The Sheila Hichens Trust was formed to create an art collection that depicted how life was lived in West Cornwall before the middle of the twentieth century.
By virtue of her Will, Sheila Hichens generously created the Trust. Lord St Levan was appointed a Trustee. The collection is housed in an imposing, double fronted, early 19th century building, ‘The Steward’s House’ on St Michael’s Mount, which has been beautifully restored in order to provide a gallery for the collection.
Since the 1870s artists have flocked to West Cornwall to paint. During the 1880s, Newlyn became the focus for a group of artists who depicted the harsh lives of the local community. The ‘Newlyn School of Art’ was born. The Trust’s collection includes paintings by many key figures of the Newlyn School of Artists, such as Stanhope Forbes and Walter Langley, and also by other, later artists like Harold Harvey and Laura Knight.
Sheila Hichens was born in 1924 in Penzance, where her father was the Headmaster of Lescudjack School. She was awarded a scholarship to Exeter University and subsequently became Principal of Eastbourne Teacher Training College. She developed strong links with teacher training initiatives in Tanzania and later worked for an Australian TV company on some historical programmes. In retirement, she lived in Newlyn after purchasing her grandfather’s house. For recreation, she treasured her pilot’s licence and loved to travel.
In 2016 Lord St Levan approached David Lay to advise him about building this exciting collection. They discussed how the remit of the trust gave them great scope to purchase paintings that were far more than just beautiful pictures, but paintings that provided real historical and educational insight. Over the following six years, Lay’s Auctioneers assisted the Trustees with all aspects of building this remarkable collection.
Firstly, finding the paintings, which were sourced from sales and auctions around the UK, but also purchased as far away as New York.
On a practical level, some pictures needed restoration and reframing. Lays worked very closely with the fantastic art conservator Alison Smith, who was readily on hand when paintings needed some stabilising or retouching. All works needed to be stored before they could be transferred to their new home on St Michael’s Mount, and whilst the works were in their care, Lays photographed and carefully catalogued the entire collection. This involved some in-depth study into local history, interviews with maritime experts and research into various themes covered by the paintings in the Trust’s collection.
The completion of the restoration of the Grade II listed Stewards House on St Michael’s Mount in July of 2022, meant that after six years, the paintings could finally be transferred to their new home. On a stunning summers day Lays were thrilled to coordinate the transfer and then to finally hang this wonderful collection in the galleries of the Stewards House.
The Sheila Hichens Trust can now be viewed in the Stewards House on St Michael’s Mount.