The University of Surrey was granted its Charter on the 9th September 1966. It had its origins in Battersea College of Technology, which, by the early 1960s, was a potential university in search of a campus, just as Guildford was beginning to be a town in search of a university. The College had been primarily a teaching institution, albeit with increasingly strong research in some disciplines. The University’s Charter defined its objectives as, ‘The pursuit of learning, the advancement and dissemination of knowledge in Science and Technology and all that pertains to a fuller understanding of humanity, in close co-operation with the industrial life of the country and with commerce and the professions.’
The designated site was on Stag Hill, below the recently completed Cathedral, and building was concentrated on three bands of activity – residential, social and academic – and the move from Battersea to Guildford was completed by 1970. A wide range of cultural activities was planned to draw the local community on to the campus.
The first Vice-Chancellor, Dr Peter Leggett, placed a high value on the arts and humanities, and the college had been starting to develop degree courses in these areas and to offer General Studies courses to all students. Today there is a School of Arts which comprises Dance Studies; Law; Culture, Media and Communication Studies; Translation Studies; Music and Sound Recording; and Political, International and Policy Studies.
At Battersea, Professor Lewis Elton (who had arrived in England in 1939 as a refugee from Prague) had started a project in 1963 to show real art in the Physics Department, of which he was Head. In 1978 Lewis suggested an exhibition Then and Now to show the work of some artists who had exhibited, contrasting what they were doing at that time with current work. Those represented included local artists Charles Bone, Brian Dunce, Sir George Pollock, Ronald Smoothey, James Winterbottom and even David Hockney. The exhibitions continue to this date, at first they were located in the Library Gallery, and since 1997 they have been displayed in the Lewis Elton Gallery.
The Gallery continues to flourish and there is a queue of people waiting to exhibit. The policy is to show the work of artists of international and national repute, local professional artists, student work from affiliated institutions and sculpture, ceramics, photography and jewellery.
Apart from Professor Elton’s exhibitions in the corridors, there was not much art in the new buildings at Guildford. The Library received the portraits of the Principals of Battersea Polytechnic and in 1983 a number of pictures in the General Studies Department were discovered, of which the provenance and in many cases the names of the artists, were unknown. There had been two artists-in-residence, Oleg Prokofiev (son of the composer) and Andrzej Jackowski, some of whose pictures now adorn our walls.
Over the last 23 years the collection has steadily grown, over and above those works which fall within the scope of this catalogue, particularly pastels and watercolours. Eilean Pearcey, a friend of Professor Elton, donated a collection of drawings she had made of the great Indian dancer Uday Shankar, (brother of Ravi Shankar) now housed in the National Resource Dance Centre. Professor Carola Grindea offered us a selection of paintings by her brother-in-law, Arnold Daghani, a survivor of the holocaust, many of them in unusual media, on sacking, cupboard doors and the like. There is also a collection of his work at the University of Sussex, under the care of the Centre for Anglo-Jewish Studies. An artist called Wendy Spooner (also known as Sparks), donated a number of large pieces to the University before moving abroad, but sadly we have lost touch with her (can anybody help?). There have of course been portraits of Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors by distinguished artists, and even pictures donated by our very eminent late Pro-Chancellor, Sir George Edwards OM, CBE, FRS, DL, who was a talented painter himself.
In 1966–1967 Professor Elton had received £50 for the purchase of works from the exhibitions, this was increased to £500 in the early 1980s and subsequently money was used from the unspent surplus from the arts budget. Now there is a ‘Per Cent for Art’ budget, as a result of which 1% of the contract price for new buildings and .1% for refurbishments can be used to purchase works of art. This has resulted in some major sculpture commissions, again alas outside the present remit. Another source has been the yearly Vice-Chancellor’s Prize for a final year student at Wimbledon School of Art, and the opportunity has been seized to buy other works from their degree shows, also from the Department of Fine Art at the former Roehampton Institute, now Roehampton University, whose students created a mural inspired by the 1987 hurricane for the vegetarian restaurant.
When Professor Dowling – a great supporter of the arts and a discerning collector himself – became Vice-Chancellor in 1994, he moved into a new official residence, Blackwell House, created from an old farmhouse with the addition of a similar-sized new block with an atrium in between. It became a showcase for the University’s Collection and acquisitions from exhibitions often found their way there. Professor Christopher Snowden, who became Vice-Chancellor on the 1st July 2005, paints himself and is keen to maintain the tradition of support for the visual arts.
Another source was tapped by the European Institute of Health and Medical Sciences, which entered into an agreement with a comprehensive school in Farnham to acquire paintings by their sixth form pupils. This has been a great success.
The Collection is displayed around the campus for the benefit of staff and students. It has become widely known that pictures can be borrowed from the Arts Office, and lack of storage space means that all are actually on view, and of course are adequately insured!
Patricia Grayburn, Curator
Text source: PCF / University of Surrey
This description was originally written for a catalogue.