Rotherham Society of Arts and Crafts celebrates a colourful centenary

Longevity is the defining characteristic of Rotherham Society of Arts and Crafts as it gets set to celebrate its centenary this autumn.

Established at a time of innovation and expression in the Roaring Twenties, the society has been shaped by various art movements over the last hundred years, from Art Deco to abstract, pop art to post-modernism. Today, the society continues to provide an opportunity for people to showcase their artistic talents and strengthen their potential.

Members of Rotherham Society of Arts and Crafts showing their work

Rotherham Society of Artists was started in November 1922 by a group of distinguished, professional artists and promising art students from Sheffield School of Art.

Their aim was to promote the advancement and development of art in Rotherham, and it was a prestigious club to be part of. Some of its founder members include Royal College of Art alumni Edwin la Dell, Royal Society of British Artists landscape artist Stanley Royle, and David Jagger who went on to paint portraits commissioned of aristocracy and royalty, including the late Prince Philip.

Membership wasn’t automatic; there was a strict interview process where would-be members had to show their work – which could only be watercolour or oil – to the committee to see if it was good enough to pass the test. Even then, membership didn’t mandate that chance to exhibit work.

Of the original 14 members, there was only one woman: Mrs Florence Fieldhouse. But her work was reported to have been the most expensive of all the society’s paintings, regarded for her vibrant and accurate floral displays.

Today, the society is a lot more inclusive and a lot less restrictive, having recently changed its name to Rotherham Society of Arts and Crafts to reflect the mixed media used by current members, from ceramics to printing and illustration.

You don’t need any formal training to join and it is open to all, whether you’re a beginner or professional artist. The supportive group has a wealth of knowledge, sharing ideas together as a collective through friendly help and advice about how to improve work.

Some members have been part of the society for decades, such as current secretary Joan who joined 25 years ago to support a friend and shortly after became president by default. While some, like Joan, have art qualifications, others come to learn the basics. Hobby artists are joined by professionals, such as current president Rachel Lewis who turned a lifelong hobby into a career at 40 after many years as a physiotherapist. Last year she won Highly Commended and the People’s Prize at the Cooper Gallery’s open art competition for her watercolour depiction of a cabbage titled Simply Savoy.

(c) Simply Savoy by Rachel Lewis – available to purchase at

From September through to May, Rotherham Society of Arts and Crafts meets fortnightly at St James’s Rooms within Wath Parish Church. Sessions alternate between talks, demonstrations and workshops. The programme is always varied, covering everything from encaustic art to life drawing.

During the summer months, the society meets outdoors to paint or draw plein air (in the open air), regularly visiting regional beauty sites like Wentworth Woodhouse, Old Moor, Manvers Lake, and Wentworth Castle.

To mark their big birthday, Rotherham Society of Arts and Crafts will be hosting an exhibition at Wath Church called Art in the Aisles from Friday 16th to Sunday 18th September. This will be followed by a smaller exhibition at Maurice Dobson Museum in Darfield throughout the month of October. Both are free entry, with work available to purchase on the day.

Annual membership is £35, or you can attend any session for £5. The new year starts in September where sessions will be held every other Friday at St James’ Rooms, Wath Church 7pm-9pm. They are also looking for artists or crafters who could run workshops or demonstrations for the 2022/23 programme. Contact for more information.