The second Decorated School Research Network day took place at Wardie Primary School, Granton Road, in the very fine city of Edinburgh. Members of the Network, members of the mural artist, Robert Herriott Westwater’s family, former pupils, current pupils & their families, school staff & others gathered at this wonderful and charming school to discuss ‘Bringing Art into Schools in the early Twentieth Century: How Wardie’s Alice in Wonderland Mural Works’.
Completed in 1931, Wardie is celebrating its 80th birthday this year. It is a solid brick built school with flat roof. Very much in the pared back 1930’s Modernist style. The school was built with a garden at its heart – at its very core. The garden remains of great importance to this day. All the class rooms have doors which open out on to the garden. On one side of each class room is the wonderful garden and on the other side is the corridor around the school. The dining room and hall are on the outer ring. The Alice murals are in the main hall. We were fortunate enough to spend our day at Wardie with these charming murals.
Robert Herriott Westwater was commissioned to paint the murals in 1936 by the Edinburgh City Education Committee as part of the ‘Schools Beautiful’ scheme.
Dr Jeremy Howard, (University of St Andrews) gave an excellent in-depth introduction to the day. He discussed the Wardie murals and art in local Scottish schools from the early 20th Century. He summarised what works of art are still in existence. His pictures showed a varied catalogue of wonderful art works.
Diane Watters of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland spoke next. She gave us an excellent over view of local school architecture in this region and where Wardie School fitted in to all of that.
After lunch Professor Annie Renonciat of the Musee National de l’Education, Rouen & Universite Paris Diderot 7, gave us a history of the art incorporated in French Schools in the late 19th & early 20th Centuries, the struggle to have the art and to keep it in schools. It was good to know that enlightened thinkers and artists had the same struggles in France as we had here to create space for art in schools. Realising that we were not alone made her talk a refreshing eye opener. The Decorated School project is not only based in the UK but has many parallels in Europe too.
Fiona Allardyce & Karen Dundas, Scottish Wall Painting Conservators, finished the talks for the day with a discussion on the way forward to conserve, preserve & restore the stunning Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland murals at Wardie.
The Final item was an open discussion. Some of the speakers were: Esther who was a pupil at the school in 1941 during WWII. She recalled the Alice murals being much brighter and more colourful at that time. She recalls Tea Dances and Socials at Wardie.
The very charming and self-effacing Aileen Williams (now aged 82) talked about being one of the three models for Alice in the murals. She attended Wardie at the time & was aged 6. She loves being part of the project even now. She never thought that something that had happened so long ago would still play a large part in her life.
Anna, Robert Herriott Westwater’s granddaughter, attended the school in the 1960’s. She was delighted to return to the school to celebrate the murals her grandfather painted. She very much hopes the murals can be restored.
Mr Johnson the architect’s grandson did not know of the school & was very pleased to be here to see it for himself. His father & grandfather had both worked on the design of Wardie School (his grandfather at the end of his career and his father at the beginning of his).
This is a brief summary of events on what was a rewarding and enriching day. I learnt much and must thank the Decorated School Network. I suspect I may not have had the pleasure of seeing the wonderful Wardie murals without them.
Huge thanks must go to Mrs Lorraine Cooper, Wardie Head Teacher and her excellent staff who made us very welcome for the day. A very successful day was had.