Support for Cornwall

Porthmeor Studios. Painting on easel from dated 1957. Photo published 1962 (Cornish Magazine)

The Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust in Cornwall

The Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust, established in 1987 by the artist Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, is a small, private, self-funding charity based in Edinburgh. It exists to enhance the reputation and understanding of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham as one of Britain’s most significant 20th century artists, and through her legacy supports young people and other individuals to fulfil their potential in the visual arts. It is responsible for the welfare of the artist’s legacy of art and archive and helps to fund fine art students and selected educational projects. Given its resources its financial support is modest but it does provide significant benefits to the recipients. After fifteen years activity it is a good moment for the WBGT to reflect on its contributions to Cornwall over this time, as these have been some of the most important that it has and continues to undertake.

As a quick recap, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham arrived in St Ives in March 1940 and quickly established herself within the growing Modernist artist milieu that was forming in the town through the influence of residents Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth. She became a member of the Newlyn Society of Artists and St Ives Society of Artists (until 1949), was a founding member of the Penwith Society of Artists and an early exhibitor of the significant Crypt Group. She had studios in the Porthmeor Studios until purchasing No.1 Barnaloft (Back Road West) where she lived and worked until she died in January 2004. She was an active member of the art community and an important contributor to the development of modernist abstract painting.

The WBGT was not active until after its founder’s death. Over the past fifteen years the trustees have made concerted efforts to contribute to and financially support programmes and institutions in Cornwall, particularly in St Ives and Falmouth. This support, provided in her name, comes in recognition of not only what she contributed to the community but also what she received from it in the development of her career as an artist.

At the outset, as part of Barns-Graham’s directive to her trust to support fine art students, the WBGT established awards for students at Falmouth University, comprising a bursary for undergraduates (£3,000 pa), a travel scholarship (£1,500 pa) and a hardship award (£500 -£1,000 pa). The Trust also donated four of Barns-Graham’s screenprints to the university. The awards were modified as part of a review in 2015 when the focus of bursaries to fine art students was changed to being awarded to postgraduates rather than undergraduates. With there being no postgraduate fine art courses available at Falmouth, this bursary has been withdrawn for the time being.

It is the relationship that the WBGT has established with the Porthmeor Studios that has seen the most significant ongoing contributions to the South West. The first step came with the gift of £10,000 towards the refurbishment of Barns-Graham’s old studios as part of the Borlase Smart John Wells Trust’s (BSJWT) full renovation of the complex (completed 2012). Since then the principal assistance has been for young people’s projects created by St Ives School of Painting including Artist Mark Project (2013 – £500) and Porthmeor Young Artists Project (2017 – £5,000) that has led to the WBGT making a three year commitment to Culture Camp, an art project designed to bring culture to Cornish teens that launches in October 2019 (£4,500pa). In addition, the Trust has donated picture frames, study materials and art catalogues as teaching aids.

In 2016 the BSJWT invited the WBGT to sponsor an artist residency at the studios as part of a new programme of residences that the BSJWT aimed to launch in 2017. The WBGT committed to support an emerging artist residency between 2017 and 2019 (£7,500pa). In addition, in 2018, the WBGT provided sponsorship (£500) to Time Trace Place, a cross-disciplinary project in the studios, that enabled the artists to provide workshops that engaged with school students, teachers and the local community.

The WBGT has also been building its relationship with Tate. Since the significant Wilhelmina Barns-Graham exhibition Movement and Light Imag(in)ing Time held at Tate St Ives in 2004 the WBGT has sponsored three symposia organised by Tate Education (2014, 2015 and 2019 at £2,000 per event) and made a major contribution (£25,000) to Tate St Ives education programme for the year following the 2017 relaunch of the expanded gallery. These in addition to the loan of paintings for exhibitions (which led to two major paintings being gifted to Tate in 2018).

Also in St Ives, the WBGT organised an exhibition of Barns-Graham’s prints at the Penwith Gallery (2007) and since 2017 has been able to provide Barns-Graham a constant presence on the walls of the gallery, of which she was  founding member in 1949,  with a programme of annual displays. One of her St Ives drawings was on long term display at St Ives Library (2007-2018). Meanwhile she has been well represented with solo exhibitions and in themed shows with the Belgrave Gallery. In 2016 the WBGT sponsored a lecture presented by Janet Axten as part of the 2016 St Ives Festival following the deposit of digital copies of Barns-Graham’s diaries and letters from between 1940 and 1947 with St Ives Archive of which Axten is Heritage Manager.

Away from St Ives, Falmouth Art Gallery was gifted six Barns-Graham prints (2011) and is currently holding a study collection of  thirty-three works on long term loan (since 2018). In 2016 the exhibition Wilhelmina Barns-Graham: a Scottish artist in St Ives was held at Penlee House, Penzance.

Cornwall is and will continue to be a key sphere of activities for the WBGT as part of its aim to share the artist’s legacy as widely as possible. St Ives was Wilhelmina Barns-Graham’s home for over sixty years and it is therefore fitting that her trust acknowledges this through its endeavours there.

An article in Cornwall Today on St Ives School of Painting’s Culture Camp and the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust’s support can be read here.