Ayr Sketch Club is an inclusive, friendly group of talented amateur and professional artists from across Ayrshire.
Founded in 1901, it has a long tradition of encouraging artistic pursuits in drawing and painting in a variety of media. It also comprises patrons* and lay (or non-painting) members, all of whom combine to promote the club and contribute to its artistic activities.
The Club meets every Friday evening in Alloway Village Hall from the beginning of September until late March for a lively programme of constructive appraisals of its members’ work and including demonstrations from professional artists. Workshops and outdoor painting days also take place during the summer months.
A well established schedule of exhibitions takes place across Ayrshire throughout the year at venues such as The Maclaurin Gallery, The Barony Centre in West Kilbride, Ayr Hospital and the Gallery at Culzean. For more information, see Events.
* Patrons: Patricia Fearn, Suzan Malcolm, Catherine Ritchie, Nijole White.
Ayr Sketch Club was the indirect result of the Public Libraries (Scotland) Act of 1854, which led to the establishment of the Carnegie Library in Ayr. The Library was built in 1893 and included in its design gallery space that could be put to use for the exhibition of art work.
James MacMaster, a professional artist, who had been involved in the organisation of Fine Art Exhibitions held at the Library in 1895 and 1898, suggested to the Library Committee that the work of the Committee would be ‘...greatly facilitated if, in the event of future exhibitions, there existed in the town an association of practising artists who could take over the organisation.’
Accordingly, James MacMaster held a meeting in his home in St Leonards Road to which he invited Roderick George Brown, a licensed grocer to trade, three local architects, William Cowie, Alexander Caldwell Thomson and John St Clair Williamson, and three school teachers, Thomas Shepherd Bell, William Browning and Alfred James Thompson. These eight individuals drew up a constitution as the basis of an organisation open to ‘...gentlemen who are artists or amateur artists...resident in the County of Ayrshire...’. It was agreed as part of this constitution, that such gentlemen should be required to ‘...submit two original sketches in colour ... be elected by ballot, one third of black balls to exclude.’ They set an entrance fee of ten shillings and an annual subscription of five shillings.
James MacMaster became President, James Thompson became Vice-president and William Browning became Secretary and Treasurer. There does not appear to be a formal record of when the name, Ayr Sketch Club, was adopted but the organisation referred to themselves by that name from the beginning. The first meetings of the Club were held in the studio of James Thompson in his home at 18 Academy Street, Ayr.
At the Club’s AGM in December 1907, James MacMaster moved that the Club’s constitution be amended to allow lady artists to be admitted. After discussion, this was agreed. The Club set up a Ladies Section and the first lady elected to full artist membership was Mrs I Rose who lived in Beresford Terrace, Ayr and Mrs Laura Louden nee Bennie was appointed President in 1908.
There were effectively two parallel Clubs in operation, however, within a year, the Clubs realised that carrying out meetings by ladies and gentlemen independently was difficult to sustain, whereas joint meetings ‘...worked to the satisfaction of all...’. In 1909, the ladies were fully incorporated into the committees and business of the Club.
While such an early example of equality may have owed as much to convenience as it did to forward thinking, it was not until 1981 that Barbara Borland became the first female President of the Club.
Since the founding of the Club in 1901, it has suffered a variety of fortunes. The early premises featured cramped accommodation of the Young Men’s Catholic Association and the committee room in Carnegie library. In 1907 the Club met at 52 Newmarket Street in Ayr above Fleury Meng, French and English pastry cook and confectioner.
The Ayr Academy Art Club amalgamated with Ayr Sketch Club in 1910. The early years saw regular meetings with critical appreciation, lectures and sketching excursions around the county. Also social events, putting on Masques and designing costumes and raising funds for the Club through entertaining pursuits.
Decorative arts and crafts featured in the Club’s early exhibitions, with members making pieces in metalwork and enamel, embroidery and pottery. Apparently one firing of the kiln in the studio in Newmarket street set fire to the roof. Repairs cost five pounds.
During the two World Wars, meetings of the Club were suspended and membership shrank to single figures. In the 1920’s, artist membership was recorded at 71, which included both lady and gentleman artists. However, during the depression of the 1930’s, membership fell away considerably and committee members auctioned valuables to maintain the Club in funds. After the end of the second world war, applications for membership grew dramatically and the Club held the first of what were to become annual summer exhibitions in 1947 in the gallery of the Carnegie Library.
These exhibitions moved to the recently opened Maclaurin Gallery in 1977 at the behest of the Council and have remained a major feature of the gallery’s programme ever since. The exhibition continues to attract more than 2500 visitors to the gallery each year and is also a major fundraiser for the Club.
The Club wishes to acknowledge and thank Ann Bontke and Ross McKay for research into the history of the Club.