News Monday, January 11th

Plans for major Hatton exhibition scaled back as Hereford library, museum and art gallery stays shut

Plans for one of the county’s biggest cultural events of recent years are having to be scaled back over the continued closure of Hereford library, museum and art gallery – over an asbestos find.

A major exhibition was due to be launched in April celebrating the work of Hereford artist Brian Hatton.

To Hatton’s supporters, the centenary of the 28-year-old’s death during the First World War represented an opportunity to re-evaluate his place in British art.

With no guarantee of being able to get into the Broad Street site by April, organisers – including enthusiasts, friends and family - are instead having to re-evaluate a year’s worth of work towards the exhibition, and decide on whether it gets to go ahead at all.

Hatton relative and fine art specialist Dr Geoffrey Vevers said the idea of an exhibition had not been “entirely given up.”

Options for a suitable venue - let alone a venue that could be ready by April - are seen as limited given the specialist requirements such as insurance, security and moisture control that the exhibition must meet.

“We’re still working on alternative celebrations and a seminal event to mark the centenary,” said Dr Vevers.

One active idea is a programme of walks taking in the local landscapes that served Hatton as his muse.

A final decision on the future for an exhibition will be made when organisers meet again next month.

Born in Whitecross to grow up a prodigy in Broomy Hill, Hatton had a talent to be ranked amongst Britain’s best had it not been lost to the First World War – and far from the Herefordshire he drew inspiration from.

Pastoral scenes, portraits, rustic ruminations; much of Hatton’s prolific output was inspired by observance of everyday life in the county - out of another era.

Hatton’s loss was significant to a British art scene shaking off the last remnants of mid-Victorian complacency with the likes of Sargent, Brangwyn, Orpen, and Augustus John being contemporaries to whom he was compared.

He died on Easter Sunday, April 23, 1916 - a Second Lieutenant with the Worcestershire Yeomanry – in action at Oghratina, Egypt.

Hereford library, museum and art gallery was closed in September following an asbestos find in the building.

Last week, the council confirmed that work on removing the asbestos would be underway from February 1 to last around 4-6 weeks.

The council’s cabinet has approved the spending of £86,000 on the asbestos removal and committed to further funding of £900,000 on the library itself.

A return to Broad Street is by no means definite given the site’s long-term maintenance needs,

Behind the scenes there are talks with various parties - including Hereford Library Users Group - as to what a future central library for the county could be.

Heritage campaigners want a museum incorporated into that future.

A response to these talks is expected to be with the council by the end of February.

A major community fundraising campaign has been proposed for the library, museum and art gallery many believe is long overdue.

The council acknowledges that it has been looking at alternative sites but does not have sufficient funds of its own to enable such a move.

Regardless of the future for the Broad Street site, work is still required to remove the asbestos.

The council’s heritage services face the prospect of having to be effectively “cost neutral” within the next two years.

With the council needing that cost neutral position, the challenge specifically facing heritage services lies in not only maximising income opportunities, but whittling down how much they need in the way of subsidies to do so.

Specific concern is shifting to the likelihood of a revenue budget position that can account for the service’s staffing needs.

The council currently holds some £3 million of heritage assets, including an art collection valued at well over £1m alone.

These assets, last valued in May 2012, consist wholly of the museum exhibits held by heritage services.

All told, the final figure topped £2.8m with the more than 3,500 paintings and prints worth £1.4m.

That fine art collection features a significant number of early English watercolours, mainly landscapes, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries and is rich in its representation of work by county artists such as Brian Hatton.

The Hatton collection did have a gallery of its own, the legacy of Hatton’s sister Majorie and based at the former Churchill House Museum on Aylestone Hill.

When the then Herefordshire Council shut down the Churchill House site, the collection moved to a lottery funded museum resource and learning centre in Friar Street where it remains today for viewing by appointment or on-line.

 

Much of Hatton’s prolific output was inspired by observance of everyday life in the county.

Do you want to write for Herefordshire Live? Get in touch on Facebook, Twitter or say hello@herefordshirelive.co.uk