At Home with the Gaskins

Re-blog from Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery.

Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery

This week art curator Victoria Osborne has been cataloguing Gaskin family photographsready for our next Gas Hall exhibition,Children’s Lives.Here’s a sneak preview!

Designers Arthur and Georgie Gaskin were leading figures in the BirminghamArts & Crafts movement at the turn of the last century. Their elderdaughter Joscelyne, born in 1903, followed in their footsteps: critic RogerFry called the drawings she made aged 7 ‘altogether marvellous’. Therewill be a rare chance to see some of them in next year’s exhibition.

2011

Arthur__joscelyne
2011
Georgiejoscelyne
Joscelyne


Children’s Lives opens on 17 March 2012. Read about the project at theChildren’s Lives blog, or find out more about Arthur, Georgie and Joscelynein the current display in Gallery 19, The Gaskins and their Circle.

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ALBRECHT DÜRER (2)

Albrecht Dürer, The Imperial Captain Felix Hungersperg, 1520

Some of Dürer’s drawings and paintings reminded me of Maxwell Armfield (1881 – 1972), who was the first artist I ever noticed because, as a child, I had his illustrations to Andersen’s Fairy Tales, drawn for J. M. Dent in 1910.

Maxwell Armfield, illustration to Andersen’s Fairy Tales, 1910

Armfield trained at Birmingham Art School, the first to come under the infuence of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and painted in a late Pre-Raphaelite style – linear with a highly-worked surface, usually in bright colours and with a shallow picture space – which he kept up long after it had become unfashionable, even in the years after the Second World War.

Maxwell Armfield, Miss Chaseley on the Undercliff, 1927. (Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum)

His landscapes are flat and he’s interested in the patterns they make, which makes them artificial and imaginary, suiting fairytales, especially when they feature castles on distant mountains.

Maxwell Armfield, San Gimignano, Italy (Victoria Art Gallery)

Dürer’s landscapes, many of which also have castles on mountains, have the same fantastic effect. There were other influences on Armfield, notably Japanese woodcuts, and his drawings are very much simpler than Dürer’s, but both have the same hard line and absence of extreme tonal contrast.

Albrecht Dürer, View of the Arco Valley in the Tyrol, 1495

Albrecht Dürer, Christ Carrying the Cross

Maxwell Armfield, illustration to Andersen’s Fairy Tales, 1910

ALBRECHT DÜRER (1)

I was surprised to find the Dürer exhibition at the National Gallery so crowded. His engravings have to be looked at closely and you have to queue at each one. Who would have thought that an Old Master of five hundred years ago would be so popular? But most of the visitors had grey hair. Will there be a public for this kind of art in thirty years time? Art that’s based on the highest standards of craft and draughtsmanship? Art that’s not radical, original or innovative? Art that’s not critical, challenging or addressing problematic themes? There may not be.

CLAUDIA CLARE (3)

With the caveat that Central Saint Martins (above) haven’t spoken publicly about their reason for refusing to allow Claudia Clare to speak at the university, which I’ve written about earlier, their reason, as I understand it, looks rather thin on examination.

Apparently their reason for the ban is that, because of her gender-critical views, Claudia’s speaking would breach their equal opportunities guidelines. (Gender-critical, for those unfamiliar with this world, means the assertion that sex – being a man or a woman – is based on biology and isn’t altered by one’s gender identity.) I’ve said that, since Claudia wasn’t billed to talk about her gender-critical views, but about her work of art, And the Door Opened, this means she’s being banned not for what she’s saying but for what she thinks.

If that is the case, Central Saint Martins may be skating on thin ice. Claudia and her supporters have drawn my attention to the Forstater case, in which the courts decided that a person couldn’t be sacked for gender-critical views and overturned the ruling of an Employment Tribunal that they could. The court ruled that if those views were cogent and sincerely held they were a philosophical belief akin to a religion and were a “protected characteristic” under equality law. In other words, dismissing someone from their job because of their gender-critical beliefs, would be contrary to equal-opportunities law.

Allowing or not allowing someone to talk on one’s premises is another matter, and as I’m not a lawyer I can’t say whether or not Central Saint Martins is breaking the law by banning Claudia because of the views she holds. But the government has become concerned about the increasing tendency of students in higher education to bully speakers they don’t like and the tendency of university authorities to give in to them and to ban those speakers, as it seems has happened to Claudia, and a Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill is going through Parliament to extend the Forstater principle and to stop it from happening in the future.

THE CRAFTS STUDY CENTRE

Dora Billington with students at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, 1950s.

The Crafts Study Centre in Farnham, part of the University of the Creative Arts, houses a valuable collection and archive of British crafts from the early 20th century, including a very full Bernard Leach archive. For several years I’ve been planning an exhibition there about the potter Dora Billington, who was a leading ceramic educator until the 1960s. I’ve been greatly helped by the Centre’s chairperson, Alison Britton, its director, Simon Olding and curator Greta Bertram, and after delays due to Covid the exhibition was scheduled for autumn this year.

Unfortunately the University has become a victim of Long Covid. After its activities were curtailed in 2020 and 2021, it’s returning to normal but in a weakened state and with several compromised organs. One of them is the Crafts Study Centre, which has ben forced to cancel the Dora Billington exhibition.

Here in its place are pictures of some Billington pottery.

CLAUDIA CLARE (2)

Since writing about Claudia Clare’s exclusion from the forthcoming Ceramic Art London (CAL) exhibition at Central St Martins School of Art, I’ve learned more about the surrounding events. In 2020 Claudia proposed to talk at CAL about her project And the Door Opened, which is about women escaping the sex trade. At the time no-one objected, and when CAL was revived after a two-year break she was included in the programme. But this year Central Saint Martins said that they couldn’t permit her to talk because she breached their equal opportunities guidelines.

How so?

Claudia thinks that a person can’t change their sex by identifying as a person of a particular gender and that women’s rights are endangered by gender self-identification. Central Saint Martins appear to think (or to defer to the view) that holding that opinion is in itself a breach their equal opportunities policy and that a person who holds it can’t be allowed to talk on their premises. Claudia wasn’t actually billed to talk about gender but about women and prostitution, so it does look very much as if she’s been banned not because of what she was going to say but because of what she thinks. That’s about as close to Orwellian thoughtcrime as it’s possible to get.

Central Saint Martins thus put the event organisers, the Craft Potters Association, in a very difficult position: should they have pushed back and jeopardised the whole event or should they have agreed to curtail Claudia’s civil liberties?

CLAUDIA CLARE

An unusual row has broken out at the Craft Potters Association (CPA), the body that represents Britain’s best ceramic artists and which is part of the British craft establishment. They recently decided to cancel their invitation to Claudia Clare (above) to display her ceramics and give a talk at Ceramic Art London (CAL), the big ceramic exhibition that they put on each year.

I know Claudia well, having first met her as a fellow-student on the Harrow ceramics course, and I’ve always respected her integrity, her ability as an artist and her independence of thought. The CPA also respect her, having selected her as a member, an honour given to few potters. My understanding of the circumstances surrounding Claudia’s cancellation is this. She was invited in 2020 to give a talk at CAL and to display her ceramics about women forced into prostitution and their way out of it, an installation supported by the Arts Council. The invitation was postponed because of COVID and was scheduled for this year.

Recently a threat was made to her display at CAL, not to Claudia but to the Craft Potters Association. The Association haven’t communicated the details to her, but they told her that they have now decided to cancel the invitation. Claudia’s enquiries indicate that the threats were made by people who disagree with her views about sex workers.

Claudia never shrinks from controversy but in this case her point of view is hardly controversial. Some people obviously disagree with it, in which case they’re free to argue their case; but if the Craft Potters Association have received threats of violence I would think that the right course of action is to report them to the police and to provide adequate security at the event, not to tell the exhibitor that she can’t appear. I’ve written to Peter Snowden, the Chairperson of the CPA, to tell him that. There’s a petition here if anyone wants to support Claudia and artistic freedom of expression.

NOW IT’S SOCIAL HISTORY

Leave anything for long enough and it becomes social history. For no discernable reason I collected matchbox labels in my youth and then I forgot about them. I rediscovered them recently and realised they said something about their time. SEITA, the French state tobacco company that made Gauloises, now part of Imperial Tobacco, issued several series of traditional regional costumes, which must have all disappeared by now. This series (above) was the earliest, the classic, nicely printed in three flat colours.

Matchboxes challenged graphic artists to design in a couple of square inches. These (above) advertised Lyons’ cheap, ubiquitous Corner Houses.

These (above) come from Sivakasi the centre of the Indian match industry. There are dozens of factories in Sivakasi, each producing dozens of brands, once made with these charming misaligned labels. Few have websites but those that do, like Bilal Safety Matches (below), are indifferent to their old products, sombre and practical with an emphasis on the scale of their operations.

ROTHENSTEIN AND LETHABY

William Rothenstein knew everyone in the art world of the early 20th century, so his memoirs – Men and Memories and After Fifty – are informative as well as entertaining. Since I’ve been writing about W. R. Lethaby, I thought I should go and see what Rothenstein had to say about him. Not surprisingly they knew one another well. They visited Paris and Chartres together. Rothenstein respected Lethaby’s scholarship, judgement and integrity and his contribution to the crafts. I’ve copied the relevant passage below.

Rothenstein became principal of the Royal College of Art shortly after Lethaby had retired as professor of design and while his infliuence was still strongly felt. In a confidential memorandum Rothenstein expressed reservations about the air of medievalism that he’d left behind him and the poor work being done in some of the subjects in the design school.

WALTER CRANE AT THE RCA

Walter Crane with students and teachers of the Royal College of Art, c.1900
Unknown photographer. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

The National Portrait Gallery have this rather nice photo showing students and staff of the Royal College of Art in around 1900. Walter Crane (in the white hat) is in the centre. The man on his left in the bowler hat is Beresford Pite, the professor of architecture, and on the far right in the front row is Edouard Lanteri, the professor of sculpture.

Photos like this were taken every summer at the RCA in what is now the John Madejski Garden of the V&A. Crane was College principal from 1898-9, when he made major changes to the curriculum, introducing more practical courses in place of pettifogging detailed drawing, copying from casts and designing on paper.

He wrote of his time there, “As far as the existing constitution of the school and its relation to the Board of Education would allow, I endeavoured to expand the range of studies, especially in the direction of Design and Handicraft; and in order to give the students some insight into the relation between design and material, I was fortunate enough to obtain the services of accomplished artists to give lectures, and demonstrations where possible, in their special crafts.” But he didn’t like all the form-filling that a government post demanded and a bout of flu sapped his energy.

The interesting thing about this photo is that all the students are women. About half the enrolled students were women and about half the graduates became full-time teachers. But why this group was taken isn’t clear.