Our current Art Fund Prize exhibition, Wells’ War of the Worlds: A Visual Celebration, is part of the year-long Wells in Woking celebratory programme which commemorates the birth of famous former Woking resident, H.G Wells, who chose to feature Horsell Common in his well-loved novel, The War of the Worlds. We chatted to project manager, Riëtte Thomas, about how the project came to be and what excites her most about the event.
When and how did the plans for the ‘Wells in Woking’ programme begin?
In November 2013 three key people came to see Woking Borough Council to explore the possibility of celebrating the life of H.G. Wells. They were Tony Kremer, a Horsell resident, Professor Peter Beck, a Horsell resident and author of a new H.G. Wells book and Ann Harrington, local historian and journalist. Soon a working group was formed including Woking Borough Council, The Lightbox, The Surrey History Centre, Horsell Common Preservation Society, Surrey Libraries, Visit Surrey, and number of schools, colleges and community groups. Over two years the programme was planned in detail, to be launched in early 2016, ready for the 150th anniversary of H.G. Wells birth (21 September 1866). The programme includes a number of art projects including a H.G. Wells sculpture, art exhibitions, a short story competition, several talks throughout the year, a number of guided walks by historian Ian Wakeford, a science fiction themed Party in the Park and an International Conference for the H.G. Wells Society. There is something for everyone and we have already been able to involve the Wells family, BBC, the media, local schools, artists, students and the business community to be part of the Wells in Woking celebrations this year.
Apart from the joint winners of the competition, which is your favourite entry on display in ‘Wells’ War of the Worlds: A Visual Celebration’?
Firstly congratulations to all artists and to Peter Hall from the Lightbox for curating the exhibition. I think it is a fantastic tribute to the work of H.G. Wells and Woking. This is a difficult question as the standard was so high and we had a good variety of different mediums. I remember the very first time I visited Ochre Print Studios, who was a key partner in delivering the project, and Julie Hoyle and Annee Robson showed me the first seven entries. I walked out the studio that day knowing I had seen two entries on which we could build our marketing campaign. Although I wasn’t part of the judging panel, my favourite was the entry by Dominic Negus. He originally submitted a stunning 'War of the Worlds' design in bright yellow, red and black colours. Although the panel did not choose Dominic’s design as a winning entry, it was a winner for us to use as the logo on all our publications and asked Dominic to change it to 'Wells in Woking'.
What has been the most rewarding part of the project so far?
After the success of our London 2012 Olympics celebrations, I did not think we could deliver another cultural programme of that magnitude, but four years later the community spirit and cultural legacy of the Olympics is still alive and thriving in Woking. I am very fortunate to lead on projects such as Wells in Woking but without the working group, stakeholders, community involvement, sponsors and staff from Woking Borough Council, it would not be possible to deliver such a varied, all-encompassing project. It is like a 400m relay; every single person of the team needs to contribute, deliver and be part of that ‘golden’ moment when the project comes together. The most rewarding part was doing the research because H.G. Wells was a man of many talents. I urge all to read more about Wells and find out what an inspiring man he was. Other highlights include working with people like Professor Beck who was a fountain of knowledge on H.G. Wells, reading the autobiography of H.G. Wells, working with creative people, visiting his previous homes, walking on Horsell Common to find inspiration, connecting with members of the Wells family, but most of all putting Woking on the map as a place where things happen as H.G. Wells wrote 'our time in Woking was a cheerful adventure'.
What are you most looking forward to in the ‘Wells in Woking’ celebration programme?
Personally I am looking forward to all the talks, learning more about H.G. Wells. I am also hoping to see many Martians, dressed up and on parade at Party in the Park on the 9 July. And then of course, the unveiling of the H.G. Wells sculpture on the 21 September, his would be 150th birthday.
Image credits: Neville Godwin, 'Look Up!' © The Artist, Neville Godwin and David Dragon presented with their winning prints for Wells' War of the Worlds exhibition © Grant Pritchard Photography, Thurston Brewery's 'Horsell Invaders' beer at Wells' War of the Worlds private view © Grant Pritchard photography