Early Grays: Ethel blazes an artistic trail

Updated: Jan 16

Although largely forgotten these days, my great aunt Ethel Gray (1879-1957) inspired generations of British art teachers and their pupils. Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Ethel studied art in York, Leeds and at the Royal College of Art. She began teaching art at York in 1904 and, after gaining her Art Master’s Teacher’s Certificate, as a mistress at the City of Leeds Training College in 1913. Although it was a very male preserve, Ethel was elected Assistant Secretary to the N.E. District branch of the National Society of Art Masters. The Society's emphasis on drawing and design in Art Education helped shape art education in British art schools in the first half of the twentieth century.

Besides having her watercolours exhibited at the Royal Academy five times between 1902 and 1950, Ethel won many other prizes including the Kings Prize for Model drawing, a scholarship and two bronze medals for plant drawing and embroidery. She moved to South Africa in 1951 where some of her paintings of flora were used on postage stamps.

When I did my first etching in 2001, I had no idea someone in the family had gone through the exactly the same process some 88 years before.

The photos below are: Ethel's etching, The Training College (c1913), my first etching, Somewhere in Italy (2001); the Training College as it is today - The James Graham building at Leeds Beckett University; Ethel with her students; one of Ethel's watercolours; Gray family photo with great aunt Ethel (standing second left), my grandfather Percy (standing third right) and my great grandfather Tom (middle seated).

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