Dr Stross – Art, Internationalism and Youth

Dr Barnett Stross

By the end, Sir Barnett Stross had earned deserved recognition as a doctor, an authority on industrial disease, a community leader, a politician, a supporter of the arts, a promoter of peace, an internationalist, and a philanthropist with a streak of generosity a mile wide. And he certainly was a big-hearted man. North Staffordshire, in particular, was often showered with donations of artwork, either directly from Stross himself or indirectly, through his connections. When he left for London in 1952, works of art from his collection could be seen at Cartwright House, Hanley; the local WEA Headquarters; and at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery. Latterly, he gave a choice of paintings to the Harold Clowes Community Association in Bentilee, near Hanley.

Finally, let us not underestimate his personal dedication to the cause of higher education in North Staffordshire and of setting up its University College in 1949 (today’s Keele University) and to making a full commitment towards its success through his donation of 60 paintings and an Epstein bronze.

Dr Barnett Stross c1950

Such was the extent of Dr Stross’s global ambition that, unconventionally, he would use the word “International” as a proper noun. His desire for inclusiveness, fellowship and togetherness can be found in this simple habit—which certainly does frustrate Microsoft’s spell checker! Throughout his political career, he did it—refusing to split East from West. We can see it as a fundamental flaw in character, that for all his cultural and linguistic strengths in the field of art, society, medicine, and politics, Stross was a naïve and dangerous figure, prone to place his colleagues in geo-politically fraught situations. Alternatively, we can see Stross as a visionary, ideologically timeless man, one of the world’s great stoics who preferred to be a good man than waste time arguing about what one should be. One could argue that if only more could follow in Stross’s footsteps, we would have more rose gardens and more children fed.

And Dr Barnett Stross’s sensibilities towards youth are best illustrated in a report published in the North Staffordshire regional paper, the Evening Sentinel.

Dr Barnett Stross opened an international children’s art exhibition at the Burslem School of Art on Monday the 1st of June 1942. The fortnight long display was organised by the Refugee Children’s Evacuation Fund movement, had already appeared in London and other cities and arrangements were being made for it to be presented in America. The exhibition featured artworks produced by refugee children ages 2 to 17 years old, from Germany, Austria, Czecho-Slovakia, Yugo-Slavia, Spain and China, as well as evacuees from several British cities. Their work included paintings, sketches, and line drawings of an excellent standard.

Stross, in declaring open a Children’s Art Exhibition at the Burslem School of Art, a mere nine days before the Lidice tragedy, on Monday the 1st of June 1942, said the young people’s artwork was,

“… most interesting and stimulating.” He said, “Their drawings, representative of many countries, held a remarkable unity of thought in artistic expression. Their work represented a true brotherhood of life.”

As regards the post-war era, “…the problem of educational reorganisation must be placed to the fore – however war-weary or tired people might become, time must be found now to decide on the more simple things which should be done, such as raising the school-leaving age and providing a better system of education. An immediate duty after the war was to make effective arrangements for feeding the schoolchildren of Europe, and then, after steps had been taken to preserve world peace and order, to plan for the unification of the peoples of the world.”

How amazing that those sentiments should still remain and be carried forward today by the Lidice Gallery’s International Children’s Exhibition of Fine Arts (ICEFA), a free and impressive cultural experience for all the world’s young people.

The Path to Lidice is available to download free for those with Kindle Unlimited accounts, and also in paperback and hardcover formats.

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