A small display at Weston Park Museum aims to shine a spotlight on a largely forgotten community of amateur and professional painters in the Rivelin Valley in the 1920s.
The grandson of one of the artists, writer, broadcaster and environmentalist Chris Baines, organised the display of 14 works to champion the group and also find out more about them.
The River Rivelin flows down into Sheffield from the moors accounting for the establishment of the city’s world famous cutlery industry. In its heyday there were 21 working water mills powered by its three miles of fast flowing water to produce anvils, scythes and corn as well as cutlery. By the early 1920s only a couple of the water mills were still working, and most of the buildings, dams and weirs had fallen into disrepair.
Nature had begun to reclaim the area and the paintings and watercolours of the Rivelin Valley artists captured that mixture of the natural and industrial landscape vividly. T
The inspiration for the colony was Robert Scott-Temple, an established Scottish landscape painter often referred to as ‘the Professor’. Ben Baines, grandfather of Chris, was one of a group of younger painters who gathered around Scott Temple when he settled in Rivelin Corn Mill in his seventies.
“Most were young men out of the trenches, though my grandfather had been in a reserved occupation,” says Chris.
“If you think what they had been through and what we now know about Post Traumatic Stress. The thing that kept them going in the War was the camaraderie and afterwards they had no support and in the Rivelin Valley I like to think that they found the solace and the creativity they had been yearning for the past four years.
“What I first want to do with this display is put these people on the map. They deserve to stand with St Ives and the Pitmen Painters. These were not Sunday painters.”
Indeed paintings by Scott Temple and another in the group, William R E Goodrich are in Sheffield’s collection.
Chris Baines was sent a portrait of Goodrich by the grand-daughter of Frederick Brooks (who went on to become a prominent portrait artist) that had been drawn in the trenches.
“They were a loose band of brothers. In the process they captured this special moment in the landscape. I have 18 paintings and there will be more, all from a five or six year period in a three-mile stretch.”
He also hopes that the exhibition will help uncover even more paintings of the Rivelin Valley from the period and more details of who the artists were.
Three other members of the group are thought to have been identified through paintings by Charles Edwin Dyson, Vernon Edwards and Charles Pigott.
Chris Baines has particular attachment to a painting on view from a later date. “In the year I was born (1947) my grandfather painted a view from Bell Hagg looking up the Rivelin Valley to the Peak District, the same view that inspired Ruskin to set up his museum in Walkley for ‘workers in iron’.
“My grandfather was a classic little mester with a big lathe in his workshop in Arundel Street. But he also had this passion for watercolours.
“I was born in Heeley and we moved to Stannington when my father became a primary school teacher there. That’s where my roots are and exploring the Rivelin and Loxley has given me a fascination with landscape all my life.”
Since student days he has been away from Sheffield apart from family visits. His mother is still here.
In the Eighties and early Nineties he was a regular on TV programmes such as Pebble Mill at One, Countryfile and Gardener’s World. “I eventually got fed up with the BBC and decided there were more interesting things to do,” he says.
From his home in Wolverhampton he works as a self-employed freelancer, and advises government ministers, local councils and senior executives in major water, minerals, finance, construction and housing companies, on environmental practice. Among his current projects is working with the National Grid on its £500m plan to move its biggest and ugliest pylons underground including ones near Woodhead.
But the Rivelin Valley has remained in his heart – and to many more, he points out. “The statue of Ebenezer Elliott, the Corn Law Rhymer, out there in the park is of him sitting on a rock in the valley which he used as his first place for solace. “This is a landscape full of ghosts, an overgrown living place,” concludes Chris Baines.