Wartime cradle fosters a legacy of artistic talent

The Downland Art Society celebrating their 70th anniversary SUS-141022-151653001
The Downland Art Society celebrating their 70th anniversary SUS-141022-151653001

THE dark days of the Second World War might seem an unusual time for the creation of a group which has gone on to shine so much light and colour into the lives of its members and admirers alike.

But that was the setting for the birth of the Downland Art Society, which on Friday (October 17) celebrated its 70th anniversary with a dinner at the Arun Yacht Club, Littlehampton.

Its origins go back to the war effort in Barnham in 1944, when villagers responded by holding a series of fund-raising projects to purchase an ambulance, including an arts and crafts exhibition staged by local artists. Encouraged by the success of their event, the artists decided to start meeting regularly as a society, and on December 16 that year, the first meeting of the Walberton and District Arts and Crafts Society was held in the studio of professional artist Maurice Randall.

As peacetime approached, in July, 1945, the group held its first exhibition at Barnham School and later that year mounted a display of 80 paintings in Bognor Regis Library.

The name was changed, firstly to the Southdown Villages Arts and Crafts Society and then, at the first annual meeting in 1946, to the title it still uses.

The original membership of six has grown to about 100, amateurs and professionals, who meet up regularly for workshops, demonstrations, talks and exhibitions.

And on Friday, about 50 members and friends enjoyed the anniversary dinner, at which Jules Simons, local artist and art historian, gave an entertaining pre-dinner talk on the murky world of international.

For more information about the society and its programme for 2015, see the website.