Celebrating 90 years of The Usher Gallery: Sixth Decade

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 by The Collection  | Category: Art 

1977-1986: Paintings by Karl Salsbury Wood

A quick look in the Usher Gallery's accession register shows that 1977 was an unusual year for new acquisitions.  This was the year that the collection of paintings by Karl Wood was catalogued, and what a job that must have been with over 2500 works being added at one time. 

Karl Salsbury Wood (1888 – 1958) is perhaps best known for his paintings of windmills.  He lived and worked in Gainsborough for many years, and set himself the task of painting every surviving windmill in Britain.  His first recorded mill painting was in 1926 of 'Roving Molly' at Hemswell, but it wasn't until the early 1930s that he began his project in earnest.  He continued painting them until 1956, completing 1394, just a few hundred short of his target, but nevertheless it is the most comprehensive record of mills at that date.

He retired to Pluscarden Abbey near Elgin where he died in 1958.  All his paintings were left to the Abbey and it was not until 1973 following an exhibition of 200 in Gainsborough, that local interest was piqued, and subsequently a number were purchased by Gainsborough Civic Society.  In 1977 Lincolnshire County Council Museums Service acquired the remaining collection from Pluscarden Abbey with the assistance of a grant from the Science Museum.  Along with the windmill paintings were a similar number of general topographical paintings such as churches, inns and bridges.  

The collection is of great significance as a record of the nation's windmills, captured at the end of their life.  Many were already derelict when Karl Wood was painting them, and some have since disappeared completely.  What makes it even more remarkable is that Karl Wood travelled the length and width of Britain by bicycle, his sole means of transport.  He could complete a watercolour in 10-15 minutes but his notebooks record that on 8th September 1934 he visited 13 mills on Anglesey, an exceptional day considering he was cycling at least 30 miles between mills.

There is a collection of Karl Wood's later pen and ink sketches at the Mills Archive Trust, which correspond to the watercolours held at the Usher Gallery.  Karl Wood hoped to publish them in a book 'The Twilight of the Mills' but unfortunately it was never published. 

Images reproduced by kind permission of the Benedictines of Pluscarden Abbey.

Karl Wood, pen and ink drawing, Ellis's Mill, Lincoln
Karl Wood, watercolour, Roving Molly post mill, Hemswell
Karl Wood, watercolour, Owston Ferry windmill

The Bailgate Independent is also covering this story in their monthly issue – http://www.bailgateindependent.co.uk/ Out now!

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