Please see below initial details of our talks series for this May which includes a blend of art, design and horticultural themes. All talks will take place at 3pm sharp and on this occasion we have also scheduled events on Sundays. Venues are in the Long Room Gallery and at the Methodist Church Hall next door.
The photograph above is of an Arita (Japanese) porcelain bowl of circa 1610 given to Bernard Leach by Shoji Hamada whilst both were still in Japan prior to their moving to England by 1919 and the establishment of the Leach Pottery in St Ives, Cornwall from 1920. As founder members of the Japanese Mingei (folkcraft) movement they were both fascinated by surviving examples of handmade objects by ‘unknown craftsmen’ – that is to say admired objects of ceramic craft not bearing an identifiable maker’s mark.
There is a dichotomy here in between certain aspects of artists and craftspeople. Both Hamada and Leach had harboured aspirations to make a living as artists. Leach had trained as an etcher at the Slade in London and had originally travelled to Japan just before WW1 to introduce the technique there before falling in love with pottery as a medium at a Tokyo Raku party.
Hamada in his writings also admitted artistic aspirations in his published writings but chose a career as a potter as he felt he was more likely to earn a living in this following. Hamada was to follow the precedent of his potter forebears in not applying a seal or signature to his pots after leaving St Ives in 1923.
In the context of the post Reformation era in Europe, artists would more typically sign their work. Conversely, with certain notable exceptions – the ‘Toft wares’ of 17th century Staffordshire, 18th century harvest and other wares of Bideford and Barnstaple being good examples – pottery output was typically anonymous. Workshops typically served local communities and villagers would generally know the maker personally so there was no need to sign work.
In the case of Leach, very much the artist manque, the application of his monogram or signature to work produced to his designs or with his influence was conversely the rule. As with the studio of a master artist on canvas or paper, where art produced from workshops was classically the work of several hands, be it in the preparation and sizing of canvas, the addition of supplementary details and so on, it was the name of the Master that predominated in the finished work. For canvas, substitute thrown or prepared ceramic form.
So for Leach the artist, the design to be applied to the finished pot was of equal importance to the form itself. The form was as much a receptacle for design than produced for its own practical purpose: the pot as art object.
Are pots and ceramics produced to Leach designs for him to embellish less valid and valuable than, say, a Shoji Hamada form made and decorated personally by the Japanese master at Mashiko? The output of both owed their genesis to the spirit of the individual creator-designer. How is ‘ownership’ of creation to be judged…
Returning to the Willow tree, the subject of my initial blog in this theme, this features as the sole motif on the Arita teabowl at the head of this piece. This was also to become a signature design initially for Bernard and subsequently even more strongly for his son David. The use of such a cultural symbol in English studio ceramics produced in the Eastern tradition continues the East-West dialogue highlighted in my first posting.
The ‘willow pattern’ design was first brought to European attention in the 18th century through the import of fine Ch’ien-lung (Quianlong) porcelains such as the above ‘biscuit back’ oblong dish. The design’s origin is buried deep in Chinese folklore but classically incorporates figures on a bridge in an imagined oriental landscape of a lake or inlet with pagoda style oriental buildings prominent.
The import of such fine blue and white porcelains was to have a major impact on pottery making both in continental Europe and in England, leading notably to the development of tin glazed delft wares with blue and white and on occasions polychrome brushwork. It was in part also the harbinger of a growing fascination with the Far East seen as the 18th century progressed in English furniture and decor popular in fashionable circles.
This visual dialogue in ceramics continued strongly into the 19th century in the mass market. This saw the manufacture of hugely popular and diverse transfer printed bone china wares, developed initially by engravers at the Spode works in Stoke on Trent in the late 18th century. Such wares became almost ubiquitous and alongside Italianate classical designs (see base of blog) dominated volume transfer printed tableware output in Victorian England.
Whilst the willow tree was but one of many motifs that featured, the latter became somewhat of a leitmotif for the oriental in the mass market. As to production techniques, in the Chinese context such wares were hand painted with at times an almost production line division of labour each worker adding a particular design element. As far as I am aware no individual designer has ever been identified and indeed the treatment and positioning of classical elements varied considerably in Ch’ien-lung wares.
In the English context, whilst some of the earliest soft paste blue and white porcelains continued to be hand decorated, engraved and transfer printed pattern designs were soon introduced. In the late 18th century Spode workshop context the names of individual design engravers is recorded.
Is this truly original design when so clearly influenced by established precursors? As far as making is concerned, whilst the Ch’ien-lung ‘originals’ appear individual were their methods so very different from the volume manufacturing workshops of 19th century Stoke?
After a Devon clotted cream tea back at the Winchcombe Archive Collection in Queen Anne House, assembled pot lovers were treated to a most unusual group of pots brought along to share with Henry and to get his opinion. Perhaps the most unusual was a huge Michael Cardew cider jar dating from around 1930.
The lucky owners inherited this from a relation who acquired it free and gratis from Michael via a discard pile in the orchard behind the pottery. Whilst passionate about form and interested in aesthetics, Cardew primarily wanted to produce pots that ‘did their job’.
Sadly, this particular cider jar suffered in the firing, and a hole in the base meant that it ‘didn’t hold water’ – let alone cider ! This reveals it as a very early example of the form, as inevitably, throwing such a large piece for the first time entails more than an element of trial and error. We hope to display it in a recreation of a 1930’s interior as part of a planned show for May/June 2018 celebrating the etcher and educationalist Robin Tanner.
An enthralled audience of fans of Henry Sandon were treated to a delightful recreation of an inter-war childhood given by Henry. Whilst most people would tend to associate Henry with the countryside in general and Worcester in particular, he is actually a London born cockney who grew up in Soho.
Those who know him will be aware of his natural and unaffected ‘patter’ a born entertainer. This snapshot of his early years filled in quite a few gaps, as Henry was revealed as very much a child of the cinema and of vaudeville.
Using photos raided from his own family album, Henry recreated a lost age of innocence, of street gangs of neighbourhood children and happy japes often including performing dogs owned from time to time by his father – somewhat of a cinematic entrepreneur. The stories went down very well – as evidenced by the photo below of an appreciative audience.
A good crowd of 40+ were treated to a lovely programme of English music of the early twentieth century, given as a prelude to a talk by Henry Sandon in Winchcombe Methodist Church. The scratch band were comprised of folk players led by music historian Gwilym Davies complemented by professional cellist Nella Hunkins.
The choice of the programme of music by Grainger, Elgar and Vaughan Williams reflected themes both local and contemporary to the inter war years – a nod to the Pastorally inspired art and craft currently on display at the Winchcombe Archive Collection. Grainger stayed at nearby Stanway House in 1907-1908 and collected some of the material performed from then residents of Winchcombe Workhouse.
Traditional music and song of the English countryside in general and the Cotswolds in particular is a rich reservoir of material. Some of this was celebrated in a Music from Winchcombeshire concert given during the Winchcombe Festival of Music and Arts. One performer at the latter concert was Tim Sexton, a Chipping Campden based musician and devoted morris dancer.
Very interestingly, Tim has been researching and performing music from Campden preserved in book form in Edwardian times. The Essex House Song Book was published by CR Ashbee of Guild of Handicraft fame under his Essex House Press imprint.
Our autumn show at the Winchcombe Archive Collection will have William Morris and the Arts and Crafts in general as its main themes. We hope to have the company of Tim Sexton and some of his folk loving friends to provide an impromptu performance of some of this Ashbee preserved material.
We were delighted to welcome back Mary Greensted to the Winchcombe Archive Collection, this time to give a talk on the craft furniture of the Cotswolds produced in the interwar years. Mary is currently pulling together with two associates a biography of Ernest Gimson, and it was the latter that generated perhaps the most interest, notably his design and construction of Stoneywell Cottage in Leicestershire (see contemporary interior image immediately below).
Created by Gimson for his own use as a summer residence, it is a building (now National Trust owned) that nestles into its landscape, built designedly in harmony with its surroundings. This fascinating image of its original interior is a great object lesson into the aesthetics of the time. Redolent of the simple life, it is consciously under furnished, a quiet manifesto for rural asceticism.
What fascinates me is its physical manifestation of fundamental tenets of rurally and historically inspired aesthetics. If in the 1920’s, Cardew was living the country life in Winchcombe, and Sutherland and Drury picturing the rural idyll in their Palmer inspired etchings, then this looks to be the distillation of those ideals into the ‘right sort’ of country habitation in which to live this dream.
This evocative image of the sculpture workshop at the Guild of Handicraft, Chipping Campden was one of a host of fascinating pictures used by Graham Peel to illuminate his talk on the career of Alec Miller. Miller was a Guildsman for a number of years, a suitable Campden link echoing the subjects of our art talks the previous Saturday.
Perhaps the predominant theme that came across was that Miller was largely a jobbing sculptor producing work stylistically out of his own time and drawing strongly on medieval aesthetics. Much of the Miller output illustrated by Graham in his fascinating talk was ecclesiastical in flavour.
Where a more personal touch was seen, somewhat in tandem with the spirit of the interwar years contemporary with its creation, is in his sculptures taking his daughter as its chief subject matter.
A good representative selection of our regulars were treated to two contrasting presentations, one London dominated provided by Jolyon Drury and the other more local to our area by Paul Whitfield. Whilst Jolyon set the arts scene of Goldsmiths and gave a snapshot of his father Paul’s career, Paul W’s talk was more personal to his father’s early days in the Cotswolds, reflecting the diaries of Christopher Whitfield as his main source material. I would say the predominant flavour of both talks was that of the metropolitan and business culture of Paul D and Christopher W respectively, and the escape that they both sought and found in the countryside of their times.
For Paul Drury and his contemporary, Graham Sutherland, it was the weald of Kent that was the object of their pilgrimages – a reflection of the influence of Samuel Palmer and his circle. The latter in turn had escaped to the rural tranquillity of Shoreham at similar ages. Christopher, a writer and aesthete was drawn into the business world of his family, obliging regular visits to Birmingham to manage the family firm whilst seeking to achieve artistic independence and a country life in Chipping Campden. The love of the countryside was expressed and celebrated by both through the medium of etchings – one the creator and the other a collector.
Michael Cardew was similarly a serial escapee from the conventional career and lifestyle that his family background and education should have predetermined. One material difference of Cardew from his artistic Goldsmith contemporaries was his choice of total immersion – recreating an increasingly lost craft workshop culture in Winchcombe and – to use modern parlance – living the dream in a seemingly proto-hippy lifestyle in the Cotswolds.