Wiltshire-born artist Janet Boulton tells SARAH SINGLETON about her second Swindon exhibition - and the importance of the town’s modern art collection.

Artist and former Swindon art teacher Janet Boulton is determined Swindon’s remarkable collection of modern art should be better known and more widely appreciated.

Her own exhibition – A Seeming Diversity – is taking place at the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, where it has been well received. Her last exhibition here was nearly 40 years ago, in September 1977.

“I am very pleased,” she said. “The opening event and the In Conversation evening went well, with a very warm atmosphere.”

The celebrated artist supports the promotion of art and culture in the town – and wants a wider appreciation of the significance of the modern art collection.

“I am really keen on Swindon getting some recognition for the collection, and the people working there. It isn’t easy, but they are just wonderful,” she said. “Swindon has lost its identity – we have these huge new industries in the town, but they are not contributing to the town culturally.”

Janet was born in September 1936 in Blunsdon, into a farming family. She was a weekly boarder at St Catherine’s School for Girls in Old Town, returning home to the farm at the weekends.

She studied at the Swindon School of Arts and Crafts for two years, before entering the Painting School at Camberwell School of Art, London, in 1955.

Janet returned to Wiltshire in 1958, when she was awarded the David Murray Landscape Painting Scholarship, which she spent painting the stone circles at Avebury under the supervision of the late Peter Greenham RA.

“When I left art school I came back to Wiltshire and went to Avebury. I stayed in the pub and I painted the stones – but I’m not a landscape painter. A lot of things I have painted have a landscape quality, but landscapes associated with windows or still life,” she said.

After a time spent working in industry and advertising, a chance meeting with the then head of education for Swindon led to a post teaching in the art department of Commonweal Grammar School in November 1959. This was the start of 40 years working as a part-time art teacher.

Janet moved to London in 1962, where she married poet and translator Keith Baines, and the couple had a daughter, Jessica, in 1964. She had the first of many solo exhibitions.

The family moved to Wiltshire in 1969, to Ridgeway Farm Cottage near Upper Wanborough, and Janet returned to teaching, with posts at Hreod Burna School and the Swindon School of Art.

These Swindon schools found their way into some of her paintings based on windows – which were included in the Arts Council-sponsored exhibition at the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery in 1977. Three pictures from that exhibition are now part of the gallery’s collection, including Science Room Window Hreod Burna and Classroom, Commonweal Grammar school, 1960.

Janet moved to Oxfordshire in 1979, turning to the medium of watercolour, developing a passion for gardening and travelling to paint gardens. But she says she is still devoted to Wiltshire.

“I love it,” she said. “I still have family farming in Wiltshire. I like the villages and the village churches, and the landscape at the edge of the downs. And my roots are in that area – I understand it.”

Over the course of 30 years, Janet has made detailed studies of many gardens, including Barnsley House in Gloucestershire and Little Sparta in Scotland. Her interest in the work of poet and gardener Ian Finlay Hamilton inspired Janet to begin placing inscriptions and installation. Her own garden is now celebrated for its contribution to garden design, and it is open to the public in the summer months, through the NationalGardens Scheme.

Her next exhibition is called Fragments of Note: the Afterlives of Medieval Manuscripts - at Magdalen College, Oxford, and runs till April 19, in the Old Library.

A new book has been published to accompany Janet’s Swindon exhibition - A Seeming Diversity: Working with Watercolour – and you still have time to see her work in Swindon as the exhibition finishes on January 20.