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Moore…than meets the eye, revisited

Exploring archive material found in our Archive and Special Collections at Leeds Beckett reveals more than meets the eye about Leeds Beckett’s association with the original Leeds College of Art and sculptor Henry Moore.

Moore than meets the eye revisited
Moore himself did not disguise his dislike of some aspects of his time at Leeds School of Art. In particular, he found the academic drawing from antique casts dull and repetitive. These casts modelled from Greek and Roman statues had been used by students since the early days of the School, caked in layers of chalky whitewash they must have seemed to Moore the very epitome of what he regarded as stifled art education of the time. He longed for innovation, experimentation and self-expression. With newly appointed tutor Reginald T. Cotterill in 1920, Moore was handed a chance to progress. Cotterill set up a new sculpture department at the College and for a time Moore was the only sculpture student at Leeds. Later others joined the department including Barbara Hepworth. Moore’s aim throughout his two years at Leeds was to pass the Board of Education examinations and win a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London. Moore and Hepworth are regarded as ‘superstars’ in the art world and any art college worth its salt will bask in reflected glory. Reference is often made to their association with Leeds School of Art and attention tends to focus on Leeds Arts University based at Blenheim Walk and Vernon Street. Vernon Street was indeed the building created for Leeds School of Art in 1903. However, it is little acknowledged that in 1969 the original, senior Leeds College of Art moved to purpose-built studios on Woodhouse Lane to be part of Leeds Central Colleges a precursor to Leeds Polytechnic. Meanwhile, the then junior or Branch College of Art, created in 1967, occupied the vacant Vernon Street building renaming itself Jacob Kramer College. Staff at Leeds prior to the split in 1969 disliked the idea of art education provision in Leeds being cleaved resulting in higher diploma courses and vocational and pre-diploma courses being cut off from each other, but the political and administrative decisions had been irreversibly made and the two colleges went separate ways. In the intervening years, Jacob Kramer College reinvented itself as Leeds College of Art and Design and later claimed the mantle of Leeds College of Art and now has become Leeds Arts University. And what of the original Leeds College of Art? By 1970 it had been renamed the Faculty of Art and Design as part of Leeds Polytechnic but the ‘marriage’ of art, technology and commerce was uneasy and difficult, at least to begin with. Almost 50 years on, the college has evolved into the School of Art, Architecture and Design at Leeds Beckett. However, throughout its history, the Univerity has been somewhat circumspect in its legitimate claim to its past as successor to Leeds College of Art. This connexion has been little celebrated, understandably perhaps, by the fledgeling Polytechnic as it forged its own unique identity with little regard to its recent past. In time the Polytechnic and subsequently the University has largely forgotten its own hidden inheritance. Vestiges of the old art college library and archive collection, preserved in the Archive and Special Collections, are essential threads of continuity back to the original Leeds College of Art. They uncover, just like the revelation of a sculpture, a true narrative of the original Leeds College of Art and a very real connection between Moore and Leeds Beckett University.

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Keith Rowntree

Keith Rowntree maintains the University's Archive and Special Collections which are currently held at the University’s Library, situated on our Headingley Campus. We collect, describe and preserve material for future generations while seeking to promote knowledge of, and access to this rich heritage for educational, professional and research purposes.

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