Gargrave Art Exhibition 1970 – 2022  

By Sarah Kirk                                                        

The Gargrave Art Exhibition is delighted to be celebrating its Golden Anniversary in July 2022, two years later than originally planned.

Garagrave Exhibition Archive

These cartoons were retrieved from the exhibition archive and were drawn in the early years of the show. If you have additional information about them, we’d be delighted to learn more.

Please contact in the first instance: GargraveArts@gmail.com. Thank you for your interest.

An Early Outline

In 1963 the first art class began and in those early years the occasional one day exhibition was held.  The Men’s Section of the Village Hall organised a One Evening Art Exhibition in 1968 and 1969 and because of the popularity of these the idea for a three day exhibition was nurtured.  On 11th June 1970 the first Gargrave Village Hall Art Exhibition opened, designed to reflect local talent and achievement and in turn inspire artists, both young and old, in the locality.

‘Wonderful to see such talent and such a community spirit,’ wrote Mrs. Flanagan from Redcar on the first page of the 1970 visitors’ book. Looking back through the archives it is reassuring to see how the initial aspirations of the group have been cherished through the decades. The show is still very much a village event with contributions from many local artists, the Gargrave Art Group and Gargrave WI, local businesses and Gargrave Primary School children. Dozens of villagers take on many roles essential to the smooth running of the event. Familiar names in the archives show that some of our current volunteers have been involved for nearly four decades!  And as a fundraiser for the Gargrave Village Hall charity the show supports this essential hub of village life. All these factors combine to give the show its unique flavour and perhaps help to explain its continued success and popularity.

Filling in the details

Naturally change and evolution have taken place over the years. Initially June was selected to ‘take advantage of maximum daylight’ but the exhibition now nestles happily in July between the Gardens Open Day in June and the agricultural show in August. Originally the show opened for three days but in 1972 was extended to its current four days.  Thanks to the WI’s involvement the refreshment opportunities have certainly expanded from the original offering of coffee and biscuits on weekends and evenings! Five years ago the Young Artists Competition was introduced to encourage our aspiring local artists; in 2019 nearly 40 children and young people aged 3-16 participated.

 In the 1970’s and 1980’s the exhibition had ‘featured artists’ within the show. This aspect of the show has evolved into the highly popular People’s Vote Award, granting the artist of the   ‘favourite’ artwork in the main exhibition an extended display the following year. In 1992 a ‘hanging fee’ for artists was introduced; fortunately, the AGM minutes for that year record that this did not have an adverse effect on the number of entries! The artwork prices have increased over the years but as our Golden Anniversary attests, the support for this ‘selling’ show, its professional and amateur artists, remains strong and steadfast.

Subject Matters

A June 1970 a review by the Yorkshire Post Group’s then art critic W.T. Oliver noted the show’s unique dynamic created by the juxtaposition of youthful exuberance shown by the school children and adult artistry. Reviewing the main exhibition, he reported:

The paintings are of a surprisingly high standard in view of the fact that there has been no selection. The spacious village hall, given to Gargrave by the Coulthurst Trust, makes an admirable setting.

Not surprisingly subjects that W.T. Oliver enjoyed then still come back year after year; our beautiful northern countryside, picturesque towns and villages; not forgetting interesting local characters and sheep! Of course, artists are inspired by many aspects of life, sometimes idiosyncratic, often wonderful, all contributions adding to the eclectic nature of the show.

Different perspectives

The Exhibition has always welcomed visitors from near and far. On the first day in 1970, the Noble family from Washington D.C. USA noted their delight: ‘A super show, congratulations’. Visitors also came that day from as far afield as Nelson, Airton and Bell Busk! A certain B. Gill from West Street praised ‘the very high standard of presentation and painting.’  Year after year the show welcomes back adults brought up in Gargrave, returning to the village with their own children to enjoy a fondly remembered childhood event. Rounding off the ‘international’ theme, last year our artworks found new homes in Kent, Scotland and New Zealand.

Framing the Future

On June 12 1970, Mrs. Thompson of South Street, wrote in the visitor’s book: ‘Very good work. Hope it continues.’ Thanks to all the efforts of generations of Gargravians it clearly did!

The current committee, as with all its predecessors, seeks to honour the intentions of those early pioneers in maintaining Gargrave Art Exhibition’s presence and relevance in the heart of village life. Seeking out new opportunities wherever appropriate and working together with our many existing partner groups and supporters, we aspire to ensure that Gargrave Art Exhibition is as forward looking and as enterprising an organisation as it was in its founding year. Please look out for more details on how to enter the exhibition, the Young Artists Competition and volunteering opportunities in the months to come.

Gargrave Art Exhibition Committee