so much for the Society in various ways that it is difficult to particularise; but one lesser-known project with which both have involved is towards the establishment of a database of Bewick’s vignettes. The potential for such a resource is great and we will be hearing more soon.

The Society’s publications have been crucial to its development. Cherryburn Times, under its editor David Gray, has set a standard of scholarship and presentation which continues to attract a wide range of writers to a natural haven for the safe landing of their Bewick research. Taken together the editions form a mighty resource; and we are discussing whether selective re-publication might be a future aim.

Just as important has been the Members Newsletter, invented and produced by June Holmes, our Membership Secretary, who keeps a growing membership in touch in the most dedicated and friendly way. Her efforts have resulted in gifts, information, visits, and a closer network of admirers of Bewick - now across several continents.

Our growing membership gives us a healthy bank balance. Our Treasurer, Peter Quinn, has been masterly in managing subscriptions and stewarding funding. The Society has managed from what is still a modest annual subscription to cover its printing and administrative costs, to provide publicity materials, to pay for venues and events expenses, and still have a surplus which can be allocated to supporting publications (We are still looking forward to the publication of Nigel Tattersfield’s study of The Illustrated Work 0f Thomas Bewick) or acquisitions or even minor building works.

One of the stated aims of the Society is ‘to support the National Trust in the care of Bewick’s birthplace at Cherryburn’. I believe the Society has a constructive and supportive relationship with Cherryburn, and I know that a good measure of that is owing to Stewart Thirkell, of both the National Trust and your Committee.

I wish my successor good luck in taking on the new responsibilities. If the support from the Committee is even half as good as it has been for me — and I am sure it will be  - the Chairman will be fortunate indeed. I thank the members for their continued support. I believe I am right in reporting that the Bewick Society is in good heart, confident of achievements, yet always looking to improve the fulfilment of its purpose: the promotion of understanding of Thomas Bewick’s extraordinary achievements and influence. As I have had the honour of saying on other occasions, that, with your help, is what we will continue to do. Thank you all very much.

Hugh Dixon, September 2010

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