Candidates Exhibition 2017 and the History of the Society

Candidates exhibition 2017 and the History of the Society

In light of our upcoming Candidates exhibition, 10 April – 22nd April 2017, now is the perfect time to have a look back to the history of the Royal Birmingham Society and the election process required to join the prestigious list of Society artists.

The Candidates Exhibition aims to showcase the best works by artists nominated for the upcoming election to Associate or Member of the Society. These works, exhibited across galleries 1 and 2, will exemplify the artistic direction and future of the RBSA. The purpose for this exhibition, as a method of selecting the new Associates and Members of the society, makes this a stand out exhibition in the RBSA programme and a must see for those interested in the contemporary output of artists today.

The Election Process

Historically the Society has elected its Associates and Members through nominations made by current Members once a year. The first step to becoming a Member of the Society is to gain the title of RBSA Associate. At present, there are two ways of becoming an Associate. The first is through a process called Associate Nomination an artist must be nominated by two full Members and have written evidence of their support.  The second is through a process called ‘Self-Nomination’, for people who do not know a current Member but have already exhibited at the Gallery in the last five years, possible through the Open or Prize exhibitions. This application is then reviewed by the President and a select group of Members. The second step to becoming a Member is Member Nomination, which today requires a present Associate of the society to submit a nomination form, formally putting their name forward for consideration

Photographs of the 2017 Candidates exhibtion


The Candidates exhibition will then take place, whereupon all candidates are required to submit six works of art which will be evaluated and voted on by a panel of Members. To be elected candidates must achieve 50% and one vote from the panel.

The election process for current artists interested in joining the Society and to be considered for the Associate or Member nominations next year, is explained in further detail on our website:

The History of the Society

The historic names of past and current Associates and Members of the society can be seen to reflect not only the prestigious status of the RBSA, but also the contemporary art movements occurring in Birmingham. Established in 1821 as the Birmingham Society of Arts, the early stages of the society saw a blossoming of interest from contemporary artists and in 1829 Thomas Rickmann designed and built the RBSA Gallery on New street, captured at the time by many of the Society Members. This growing group of artists were presented with a royal charter in 1868, thus adopting the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.

During the 1840s and late nineteenth century the RBSA had a significant role in the popular Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts movement. Among the many notable past presidents the RBSA can include Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris and John Everett Millais. As impressive as these connections are, perhaps more important are the significant shifts taken by the RBSA to modernise and evolve the artistic allowances of accepted works over the more recent years. In 1978 Joan Elizabeth Woollard, a Birmingham-born sculptor, was elected as the first female president of the RBSA, a role she maintained until 1980. The society has gone on to elect members and support artists from diverse backgrounds and the use of a range of artistic mediums. The most recent selection process for the RBSA Open exhibition saw entries by Members and non-Members including paintings and sculptures of all types of mixed media and processes of production. Through these examples of progressive and contemporary thinking the RBSA’s process of nomination and election is welcoming of the next generation of artists and the Candidates exhibition will aim to showcase the high standard of work and talent expected of future RBSA Associates and Members.

By Isabella Frostick, RBSA Archive Team Volunteer

Researching the history of the RBSA Gallery

Recently the RBSA has begun an exciting new project investigating the past of the Gallery it is based in at number 4 Brook Street.  As a volunteer much of the research has involved a range of detailed sources including: archival deeds/documents, tithe maps, local history platforms and more. This research has been hugely beneficial in developing my skills. Furthermore, I have found the process very interesting and think that it has added more meaning to the building.

RBSA Gallery

RBSA Gallery 2016, © RBSA

The Colmore Family

Through utilising local history websites, it became clear that during the 1500s onwards the noblest family in Birmingham, the Colmores, owned land covering the St Paul’s area and other parts of the City Centre. Originally French, they made their fortune in the clothes industry and gained further land when they aqcuired St Paul’s priory following the dissolution of monasteries by Henry VIII (1491 –1547) in 1536. Earlier ventures additionally included William Colmore’s (the younger) building of a mansion upon New Hall overseeing  their surrounding land. It is speculated that the first building at 4 Brook Street was created after Ann Colmore was granted permission to develop their land through a private act of parliament[1] during 1746. Thus the Colmores produced buildings to lease to others, expanding their endeavours into real estate.

The Colmores

Johann Zoffany, Bridgeman Art Gallery, The Colmore Family, (Undated), giclee, found in Art, ‘Group portrait of the Colmore Family’,

Aston button manufacturing

Another process involved in researching the building was visiting the Birmingham City Archives in order to analyse primary documents concerning Brook Street. This was at times difficult due to archaic writing on certain deeds proving hard to interpret alongside false leads (another street in Ashted Row often featured). Yet it proved rewarding in providing first-hand writings about the building.

The most relevant source I discovered was an indenture by the Colmores detailing everyone who leased their property in 1872. According to their records since 1787, Samuel Aston (1754 – 1820) used the premise as a ‘manufacturer.’[2] The document omitted what in particular was produced, but as a starting point it proved useful in detailing one of the uses of the building and aided me in further enquiries. Indeed, by researching Samuel Aston further via family history websites a more detailed picture emerged.

Samuel Aston’s employment consisted of button production within the firm ‘Samuel and Thomas Aston of St Paul’s Square’[3] which was owned by him and his brother Thomas (1758-1810). After his death in 1820 this was continued by his sons William (1787 -1845), Thomas (1789 -1855), and John (1803 -1882). ‘William left’[4] in 1823 and ‘Thomas’[5] in 1833 respectively. This meant that John led the business successfully, especially after producing three-fold linen buttons from 1841. The business was continued [6] by his sons, Thomas and George – although more research is needed into the running of the business under their guidance. Again, these findings reiterate the importance of the gallery as it was once part of Birmingham’s famous button trade.

Sam Currier and Sons

Concerning more modern history, a breakthrough was made by responses to a social media post requesting public information concerning the building. Two respondents noted that between the 1950s and 1970s the building traded in the print industry as engravers under the name Sam Currier and Sons. This reinforces the significance of the RBSA’s location because it demonstrates how the building is part of public memory and has been involved in the centre of commerce for many years. By researching these oral testimonies further – via the Birmingham Daily Gazzette online archival resource – it was exciting to find that this business existed as ‘early as 1942’[7] . The business was eventually liquidated in 1984 in another location.

What else is needed?

There are many gaps within the time-span of information concerning the gallery so far. Hopefully this will change through further research of more resources. I have greatly enjoyed exploring the various archive materials and hope that another volunteer will be able to use my findings to continue this work.

By Charlie Lomas (Archive volunteer, 2017)



[1] W.Dargue, ‘The Newhall estate, Newhall Hill and city centre’, A history of Birmingham places & placenames from A to Y (2009),

[2] Library of Birmingham, Deeds relating to the property in Ludgate Hill and Water Lane Archives, Colmores, MS 93/15 – 36, Deeds/abstracts of title 10th July 1872

[3] J.Cardinal, ‘Samuel Aston’,  Meredith of Herefordshire (2012),

[4] J.Cardinal, ‘William Aston’, Meredith of Herefordshire (2012),

[5] J.Cardinal, ‘Thomas Aston’, Meredith of Herefordshire (2012),

[6] J.Cardinal, ‘John Aston’, Meredith of Herefordshire (2012),

[7] Anon, ‘Businesses’, Birmingham Daily Gazette, 12th November 1942 found at British newspaper archive, ‘Archive’, Genes reunited (2014),


Anon, ‘Appointment of liquidators’, London Gazette 1984, found at

Anon, ‘Businesses’, Birmingham Daily Gazette, 12th November 1942 found at British newspaper archive, ‘Archive’, Genes reunited (2014),

Cardinal.J, ‘John Aston’, Meredith of Herefordshire (2012),

Cardinal.J, ‘Samuel Aston’,  Meredith of Herefordshire (2012),

Cardinal.J, ‘Thomas Aston’, Meredith of Herefordshire (2012),

Cardinal.J , ‘William Aston’, Meredith of Herefordshire (2012),

Dargue.W, ‘The Newhall estate, Newhall Hill and city centre’, A history of Birmingham places & placenames from A to Y (2009),

Foley.E, ‘RBSA gallery building’, Facebook (2016),

Zoffany.J, Bridgeman Art Gallery, The Colmore Family, (Undated), giclee, found in Art, ‘Group portrait of the Colmore Family’,

Behind the Scenes: “Baker to Bartlett” Exhibition and Films for the RBSA

Baker to Bartlett Exhibition

Baker to Bartlett: The Changing Face of RBSA Printmaking was a successful exhibition which took place from 17th October – 12 November 2016.The artworks chosen exemplified the RBSA’s printmaking evolution and were carefully chosen from the RBSA Collection, works owned by living artists and works from our Member’s collections.  The curators for this exhibition, with the difficult choice of which works to include, were RBSA Member David White and Carol White. Both are retired Archive Officers of the RBSA, and therefore have invaluable knowledge about the RBSA Collection and the variety of print maker’s styles within the Society.

In an interview with Carol and David they explained that their inspiration behind picking printmaking as their theme was driven by their own practical experience making prints and also their pre-existing passion for the medium within their own collection of artworks. Their process of researching and selecting the works for the exhibit was very successful. They expressed particular gratitude to the nine Members who kindly agreed to lend additional examples of their work to the exhibition, resulting in twelve outstanding examples of what the RBSA Members and Associates produced in various stages of their careers. An example of the prints lent by artists includes those by the exhibitions title artist Paul Bartlett. In particular my favourite was the complex visual experience when viewing No Entry, (or Still Knocking at the Door), 2007. The wonderful addition of works such as this also allowed the opportunity for living artists to write their own exhibition and catalogue labels, therefore giving a direct insight to the artist’s creative process from the conception of the idea to their technical execution.


Commentary from Paul Bartlett on the work: Commissioned for ‘The Encyclopedia of Fantasy and Science Fiction Art Techniques’ (pub 1996), the brief was to create ‘a plausibly impossible architectural structure.’ When reworking it as an etching, I included myself in the eternally recurring implausible truths – no matter what stage in a career or life we are at, there are still closed doors to contend with.

Paul Bartlett RBSA RBSA, No Entry (or Still Knocking at the Door), 2007, Solar plate etching. Commentary from Paul Bartlett on the work: “Commissioned for ‘The Encyclopedia of Fantasy and Science Fiction Art Techniques’ (pub 1996), the brief was to create ‘a plausibly impossible architectural structure.’ When reworking it as an etching, I included myself in the eternally recurring implausible truths – no matter what stage in a career or life we are at, there are still closed doors to contend with.” copyright @paulbartlett

As a member of the RBSA Archive Team, I was able to work closely with Carol and David and help to research the prints by deceased artists using the RBSA archive files and MODES database. This gave me a great opportunity to research in-depth the broad scope of Members and Associates that exhibited a variety of print-making techniques. This was a side to the RBSA which I had previously left unexplored. This exhibition showcased works spanning almost 200 years and demonstrates the RBSA’s contribution towards printmaking and changing attitudes to representation of subjects ranging from the topography of the local area to science fiction imaginings. I was very proud to have contributed to this exhibition and to have documented its success and progress in films such as those available to view on the RBSA Vimeo page:

David and Carol discussing works that were featured in the exhibition:


Our Most Ambitious Film Yet

As a result of funding provided by West Midlands Museum Development, the RBSA were recently able to produce our most ambitious online film yet. Having already shared seven short films about the history, volunteers and Members at the RBSA on our Vimeo page, we were fuelled with interest in how to learn more and develop our skills in this medium of promoting the Gallery and Society.

One of the most important aspects of the RBSA Gallery is the public who come each day to view, purchase and admire  artworks as well as learn about the Society. Therefore this video will hopefully act as a way for a wider range of people to learn about how to travel to the Gallery and what they can expect upon their arrival. Our team of RBSA archive volunteers as well as Friends and Members of the Society all donated their time to help film, act and edit this video and we all hope it will be of use to anyone thinking about coming to the Gallery.

The video covers topics such as how to travel to the Gallery via train, tram, car, bus and walking on foot. Two actors in the film also provide a guide to what is exhibited on the different floors of the Gallery, and the access for any disabled visitors; providing information on our facilities, such as using the lift, disabled toilets and cafe area. It also gives a brief overview of the Society’s history and ways in which you can support the Society through donations and purchasing artworks, as well as the wide range of workshops and demonstrations we run throughout the year.

Most excitingly, the entire film has become accessible to deaf visitors thanks to Danielle Hansbury, a British Sign language interpreter, who accompanies the film throughout. In the near future there will also be a video without sign language providing the same information. This addition provided a new technical challenge for our volunteers in charge of filming and editing, but we are positive about applying these skills in access awareness to our future films to ensure that they are accessible for as many visitors as possible.

Please do go and view the films on our Vimeo page 

Our newest film can be found Here

We hope to see you at the Gallery soon!


Issy Frostick, RBSA Archive Volunteer

Capability Brown, RBSA, and Weston Park

(c) York Museums Trust; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) York Museums Trust; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

2016 marks the tercentenary of the birth of Capability Brown (1716-1783). To celebrate his achievements, many artists across the country are producing new artworks inspired by his life and work. Weston Park is a stately home situated in Staffordshire.  It has 1,000 acres of garden design and the parkland was shaped by Brown, making it a very suitable venue for exhibitions and events based on the tercentenary of his birth.  The Gallery at Weston Park has held Brown-themed exhibitions throughout the year, ending with a show of artwork by RBSA artists, which has been extended to run until the end of January 2017.

Capability Brown was a famous architect, royal gardener and landscaper known for his work on stately home gardens.  His most notable works include Hampton Court, and Ickworth House gardens.  Brown began his career as a gardener in his home town of Kirkhale. However, he travelled widely and in 1741 he became involved in Buckingham Palace Gardens. He gained much of his work through personal recommendations and created approximately 250 gardens throughout his career.

Brown is regarded as a visionary and an inspiration to other gardeners due to his ability to combine within the landscape practicality, elegance, and nature. He often emphasised wildlife by making his planting an array of trees and by using sunken fences which did not disturb the view of the land.

Brown’s influence is widespread amongst artists throughout history. For example: Joseph Mallord Wiliam Turner (1775 -1851) painted several of the landscapes designed by Brown and developed his own distinctive, expressive approach to depicting the landscape in paint. Today, RBSA artists such as Hannah Northam ARBSA believe Brown has influenced their choice of nature as a source of inspiration. Northam creates sculptures based on organic forms, which can be displayed indoors and outdoors. She has also completed a portrait bust of Brown for the exhibition at Weston Park.


Hannah Northam ARBSA at work on bust of Capability Brown.

For more information about Weston Park and the exhibition, see:

Charlie Lomas and Elinore Foley, Archive Team Volunteers

My Experience Making Films About The RBSA Collection

At the beginning of February the RBSA were approached with a very exciting project funded by West Midlands Museum Development. The aim of the project was to help increase access to the RBSA Collection by creating a group of short videos which would promote the variety of artworks and how different demographics can access or use the Collection. I am currently an Undergraduate Archive Volunteer and previous to this project I had no foreknowledge of how to film or edit footage. We began by having a training session with James White in order to learn the basic concepts and techniques of how to: film using a camera on manual mode, adjust settings for audio, adjust lighting and settings correctly, organise the structure of an interview, and edit and upload the films to the RBSA Vimeo page.

(From left to right) Veronica Pallett, Issy Frostick, James White and Nigel Priddey. Royal Birmingham Society Artists, Birmingham

Training Day (From left to right) Veronica Pallett, Issy Frostick, James White and Nigel Priddey. 

A group of RBSA volunteers and staff members used these skills to produce six videos which cover a variety of topics:

Access and Visual Impairment at the RBSA

An engaging discussion with Peter Beasley and Ian Reynolds, both members of FOCUS Birmingham, about their experiences of how visual impairment has impacted the way they interpret and make art.

The History of the RBSA

RBSA Professor of History of Art, Brendan Flynn explains the long history and changing purposes of art through a variety of works from the RBSA Collection.

Prints in the RBSA Collection

Retired Archive Officers Carol and David White RBSA discuss the works of Samuel Baker and Richard Chattock and introduce their inspirations towards their upcoming exhibition Baker to Bartlett: The Changing Face of Printmaking at the RBSA.

Richard Chattock (1825-1906) , Blast Furnaces, Cradley, 1872,  etching, Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, Birmingham, 19.5x31cm, © the artist’s estate, photo credit: Royal Birmingham Society of Artists

Richard Chattock (1825-1906) , Blast Furnaces, Cradley, 1872, etching, Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, Birmingham, 19.5x31cm, © the artist’s estate, photo credit: Royal Birmingham Society of Artists

Student Interaction and Volunteering

Ayesha Hussain discusses her personal experience of volunteering in the RBSA Archive and how her studies have been enhanced by Aubrey Beardsley’s works from the RBSA Collection.

A Reflection on a Single Artwork from the Collection

Nigel Priddey discusses the work Christchurch Passage by his father, James Priddey and the process of Etching.

This project has been especially interesting because my responsibilities have been mainly focused on the editing and upload of the videos. Both of these tasks supplied their own challenges but also an artistic freedom and I enjoyed the independence and time I was given to ensure a polished final product. The videos have not only allowed me to gain new skills with film editing software, they are also something I am proud of helping to produce. We will hopefully be making more videos for the RBSA Vimeo page in the future and I look forward to learning even more.

The videos are available to view on the RBSA website:

And our Vimeo Account:


Issy Frostick


Being a Volunteer Archive Assistant at the RBSA Gallery


Being a volunteer for the archive team at the RBSA is a role I have found extremely interesting and useful. There are a variety of tasks to complete each week, which provides the opportunity to develop new skills and engage with artworks in the archive.

The day-to-day tasks of an archive assistant at the RBSA include filing catalogues into the archive and responding to enquiries from the public. This has been of great interest to me because a number of different enquiries are received by the Gallery, meaning that each enquiry provides something new to research using the artist’s files and archive material. Therefore I constantly learn new things about artists and works that I may not have otherwise found out. I also enjoyed being able to help those making the enquiry get the answers to their questions. The RBSA gives training into how to use the museum software MODES. This is used as an online database of the works at the Gallery and I have often used it to find works quickly. At first I thought this was daunting because I was not used to working with this technology. However, the training made it clear and understandable. Becoming confident using this software has been useful to me as many museums and galleries use MODES yet few people know how to use it. Therefore, this really stands out on applications and is useful for those wanting to work in museums or with collections.

Writing for the RBSA Gallery website is an interesting part of the role of an archive assistant. I have enjoyed writing a number of articles for the RBSA’s blog where I have picked artists and their works from the archive to write about. This is a great opportunity to go into the archive and look at the original works by the artist. Furthermore, it is interesting immersing yourself into the files of the artists to learn as much as possible about their life and work.

What stands out most about my time as an archive assistant is being involved in a new exhibition called Baker to Bartlett: The Changing Face of RBSA Printmaking (17 October-12 November 2016). It was exciting meeting David and Carol White – who are curating the exhibition – to hear about the prints that have often been overlooked by the art world in favour of paintings and how they wished to present the works to the public.  For this exhibition I carried out vital research on some of the works and artists who would be on display and wrote the labels and catalogue entries for them. This was useful to improve my writing skills by making them more concise to provide the public with the most important information. Moreover, it has been interesting to learn more about prints I had not seen before, such as William Frederick Colley’s Gazelle (undated). I found this lithograph striking and unusual as an image of an animal in the Art Deco style. The work creates a threatening sense of demonic beauty through the horns, the curl of the fur, the muscular stance and the piercing eyes of the gazelle.

William Frederick Colley, Gazelle, undated, lithograph, Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, © The Artist’s Estate

William Frederick Colley, Gazelle, undated, lithograph, Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, © The Artist’s Estate

Being a volunteer archive assistant at the RBSA Gallery has been a great experience, with a number of different and useful tasks some of which I have discussed. The Gallery has a great working atmosphere with friendly staff and artists are happy to discuss their work and what they will be exhibiting. It is a great role for those interested in art, archives, research and writing to gain new skills and insight into how a gallery is run and to engage with artworks at the RBSA.

Want to know more? See the new Collection films of the RBSA website:

Chloe Aspden, Volunteer Archive Assistant


Researching Harry Norman Eccleston OBE, PPRE, RWS, Hon. RBSA (1923-2010)

I first came across the work of Harry Norman Eccleston while researching specific works within the RBSA collection for an upcoming print exhibition, Baker to Bartlett: The Changing Face of RBSA Printmaking. Looking at Eccleston’s wider body of work it becomes apparent just how skilled and accomplished he was, not only in personal achievement but also in his, often unrecognised, contribution to everyday life in England today. He also produced a large output of work ranging in genre, but collectively demonstrating his development as a printmaker.

Born in Coseley in the West Midlands, Eccleston was surrounded and inspired from a young age by the industrial landscapes of the Black Country, which began his life-long desire to capture this environment in his art. At only twelve years old Eccleston enrolled at the Bilston School of Art as a part-time student, this then developed to a full-time pursuit from the ages of fourteen to sixteen. During World War II Eccleston joined the Royal Navy; however he resumed his art education at the Birmingham School of Art. He later won a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art in London. Eccleston went on to live in the City; however his output and subjects of his later work still reflected a fondness for his native industrial roots.

Eccleston went on to make his great contribution to society by producing the first series of fully pictorial bank notes featuring important British figures, as well as the Queen. This format of applied art within his oeuvre was initially a surprise to uncover, however I think it is a wonderful achievement and notability to recognise in an honorary member of the RBSA. In 1958, at the age of thirty-five, Eccleston became the first full-time artist and designer to be hired by the Bank of England. He maintained this post until his retirement from the bank in 1983. Throughout this employment he became an honorary member of the RBSA and elected a member of the Royal West of England Academy. He also received an OBE in 1979 for his services to banknote design and printmaking, which continue to be acknowledged today. His £20 banknote depicting Shakespeare, accompanied by the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, is one of his most notable, and in my opinion aesthetically complex, notes made during his employment, and this note is currently on display at the Bank of England Museum.

The RBSA is very lucky to house six artworks by Eccleston in its Collection. Predominantly these works portray industrial scenes of furnaces and steel works from Eccleston’s memories and observations. Stratford Variations No.1 (1981) differs from these scenes of the West Midlands and portrays a rhythmic and linear observation of an everyday object; the train cables overhead Stratford Station in London. This print took my interest for its modern composition and varied interpretative possibilities. Additionally another print called Returning to Worthing (1990), offers an alternate style of representation to all his other works as it depicts a serene seascape with a small boat on the water and silhouetted birds in the sky. Both of these works will be on display in the upcoming print exhibition at the RBSA and provide a small insight to the complexity of skill in Eccleston’s work.

86. Harry Norman Eccleston. Stratford Variations No. 1

© RBSA. Photograph by James White.

By Isabella Frostick, Undergraduate Archive Team Volunteer

Baker to Bartlett: The Changing Face of RBSA Printmaking with be on show from the Monday 17th October up to Saturday 12th November at the RBSA Gallery, 4 Brook Street, Birmingham, B3 1SA.

The Wolverhampton Art Gallery hosted an exhibition on the work and life of Harry Eccleston in 2012 entitled Man of Note: