Dementia Awareness Week at The New Art Gallery Walsall

The New Art Gallery Walsall is proud to be a Dementia Friendly venue and this week we hosted the launch of Walsall in Our Words, a scrapbook aiming to capture memories of Walsall from residents living in care homes settings. The book contains photos and stories from residents from Aldridge Court, Kelvedon House, Oak Lodge, Richmond Hall, The Cottage Nursing Home, The Arboretum Nursing Home, Waters Edge and The Watermill.  This project was facilitated by the Care Improvement and End of Life service which offers support for care homes across the Walsall Borough and is a collaboration between St Giles Hospice and Pathways 4 Life funded by Walsall CCG.  The scrapbook is on display in our Scenes of Walsall exhibition in The Family Gallery until it closes on Sunday 16 July.


On Tuesday we also hosted the Walsall Borough Dementia Cafes for a special reminiscence session and members participated in sharing their memories of Walsall and contributing to our display bunting.


This Saturday 20 May, we will be celebrating traditional toys with a Peg Doll-making workshop in The Family Gallery between 1-3pm, free, drop in, all welcome!







Image credit Emily Pardoe-Billings, launch of the Walsall in Our Words scrapbook

by Chris Wilkinson


Frank Holl’s Ordered to the Front has proved to be the most popular artwork in our People’s Choice.


Ordered to the Front began as an illustration for The Graphic magazine in January 1879, entitled ‘Summoned for Active Service’.  It illustrated the everyday impact of war on troops and their families.  A detachment of Highland soldiers put on a brave face, while mothers, wives, sweethearts and children are in various states of anxiety.  The accompanying text read: ‘He is aware that every bullet has its billet, but hope springs eternal in the human breast and he somehow feels that whatever may happen to others he will be spared.  But with the soldiers’ womankind – with his wife, his sweetheart, his poor old mother – it is far otherwise.  In their ears the blare of the war trumpet reverberates with the dismal clang of a funeral knell.  Not for them the excitement of the fight; they must stay at home and weep in silence for their departed warrior.’   The illustration showed text behind them on the wall, not visible in the painting, which read ‘Daily Telegraph The Afghan War’ revealing them to be the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders going to fight in the Second Anglo-Afghan War, fought between the UK and Afghanistan from 1878-1880.  Holl painted the subject for the 1880 Royal Academy exhibition, where it appealed enormously to the public due to its patriotic subject matter, the brightly coloured regalia of the troops, and their brave stoicism.  The painting in our collection is a reduced replica of the original, painted the same year.  The fate of the painting which was hung at the Royal Academy is unknown.


Frank Holl (1845-1888), Ordered to the Front, 1880, oil on canvas, 75 x 64 cm


This is the first time the work has been displayed at The New Art Gallery, as it normally resides in the Mayor’s Parlour within Walsall Town Hall, and has done since the 1930s.  The painting was one of thirteen works originally part of the collection of local industrialist and magistrate George Gill which were loaned to the town by his daughter, Mrs Frederick Lonsdale Allen.  After she passed away they became the property of her husband, and on his death in 1954 the works were removed from the Mayor’s Parlour to be auctioned in Birmingham, with the rest of the collection.  The paintings were offered to the corporation for £598, but this was more than the council was willing to pay, their maximum offer being £300.  The works went to auction, however the council was in the end able to purchase ten of the paintings for only £170, including the Holl.  (Another of the group acquired was The New Keeper by Charles Burton Barber, also on display in the People’s Choice exhibition -depicting a young boy, surrounded by spaniels, dressed up in the garb of a gamekeeper.) The works purchased formally became part of Walsall’s Permanent Collection, which this year celebrates its 125th anniversary, and now numbers over 3000 works of art in its entirety.

In the 1960s the Australian Water Polo team visited Walsall and on attending a Reception in the Mayor’s Parlour saw Ordered to the Front.  It was recognised as being the companion piece of a painting in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne – Home Again, which had been commissioned by Sir Thomas Lucas, the original owner of the painting.


One of my first jobs here as Curator was to oversee the loan of Ordered to the Front to the Watts Gallery in Guildford, Surrey, which hosted a Frank Holl retrospective exhibition called Emerging from the Shadows in 2013This exhibition helped re-establish Holl’s reputation as one of the great painters of the Victorian era.  Holl had been accepted to the Royal Academy schools aged 15, and won a gold medal for historical painting in 1863.  From 1864 onwards he regularly showed at the Royal Academy for the rest of his life.  In 1878 he was elected to the Academy and in 1883 became a Royal Academician.  Holl was greatly admired by another of our collection artist’s, Vincent van Gogh, who wrote enthusiastically about Holl’s work and collected his wood engraving illustrations which appeared in The Graphic.  Van Gogh’s Sorrow in our Garman Ryan Collection presents a sombre, tragic female character, and Van Gogh was influenced by Holl’s representations of the reality of working class urban life and the vulnerability of women and children.  Van Gogh described Holl’s work The Foundling in his letters ‘This shows several policemen in waterproof capes who have taken up a child left as a foundling between the beams and planks of a quay beside the Thames.  Some curious onlookers watch, and through the fog one sees the grey silhouette of the city in the background.’


The obvious empathy in Holl’s portrayals of the struggles of the working classes struck a chord with his audience.  Holl’s work was highly respected during his lifetime and his authenticity in portraying the tragedy of loss and parting, such as in Ordered to the Front, were popular with the general public since these bleak themes were sadly subjects they could relate to.  Having come from an esteemed family of engravers, Holl was skilful in his handling of light and dark in his painting, which was influenced by Dutch genre painting, with its directness and simplicity of subject matter.  Holl was a leading painter in the social realist movement of the 1860s and 70s, but when this style went out of fashion in the 1880s he became a pre-eminent portraitist, who was inundated with commissions. Northern masters such as Rembrandt, shaped the direction of his portraiture.

His work is represented in collections such as Tate, the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Collection, Queen Victoria having commissioned him in 1871 to paint No Tidings from the Sea, from Holl’s first hand observations of a fishing village, and the palpable grief felt in a fisherman’s cottage by his family when he is found drowned at sea.  It is thought overwork contributed to Holl’s death at the age of 43 from heart failure.  He created such an accomplished body of work in his short lifetime, who knows what he may have gone on to achieve. His early death undoubtedly led to a decline in his reputation, but it is heartening that the quality of his work has stood the test of time, and that the British public are still interested and appreciative of his output today.


Julie Brown, Collections Curator

April 2017

by Chris Wilkinson

The Silver Threads Tapestries go on tour of the Borough

Celebrating 25 years of bringing community arts to the Borough, The Walsall Silver Thread Tapestries project has produced 11 tapestries illustrated by artist Hunt Emerson and hand stitched by an army of needlework volunteers from the local community. They have stitched over 12 square metres over the last 8 months.

Representing the Borough of Walsall, each tapestry features Walsall’s living history and diverse geographical communities.  ‘Silver Thread’ highlights Walsall’s prominent people, places and events.


For a full list of venues and tour dates, please go to the Creative Factory website for details

by Chris Wilkinson

Exhibitions of 2016: a-n writers pick their top five shows

Five a-n News writers – based in London, Birmingham and Glasgow – pick, in no particular order, their top five exhibitions of the year.


15 December 2016


Anneka French selects:

Eva Rothschild: Alternative to Power, New Art Gallery Walsall


Eva Rothschild, Alternative to Power (installation shot), The New Art Gallery Walsall. Photo: Robert Glowacki

Eva Rothschild, Alternative to Power, (installation shot), The New Art Gallery Walsall, 24 September 2016 – 15 January 2017.
Photo: Robert Glowacki



Eva Rothschild’s display at New Art Gallery Walsall, whose high ceilings and polished black floors feel like they have been made for the artist’s works, was a beautifully balanced one. Featuring two newly commissioned pieces made during this summer’s EU referendum campaign, works such as RedSun, An Array, Ruins and Technical Support (all 2016) typically employed an economy of material, relying on balance and precision to achieve formal tension through texture, form, and vibrant colour paired with black. Generously punctuated with seating that acknowledged the viewer, this was an elegant, resonant and timely politicised exhibition.
24 September 2016 – 15 January 2017.

by Chris Wilkinson

Idris Khan creates monument for UAE Memorial Park

High tribute to UAE’s heroes
By The National staff

A 90-metre long sculpture made from 31 aluminium-clad steel tablets will grab the attention on Commemoration Day. The National was given an exclusive tour of the structure at the memorial park when it was being put together by British artist Idris Khan

“What are monuments?” asks the British artist Idris Khan, designer of the memorial that will act as the focus for Commemoration Day on November 30.
“The word monument gets into your head and you think about what it represents. They’re for people to visit, to be absorbed in and to feel power in a certain way.”


Khan, 38, has certainly invoked that sense in the 90-metre sculpture that now stands at the heart of the newly-named Wahat Al Karama, a 46,000 square metre site that sits between the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the headquarters of the UAE’s Armed Forces.


Made from 31 aluminium-clad tablets, the tallest of which is 23 metres, Khan’s sculpture overlooks a wide memorial plaza that doubles as a reflecting pool and leads to a smaller, circular structure, The Pavilion of Honour.


The Pavilion contains the names of each of the nation’s heroes who, from the time of the UAE’s unification in 1971, sacrificed their lives in the service of their country.
Each name is inscribed on its own panel, made from aluminium reclaimed from Armed Forces vehicles.
A graduate of London’s Royal College of Art, the sculptor came to wider public attention thanks to Seven Times (2010), an installation of steel cubes sandblasted with layered Arabic inscriptions, and You and Only You (2012), a mural formed from fragments of pilgrims’ responses to the experience of performing Haj.

Both works were displayed as part of the British Museum’s 2012 exhibition Haj: Journey to the Heart of Islam.

But the memorial is the largest work Khan has ever undertaken. It is made from hundreds of tonnes of steel, and its 31 tablets and central spine are covered in over 1,000 hand-painted, individually cast aluminium panels.


Some of the panels bear poetry from the UAE’s founder, the late Sheikh Zayed, while the monument’s spine is inscribed with the pledge of allegiance sworn by all members of the UAE’s Armed Forces.


“I wanted to create an entrance into the piece so that as you enter, you get a real sense of scale. You walk into the piece and there’s an immediate difference in temperature,” the artist says.
“You have these tremendous rays of light coming through the different tablets and the poems help to draw you round, providing different moments to pause and reflect.”

by Chris Wilkinson


It’s now the last chance to see the first of a series of displays featuring work by artists who are also staff members in the Costa cafe on the ground floor of the Gallery.



Wish Factory, by local artist Michele Harris, launched the series and is also accompanied by the unveiling of her first new work in several years on the Gallery’s Mezzanine.


We are delighted to announce that Umbilical, her new drawing, has now been acquired for The New Art Gallery’s Permanent Collection.


Michele has worked at the Gallery since 2000 both as a Gallery Assistant and Artist Educator.  In August 2014 she suffered a brain haemorrhage whilst at work, which left her hospitalised for six weeks.  She also temporarily lost her eyesight and endured several operations and a long rehabilitation process, until she was able to return to work at the Gallery in May 2015.


This year Michele began to make new artwork and Umbilical is her first completed new drawing.  In her artist statement about the work Michele said:  Umbilical, is a very significant work for me as it was the first work I completed since my brain haemorrhage. This left me blind for a while, and I didn’t know if I’d see again, let alone be able to draw.   Umbilical is about my relationship with my 5 year old daughter Poppy.  She has always been fascinated and comforted by my hair, especially when it is plaited.  Braids often were a symbol of fertility and it seems fitting that it has become a talisman for Poppy, which induces a sense of calm and security.


Visually it became a symbol of the connection and interdependence between us that in form resembles the umbilical cord.  In the drawing the braid is becoming tangled and cluttered with twigs that eventually overtake it and become a nest-like form representing nurturing protection.


A lot of the twigs and branches I used for inspiration were collected with Poppy on the school run and I made sure that the plaits I referenced were from toys like Anna and Elsa from Frozen or My Little Pony manes and tails.  It represents playfulness and innocence and also the pain of accepting that had I not survived she may have had to rely on the toy plaits as a substitute. 


Michele’s work explores the shadowy corners and ambiguities associated with innate elements of the human condition – hope, despair, wishing, sacrifice, bliss, the fear of living and the fear of dying.  The symbols used in her work are rooted in the rich tradition of myth and superstition.  Narratives form and the objects on which the works are based begin to symbolise transformations and metamorphoses from incarceration to freedom, despair to hope, life to death.

by Chris Wilkinson

West Midlands Art Masterclass – visit by Ockbrook School

A group of A Level and GCSE students from Ockbrook School in Derbyshire took part in a hands-on art and sculpture masterclass led by expert artists at The New Art Gallery Walsall in the West Midlands.


The £21m New Art Gallery Walsall opened in February 2000 to national acclaim and was nominated for the RIBA Stirling Prize. It is home to over 1,500 sculptures, paintings and prints.


On arrival we had a 30 minute guided walk and talk around the gallery, which really helped us to get our bearings. For some of us it was the first time we’d seen masterpieces by leading artists such as Van Gogh, Monet and Picasso.


It was then a case of rolling up our sleeves and taking part in an amazing practical 3D sculpture workshop, involving casting in plaster. The workshop was an integral part of our students’ studies, encouraging discussion and rejuvenating ideas of their own art through viewing other artists’ work.


Year 12 student, Olivia Brown said: “The day itself was amazing. It was really thought-provoking, encouraging us to see past just the colours on a page. I loved the workshop and learned some new techniques that I hope to use in my own work.


“The gallery is stunning and getting to see Van Gogh’s ‘Sorrow’ drawing up close was also very exciting, as there are only two of these in the world!”


Catherine James, from the Gallery, said: “Taking students out of the classroom and into the inspiring space that we enjoy at the New Walsall Art Gallery is a great way of stimulating the creative juices.


“I hope the group from Ockbrook left with the understanding that art is for absolutely everyone to enjoy and that there is so much more to it than just looking at paintings, pictures and sculptures. Questioning art leads to discussions, which helps with confidence in public speaking.”


We’d like to say a huge thank you to the New Walsall Art Gallery for hosting us and the excellent educational workshop. Further details of the day can be found online at

by Chris Wilkinson

People’s Choice – Have you voted yet?



To celebrate the 125th anniversary of our Permanent Collection in 2017 and the launch of our new online collections database we are inviting you to curate next year’s collections exhibition, which will open in March.


Two History of Art students from the University of Birmingham are now undertaking work placements with us at the Gallery to help promote this exhibition. Aelita and Jessica will be in and around the Gallery for the next few months encouraging visitors to vote for their favourite artworks, both via Ipads in the Garman Ryan galleries and in our Art Library.  They will also be helping with ideas on social media to illustrate the breadth and scope of our Permanent Collection.


This is your opportunity to take ownership of the collection displays!


Voting is now open and will close at the end of January.

Click here to browse all the artworks and click the ‘thumbs up’ icon to vote for your favourites


Alternatively you can vote via postcards available in the Gallery.


We will display the most popular works in our themed collection galleries next year.


Don’t miss out on this opportunity to see your favourites on display!

by Chris Wilkinson

Public Consultation update

Thank you to everyone who has sent messages of support over the recent weeks.


Walsall Council has been asked to make savings of £86 million over the next four years. As part of the proposals to achieve this, the Council has proposed reducing funding to The New Art Gallery Walsall to zero by 2020.


The Gallery’s core funding is currently awarded through a partnership between Walsall Council and Arts Council England, and further subsidised through grants, foundations, partnerships and commercial activity.


Eva Rothschild, Alternative to Power (installation shot), The New Art Gallery Walsall


Further to the online survey launched as part of the public consultation, Walsall Council is inviting anyone wishing to comment upon the draft budget saving proposals to write or email directly to:


Budget Consultation

Walsall Council

Civic Centre

Darwall Street






The Council have requested that the following points are addressed in any feedback:

  • We ask that those who write to us tell us whose views they represent – i.e. individual, community group, stakeholder, artist, student
  • Provide the proposal number commenting on. The New Art Gallery No. 36
  • The overall opinion i.e. do not support/ support with concerns / amendments or fully supports
  •  How the saving proposal impacts on them and whether they have alternative suggestions for how this saving can be made and provide any other comments they want to make.


Feedback submitted by letter, email and the online survey will be collated via methods agreed by Chris Holliday, Head of Leisure Culture and Operations, Walsall Council.

by Hannah Anderson