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 to setting up its University College in 1949 (today’s Keele University) and making a full commitment towards its success through his donation of 60 paintings and an Epstein bronze.
Such was the extent of Dr Barnett 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 fields of art, society, medicine, and politics, Stross was a naive and dangerous figure, prone to placing his colleagues in geopolitically 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 rather 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.
Dr Barnett Stross’s sensibilities towards youth are best illustrated in a report published in the North Staffordshire regional paper, the Evening Sentinel, early in June 1942.
The fortnight-long display 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 from Germany, Austria, Czecho-Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Spain, and China, as well as evacuees from several British cities. Their work included paintings, sketches, and line drawings of excellent standard.
Stross, in declaring open the Children’s Art Exhibition a mere nine days before the Lidice tragedy, 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, he opined,
“…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.