Special report: The high price of creative talent

Hallam Art Group exhibition at the Botanical Gardens: John Abel working in the gardens
Hallam Art Group exhibition at the Botanical Gardens: John Abel working in the gardens
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How Hallam Art Group’s annual exhibition at Sheffield’s Botannical Gardens has helped raise thousands of pounds for worthy causes over the years

“So far it’s already been a bumper year,” said Hallam Art Group treasurer John Abel on Sunday, after selling 23 paintings in the group’s annual summer exhibition at the Botanical Gardens.

Hallam Art Group exhibition at the Botanical Gardens: Marina Trojanowska of Hallam Art Group showing one of her paintings to Doreen Farrier from the Friends of the Botanical Gardens

Hallam Art Group exhibition at the Botanical Gardens: Marina Trojanowska of Hallam Art Group showing one of her paintings to Doreen Farrier from the Friends of the Botanical Gardens

It was one of HAG’s biggest summer shows, he added, with 119 works on display ranging from purple abstracts to landscapes, still lives and animal portraits. The group has been exhibiting at the Botanical Gardens for 14 years, helping to raise more than £7,000 for the Friends of the Botanical Gardens.

“The support from Hallam Art Group is absolutely fantastic,” said Peggy Cable of FOBS. “Not only do they help us with donations at their exhibitions, but their members have given us over 200 paintings to use on our greetings cards, many showing scenes from the gardens, which have helped us raise even more money over the years.”

A bucket collecting rainwater among the landscapes of the exhibition was a reminder of FOBs’ current campaign to replace their dilapidated education room.

Visitors to the exhibition included students, families and fellow artists. John Abel pointed out that interest in painting and drawing continues to grow, especially among the retired who make up the vast majority of HAG members.

“We have some younger members in their 30s, but a lot of 30 to 40 year olds say they’re so busy they haven’t got the time they might have had in previous decades, so we find that retired people can put more time into it so their art develops.”

Older people also have more time for community activities, he added, so are able to ‘put something back into the community’ by producing works to help support the Botanical Gardens.

“A lot of people enjoy art at school, then you have a family and a profession, and then when you retire you think ‘I’d love to go back because I’ve always hankered after doing art’ and we think Hallam Art Group provides a nice framework to do it,” said John.

“You can slowly get more involved to find yourself, and it’s good to have a group of people to help.”

The group’s regular Thursday evening meetings include demonstrations by experienced members, who are always ready to offer advice or criticism to newcomers, which is not necessarily as alarming as it sounds.

“We have meetings where we criticise each other’s work,” said Peter Wright. “Members will describe a problem they’ve got and people will then say how they’d get out of the problem, so that criticism is a very valuable thing.”

Individual members also give demonstrations to other groups around the city.

“HAG member Mike Green came to a group of 22 of us at our church, and showed us a technique for painting trees using masking tape,” said Peter Kennett. “Only one or two had done any art since school, but we all went home with results we were really proud of, and I now have the painting on my wall to show the grandchildren. It was a fun evening that opened my eyes into a world I didn’t know much about.”

“We like to spread the word about art,” said HAG member Miranda Trojanowska. We aim to open up the world of art and colour and art history to local people,” she added.

The group regularly helps with art appreciation and education events for local children - recently HAG supervised a recreation of a Van Gogh landscape created from squares depicting part of the original work painted by local children.

This year is Hallam Art Group’s 40th anniversary, after original members Isobel Blincow and Eric Gregory set up regular meetings at Hallam Community Hall for local art lovers. The group now has around 75 members, usually from fairly close to the venue in Fulwood, and has always held a short waiting list for new members.

Current secretary Judith Howson said the waiting list is falling as older members retire from the group, so new applications for membership are welcome.

Members have to commit to attending a certain number of meetings per year.

HAG hold two exhibitions at the community hall per year, the next at Christmas, and also exhibit members’ work at local GP surgeries, as well as Forge Dam cafe and the Three Merry Lads pub - new venues welcome, said John Abel.

The encouraging picture sales and interest in the exhibition was a good sign, he added.

“People are buying art, so perhaps the recession is over.”

*Art in the Gardens, the biggest outdoor art and crafts show in the north, returns to the Botanical Gardens on September 6 and 7.

More than 300 artists, sculptors and craftsmen will exhibit about 10,000 pieces at the event, which is in its 11th year.