Friends of Bowes Museum celebrate 60th anniversary

PUBLISHED: 08:33 16 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:50 20 February 2013

1930s evening dress by Madeleine Vionnet bought with the aid of the Friends.

1930s evening dress by Madeleine Vionnet bought with the aid of the Friends.

Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle enjoys nationwide recognition as a hidden gem of the art world, and this year its Friends celebrate their 60th birthday

The Chairman of the Friends of Bowes Museum smiles as she remembers some of her first visits to that magnificent building.
We used to come on a Sunday - when there was nothing to do - and look round all the treasures. I was hooked then, and still feel a deep affinity this wonderful place so many years later.
Heather Scott OBE, who lives in Darlington, spent her teenage years in Barnard Castle and still enjoys seeing all the art and artifacts the museum has to offer.
Heather has been a committee member of the Friends for three years and chairman for two, and is thrilled to be chairing in the year of the Friends 60th anniversary, which will be celebrated this month with a Gala Dinner.
There are more than 2,000 Friends now. They come from all walks of life - nurses, teachers, students, from all sorts of backgrounds - and not all local,
said Heather.
Wed love to involve even more and in particular recruit younger people and families. There is so much for them to do and see here. Its certainly not a stuffy museum, theres always something to get involved in.

Bowes Museum is tucked away on the outskirts of this rural market town, almost the last place you would expect to find an important collection of art and artifacts from around the world housed in a magnificent building which looks like a French chateau.
It was the dream of John and Josephine Bowes and the Foundation Stone was laid in November 1869. Sadly Josephine died before building work was complete, but John continued and completed the project they had planned together and died in 1885.
After their deaths the task of completing the museum was inherited by a Board of appointed Trustees. Costs mounted annually, particularly during the war years when there was a backlog of essential repairs and a significant decrease in visitors.
Crisis point was reached in 1949 when closure of the museum became a consideration. To save the museum a group of enthusiasts organised a number of fund-raising events throughout the region culminating in a spectacular concert at Seaburn Hall in Sunderland, on 11th December 1949, when the group was established as a society named the Friends of The Bowes Museum. Their inaugural meeting was held on 26th July 1950.
Since that date the Friends have continued to support The Museum in many different ways, with financial donations, publicity and volunteers.
Until her death in 2002 the Friends Patron was Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, who had had close connections with The Museum and the surrounding area since her childhood days. As a memorial to her 40 years as an interested and supportive patron, the Friends erected a magnificent armillary sphere in the grounds of the Museum.
The Friends continue to thrive and now have over 2,000 members. The Patron is now the Earl of Strathmore.
Heather said: It is believed that the Friends have donated items in excess of 1 million in todays terms since the organisation started, which is an amazing amount of money.
One of the first bequests to the Friends was in 1950 when Mr Shafto Waistell left the residue of his estate - 2,079. There have been many since and fund raising events and appeals provide vital financial support.
One of the most important appeals was in 1982 to secure two Canalettos for the Museum. The two paintings - Regatta on the Grand Canal and The Bucintoro Returning to the Molo - had been on loan to the Museum since 1972, but the family who owned them then wanted to sell.
A huge campaign was launched and huge publicity resulted in a significant amount of the 100,000 needed being raised, which was topped up by the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the paintings were retained.
One recent Friends project was the restoration and repair of the Museums famous Silver Swan. The 230 year-old Silver Swan is the best-loved object in the museum - an English silver automaton, a unique attraction that was bought by the Bowes in 1872. The life size model is operated at the museum every day.
Heather works closely with the Friends team and the Curator of the Museum, Adrian Jenkins who said: We enjoy a really good relationship and cant really ask for better support.
Its great to be able to celebrate such a milestone with our true Friends.

The 60th Anniversary Gala Dinner takes place on Friday September 10. This black tie event will take place in the principal Picture Gallery.
The speaker will be Caroline Chapman, author of a new biography of John and Josephine Bowes.
Other events take place throughout the rest of the year. See the Bowes Museum website for details.

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