In the frame: Exhibition celebrates 60 years of 'joy and creativity' for Kirkcaldy Art Club

When five ladies met at an address in Sidlaw Street, Kirkcaldy on September 18, 1961 to discuss setting up an art club in the town, little did they know that six decades later that same club would still be going and celebrating a very special milestone.

By Debbie Clarke
Monday, 17th January 2022, 4:59 pm
Updated Tuesday, 18th January 2022, 10:38 am

Today Kirkcaldy Art Club continues to go from strength to strength – it has 120 members, holds a variety of classes and yearly exhibitions and it also has its very own shop in the heart of the town.

Recently, members of Kirkcaldy Art Club have been toasting its 60th anniversary with a special free exhibition at Kirkcaldy Galleries.

‘Joy and Creativity’, which is running until January 23, features paintings, pottery, crafts, artwork by local schoolchildren as well as a special display dedicated to the 1960s.

Kirkcaldy Galleries - Fife - Kirkcaldy Art Club's 60th anniversary exhibition - members Liz Mitchell, Louise Logan & Vera Lethbridge. Pic: Fife Photo Agency.

Vera Lethbridge, who has been with the club for eight years and handles publicity and marketing, explained what’s on offer for visitors: “The work for the exhibition was mainly created during lockdown.

"The exhibits are mostly new works from current members.

"We wanted to include children in our exhibition, to honour our fairly new Hot Pot Kids art class and to reach into our local community. We worked with local schools to encourage kids to submit their artwork.”

Kirkcaldy Art Club was founded by five women: Miss Ross, Mrs Forrester, Mrs Hale, Mrs Johnston, and Mrs Stewart who met to discuss starting up an art club in the town. Letters to the Fife Free Press and Fifeshire Advertiser raised interest, and a meeting was advertised for October 10, 1961.

Kirkcaldy Art Club open weekend in April 2013. The club has been marking its 60 anniversary.

Interestingly though, longtime club member Bill Brown points out that this was not the first ever art club in Kirkcaldy.

He said there is evidence of at least one art club in the town in the 19th century – a newspaper cutting from 1863 tells of a Fine Art Club in Kirkcaldy, which was holding its 12th exhibition!

Initially 33 club members met at the Kirkcaldy Museum Lecture Hall until the club could find other premises.

In January 1962, the club moved to the Trades School in Institution Street, which no longer exists. Members helped to clean and prepare the premises and raised funds to buy chairs and easels, with the first painting class starting on January 11, 1962.

Kirkcaldy Art Club through the years: From left: Patsy Large, Bill Bruce - with some of the Art work on display at Kirkcaldy Art Club's exhibition at the JRD Trust, Esplanade, Kirkcaldy.

The club moved to new premises at 126 High Street in April 1962 with various classes, talks and other activities taking place.

Members held their first exhibition in their High Street premises from May 26 to June 2, 1962. An admission fee of one shilling was charged and this included the cost of a catalogue. The exhibition was a success with all 500 catalogues printed, sold within the first five days. The profit from the exhibition was £30.

The club’s first display in Kirkcaldy Art Gallery took place from January 6-18, 1964 with 30 paintings on show, attracting 855 visitors. The association with the art gallery has continued ever since.

In October 1970, the club had the opportunity to own its own premises. The old laundry of the Carmelite Monastery in Dysart was put up for sale and the committee bought it for £150.

Kirkcaldy Art Club's 60th anniversary exhibition in Kirkcaldy Galleries - Vera Lethbridge admires work by artist Simon Ward. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

However, certain conditions to the purchase were made. They had to open a door onto Hot Pot Wynd, and the windows overlooking the monastery had to be opaque. Other alterations required included new skylights upstairs, and a kitchen and toilets downstairs. Work was completed and the premises opened on April 5, 1972 by artist David McLure.

Today the club has something for all ages: “We have many happy retirees who are at last spending the time they always dreamed of on their art work,” Vera said.

"We also offer evening classes to attract those with day jobs while our Hot Pot kids art class on a Monday after school is in response to local demand. As well as an experienced art teacher, club members take turns to provide extra teaching support.”

From its inception, the club has organised tuition for its members, be they beginners or experienced artists.

Initially, Fife Education Committee funded the tutors. Now, funding for them comes from tuition fees levied by the club. Over 40 tutors have inspired generations of members.

There have been classes in painting, oil and watercolour, and now acrylics, in pottery, collage, embroidery, weaving, enamelling and screen-printing.

Some of the work on display at Kirkcaldy Art Club's 60th anniversary exhibition. Pic: Fife Photo Agency

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In recent times, the club has faced challenges with only online sessions able to take place due to the pandemic. But there have also been positive changes.

Vera said: “Despite the long pause with Covid lockdowns, we are up and running again. This past autumn was a real challenge: re-opening the club with Covid measures, opening a shop and putting on our 60th exhibition at Kirkcaldy Galleries - all at the same time.

“But we have been amazed by the success of our shop. We are selling our members’ creative art work: clay work and craft work, prints, jewellery, glass, quilts, paintings and cards … and all our work is local.”

Long-time member Claire Methven said: “I am very proud of the club’s record…it has had its ups and downs – in the early days, it moved premises on several occasions, but the club kept going, learning, working and exhibiting.

“There have been numerous tutors, of high quality, and stalwart committee members who have given their time and energy …essential in such an organisation.”

Bill said: “Throughout the 60 years, the club has had help from outside bodies, in money and in kind, but the enthusiasm, talent and hard work of members has been crucial in the survival of the club.

"Financial crises were averted – there was always a jumble sale, car boot sales, coffee mornings and beetle drives. It’s the members, the committees, all with their individual and corporate expertise, and the tutors, who make it.”

He added: "The club grows and changes with its members, and will continue to do so, I am sure, for the next 50 years.”

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Kirkcaldy Art Club's new shop in the Mercat, Kirkcaldy. Pic: Kirkcaldy Art Club.