History of Woking Art Society

Woking Art Society has a long and rich history. It arose out of the Woking Art Club, formed in the 1920s, disbanded at the beginning of WW2 but then reformed in April 1943 as Woking Society of Arts.

Among the founder members was Molly Brett (1912-1990) who was notable for her fairy illustrations in children’s weekly papers and annuals, including various illustrations of books by Enid Blyton. Her work has been reproduced as children’s book illustrations, she wrote several children's books and featured in many radio and television programmes.

Other founder members who found fame included Marjorie Best (1903-1997), whose superb watercolours of flowers become collectors’ pieces in her lifetime and can still be found in auctions today. The Society’s president in 1959 was Sam Morse-Brown (1903-2001) whose 1950 commissioned portrait of Sir Rhys Hopkins Morris, Deputy Speaker at the House of Commons, was widely acclaimed.

Marguerite Howarth (1908-2001) was another well-known local artist and a Society member from 1946-1956. A professional illustrator and also a member of the Society of Women Artists, Marguerite produced numerous pictures of Surrey buildings and landscapes, mainly in water colour, while living in Woking from the 1940s until 1973. Some of these are included in The Lightbox’s permanent ‘Woking’s Story’ display.

Woking Society of Arts has always staged regular exhibitions although, in the early days, it struggled to find a venue. The first annual exhibition was held in the Woking Gas Showrooms and attracted an attendance of 500 people; the prize-winning entry, Miss Allen's ‘A Surrey Farm’, was later exhibited at Burlington House by the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours. Sometimes near-derelict buildings were brought into use for the two weeks of the exhibition with the YMCA deployed in 1949, when the exhibition was opened by Sir Peter Scott and the exhibitors included Keith Shackleton, a descendant of the famous polar explorer.

Despite of the lack of a permanent home, exhibitions continued and both attendance numbers and sales were strong (with around 700 catalogues sold in 1973). During the late 1980s and early 1990s in particular, the Society enjoyed a high profile. Renowned wildlife artist the late David Shepherd* OBE was its patron in 1993 when he opened the Society’s Golden Jubilee event. Many prominent people attended the exhibitions and thousands of pounds were raised for charities supported by the Mayor.
It was around this time too that we introduced what have become known as our outdoor exhibitions – actually held under cover in Mercia Walk, Woking, in June and September – to enable all members to exhibit and sell their work.

In January 2017, two special resolutions to amend the Constitution of the Society were put forward by the Committee at the annual general meeting. The first was to merge the two categories (full and associate) membership structure into one and the second to change the name of the Society to Woking Art Society. The second was passed by the required two-thirds majority of members, but the first was not. However, a further resolution was passed to enable all paid-up members of at least 12 months standing to submit work for selection to official exhibitions (those currently held at The Lightbox), whereas previously only full members were able to do so.

The constitution was amended accordingly and we went on to produce a fresh, new logo and website for the newly christened Woking Art Society.

Throughout the years the Society has been highly acclaimed for the quality of work produced by its members and this continues to be the case, with recent exhibitions at The Lightbox being of a very high standard. The Society has been holding its official exhibitions at this premier Woking venue for the arts since October 2010, with week-long exhibitions held in March/April and October each year.

Many of our members have become as well-known as some of our founders. Liz Seward, Christine Taherian and Sera Knight belong to the prestigious Society of Women Artists. John Bunce specialises in miniatures and is a member of both the Society of Limners and the Hilliard Society.

Other members have won or been shortlisted for major art prizes and/or been invited to show their work at major exhibitions including those at the Mall Galleries in London. These include (but are not limited to) Fran Bunting, Hannah Bruce, Maggie Butler, Elisabeth Carolan, David Drury, Ronnie Ireland, Jo Quigley, Ros O'Connor, Kim Page and Carol Taylor.

The current Patron of the Society is Rhod Lofting DL.

The Society’s archives are held at the Surrey History Centre.

* David Shepherd remained Patron until March 2000 when he resigned due to pressure of work commitments, particularly those associated with the David Shepherd Conservation Foundation.

(updated January 2018)