Our Society’s History
As its name suggests, the Society is still firmly rooted in Folkestone, a town that is developing an international reputation as a centre for the arts and the creative industries. This is in no small measure thanks to the generosity of the Roger de Haan Charitable Trust and the work of the towns Creative Foundation. With international art events such as the Folkestone Triennial and imaginative arts organisations such as Strange Cargo, the Folkestone Art Society is proud to be part of this cultural renaissance on the South Coast.
The Society’s origins lie in a group of about 30 people from Folkestone and Hythe, interested in the Arts and Crafts and associated with the Kent Federation, meeting together in 1928 to further their interest in arts and crafts. From those humble beginnings the Society has grown to become a vibrant community of artists and friends with members from across Kent and the South East.
Folkestone Art Society was first named as such in 1934 when the ‘craft’ element was taken off the menu.
The first exhibition was held in 1935 at the Pleasure Gardens Theatre (the site now occupied by the Police Station in Bouverie Road West). The Chairman then was Arthur Baker-Clack RA, an Australian artist who had trained in Paris. He died in 1955 leaving a portfolio of his work to Hythe.
1937 the FAS annual exhibition was in the Lady Sassoon Room of the Folkestone Public Library and annual exhibitions were held there for more than fifty years (excluding the war years).
Membership of the Society was originally by invitation only and following an interview. It was later widened to applicants who would submit examples of their work to a selection committee – whose responsibility it was to ensure that the required high standard was maintained. Standards remain as high as ever in our exhibitions although membership now is open.
In 1947 Winston Churchill, who was at that time Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, became an honorary member and remained so until his death in 1965.
1948 Gerald Norden joined the Society. He was Principal of the Folkestone School of Art and later became our president, a position which he held for many years.
1960 Folkestone was twinned with Boulogne and the Mayor of Boulogne opened our exhibition. John Eveleigh sold a picture for £10 and the work of Kevin Hennessy (then a student) was said to be ‘impressive’.
1962 membership had increased to 58 and Gerald Norden was elected Chairman. Together with John Ward RA he started a sketch club section.
1965 membership had dropped to 43.
1971 a critic wrote in the Folkestone Herald: ‘An art exhibition which opened at Folkestone Public Library on Monday resembles a roomful of clichés’. Later in the same article the critic wrote: ‘Some of the works on view at the exhibition are outstanding. Among them are four oil paintings by Gerald Norden, Chairman of the Folkestone Art Society.’
1975 FAS members were taken to task by the sculptor E Bainbridge-Copnall, who said when opening the exhibition: ‘It is a disgrace that people can pay so little for pictures’. Many professional artists would feel nothing changes in that respect!
In the 1978 Golden Jubilee Exhibition, held in the Metropole Art Gallery, there were 235 exhibits. This year Harold Jackson (FAS Hon. Sec. for 19 years and Chairman for 13 years) died. He left four of his pictures to Folkestone Public Library. Two FAS members (Patsy Baker and Brian Oxley) had pictures in the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition. Other well-known members at the time included Joy Beeching, Kevin Hennessy, and Elizabeth Parry-Cooke.
1980 the first student’s competition was held.
The Diamond Jubilee Exhibition (1988) included exhibits by artists including Betty Allen, Patsy Baker, Beryl Bell, Eric Buckman, Ray Bush, Jane Clark, John Clarke, Dirk de Vries, Pat Downs, John Eveleigh, Graham Fenton, Norma Green, Marie Holloway, Joan Jackson, Alan Luff, Nancy Mace, Brian Oxley, and Janine Umbers, Gilbert Ashbee, Rita Benson, Mu Bloor, Margaret Keown, Kevin Hennessy, and Gerald Norden.
In 1992 the FAS held its annual exhibition in the Metropole Gallery. It was opened by Alan Clark MP.
1995 exhibitions were held in the Leas Cliff Hall and at the Metropole, the latter opened by Sir Roger de Haan. The Metropole Arts Centre was known as a centre of excellence.
1998 the Society moved to The Grand next door to the Metropole (where it exhibited annually for the next 21 years).
November 2006 the FAS lecture by Professor Anthony Slinn (now named the Slinn Lecture) was included in the Folkestone Literary Festival programme.
2012 the Society introduced a new ‘Summer Exhibition’ to complement the existing established Spring and Autumn Exhibitions. The new exhibition, first held in the town’s Cultural Quarter, provided an additional opportunity for promoting the visual arts, contributing to the artistic reputation and visitor experience of the town and allowing members of the Society to showcase their work. Timed to coincide with the peak period of the holiday season, both locals and visitors were able to browse over 200 artworks. By this time FAS membership numbers had increased to just under 200 members.
2013 the Society introduced the annual FAS Gloria Gordon Award for Young Artists. This is funded by Society patron Graham Gordon in memory of his late wife – and former FAS member – Gloria.
2014 saw the introduction of the first annual Art Review, a full colour publication showcasing members works, which replaced the former FAS Journal.
2015 Under the leadership of Sue Brelade the Society became a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO). Registered Charity Number 1161336.
2016 Alan Luff stood down as President of the Society and was succeeded by Fiona Graham-Mackay.
2017 the Society published it’s first hardback book, “Folkestone Through Artists Eyes'” (ISBN 9780995562004), providing an illustrated history of the town with artworks by 50 members. It also created a public art installation, hosted by the historic St Eanswythe’s and St Mary’s Church, as part of the Folkestone Triennial Fringe festival.
2018 Sue Brelade stood down after five years as Chair of the Society, having overseen its modernisation, incorporation as a registered Charity and its return to financial health. She was succeeded by John Keller.
2019 The Society holds it’s last last exhibition at the Grand.
2020 For the first time since WW2, the Society does not exhibit due to the global pandemic.
We are grateful to John Sussams, FAS Editor, for providing the original version from which this history is an extract. In that version John stated that his short history of Folkestone Art Society had been extracted from a number of sources and was, to the best of his (and our) knowledge, correct. If you do spot any errors, please let us know. There is currently a gap in our information for the decade of the 1950s. We should be grateful for any contributions.