Gifford is renowned for the number of clubs, societies and groups that are organised by members of its community. A number, such as the horticultural society, curling club and golf club, originated in Victorian times and continue to thrive. Others have faded away over the years, for various reasons, mainly because communities change, but then new groups arise on account of common interests and the foreseen need to foster and provide a means of furthering these. Such was the foundation of the Gifford Art Group which this year celebrates its 40th year. In 1981, a number of ladies that ‘lunched’ got together in the village and decided that, with a number of talented artists in the locality, what was missing was an art group. However, to be an active and participatory group it needed a ‘studio’ of sorts and fortunately the idea coincided with the Village Hall being reopened after a major restoration project led by the community to secure its future.
The timing was perfect and the Hall has provided the meeting place for the group ever since Tuesday 19th January 1982 when it held its first hesitant painting morning. Today the group flourishes. The nature of the Art Group has changed little over that time. While originally the membership was primarily of Gifford residents over the years this has changed with local members now being joined by those coming from as far afield as Lauder and Dunbar. The numbers are self-limited by the size of the Hall and so a waiting list for membership often exists but there are no selection criteria. Although some members have art school training the majority don’t and while there are a few who can stage their own exhibitions there are others who have never painted since school or those who have enjoyed painting for many years and simply want to innovate and improve. It is this mix that makes it so successful in that it is both a social and common interest group.
The format of the painting year has never changed — Tuesday mornings over three 10 week sessions which culminate in an annual exhibition of member’s works. Most importantly the group membership enables the appointment of a professional tutor which is a major attraction and advantage with demonstrations, projects and guidance at each meeting according to the time of year. Occasionally outdoor painting is attempted if the weather suits and, in the past, even life models have appeared. However, in the lead up to the exhibition nervousness creeps in and the pressure builds on ‘own’ work with the professional tutor’s guidance. The group has been most fortunate in being able to have tutors with these changing every few years to broaden the experience and abilities of the members. Over the years it has hosted a long list of renowned artists many of whom are still actively teaching and painting in East Lothian. That apart, the group also hosts open evenings when a well known artist is invited to demonstrate a particular technique or subject.
William "Willie" Wood MBE, Gifford’s eminent bowler, was the sitter for portrait artist Aine Divine, while Darren Woodhead started by painting an eye on a canvas and finished with a flock of redwings feeding on Sea Buckthorn berries. Finally, it is the annual exhibition that is the focal point of the year. Presently held in June every member exhibits the pictures that they are most proud of. There is no selection process but the Village Hall takes on the role of an extraordinary gallery of works in all sizes, media and subjects. All created by gifted amateurs who love to paint. It is also a social occasion with a Friday preview open to all and, after discreet judging by a guest artist, the presentation of the awards for the achievements of the year. Records show that there has always been anxiety surrounding the exhibition. Members not complying to the framing rules, too many large pictures appearing unexpectedly, the picture hanging arrangements being precarious or the exhibits not actually being paintings, can all be part of the challenge. However, it’s not all a self-congratulatory occasion, even though the number of awards kindly donated has steadily increased over the years.