With our usual meetings taking place in a school (the beautiful Chetham’s), August means it’s school trip time for Manchester WI. This gives us a chance to explore somewhere different as a group, and this month we were treated to a tour of the amazing Manchester Art Gallery. WI members came out in force for this meeting – there were so many of us that we were divided into two groups to explore the galleries.
We were met by Chris, a volunteer guide at the gallery who told us that she had been leading tours of the gallery for over 20 years. Chris had created a tour especially for our WI about women in the gallery – both those represented in artworks, and the female artists behind them.
Our tour began in the exhibition on the ground floor, where a collection of contemporary ceramicist Kate Haywood’s work was on show. The exhibition included new sculptural pieces that Haywood had made in response to the fascinating Mary Greg collection at Manchester Art Gallery, as well as some of her existing work which combines porcelain with fabric and glass. From here Chris led us through the gallery’s permanent collections, stopping to talk about the inspiring female painters in the 18th and 19th centuries, and pausing to think about how women are represented by male artists. Chris was so knowledgeable about the artworks on show, and talked so passionately about each piece.
We ended our tour in the Annie Sywnnerton ‘Painting Light and Hope’ exhibition, an uplifting and powerful display of paintings showing women from all walks of life. Swynnerton was a big supporter of women’s right to vote, and her painting of suffragist Dame Millicent Fawcett was particularly captivating. Her portrayal of real bodies of many ages – not just the Victorian “ideal” women – is inspiring, honest and relevant. It was a fitting end to the tour, celebrating female strength and power and leaving us feeling uplifted.
The evening ended in true WI style – a piece of cake, cup of tea (/wine), and a good catch up with friends old and new.