Published: Tuesday, 25th July 2023

A new free art exhibition celebrating the Short Brothers’ factory is set to open at Rochester Art Gallery.

The exhibition will run from Friday, 28 July to Saturday, 14 October, with a preview evening on Thursday, 27 July from 6.30pm – 8.30pm which is open to all.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Short Brothers’ factory closing in Rochester. The work on show will celebrate the skill and creativity of a remarkable workforce featuring original technical drawings, models, film and memorabilia.

At the centre of the exhibition will be a large oil and charcoal painting of the ‘Canopus’ flying boat by internationally acclaimed Medway artist Billy Childish. There will also be a reminiscence wall, where visitors can add their memories of the Short Brothers’ factory.

The exhibition will also feature designs from the exciting new artwork ‘Wings Over the River Medway’ by local illustrator Jon Schwochert. 

The artwork, created with augmented reality studio Arcade, will be installed on Rochester Esplanade. Audiences will see Jon's illustrations come to life over the iconic River Medway via augmented reality through their phones. The work tells the story of the Short Brothers with a dash of the surreal and was inspired by the creativity of the brothers and their workforce in Medway.

‘Wings Over the River Medway’ was commissioned by us, funded by the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and supported by the Screen Archive South East.

The Short Brothers aeronautical company was founded in 1908 and was the first company in the world to make production aeroplanes. Originally based at Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey, the Short’s factory relocated to the banks of the River Medway at Borstal in 1917, for more than 30 years.

At its peak, the company employed 12,000 people and tested its innovative flying boats on the River Medway, including the famous Empire and Sunderland models, as well as developing the World War II Shorts Stirling, the first four-engine bomber. 

On Saturday, 7 October, Liz Walker, the great, great niece of the Short Brothers, will be giving a free talk at Rochester Art Gallery from 1pm – 2pm as part of the exhibition.

Let your imagination soar

Cllr Harinder Mahil, Medway Council’s Portfolio Holder for Heritage, Culture and Leisure, said: “Let your imagination soar at this fantastic exhibition which looks at part of Medway’s rich history. This is a unique chance to step back in time and appreciate the amazing work undertaken at the Short Brothers’ factory, and I would encourage as many people as possible to take the opportunity to hear from their great, great niece Liz Walker. It is great that we are able to put on these free exhibitions throughout the year, and I would like to thank our teams for their hard work in putting this exhibition together and Liz Walker, The Castle Club, Rochester and Robert Flood from the City of Rochester Society for their support and contributions.”

This exhibition has been created in partnership with Medway Archives and the Guildhall Museum Rochester.

Rochester Art Gallery is open between 9am - 5pm, Tuesday to Saturday at Medway Visitor Centre, 95 High Street, Rochester, Kent, ME1 1LX.

Find out more information about Rochester Art Gallery

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