When five art enthusiasts got together in 1961 to set up Kirkcaldy Art Club, they probably didn’t imagine it would still be going strong 60 years later, with its own shop in the town.
Today the club boasts 120 members, regularly sold-out classes, links with the local community, a retail space at the Mercat Centre and regular exhibitions.
A special exhibition, Joy and Creativity, is being held at Kirkcaldy Galleries to mark its 60th anniversary. Painting, pottery, crafts, cards, artwork by Fife schoolchildren and a display dedicated to the 60s aesthetic are just some of the things on offer.
Joy and Creativity: an exhibition
“The exhibition has taken over two big rooms at the gallery,” says Vera Lethbridge, who joined the club eight years ago and takes care of its publicity and marketing.
“People have been at home for the best part of two years. They’ve had plenty of time to work on their art and they’re very keen to exhibit it.
“We also did a kids’ competition in the schools. The artwork by the winners in each category is in the exhibition too, which is a nice touch. Plus there’s a corner dedicated to the 60s with 60s clothes and typewriters on display.
“It’s incredibly important for a club like this to have links with the community. We aim to serve the community. Our work with schools and exhibitions in local galleries is very important to us.
“In the past couple of years the club has started classes for kids, which have been really successful. With disruptions to school many kids have been missing out on activities, so this gives them something extra.”
Kirkcaldy Art Club: beginnings
The club was founded by five women: Miss Ross, Mrs Forrester, Mrs Hale, Mrs Johnston, and Mrs Stewart. Thirty-three club members initially met at the Kirkcaldy Museum Lecture Hall until the club could find other premises.
In January 1962, the club moved to the Trades School in Institution Street, which no longer exists. Members helped to clean and prepare the premises and raised funds to buy chairs and easels, with the first painting class starting on January 11 1962.
The club held its first exhibition at 126 High Street in the summer of 1962. A committee of three art teachers and four club members selected the paintings to be exhibited and the event was a success, with the club receiving a profit of £30 – around £580 in today’s money.
A social place
“Throughout its history, the Kirkcaldy Art Club has been a place of mutual support and shared enthusiasm,” says Claire Methven, who has been a member of the club for 49 years and recently wrote a short text on its history.
“It has had lots of help from outside sources in money and kind donations of time and materials, but the talent, hard work and resourcefulness of its members have been crucial to the club’s success and survival.
“From its inception, it has been renowned as a very social place. Classes were given in painting, oils and watercolours.
“Summer school sessions often included going outdoors for sketching and painting. Club members also organised outings to see artwork elsewhere, such as visits to Edinburgh Galleries.”
Today the club offers a mixture of tutored classes and unstructured sessions when members can come in and work on their crafts or paintings.
Its current premises are the Hot Pot Wynd building, which the club bought in 1970 and altered to make it suitable for club activities. During lockdown the club offered online classes but it has now returned to in-person sessions only.
Coming out of lockdown
“There’s a big social element to classes that you just don’t get online,” adds Vera. “Quite a lot of our members are practising artists but we also have many for whom it’s just a hobby they enjoy.
“I’d say around 60% of our members are retirees. But recently there’s been an influx of new people, and many of them are working people in their 30s and 40s. Some of the parents of the children who came to the kids’ classes have joined the club too.
“Around a month ago the Mercat Centre offered us a shop space. The place was looking a bit sad, so the management offered the shop to us for a year rent free, to breathe a bit of life into the place.
“It’s been really successful so far. People like to come in and see what we have to offer. They’ve been very complimentary. We had a guy running in under the half-shut shutters one day when we were closing. He exclaimed ‘I just have to buy this painting!’”