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Volunteers’ Week 2023: Celebrate and Inspire

Volunteers’ Week is an annual celebration of the contribution millions of people make across the UK through volunteering in their communities.

2023 marks the 39th year of Volunteers’ Week (1-7 June), when the Harris will join thousands of charities and voluntary organisations recognising the contribution volunteers make across the UK. With this year’s theme of ‘Celebrate and Inspire’ we hope to encourage people to be the change that we want to see and get involved in volunteering in whatever way works for them.

The contribution of volunteers is often unseen and unrecognised by many, visible only through the incredible impact of their volunteering, so taking the time during Volunteers’ Week to celebrate their efforts and all they contribute to our local communities, the voluntary sector and society as a whole has never been more important.

This Volunteers’ Week, the Harris will be celebrating their 237 volunteers, by interviewing one of the Harris Volunteers, Herma about their favourite collection items.

Hannah Barlow

How does one choose a favourite item from a collection such as the Harris, when almost every item is a potential favourite?   An almost impossible task.  So, I put the names of all my favourite artists into a virtual pot and pulled the name ‘Hannah Barlow’ from it.

Image of Ceramic Sheep Vase

Hannah Barlow was born in Hertfordshire in November 1851. I was born a hundred years later in November 1951, not in Hertfordshire, but on a tea plantation in South India. I suppose this was one of the reasons why I feel connected to Hannah.

I have been fascinated with the dexterity of Hannah’s line drawing ever since I first saw a piece of her work at the Harris. I later learned that the technique is called ’scraffito’. This is a technique whereby, using a stylus, outlines are incised into soft clay and a colouring inserted into the incised lines. Hannah, being the consumate artist, was able to draw directly into the clay from memory and therefore her output was considerable.  Her speciality was drawing animals using this technique.

Hannah loved animals and has been known to have had many pets. On a terracotta panel by her colleague, George Tinworth, over the main entrance to the surviving office block in the High Street at Lambeth,  you can see Hannah sitting on a stool decorating a vase held over her lap and under the stool sits a very contented cat.

However at some time disaster struck.  Rheumatism affected her right hand and when it became apparent that it was more or less paralysed,  she began to work using her left hand with little or no loss of quality. Her strength of character and her excellence as an artist shines out for me.

Cedric Morris

Maggie Hambling came to the Harris in the early 1990s and talked us through her exhibition ‘Towards Laughter’ which was ongoing at that time.  She was the first, real live, famous artist that I had ever seen so you can just imagine how excited I was. Later on I became aware of the Lucian Freud still life painting in the Collection. Learning more about these two artists, connected me to Cedric Morris and my appreciation of his work grew as did my attachment to his painting of a farmyard scene that might have existed in reality or only in his imagination.

A charcoal drawing

Head of Julia III By Frank Auerbach, 1985

Whenever I took a group of people round the art gallery, this particular painting would be my starting point and from here I would draw an invisible line to the Maggie Hambling paintings and then to the Lucian Freud  still life and from there to the Frank Auerbach piece and in so doing the allocated hour/hour and half would quite happily fly by.

At the Chelsea Flower Show 2015 the name Cedric Morris came to prominence, after an absence of 60 years, this time as the plantsman who bred fine vintage irises.  As I write this piece, the 2023 Chelsea Flower Show is ongoing. One of the gold medal winning gardens, ‘The Nurture Landscapes’ designed by Sarah Price, is said to have taken the atmosphere, inspiration and colour palette from the paintings of Cedric Morris and the plants collected and bred by him.

In 2018 there were two major exhibitions of his work in London and I was indeed fortunate to be able to spend much time in both the venues. For me it is wonderful to hear the name of Cedric Morris coming to the fore again this year and to know that in the heart of Preston there exists a painting by this man and much loved by me.

Image of the Harris building

Volunteer with us

Are you over 16? Looking to gain skills and experiences in the arts sector? Wanting to get involved in the community? Sounds like you’d be a great Harris volunteer!
To find out about current opportunities, click here to visit our volunteer portal.