I WAS back to being the sole male in today’s drawing class. This is something I’ve commented on before. There have been very few men in any of the activities I’ve sampled for this blog.
The photography and drawing classes, like the film studies and social history groups I’ve joined, are dominated by retired women. And gender is not the only imbalance.
All have a massive bias in favour of white, middle-class people. It even extends to geography. Almost everybody I’ve met in these classes and groups lives on the west side of the city.
There is a historic reason behind this east-west divide. And it can be found in many post-industrial towns and cities in Britain.
Swansea’s industrial wealth was built on the metal works that were sited along the river that runs through the city. The wealthy owners, and their managers, built their spacious homes to the west of these factories, where they could benefit from the prevailing sea breezes blowing in from Swansea Bay.
Those same breezes, however, would carry the noxious fumes and smoke from the factories eastward, over the rows of terraced houses where the men and women who worked in the factories lived.
That historic divide is still in effect in Swansea today. Swansea West is regarded as ‘posh’ and middle-class. Eastside, on the other side of the river, as down-to-earth and working-class.
The film studies and social history groups are part of the University of the Third Age (U3A), which provides learning opportunities for people who have left full-time employment (which, in practice, means retired people.)
I know that the U3A committee in Swansea is aware that its membership is skewed, and is working on ways to attract more people from the under-represented parts of the city.
Incidentally, U3A Swansea celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and I have been asked to interview some of its members about how it has helped to make their retirement a richer experience. Two of the interviewees are former chairmen, so it will be interesting to get their thoughts on what can be done about this imbalance.
Meanwhile, back to today’s drawing class. Our hastily-arranged visit to Poland meant I missed the last class; so I didn’t know what we would be tackling today. In an effort to cover all eventualities, I turned up with sketching pencils and pad, charcoal sticks and chalks and sugar paper, soft pastels, and acrylic paints and paper.
What I didn’t turn up with was a photograph of a family member. Which is what Tim The Tutor had asked everyone to bring, to be turned into a portrait.
In the absence of a photo of The Current Mrs Feeney or The Daughter, Tim provided me with a photo of a salty sea dog (the sort of bloke who 100 years ago would have set sail from Swansea’s Eastside to journey around Cape Horn and bring copper ore from Chile back to the voracious furnaces along the banks of the River Tawe).
The task this week was to create a ‘tonal portrait’, simply (!) concentrating on the light and shade in the composition. Next week we will add the colours.
For what it’s worth, here’s my effort. Now, what do you think are the chances of somebody like him joining a retirement class?