One of SA’s top art museums

2010-03-25 00:00

IN THE final Witness Pietermaritzburg Passport Project profile, we take a look at the Tatham Art Gallery, one of the country’s major art museums.

Since its inception in 1903, the ­gallery has been part of the local ­municipality. It was established after Ada Tatham initiated a drive for the citizens of Pietermaritzburg to buy and donate artworks to the city ­council.

Using her profile and influence as the wife of the Natal judge president, and being active in various social committees, she managed to convince the council of the value of the city having such a cultural establishment.

Tatham was then asked to go to Britain to select and acquire artworks to form part of the gallery’s collection. In London, she met with sirs Edward Poynter and William Richmond from the Royal Academy and managed to acquire a loan of 100 paintings by British contemporary artists. The bulk of these works that were sent to Pietermaritzburg were based on ­Victorian taste.

The first collection was exhibited in three rooms at the city hall — the council chambers, the Supper Room, and Room II.

In 1963, the exhibition rooms at the city hall were officially renamed the Tatham Art Gallery and the collection was reviewed and restructured, with a number of artworks being sold at the suggestion of a Mrs Lorimer, then director of the King George Gallery in Port Elizabeth.

In the seventies, the then curator, Valerie Leigh, suggested that the Old Supreme Court building in Chief Albert Luthuli Street (Commercial Road) be used as an educational and cultural institution for the city. This vision was carried through by her successor, Lorna Ferguson, who met with Gordon Small, an architect, to redesign the building with an emphasis on storing, conserving, and exhibiting artworks.

In 1990, the whole collection was moved from the city hall to its current building and to show the new direction of the gallery, one of the first exhibitions held at the new site was a showcase of Jackson Hlungwane’s work.

The gallery also has a strong ethic of educating people about art. Over the years this has been achieved through lectures and art competitions, workshops, guided tours, lectures, children’s workshops and music concerts.

Through various committees and the gallery’s board of directors, the permanent collection is now more representative of new and evolving trends in the visual arts in southern Africa and particularly in KwaZulu-Natal. And both professional and ­aspiring artists are given opportunities to display and participate in its ­exhibition programme.

To assist in nurturing young artists, the gallery offers two programmes — Friday youth art classes at the Old Presbyterian Church from 2.30 pm to 4.30 pm and the Artists’ Forum, which takes place every second Wednesday of the month from 2.30 pm to 3.30 pm.

The gallery has a shop that stocks arts and crafts (phone 033 392 2828 or visit www.tatham.shop@msun duzi.gov.za) and a coffee shop that is open from 10 am to 4 pm (phone 076 737 6083 or 076 737 6040).

The Tatham Art Gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm. Inquiries: 033 392 2801.

THE HISTORY OF THE BUILDING

THE building that houses the Tatham Art Gallery was designed in 1864 and its construction finished in 1875. Prior to it being an art gallery, the building was used as a general post office, the Natal Government Legislative Council, a barricade during the Natal wars and, until the mid-eighties, as the Natal S upreme Court.

THE Tatham Art Gallery is one of seven organisations taking part in this year’s Witness Pietermaritzburg Museum Passport Project — a scheme that encourages pupils to visit the Natal Museum in Jabu Ndlovu (Loop) Street, PMB Tourism, the Voortrekker/Msunduzi Museum in Langalibalele (Longmarket) Street, Macrorie House Museum in Jabu Ndlovu Street, Tatham Art Gallery in Chief Albert Luthuli Street (Commerical Road), Comrades House in Connaught Road and The Old Prison in Burger Street, over a two-month period.

Pupils each get a museum passport that is stamped by the museum when they visit. They can visit the participating venues either with their schools or individually, and should book a time to tour the museums before they arrive. Please note — parents cannot come to the museums to get stamps for their children.

The school with the most stamped entries will win a photocopier sponsored by Nashua Maritzburg and two lucky pupils will also win notebook computers sponsored by The Witness. There are also a host of other smaller prizes, including iPods, MP3 Players, stationery packs and lots more to be won by both schools and pupils who complete the project.

The closing date for entries is April 12, and winners will be drawn shortly after the competition closes. For more information, contact any one of the participating organisations.

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