Report to St James’s Church, Parochial Church Council, 2010
The Blake Society
The Society is a set of people who love Blake – poet, artist and visionary. Our activities are a union of exegesis and inspiration – we search for the provenance of his imagination and we try to act with creativity and vision.
Twenty five years ago in 1985 the Blake Society was founded at St James’s Church. Today there are 200 members in 16 countries across the globe including America, Australia, Canada, China, Europe, Japan, Russia, South Africa and the United Kingdom. It is tricky for a society to honour a man who believed passionately that organisations suppress what is most valuable in life : the exercise of the human imagination. Yet we try to serve both our members and our non-members – those people who respect Blake’s view of societies by refusing to join even a Blake Society. Without Contraries is no progression.
Another of Blake’s aphorisms is Execution is the Chariot of Genius that translates from the individual to the social as Administration is the Practice of Divinity. There were 10 Committee Meetings during the year and the Society strengthened the editorial board of the Blake Journal by co-opting a professional editor. So the Journal has now two editors, one in Singapore and one in Seattle, it’s printed in London and then posted around the world.
The printed word was close to Blake’s heart and our programme of events began with a talk by Chris Meade on the Future of the Book, a form significantly advanced by Blake that is now dissolving into the digital diaspora. Next Martin Myrone from Tate Britain gave a lecture on the Gallery’s reconstruction of Blake’s infamous 1809 exhibition – his only one-man show and a show to which hardly more than one man attended. Paige Morgan talked improbably on Doctor Who and Andrew Solomon re-interpreted the Book of Job. At our August gathering beside Blake’s grave we celebrated the poetry of our late patron Adrian Mitchell. In the autumn Susanne Sklar gave a workshop on Jerusalem, Kevin Power gave an interactive talk on Gregory Bateson, and Luis & Carol Garrido led an illustrated journey through Blake’s images for children. Continuing in our tradition of walking in Blake’s footsteps, we organised a visit to the Society of Antiquaries to see some of the first works Blake engraved as an apprentice under Basire. The calendar of all these events was sent out to our members on the reverse of a poster-size reproduction of a rare Blake image.
The chair represented the Society at a number of events during the year. An exhibition in Paris at Le Petit Palais (the first time Blake’s works have been seen in France since the British Council organised a show just after the Second World War); the Tate’s academic Symposium on the 1809 Show; and the third in a trilogy of memorial lectures to the past chairman of the Blake Society Peter Cadogan (on how Blake’s politics finds issue in the international local democracy movement known as Transition Towns). The chair also attended the memorial service at St Martins-in-the-Fields to one of our members Ewen Balfour, a man who befriended Blake and many others in the arts.
The Society expresses our thanks to John Sargent who retired as Head of the City of Westminster Archive Centre and who hosted our monthly meetings for many years as well as giving expert advice to a host of international students. We add our own tribute here to Charles Hedley for his support over the past ten years and look forward to working with the new Rector of St James’s, the Church where Blake was baptised.
In a continued effort to adopt and adapt new technologies, we have invigorated the monthly email newsletter that is sent to all our members and non-members. It is intended to be brief, regular, informative and representative of the diverse interest in Blake across the globe. Typical items during the year included a multimedia film from Brazil animating Tyger Tyger, the opening of an exhibition in New York entitled A New Heaven Is Begun, a limited edition facsimile of Blake’s illustrations to Blair’s Grave (a snip at £2,500), a call for papers for a conference in Oxford on Blake & Sexuality and news of our members’ various quotidian activities.
We gave a small grant to a secondary school who submitted an inspiring proposal for a film visualising a Blake Song. We gave a more substantial grant (one tenth of our subscription income) to the campaign by the Tate to purchase 8 extraordinary works of illuminated printing that were lost & found in an Edwardian railway timetable. Preserved from light they are in an exceptional condition and are proof of WB’s reputation as one of the great English colourists. Next year we hope to progress from financial quietism to active patronage by establishing an annual grant that redistributes a tithe of our income and is open to all, members and non-members.
The chair deals with many diverse enquiries – from people seeking to identify images or authenticate prints to an artist who is creating the most illuminated Bible in history with over 5,000 images each in the style of a famous painter. And finally there are requests to talk about Blake – for the first time in my life I was invited to give a lecture half way up a tree – a talk about Angels in a tree house in Regents Park.