You’ve probably seen the Bowmer & Kirkland signs on hoardings and cranes around Sheffield. The Derbyshire-based construction and development company is responsible for Moor Market, No.3 St. Paul’s Place, St. Vincent’s Place, New Era Square, and is backing the developer behind the West Bar scheme.
The company was established in 1923 as a partnership between joiner Alfred Bowmer and bricklayer Robert William Kirkland. The current chairman is Jack Kirkland, businessman, art collector and philanthropist.
Kirkland first started buying art around 20 years ago, purchasing a work by the US conceptual sculptor Tom Friedman. While big on American modernism and Latin American contemporary art, his collection also includes Hellenistic bronzes, a Carracci portrait, and an Egyptian faience baboon.
His sizeable collection of interwar European photography is promised to the Tate, where he is Co-Chair of its Photography Acquisitions Committee. He is also the chairman of Nottingham Contemporary and a trustee of the Bridget Riley Art Foundation.
Kirkland is also chairman and settlor of The Ampersand Foundation, a UK-awarding charity that supports the visual arts, exhibitions, projects, and supporting public collections, provided they are free to the public at least one day per week.
Last Friday (3 Sep 2021), the Graves Art Gallery in Sheffield reopened after six months of renovation work to redecorate, re-clad the walls in galleries largely untouched since 1934, bring many artworks out of storage for new displays, and to showcase work with a fresh perspective on classic art.
It has all been possible after a grant of £455,000 from the Ampersand Foundation, a long-time backer of Sheffield Museums, and the largest single amount ever awarded by the charity.
The grant echoes the day when Sheffield Central Library and Graves Art Gallery were opened by the Duchess of York (Queen Mother to our younger readers) in July 1934.
The total cost of the building was estimated at £141,700, of which £114,700 represented the structure, and £27,000 the furnishing. Alderman John George Graves contributed £30,000 and gave the gallery’s director, Dr J.M. Rothenstein, unrestricted choice from his own art collection, with power to borrow whatever was needed.
Sir John Knewstub Maurice Rothenstein CBE (1901–1992) had served as Director of Leeds City Art Gallery, and was appointed Director of Sheffield City Art Galleries (1932-38) where he oversaw the establishment and opening of the Graves Art Gallery. From 1938–64 Rothenstein was Director of the Tate Gallery in London.
Rothenstein carefully planned the interior which was of dark blue rough-textured paper, to take advantage of each collection in its eight galleries.
It’s been a long road since, overshadowed by recent events in which the Central Library and Graves Art Gallery were almost sold to become a five-star hotel, and the fact that it needs about £30m investment in maintenance.
The gallery has not had a major redisplay and some of the spaces were in desperate need of a refresh.
The project began back in the winter with the removal of the artworks from the gallery walls, allowing skilled contractors to re-clad galleries 2, 3 and 6. The contractors removed the existing wall cladding before fixing new sheets of MDF to create smooth walls – a first in decades for these galleries.
The final phase of the improvements was the installation of new MDF walls and woodwork, that were then painted and finished ready for the new displays.
It is understood that the Ampersand Foundation will be supporting the Graves Art Gallery with further redisplays, conservation of the city’s art collection, work with schools and artists, and more over the next four years,
Jack Kirkland, the charity’s chairman, says Sheffield Museums is “using the money as it was intended to be used: that is for the benefit of all Sheffield residents and visitors, and in particular children and young people”.
I might suggest that J.G. Graves would have approved.
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