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WALTER BATTISS (article first published : 2005-12-23)

The Walter Battiss: Gentle anarchist exhibition currently showing at the Standard Bank Gallery has revealed an unexpected treasure – a wealth of memories and anecdotes about the artist, his unique lifestyle, challenges to the apartheid authorities and his quirky sense of humour.

In a drive to recapture the spirit of Walter Battiss, Standard Bank has initiated an imaginative archiving project that will hold these personal accounts and memories for posterity.

It is anticipated that this archive – a valuable contribution to South African heritage – will be used by art historians and students alike.

The collection of memories of Battiss will also be shared widely with the general public, who will be able to access these experiences through the Standard Bank Gallery website www.standardbankgallery.co.za

Anecdotes about Battiss are legion but some of the most delightful of these depict Battiss’s tenure at Pretoria Boys High School, where he served as art-master-with-a-difference between 1936 and 1964.

As one story goes: “A visitor came to the exhibition and chatted to us about how he had been taught by Battiss at Pretoria Boys High. He mentioned that Battiss had a very unorthodox method of marking boys’ [work] during the year. At the end of the year he would place, in his beret, a number of small bits of paper with various scores on in percentages. Each boy was then invited to pick out a year mark. Whatever mark the boy chose, that was his year mark. If Battiss felt the boy had picked an inappropriate mark, he would ask him to replace the paper and choose again!”

He also enjoyed the doughnuts from the tuck shop. A boy would earn 5% if he ran to collect one for Battiss. One lucky youngster pulled 100% out of the beret and fetched Battiss a doughnut and consequently scored 105%. Battiss was questioned by the headmaster who was informed that the youngster had indeed earned this year mark!’




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