Chapter 2 Art classes
Jack was keen to read the daily news in the Liverpool Echo. The articles and advertisements provided topics for smalltalk with clients, enabling him to demonstrate he was well-informed about construction work going on in the city. One such article was about the art school expanding to a building on Hope Street because of increased interest, especially from young ladies. The article claimed the Suffragette movement had made young ladies keen to develop talents other than those for the household, and that art school was a way of meeting and being creative.
In Jack’s day-to-day life, he didn’t come across girls. There had only been boys at Wavertree Technical School. His job was in a man’s world and his parents had never stimulated social activity outside the family and church. He spent most of his spare time reading. Attending the art school would give him the opportunity to meet young ladies and getaway from home more often. The courses were free-of-charge for ratepayers, so he needed his father’s approval to enrol.
“Father, I’ve decided to take drawing lessons at the art school. I liked technical drawing at school but know I can do more. I’ve always wanted to paint and be creative.”
“What will you be drawing, son,” his father asked.
“All sorts of things I imagine.”
“You’re wasting your time. You need to concentrate on your work, read more about business and read the Bible more often,” Father told him.
“But I don’t want to be busy with work all the time. I want to meet other people. The art school is a reputable, well-respected institution. There is nothing wrong with going there,” Jack countered.
“Art is an expression of hedonism. The Bible teaches us we must express ourselves to God. Only He can understand our inner feelings and guide us. Drawings and paintings don’t give us guidance, they’re only a distraction from what is truly important. Only paintings in church, made in God’s glory, are of use.”
“Well, I intend to go anyway,” Jack declared.
At this point, his mother entered the room.
“Mother, what do you think of me going to art classes?” Jack said, adding, “It will give me an opportunity to meet other people.”
“How can you attend lessons while working?” Mother asked.
“There are evening classes I can join, free-of-charge. I can get an evening studentship,” Jack responded.
“You’ll have to buy painting tools,” his mother said, realising her son would have his own way.
“I’ve already got some tools, although I might have to buy more. I’ll need money for materials, drawing paper and such,” Jack added, thinking he was now getting somewhere.
“He’ll be asking you for more pocket money next,” his father said in a disapproving tone.
“I earn my own keep,” Jack barked back. “My wages all go to Mother but I should have some for my own development.”
“Let me talk it over with your father,” Mother said with a positive look in her eyes.
Jack left the room knowing his mother would sort it out, avoiding any further confrontation with his father.
The school year started on Monday, 26th September. Hope Street was just over 2 miles from home, so he walked there for his first lesson. On arrival he joined about 30 students all coming to the introductory session. Most were young ladies of his own age, chattering in groups. He noticed one who was particularly attractive. She had a straight posture, a soft complexion and seemed to listen more rather than just chat away. He wanted to make his acquaintance with her, so, when the session started, he made sure he sat close to her, not too close but close enough to make contact.
After the assembly, Jack spoke to the young lady and asked how she liked it. They exchanged pleasantries for a while and Jack knew he wanted to speak to her again at the next lesson. He took the electric tram back home, feeling light-headed and happy. The next week he went to the art school expecting to see her again. To his dismay, they had split the class up in two foundation courses and she was in the other group. On asking, the teacher said he could switch groups.
The following week he made sure he was at Hope Street early, so he could see her arriving and follow her into class. He sat next to her and they exchanged polite greetings. Before he could continue the conversation, the teacher asked for attention and explained they would draw perspectives. That was a godsend for Jack as he’d learnt to draw technical perspectives at school. He could now whisper tips into his neighbour’s ear, showing off his knowledge.
Each week students took more or less the same positions in the studio so Jack could often sit next to her and to make her acquaintance. He learned she was Miss Grime, and lived on Rocky Lane, above her mother’s tobacco shop. Over time, they exchanged views on art and freedom of expression, and he grew to know her as an independently thinking person, like himself. But he seldom had the chance to further engage because her best friend, Miss Lamont, was in class and they always went away together. Jack had little chance to speak to Miss Grime in private.
At home, Jack’s sisters were increasingly vocal about equal rights for women. With horror they had heard of Suffragettes being imprisoned because of demonstrating for women’s voting rights. When they went on hunger strike, they were force fed via a nostril or stomach tube. That was dreadful to Annie, Mabel and Mary — it seemed like torture.
Their father said it was the demonstrators’ own fault for being militant. Although his belief in the Bible held him back from supporting their cause, he could accept their right to demonstrate, but only if it was peaceful. He forbade his daughters from going near the demonstrations.
At art school Jack had heard stories from students who were part of the Suffragette movement. He relayed one story to his sisters.
“A man who supports the Suffragettes has lashed out at Winston Churchill with a dog’s whip. An escorting policeman and on-lookers managed to grab the man before harm was done. It goes to show that men are asking for more rights for their wives.”
Annie asked, “Well Jack, what do you think? Do you agree?”
Jack paused, wanting to choose his words carefully. “I see no reason why women should have less voting rights than men. Why shouldn’t they be allowed to express their views and influence the course of politics?”
Annie questioned further, “Will you go with us to the Suffragette meeting next week? You can be our chaperon.”
“I don’t want to be involved or to endanger your safety,” Jack replied.
Their father warned, “You’ll lose your jobs if you’re seen anywhere near those Suffragettes. None of you should go there.”