“I’ve had such a lucky life” – Oldest living member of staff reminisces about teaching at Swansea College of Art
Sat beneath her latest paintings – explosions of colour and light – during the launch of a multi-venue exhibition on the importance of art education in Swansea, 98-year-old Glenys Cour had a buzz of excitement around her all evening.
Cour’s recent work is on display at Mission Gallery in Swansea as part of a collaborative exhibition organised by University of Wales Trinity Saint David’s (UWTSD) Swansea College of Art in celebration of the University’s bicentenary. Renown both locally and nationally, Cour has had a long and successful career as an artist and educator, and continues to paint every day.
The exhibition is centred around art education provided by Swansea College of Art over its long history, and involves individual shows put on by five local galleries all linked to this theme. One such show is Art Society, Swansea College of Art: Artists from the Collection at Glynn Vivian and GS Artists in the city centre, which focuses on past pupils and lecturers of the college.
Cour spoke to Jane Simpson, Founder of GS artists and Katy Freer, Exhibitions Officer at the Glynn Vivian in a special interview to document her recollections for the archive. From an armchair in her colourful living room, the artist admits “I’ve had such a lucky life”.
Summarising her early years as a graduate in 1945, she taught in Pembrokeshire before moving “up the line” to Swansea, teaching at a Grammar school and taking up part-time drawing classes at Swansea College of Art in her spare time. She tells Simpson and Freer: “When I came to Swansea there were absolutely no buildings standing in the middle of Swansea. It was all rubble, all of it. I can’t believe it now when I think back on it. The centre of Swansea was flat.”
A memory of the city that most people alive today can barely imagine, Cour nonetheless found happiness and fun amongst the rubble, and laughed as she detailed the antics of youth: fancy dress parties, early exhibitions and the enjoyment of her drawing classes.
It was in these classes that the she was introduced to her future husband Ronald Cour, who’d taken up a lecturing post in the Sculpture Department after graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1947, having had his studies interrupted by the second world war. Seemingly love at first sight, Cour tells of waiting in doorways after classes to “accidentally” bump into him – a tactic that proved successful, as the pair married on 16th August 1949.
“I used to hate him teaching evening classes,” she confides to Simpson and Freer. “I used to walk down to the bus stop, go to the college and walk up the steps in order to be with him when he was coming home. Can you believe it?! How much in love do you have to be to do that?!
“Being married to him was the best thing I could possibly have done,” she continues, “because he was level-headed, very wise, and terribly funny. And I came from a home where nobody laughed.”
It’s exactly this kind of detail that Simpson and Freer want to capture – the memories of people surrounding the art college throughout its time, amidst a rapidly changing world.
These glimpses into Cour’s past are insightful, entertaining and notable – from bumping into the famous poet Dylan Thomas on her very first night in a pub to being taught by one of the best artists of the time, the late, great Ceri Richards (also an alumnus of Swansea College of Art), to sharing insights on how to see colour and feel art with her own students when she begun lecturing at the college in the early 1960s.
Cour’s classes were highly sought-after, and she admits “I used to have a queue outside! Because what I was teaching was different to what everyone else was teaching, because I had been taught by Ceri Richards. What I knew hadn’t got down to Swansea yet. And of course, everybody wanted to know about it.”
Enjoying many happy years as a lecturer and specialising in Stained Glass after her husband died in 1978, Cour was still teaching at Swansea College of Art into the 1990s before her age (she was in her mid-70s by then) was discovered and she begrudgingly stopped.
The Provost of UWTSD’s Swansea Campus and former Dean of Swansea College of Art, Professor Ian Walsh says, “If anyone deserves the accolade ‘National Treasure’ it’s Glenys. Her dedication to her art and sheer passion for life is unparalleled, and puts artists half her age very much in the shade. UWTSD is home to Wales’ oldest art college and we’re so proud to call Glenys ‘one of our own’.”
An inspiration to many, Glenys Cour saw things differently and loved to share what she knew with many budding creators, understanding the need for education in an artist’s early development. “It’s a case of looking and feeling,” she says. “You really have to be taught to do that, and the earlier the better. It’s terrifically important.”
You can listen to an excerpt of the conversation here:GLENYS COUR, INTERVIEWED BY KATY FREER AND JANE SIMPSON, AUGUST 2022 FOR THE OCCASION OF THE ART SOCIETY COLLABORATIVE PROJECT BY THE GLYNN VIVIAN AND GS ARTISTS.
Listen to the full interview on the GS Artists website.
The collaborative exhibition featuring Cour’s work and many other Swansea artists will remain open until 5th November and visitors should check opening times at each venue individually.
Lead image: On occasion of her retrospective, ‘Glenys Cour -The Colour of Saying’ at Glynn Vivian, 2016 (Image: UWTSD)