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Lottery Funding Of £42k Secures Future Of Worplesdon’s Unique Sidney Sime Gallery

Published on: 14 May, 2019
Updated on: 13 May, 2019

A £42,000 National Lottery Heritage Fund will help secure the future of a unique archive of more than 800 works of art at the Sidney Sime Gallery at Worplesdon Memorial Hall.

The award, the result of a highly competitive campaign by the trustees of the gallery, will bring the talents of this extraordinary Victorian/Edwardian artist back into the limelight as they create a sustainable programme of funding and management to ensure that his legacy is preserved for the enjoyment and fascination of future generations.

Sidney Sime Gallery trustees Mary Broughton, Chris Ewbank and Jan Messinger.

Since 1956, Worplesdon Memorial Hall has housed Sime’s artworks, as well as letters, books and personal memorabilia. Subsequent acquisitions include personal letters and 36 caricatures of local men who frequented the New Inn pub nearby whom Sime drew.

When first opened, the Memorial Hall Gallery (as it was called) attracted a rush of public interest, but then for more than half a century it opened on rare occasions with few people being aware of its existence. Sime effectively faded from public view, remembered only by enthusiasts and experts as his artwork fell out of vogue.

The gallery houses Sime’s artworks, as well as letters, books and personal memorabilia.

Since 2010, as fantasy art and illustration have become increasingly popular, a curator and a small sub-committee led by a heritage trustee have worked hard to establish the gallery as a focal point, viewing it as an important part of local heritage.

Efforts to restore Sime to prominence started by building links with the local church (where he is buried), schools and art groups, as well as creating an annual family workshop and group visits.

Interest spread as volunteers helped with research, giving talks, archiving or assisting at open afternoons.

In 2017, the trustees staged an exhibition of Sime’s work at The Lightbox in Woking, sponsored by their chairman, local auctioneer Chris Ewbank, who has devoted time to assessing and valuing the artist’s work.

This, in turn, proved a catalyst for restoration, planning, writing a book on Sime, giving talks and holding a reception for 170 people as well as 7,000 visitors during its six weeks display at The Lightbox.

An oil painting of a Scottish scene by Sime was selected for exhibition at the International Arts Fair in London in January 2018 and in September 2018 a large fantasy oil painting was displayed in the Palazzo Roverella gallery in Rovigo, Italy as part of the ‘Arte ed Magice’ (Art and Magic) exhibition.

Trustee chairman Chris Ewbank with some of Sidney Sime’s artwork.

The trustees realised that they had a problem: their work was supported by uncertain and irregular funding, while the scope of their powers and remit were based on a governance structure that was decades old. Combined, these two problems had the potential to threaten the stability and future of the Sime legacy.

Heritage trustee Mary Broughton said: “We realised that the existing governance structure, based on legal documents from just after the First and Second World Wars, did not meet modern standards.

“The concern was that if we did not create and implement a well thought out strategy for the future and seek professional advice on how to provide proper infrastructure, revenue funding, increasing opening times, and improve trustee skills for its proper management, we risked the rapid decline of a valuable heritage asset affecting the local, national and international arts community.”

The National Lottery Heritage Fund grant will be spent on a full options appraisal and a governance review to secure the future viability of the gallery, and its collection of artworks and advise on how the gallery can become a local centre for heritage and illustrative art.

The trustees decided to act, appointing a legal charity expert to work with them on updating the governance structure. Meanwhile, Marilyn Scott, director of The Lightbox, volunteered to act as mentor the trustees, guiding them through their application for a major grant to help secure the project’s future.

Thanks to the grant, legal charity experts will work with them on updating the governance structure, which is a legally complex task, while other experts will help secure the future of the collection within its existing home. The trustees have to ensure that any changes they make do not have any unforeseen negative impacts.

The chairman of the trustees, Chris Ewbank, said: “Thanks to National Lottery players, the project will enable the trustees of Worplesdon Memorial Hall and the Sime Trust to carry out a full options appraisal and governance review to secure the future viability of the gallery, and  its collection of artworks and advise on how the gallery can become a local centre for heritage and illustrative art for all to enjoy and experience.

“It’s heartening that, having been brought back into the light after all these years thanks to the efforts of the local community and their supporters, Sime now has the chance to secure his rightful place in the artistic pantheon.”

Marilyn Scott was equally thrilled. She said: “I am absolutely delighted with the news that the National Lottery Heritage Fund have supported the Sime Gallery Trust in this way. Sime is an artist who deserves to be better known.”

Mary Broughton expressed thanks to local groups who had supported the endeavour, including Guildford and West Surrey Area Arts Society, the Friends of Guildford House and Surrey Museums Committee.

She added: “This is the most wonderful news after many months of hard work and working closely with the National Lottery Heritage Fund.”

The artist Sidney Sime. These pictures courtesy of the Sidney Sime Gallery.

A career as an artist, caricaturist, humourist, scholar, philosopher and illustrator must have seemed an impossible dream for the poverty-stricken young Sidney Sime from Manchester, who spent his early years down coal mines. However, his extraordinary imagination and raw talent led to him becoming a renowned illustrator of books and magazines following formal training at Liverpool School of Art.

Sime was patronised by wealthy aristocrats Lord Dunsany (book illustration) and Lord Howard de Walden (theatre design), and his unique style, reminiscent of Blake, Rackham, Dulac and Beardsley reflects a fascination for the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Art UK has catalogued and published all 132 of his oil paintings.

One of the characters of Worplesdon drawn by Sidney Sime.

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test 2 Responses to Lottery Funding Of £42k Secures Future Of Worplesdon’s Unique Sidney Sime Gallery

  1. Mary Broughton Reply

    May 14, 2019 at 9:52 pm

    Thank you so much Dragon NEWS for publishing such a full report on our exciting news. It is vital we reach as wide an audience as possible to encourage people to visit our gem of a gallery and enjoy the artworks on show.

    • Lynn Smith Reply

      May 16, 2019 at 7:49 am

      Could you please let me know how I can go along and see this exhibition. What dates and times etc.

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