22 June 2017

GIACOMO BALLA: DESIGNING THE FUTURE

"Atmospheric Dynamism", c.1923-25

The Estorick Collection in Canonbury Square, N1, is a little jewel box, a far cry from the national museums whose expensive acquisitions and big staff mean they have to put on blockbusters all the time. Anything likely to be unpopular with the public at £15 a head won’t show, even if it’s artistically and historically important.

The Estorick is devoted to 20th century Italian art with special emphasis on Futurism. Consequently, you will see small but well curated exhibitions of Futurist art that will make you change your ideas. Such was “Piety and Pragmatism” in 2007, about the surprising sacred art produced by Futurists in the 1930s, following Mussolini’s Treaty with Rome. Now the Estorick has, until the weekend, a show about Giacomo Balla, one of the founders of Futurism and the only founder except Marinetti who stayed with it after the First World War. From the painter’s signature, FUTURBALLA, you guess that it became a part of his identity.

Futurism

Although other art movements had political ambitions, Futurism was, outside Russia, the most closely associated with politics. The Futurists were devoted to Mussolini and Marinetti kept tried to ingratiate himself with the regime, even declaring, following the Lateran Treaty, that Jesus was a Futurist. Mussolini wasn’t interested, even though Marinetti’s Futurist Party was a precursor of Fascism, and despite the fact (or so it is said) that Mussolini learned his style of oratory from Marinetti’s declamatory poetry. (You can judge for yourself by listening to Marinetti reading “The Battle of Adrianople”. )  Anyhow, Futurism was more than easel painting. It found expression in literature, music, applied arts, interior design, theatre, clothing and food, where, in a surprisingly un-Italian move, Marinetti conducted a war on pasta. Its ambitions were set out in Depero and Balla’s “Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe” (1915), albeit in abstract terms:

“We will give skeleton and flesh to the invisible, the impalpable, the imponderable and the imperceptible. We will find abstract equivalents for every form and element in the universe, and then we will combine them according to the caprice of our inspiration, creating plastic complexes which we will set in motion.”


"Failure", 1902


MODERNISM

In her introduction to the Estorick catalogue, Roberta Cremoncini says that the exhibition - the first in Britain to be devoted to Balla - reveals him to be “a true pioneer whose work not only comprised a number of Futurism’s most iconic images, but also included some of the earliest experiments in abstraction and proved hugely influential in terms of Modernism’s ability to transform all aspects of everyday life.”


"Chatting", 1934

Balla was largely self-taught. His early works, in Divisionist style, demonstrated his radicalism. His painting “Failure” (1902) shows a detail of closed doors covered in graffiti. The angular placing and close cropping of the subject was typical. The influence of Bergson’s philosophy on Futurism is well-known, but Balla’s Futurist paintings were also underpinned by his interest in Theosophy and his attendance at séances. Conceiving of art as a total enterprise (in the case of Futurism we may say a Totalitarian enterprise) Balla turned to designing clothes and furniture. Although their patterns are abstract and formal, they are closer to the output of the Omega Workshops and the Wiener Werkstätte than to the modern industry that the Futurists affected to admire.

PRECURSOR OF POP ART

After twenty years of producing work in a consistent style, Balla realised that working in the same way for so long was a bit passéiste, and he made a sudden change to representational paintings derived from images in commercial advertising, popular magazines and newspapers. Fabio Benzi in his catalogue essay points out that he anticipated Pop Art by quarter of a century.

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art
39a Canonbury Square
London N1 2AN

Telephone: +44 20 7704 9522
Fax: +44 20 7704 9531
Email: info@estorickcollection.com

Opening Times
Wednesday to Saturday
11.00 - 18.00
Sunday 12.00 - 17.00
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

19 June 2017

DESIGNER AND EXECUTANT: AN ARGUMENT BETWEEN WALTER CRANE AND LEWIS FOREMAN DAY

Walter Crane

Walter Crane, a leading designer of the late 19th century, is now best remembered for his medievalising book illustrations. He was a major artist in the Arts and Crafts movement, the first president of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, a friend of William Morris and a significant figure in art education. He had senior positions in Manchester and Reading art schools and was principal of the RCA, where he spearheaded major reforms.

ARTS AND CRAFTS EXHIBITION SOCIETY

His friend Lewis Foreman Day is less well-known but was also a leading designer. He was a friend of Morris, an active member of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society and was master of the Art Workers Guild. He was an influential educator and was an advisor to government. He was commercially successful and dissented from some of the more idealistic Arts and Crafts theories. In particular, he thought it was wasteful and inefficient for a designer to execute all his own designs. The question of Designer vs. Executant dogged the Arts and Crafts movement, and although few Arts and Crafts artists made their own designs, doing so was held up as an ideal.

Some years after Crane’s reforms of the RCA, (described in my post about the RCA’s pottery instructor, Richard Lunn) it became evident to government and industry that they had made little change to the relationship between artist and industry, and in 1910 the government set up a committee of inquiry to look into the problem. Day told the committee, against the growing orthodoxy of learning by doing, that the route the RCA was following, teaching design by direct working in materials, was mistaken and that there should be more emphasis on principles of design.

ARTIST VS. BUSINESSMAN

Day and Crane had earlier published a friendly argument on a similar topic in Moot Points (1903). Crane comes over as an idealist who puts principle before profit, Day as a sensible businessman, nevertheless wedded to Arts and Crafts design principles. I was particularly interested in their discussion of the designer/executant issue (pp. 16-23).

Lewis Foreman Day

Day argues that it is neither necessary or desirable for the designer always to execute his own designs. His main objection is that, “Artists of imagination are not all patient workers, and able workmen are not all gifted with invention.” He agrees with Crane that the designer should be familiar with the material he is designing for, but he does not think that demands the designer to be the executant. There is an economic objection, but that is secondary to Day. His principal argument is that it is best for people to do what they are good at and that the good designer is not always a good maker. In practice the artist-craftsman is often less competent in his craft than the apprenticed craftsman - amateurism had already become a hazard of the Arts and Crafts movement. Crane insists that, on the contrary, most of the products of Arts and Crafts workshops are actually very good.

EARNING A LIVING

To Day’s practical objection that it is inefficient and unprofitable for every designer to make his own designs, Crane falls back on utopian ideas. “That an artist could not maintain his standard of life if he executed all his own designs" says Crane, "is merely an indictment against present economic conditions.” The artists of the Arts and Crafts movement often blamed their financial difficulties on present economic conditions and believed that they would thrive when they were swept away and replaced. But with what? It was never explained how an artist could live under any system if he consumed more than he produced. The Arts and Crafts critique of present economic conditions inevitably led artist craftsmen - from C.R.Ashbee to Bernard Leach – to explicitly demand public subsidies.

Here’s the chapter about whether an artist should make all his designs himself.

L.F.D. The theory that every artist should carry out what he designs and every work man design what he does, will not hold water. To begin with, the thing is impossible. 

W.C. Softly, friend. Are you not attacking an ideal, a principle of work at least, which by its influence has already produced excellent results in our Arts and Crafts? Do you not as an artist desire to see designs well adapted to their material and executed with feeling? 

L.F.D. You don't answer my direct challenge directly. Of course I want design to be adapted to its material and executed with feeling; but neither one nor the other depends upon designer and executant being one. I am attacking the delusive idea propounded in the name of Arts and Crafts that, to ensure on the one part adaptation and on the other feeling, design and execution must be the work of one man. 

W.C. When a man makes direct statements controverting a given position or opinion he must expect to be asked to support or prove them. The defender of the position attacked may choose his own method, I presume. I therefore ask you why you say " delusive”? 

L.F.D. Because it tends to mislead. Artists of imagination are not all patient workers, and able workmen are not all gifted with invention. 

W.C. Do you think, then, that arty workmanship is of any value, from the artistic point of view, without imagination or feeling? 


CRAFTSMANSHIP

L.F.D. It is because I want imagination and feeling and something more - craftsmanship (which I suppose you want too), and know that it is only by exception that I shall get all three from the same person, that I protest against the assertion that one man is to do everything. 

W.C. I never made the assertion you protest against, but I presume you would admit that a designer is all the better for a first hand acquaintance with the conditions, necessities and limitations of the work for which he is designing. 

L.F.D. Certainly; but it doesn't follow in the least that he should execute his design with his own hand. 

W.C. How then would a designer obtain his first-hand acquaintance with a method or material unless he had actually worked out his own design in that method or material?

L.F.D. he might often (not always) gain necessary knowledge by seeing others do the thing in the workshop. But I am not denying it is good for him (in some cases necessary) to do it himself and learn by actual experience what can be done. That is quite a different thing from doing all that he designs. 

W.C. He would never be able to pay his rent and taxes if he did so, under present conditions! But I take it you concede the principle of the thing. Obviously if a designer does not realise the conditions of his design and the nature of the method and material by which it is to be carried out, he cannot, practically, design at all. 

L.F.D. I began by saying it was impossible. You grant me that, when you allow that it would not enable a man to live. I do not concede that, even were it possible, it is desirable that design and execution should be the work always of one man. It is not merely your bogey, commercialism, which determines that one man should invent and another carry out - our faculties ordain it too. 

W.C. Not so. Besides, I did not say a man could not live if he always carried out his own designs, only that "he could not pay his (present) rates and taxes." That is to say, he could not maintain the same standard of comfort or living as he could as a designer only, except perhaps in some special crafts such as bookbinding or jewellery or small decorative articles of luxury. There we are in economics, again! 

L.F.D. For all practical purposes, "living" means paying your way - no less the duty of an artist than of other men; but that is not the point 

W.C. Seriously I do think that, without denying divergence of abilities, commercialism has been chiefly answerable for the separation of designer and craftsman. Our movement has been to re-unite them as far as possible - and, surely, so far all to the good. 

L.F.D. I am not attacking the Arts and Crafts - "our" society, in so far as its aim is to bring together art and craftsmanship - but only the policy of those who go beyond that, and argue from the undue sub-division of labour that there should be no division of work according to capacity. I maintain that, in the first place, there must be - we can't help it - and, in the second, that we need not regret it 

W.C. Well, for my part, I consider what has really had most influence in our modern revival of design and handicraft, in giving freshness of treatment in all sorts of ways, and infusing new life into thoroughly commercialised crafts, has been this very principle of the combination of designer and craftsman in the same person. Many artists might be named who have "found" themselves in this way of working. I go further and say it is the ideal way of working. 

L.F.D. Artists have of late, I admit, brought freshness of design into crafts that had got deep into trade ruts; but the more important "who might be named" do not execute with their own hands all they design. To do that may be the "ideal" way of working - it is not (when it comes to the crafts) the practical one. 


TRAINED ASSISTANTS

W.C. What would become of painting, for instance, if the execution were to be delegated to other hands than those of the man who conceived and designed the picture? 

L.F.D. A painter's pride is in his painting; but a decorator or designer can, and may, entrust execution to assistants he has trained - must, indeed. Or would you waste the energy of a man of rare invention in doing what a workman of only ordinary qualifications can do quite well? 

W.C. The ideal way of working in the crafts is no doubt on the workshop system - a designer working with assistants, whom he trains and inspires, and from whom are developed fresh designers from time to time, who learn every detail of the craft. Some crafts depend more upon individual expression than others. Every designer should be able to discover the craft in which he can find himself the most. I was thinking more of the ultimate artistic expression in any method of work, though I do not think a man of invention, even, wastes his time in elementary or subsidiary work; it strengthens his grasp, and keeps him in sympathy with every stage. 

L.F.D. It is wasteful to set inventive brains to do work that wants only skilled hands - except in so far as it is well for a designer to do manual work enough to keep himself in touch with the workshop. 

W.C. You cannot separate brains from hands really. It is a favourite industrial device (or pretence), but it has nothing to do with art. In all forms of art one's brains should be at the ends of the fingers, as well as in one's head. I fear you must have got touched with a little industrial imperialism. 

L.F.D. Allowing assistants and executants at all, where would you stop? It must end in letting the men with fertile brains invent, and those with facile fingers execute. 

W.C. With a true workshop system one would not "stop” at all. There would be a continuous living tradition in design and workmanship; and invention is wanted both in design and workmanship. 

L.F.D. "Continuous living traditions" are just what are neglected by artists dabbling in crafts to which they have served no sort of apprenticeship. 

W.C. I did not speak of dabblers and I was upholding the old workshop system which includes apprenticeship. 

L.F.D. The relative separation of brains and hands is neither a device of industrialism nor a pretence, but the work of nature. 

W.C. The actual separation of brains and hands in modern manufacture, accompanied with the ideal of mechanical and "trade finish," has been the chief cause of the decline of art in industry. The revival has been owing to artists. 

L.F.D. We are born with gifts of one kind or another. It is very rarely that a man is doubly gifted; and it is of no use arguing as if one great faculty did not practically imply some lack of capability in the opposite direction. 

W.C. I cannot admit your last proposition. If a designer has no executive faculty, his designing faculty is of very little use and is practically latent, since a design is dumb unless it is expressed in some form or other - and even draughtsmanship is a craft 

L.F.D. The protest against "trade finish" goes too far when it is content with the unfinish of artists playing at craftsmanship. Your last remark falls flat. I said "relative" separation of brains and hands. 


WILLIAM MORRIS, MAN OF GENIUS

W.C. You misunderstand my remark; I was merely asserting the fact (in contradistinction to your relative separation) that the actual separation of brains and hands in modern industry had brought about the death of art. (That is flat, but I don't see it falls flat!) Who do you mean is so content with amateur work while protesting against trade finish? The charge is unfair. Morris was an emphatic protester: was his work unfinished? One of the most remarkable results of the movement has been the development of competent artist-craftsmen. Commerce is quick enough to imitate, anyway. 

L.F.D. I don't mean Morris, of course - men of genius may do what they like - but artists (and they are not a few) who exhibit craftsmanship which gives the workman good reason to scoff. My contention is that in the "artist-craftsman" work, of which we hear so much, the craftsmanship is (naturally) very often less than competent. 

W.C. I was not considering inefficient workmanship at all. You might condemn any movement by taking its lowest standards and results, perhaps. The fact remains that the Arts and Crafts movement has produced competent craftsmen in various crafts who are at the same time artists, and has also infused new life and feeling into the decorative arts generally. I do not understand why, if you are in sympathy with the aims and ideals of a movement, you should try to undervalue its work. 

L.F.D. I am not trying to undervalue anything, but to rate things at their worth. Much of artist-craftsmanship, so called, is inefficient. And the delusion that there should be no sub-division of labour goes to account for its inefficiency. 

W.C. One would think from your words, however, that you hated an artist-craftsman and all his works! 

L.F.D. I have no prejudice against the artist-craftsman as such. I do resent his bounce; but I respect his modest effort, and admire his real accomplishment. 

W.C. I am not aware of any faddist who goes so far as to say there should be no sub-division of labour. I have already put forward the workshop as the true system, where craftsmen and designers can learn every process and condition of a handicraft, and where also there is helpful co-operation and mutual assistance in carrying out a work, and where men may differentiate. Our technical schools now to some extent endeavour to fill the place of the old workshop in the handicrafts; but schools are apt to be theoretic at the best. Very few men like anything new, and trades are very conservative. But we have had to upset bad trade traditions. As to the scoffer, he generally makes a mock for jealousy. But, after all, the trade journals write much more sympathetically about the Arts and Crafts than the literary critics, who, of course, are eminent craftsmen (!) and know everything. 

L.F.D. What have technical education, trade journals, and literary critics to do with it? 

W.C. As our technical schools are educating students to execute their own designs in various materials, and as at the outset you declared it impossible for a designer to be his own executant, I think this reference of mine does bear on the question. 

L.F.D. Your point of view wants making clear. You admit the impossibility of a man's paying his way by executing his own designs, and you allow some sub-division of labour. And yet you take up my challenge. Where, precisely, is it that you join issue?

W.C. That an artist could not maintain his standard of life if he executed all his own designs, is merely an indictment against present economic conditions. Much depends upon the kind of craft, too. In some crafts, it seems essential that designer and crafts man should be one: such as painting and modelling, calligraphy and illumination, book binding, jewellery, enamelling. Others, which involve multiple and perhaps heavy labour, may be co-operative, rightly. So far as artists have become craftsmen I think it has been all to the good. 

L.F.D. I did not say it was impossible for a designer to be his own executant - in some crafts it is very possible. What I am combating is the theory that, where he is not, he ought to be. 

W.C. Surely it entirely depends upon what sort of a designer he is?

L.F.D. That it all hangs upon the sort of design is just my contention. 

W.C. We are agreed, then, that it depends upon the sort of design how far it is essential that design and execution should be in the same hands? 

L.F.D. You grant me all I ask.

18 June 2017

COCKPIT ARTS OPEN STUDIOS

I went to the open studios at Cockpit Arts, Deptford, on Friday. They are open today as well.

Cockpit Arts Deptford
18-22 Creekside
London SE8 3DZ
16-18 June. Sunday 11am - 6pm
Free entry

The studios house up to 170 designer makers in Holborn and Deptford. Cockpit describe themselves as the UK's only business incubator for craftspeople, supporting those at the start of their careers and those who are more established. They began in 1986. In the early 1990s, I worked with them as part of my job in economic development at Camden Council.

The standard of work on display at Deptford is very high indeed. Partly due to the efforts of organisations like Cockpit and the Crafts Council, but mainly because of a more discerning public, the quality of craft production has improved There is more demand for personal products and a connection with the maker, and at the same time an expectation that the quality and finish of hand-made goods will be as high as that of machine-made goods. The old idea that you found a generation ago, that crafts had to prove that they were hand-made by being rough, has vanished. The increased number of designer makers (Cockpit estimate there are 25,000 in the UK with a combined turnover of £3.4bn) also raises the bar, with the best challenging the not-so-good.

On Friday, I paused to speak to a few makers in crafts other than my own, always interesting.

CHARLES LAURIE Leather 



Charles has developed a range of items exploiting the qualities of top-grade leathers. Those he displayed were all in black, simple in outline, highly practical and a little severe. They are adaptable and would suit people with either classic taste or modern taste. He said he supplied retailers and also took commissions. I pointed to the briefcase shown here: "Would you make this in bright orange if a customer asked for it?"  He gulped. "Oh, yes," he said.

 
STEPHEN THOMSON Bow maker



I admired Stephen's small, neat workshop. His tools were ranged in order, his drills stood in a block of hardwood. (Mine are flung into a tin.) The bows, seen close-up, are beautiful objects in themselves. The materials come from around the world: the wood from Brazil, the horsehair from China, the mother-of-pearl collected by Stephen himself on the Essex coast, and the finish of the handle in bone or mammoth ivory - yes, you read that right, mammoth ivory.

MARIA McLEAN Shoemaker



Maria's workshop is a work of art. Bespoke cases stand on her parquet floor to take her tools and materials. They are on wheels so that they can be moved around the studio or even taken elsewhere: Maria, a graduate of Cordwainers College and the RCA, has the idea that she might be a peripatetic shoemaker. He sandals are exquisitely made and have that combination of beauty and utility that marks out the best craft products.

DOVILE B Jeweller



Dovile makes jewellery in a starling combination of silver and resin.

ELEANOR LAKELIN Wood



Wood turning is a staple of village craft shows and tends to be the redoubt of retired gents with more lathes than artistic judgement. Eleanor Lakelin's wood products are on a different level. Many of them don’t look like wood at first, so wide is the range of colour, contour, texture and making methods.

MATTHEW WARNER Ceramics



Of course, I had to see a potter. Matthew Warner's work is a tour de force. He is inspired by 18th century tableware and produces refined objects that, once again, combine beauty and utility. He has a range of soft coloured glazes and a successful combination of outside colour and clear glaze inside on a cream clay body, reminiscent of Wedgwood.

14 June 2017

MASTERCLASS ON TIN-GLAZED EARTHENWARE

The current issue of Ceramic Review (No, 286, July/August 2017) has a Masterclass with me showing how make tin-glazed earthenware. Here's a short video.

Masterclass with Marshall Colman | Ceramic Review from Ceramic Review on Vimeo.

SUMMER SHAPES

No text today, just some plant shapes from the garden.

Meconopsis cambrica
Allium christophii 
Hydrangea petiolaris
Dipsacus fullonum

12 June 2017

RICHARD LUNN: THE FIRST POTTERY TEACHER


As ceramics course are closing in British universities and as a band of experienced potters are opening Clay College, Stoke, to train a new generation, it’s a good time to remember Richard Lunn, the first pottery teacher. Lunn ran the pottery course started by the Royal College of Art in 1901, the first in any art school. His role in the history of ceramic education is known but the details of his life have not been recorded.

The government art schools in the 19th century were intended to teach the principles of design to workmen in in industry. They had a rigorous syllabus of drawing and copying approved models, and practical crafts were not taught. Creativity and originality were discouraged. The pinnacle of the system was the National Art Training School in South Kensington, which changed its name to the Royal College of Art in 1898. (The Royal Academy and private art schools were outside this system.)

NEW ART SCHOOLS

The system was sterile and it never did what it was supposed to do. The standard of design in manufacture was patchy. Many graduates became art teachers rather than designers and several of the women students followed classes as a leisure activity. The real impetus to reform came from outside the system, from artists of the Arts and Crafts Movement, who were associated with new, practical art schools founded by local authorities. The first was the Birmingham School of Arts and Crafts (1885), followed by the Central School of Arts and Crafts (1896) and the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts (1898)

Walter Crane became head of the Royal College of Art in 1898 and tried to introduce a more craft-based curriculum, but he was defeated by the bureaucracy of the Board of Education and resigned after a year. His successor, Augustus Spencer, brought in members of the Art Workers' Guild as professors: W.R.Lethaby to head design, Beresford Pite, architecture, Edward Lantieri, sculpture, and Gerald Moira, painting. Richard Lunn, the college’s first instructor of pottery, was not a member of the AWG and came from a background of industry and teaching.

Lunn’s course was the first where students could make, glaze, decorate and fire their own pottery from start to finish. Lambeth art school, under the direction of John Sparkes, developed a fruitful arrangement with Doulton's, but the ceramics classes there concentrated on decoration and omitted many ceramic processes. Even the art schools in the North Staffordshire Potteries didn’t provide a complete curriculum. Practical training was the job of the pottery employers. Twenty years after Lunn initiated his programme at the RCA, the Board of Education wrote a damning report on the inadequacies of the pottery teaching at Hanley Art School. Lunn was the pioneer.

DECORATED POTTERY

The RCA prospectus described his course: “The object of this class is to illustrate in a simple and inexpensive manner principles and facts relating to the making and decorating of Pottery – enabling students to design, make shapes, and decorate them, with a knowledge of the requirements of this important industry.” We can get some insight into what Lunn taught by his book Pottery (two volumes, Chapman & Hall, 1903 and 1910), which includes photos posed by students in the studios in South Kensington.

RCA pottery students, c.1910. Note the Iznik and Italian maiolica examples on the shelf.

Lunn’s syllabus included tile-making, mould-making, use of the jigger and jolley, glazing, decorating, and firing bisque, glaze and enamel kilns. Lunn could not throw on the wheel and throwing was not taught. A picture of him taken in his studio at the RCA shows him surrounded by plaster moulds. On the walls are pictures of Persian, Iznik and Italian maiolica, which he also illustrated in his book. This decorated pottery was the inspiration for his course and the kind that his students made.


Work made by Lunn's students at the RCA.

MODELLER ON THE CERAMIC STAIRCASE

Richard Lunn was born in 1840 in Bromley, Kent. At the age of 17 he was an art student in Sheffield. His first occupation was as a silver engraver in the city. He moved to London in his mid-twenties to study at the National Art Training School, where he assisted as a modeller on the ceramic staircase at South Kensington, now part of the Victoria and Albert Museum. The decoration of the V&A was one of the few opportunities for art students to gain practical experience. After the completion of the ceramic staircase, women students painted the tiles in the Poynter Room to Edward Poynter’s designs. The Tiles and Architectural Ceramics Society says of the ceramics staircase, designed by Frank H. Moody, that it includes “some of the finest products of British nineteenth century ceramic design, installed to display the possibilities of contemporary building materials.”

The ceramic staircase, V&A Museum

By 1874 Lunn was back in Sheffield, teaching modelling at Sheffield School of Art. He appears to have been popular with his students: after a period of illness they presented him with Turner’s Liber Studiorun and Viollet le Duc’s Dictionnaire du Mobiler Français, “and a valuable timepiece, as a practical expression of their pleasure at his return to their midst.” (The Cabinet Maker and Art Furnisher, 1880) In 1881 there were differences between Lunn and the headmaster and Lunn was dismissed for reasons that he was unable to ascertain. On his departure from Sheffield his students gave him a presentation dinner.

In 1882, now in his early forties, he was appointed art director of Royal Crown Derby, apparently without any prior experience in the pottery trade, and presumably because of his wide artistic experience. He designed a dinner service for presentation to Gladstone by the Derby Liberals, each piece decorated with a Derbyshire view. In receiving the dinner service, Gladstone said, “I think those are entirely mistaken who consider your production merely as a branch of industry, or a branch of skilled industry. It is likewise a branch of art, in which the principles of fine art are applied to industrial purposes."


After seven years he struck out on his own, taking over the Cockpit Hill China Works. I can’t find anything about this pottery or its products, and it’s hard to say whether it was a success or not, but his daughter Dora remarked that he was not business-like. Lunn was interested in pottery as an art, taught it as such and regarded himself as an artist.

In around 1900, aged 60, he took up the new post of pottery instructor at the RCA. From 1908 he also taught pottery at Camberwell, where he was assisted by an experienced thrower, Alfred Hopkins.

JOHN ADAMS AND DORA BILLINGTON

Although Lunn was liked by his students, he had a difficult personality. His dismissal from Sheffield indicates irreconcilable differences with his principal, and at the RCA he had a petty row with his student John Adams, later of Poole Pottery. Adams had learned the technique of lustre when he was working for Bernard Moore and submitted lustre ware that he had fired in the Potteries. Lunn was furious about his not using the RCA kiln and went over the head of the principal to complain direct to the Board of Education. The bemused Board officials asked Adams for his comments and Adams replied robustly that Lunn was incapable of teaching lustre decoration and knew nothing about it, and that Adams had to go elsewhere to pursue his studies. Adams was a very accomplished student who had won awards for his ceramics even before he was at the RCA and Lunn may have been jealous of him. Lunn’s other eminent student at the RCA, Dora Billington, barely mentioned him.

Apart from the question of lustre ware, and despite his long experience, there are indications that Lunn’s pottery teaching was inadequate. One reviewer of his book thought his methods were outmoded. In his final years, his daughter Dora was afraid that he would be dismissed because of his age. In Lunn’s defence, Dora said that at the RCA “it was very difficult to secure the requisite equipment and to get the authorities to recognise pottery as an important subject in the educational sense.” (Dora Lunn, A Potter’s Pot Pourri, typescript)

He died aged 75, still in harness. His Camberwell class was taken over by Alfred Hopkins. His RCA class was taken over by his students Adams and Billington; then, when Adams left for South Africa, Billington, aged 25, ran it alone.

Out of Lunn’s two courses came some of the early studio potters, including Adams, Billington and William Staite Murray, and a cohort of pottery teachers who were appointed to new posts in other art schools. Partly due to Lunn's work, we know that by 1925 pottery had been added to the curriculum of colleges at Battersea, Clapham, Putney, Leeds, Glasgow, Swansea, Woolwich and Brighton.

5 June 2017

BARNSBURY OPEN GARDENS


The Barnsbury group of the National Open Gardens Scheme invited the public in to see four private gardens in Islington yesterday. One belonged to potter Peter Willis, whom I studied with at Harrow. Peter has created the perfect London Garden, adapting to the limitations of plot size and shade, and a particularly troublesome local limitation, the deadly honey fungus, Amarillaria mellis. Peter says, "The structure of the garden is a compromise between my intentions and unplanned deaths from Amarillaria and is more a composition in leaf textures than flowers."

There is a good selection of Japanese maples, which survive shade and through their leaf shapes and varied colour give interest throughout the year."For me," says Peter, "Acers are especially rewarding plants in a garden like this, beautiful for far longer than many flowers and especially so when first in leaf."


There are good ground textures too, and Peter has compensated for the smallness of his garden by boldly planting tall trees, which gives it greater size through height. At the end is his small studio, cleverly built in an L-shape round the trunk of a tree.

Being a lazy gardener, I asked Peter how often he had to work in his: "A bit every day."




The tall, droopy tree is Cupressus cashmeriana. Peter planted it 24 years ago, little expecting it to survive out of doors.  
The pottery studio, arranged round the trunk of a tree.


30 May 2017

NEW MEMBERS OF THE CRAFT POTTERS ASSOCIATION

Ceramics by Rebecca Appleby

The Craft Potters Association (CPA), the leading UK body for art ceramics, selects professional members twice a year. It's interesting to see the artists they're choosing at the moment. This month they accepted applications from Rebecca Appleby, Emily-Kriste Wilcox, Adela Powell, Paula Downing, Peter Bodenham, Ali Tomlin and Sue Hannah.

Formed in 1958, the CPA was once the redoubt of studio pottery that was brown, rough and to be used in the kitchen. Since then it's become more inclusive and, although you can still get useful tableware at the CPA's shop opposite the British Museum, they're now welcoming more fine artists in clay.

The CPA selects makers who demonstrate mastery of their craft and who are making a contribution to the ceramic art. The applicants I've spoken to tell me that the selectors don't say much about the reason for their choice. From their decisions this month (below), you can see the excellent and original work being made by contemporary potters.

Emily-Kriste Wilcox

Adela Powell

Paula Downing

Peter Bodenham

Ali Tomlin

Sue Hannah



29 May 2017

THE ROSES OF THE GARDEN

Old roses

Now the roses are coming into bloom after a cold, dry Spring and I'll try to get to the Gardens of the Rose before they close. All I've been able to find out from the local paper is that the Royal National Rose Society has been put into administration, and I suppose the administrators will soon have to decide whether they can make more money by closing the gardens or letting them stay open.

I live in a 1950s house and I was tempted to make a period garden with a square lawn bordered by modern roses, alternate red and yellow, like "Peace" and "Papa Meilland". In the end I went for informal varieties, like "Nevada", "Albertine" and "Rambling Rector".

New rose "Peace" (1935)
New rose "Papa Meilland" (1963)

Although "informal" means "inclined to shed petals", the old roses do look good as cut flowers, especially in a celadon vase (top of post).


23 May 2017

THE GARDENS OF THE ROSE


The Royal National Rose Society, the oldest specialist plant society in the world, announced recently that it had run out of money and had gone into administration. The feather in its cap, the glorious Gardens of the Rose (above) at its HQ in St Albans, Hertfordshire, will probably close.

The Gardens of the Rose is a living encyclopaedia of roses as well as a pleasant place for a quiet afternoon out. I’ve been  several times and I’ve bought roses there as well – after seeing the inspiring displays it’s hard to come away empty handed.

I grew up with a garden full of roses. My father was a member of the Rose Society, which used to send members a quarterly journal and the rose annual, a hardback book of a hundred and fifty pages stuffed with colour plates and articles about new cultivars and the problems of rose growing.

Gardening fashions change. My father’s garden was full of hybrid-tea roses, a type developed in the late 19th century, known for its large, rather stiff, long-lasting blossoms. To produce these blooms, the rose grower had to prune the shrub regularly every year. There are two kinds of pruners: axe-man and wimp; my father was an axe-man. About forty years ago, gardeners began to move away from the hybrid-teas to old shrub roses – lax bushes that didn’t require much pruning, with loose, soft-coloured blossoms. Some of them are very old: Rosa Mundi is medieval in origin.

Hybrid tea rose

The informal old roses are now more fashionable

A few years ago, the Rose Society did a trial of different kinds of pruning to see which produced the best display of blooms. I think they compared the careful pruning of the experienced gardener, going over with a hedge trimmer and doing nothing, and they found that the traditional method of the experienced gardener didn't make much difference. Which shows that long-established practices may be based on authority rather than observation.

It’s been obvious for some time that the Rose Society is in trouble. They were looking after only part of the garden and some of it was overgrown with weeds. I liked their simple, old-fashioned tea room, but it wasn't the sort of thing to attract new visitors and it needed to be modernised. There was a slight air of hopelessness about the place. Their website is down and their last Twitter post wished everyone a Merry Christmas.