Press Release: West Dean College of Arts and Conservation celebrates 50 years of championing arts, craft & conservation

- 50 new courses and community exhibition -

West Dean College of Arts and Conservation has just launched 50 special one-day short courses to celebrate its 50th Anniversary. Inspired by the original 1970s list of subject areas, the variety of courses includes endangered heritage crafts, as well as new or sustainable craft skills, offering students the opportunity to learn a skill to last a lifetime.

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Onsite exhibition at West Dean Gardens. © Chris Ison
Onsite exhibition at West Dean Gardens. © Chris Ison
1971 clipping of West Dean College short courses. ©West Dean College Archive
1971 clipping of West Dean College short courses. ©West Dean College Archive

The College near Chichester, West Sussex, was founded by Edward James, poet, patron of the arts and visionary of the 20th century. James donated his family home and estate to fulfil his desire to nurture music, traditional crafts, and the fine arts. In 1939 James wrote of his vision to writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley “My suggestion would be to make this community a group of people working to preserve and teach certain crafts.” This legacy lives on today through the College’s extensive programme of short courses and accredited higher education degrees and diplomas in Fine Art, Craft and Conservation.

At least 25 of the recently-launched courses were courses featured in the original documents and course programmes envisioned by Edward James over 50 years ago, and were circulated ahead of the College’s opening on October 23, 1971. These include millinery, wirework, carving in wood and stone, and silversmithing. Other courses are craft-based subjects that the College has supported over the past 50 years, while the final part of the series uses materials and approaches which have developed since 1971, as new materials and processes became available, these include plasticsmithing and using precious metal clay.

Among the 50 courses, which run all the way until September 2022 is Pewter casting with cuttlefish with Fleur Grenier, which is suitable for all on Wednesday, January 5 2022 (£154); while looking at the surrounding area Archaeology and landscape at West Dean – talks, walks and discussion with Mark Roberts, who was recently made a fellow of the College, takes place on Wednesday, December 15, 2021 (suitable for all/ £128), Anne Tomlin’s Millinery course involves making a sinamay button beret on Friday, March 25, 2022 (suitable for all/ £143) and Carving a small soapstone sculpture with Paula Haughney will take place on Monday, May 2, 2022 (beginners/ £148). Other courses similar to those on the College’s original mission statement range from Signwriting – paint a house name or number with Terry Smith on Wednesday, June 1, 2022 (beginners/ £163); Puppetry – make a talking puppet with Isobel Smith on Tuesday, June 7, 2022 (beginners/ £138); while Hanny Newton’s Goldwork hand embroidery – golden footprints has been specially designed based on West Dean’s iconic footprint carpet installed by Edward James, and will take place on Thursday, June 16, 2022 (suitable for all/ £158) and inspired by the gardens is creating a simple wirework bouquet with Helaina Sharpley on Sunday, January 30, 2022 (£138).

Among the endangered courses are several for beginners. Letterpress – poster printing on Monday, March 28 2022 is with Tom Boulton (£148), while an Introduction to maille making takes place on Wednesday, April 13, 2022 with Andrew Braund (£148) and Swiss straw work – hat decorations is on Monday, April 25, 2022 with Veronica Main (£153).

Courses encouraging new skills – using newly-invented materials - include Paper sculpture – fluid forms on Wednesday, February 17, 2022 with Richard Sweeney (suitable for all/ £146); while an Introduction to Precious Metal Clay with Sarah Macrae on Thursday, April 21, 2022 explores the fascinating material created in Japan in the 1990s (beginners/ £198); and Jesmonite coasters with Haidee Drew on Tuesday, April 26, 2022 offers the chance to work with the eco-friendly resin (suitable for all/ £141) and an Introduction to plastic smithing with Bronwen Gwillim on Monday, June 6, 2022 comes up with imaginative ways to use waste plastic to create jewellery (beginners/ £138).

As Alexander Barron, Chief Executive of the College explains: “In October 1971, the first students stepped into the workshops and studios at West Dean College. The early programme of courses has since developed into a leading centre for practice-based creative study. Students are able to join courses in subjects across arts, crafts, conservation and - since the merger with KLC School of Design this year – interior design and garden design.”

He goes on to say: “Our College community is a truly global one and it includes artists, makers, designers, conservators, writers and musicians – studying or teaching on courses from 1-day beginners to MA degrees. What they all share is a love of creativity. Whether that’s pushing the boundaries of their existing expertise or learning a new skill.”

In addition to the short courses, following an Open Call during the summer, there is also an online and onsite exhibition showcasing over 140 images which reflect individual learning experiences at West Dean College – whether as a current or former student, tutor or staff member. These illustrate beautiful objects or artworks that were made at the College on short course or at an event, or while doing a degree or diploma and continue to be practiced as a pastime or even a livelihood. The 140 varied and personal responses are now available to see online or displayed in the kiwi/passionflower glasshouses in West Dean Gardens. Access to the onsite exhibition is by visiting the Gardens and purchasing tickets online in advance.

Further 50th anniversary celebrations include the launch of new online access to the West Dean College Collection and Archive, which will be announced soon, offering the chance to view never seen before correspondence, first editions and sketches by many notable 20th century artists connected with Edward James. As well as a special open house and summer show event in 2022.

West Dean College of Arts and Conservation can be found on Social Media:
https://twitter.com/westdeancollege
https://www.facebook.com/westdeancollege
https://www.instagram.com/westdeancollege/
https://www.linkedin.com/school/westdeancollege

Notes to Editors:

  • West Dean College of Arts and Conservation is an educational charity whose mission is to provide the highest quality education in arts and conservation. Alongside the academic provision, the College supports an annual programme of residencies designed to provide research and development opportunities to artists and writers whilst enhancing the learning environment of the College.
  • West Dean College of Arts and Conservation was founded in 1971 by the poet and Surrealist patron, Edward James, recognised by BBC Arts as the ‘the greatest patron of art of the early 20th century’. 
  • The College is part of The Edward James Foundation (Charity No. 1126084), also comprising West Dean Gardens, West Dean Estate and West Dean Tapestry Studio.
  • All photography is free to use for editorial purposes. 
  • West Dean College is situated on the A286, six miles north of Chichester and within easy access of Portsmouth, Guildford, Brighton and London. 

For all media enquiries please contact Rachel Aked:
Email: rachel.aked@westdean.ac.uk
Telephone: 07790 732448

West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, Chichester, West Sussex, PO18 0Q