Experiencing The British Summer

Blog post by Claire Jackson Ben Uri Archivist / Posted 21st July 2014

Centenary Stories from the Archives

More stories from the early days of Ben Uri. The founders try to find inspiration on Hampstead Heath. In this post we also meet a fortune teller and the creator of the ‘Melting Pot’ while eating ice cream as served to Buckingham Palace!

The weather changed and disrupted the noble ideas

In this posting I continue with highlights from the early days of the Ben Uri. In another extract from the recently translated original minute book, the secretary Judah Beach waxes lyrical whilst describing a meeting held al fresco … that is, until the rain comes down.

Minutes Sunday, 4 June 1916

The Ben Uri Committee members meet at Hampstead Station with a plan to continue their discussions about opening a gallery and publishing an album of Jewish art. They walk to the heath and stop in a field:

an abundance of greenery … the trees are dipping in the glitter from the sun and spread enchanting reflections of all sorts of shapes by their sheer movement and the birds burst into song for nature, our business is discussed.

But as if for spite, the weather changed and disrupted the noble ideas of how to immortalise Jewish life through art. But the determination of the supporters of Jewish art overcame the negative spirits and after a lengthy march through various paths we finally found a place for our meeting.

Richmond to Chertsey

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Near Richmond (Fredrick Feigl)

After the Committee’s experience with inclement weather in 1916 there are no recorded further attempts to meet in plein air although outdoor social outings are organised.

Here is an invitation for a Ben Uri boat trip between Richmond and Chertsey from 1920. The ticket promises, a ‘carnival, concert and dancing’ all for the price of 10 shillings and 6 pence (children half price). This route was particularly popular as five other groups are recorded in the Jewish Chronicle during June and July of that year as having undertaken similar excursions.

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Boat Trip Invitation 1920

From Thought to Thought and Dream to Dream Man’s Life Must, Richer Truer Grow.

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Ben Uri Garden Fete 1922 Cover

This quote is found on the cover of the programme from 1922 for another outdoors event, a garden fete to meet the newly appointed Ben Uri President, Israel Zangwill. Zangwill was, at that time, arguably the best known Jew in the English speaking world. He chronicled the Jewish refugee experience in Children of the Ghetto and popularised the term ‘Melting Pot’ in his play of that name, which was seen by US President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909 when it premiered in America

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Wolmark Illustration of Zangwill’s Melting Pot

As well as this example of an illustration of text of the Melting Pot by Alfred Wolmark from 1925, Ben Uri has a number of portraits of Zangwill. One of them, also by Wolmark, was donated to the National Portrait Gallery in 1935.

In the Picture Gallery: Can money buy such joy!

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Ben Uri Garden Fete 1922 Inside

We learn from the 1922 garden fete invitation that the event not only had catering by J Lyons (from whom celebrity cook Nigella Lawson is descended from!) and ices from a royal supplier but also music, dancing, speeches and games, not forgetting my favourite feature, the fortune teller ‘Baha-I-Ima’ which comes with a testimonial: ‘I am rich and happy, my big family blesses you’.

There was also a chance to view the growing Ben Uri art collection.