Thursday 22 July 2010

Ladderback chair by Edward Gardiner, 1950

Made of ash and with a rush seat, this is a chair with important connections that place it firmly within a continuing tradition of English country furniture. It was made by Edward Gardiner (1880-1958) and was one of a number originally supplied in the early 1950s to the Craggs sisters' famous tearooms in the Suffolk coastal town of Aldeburgh. Here, for the rest of the century they did service to tourists, Festival goers and locals alike. (Photo below by Charles Christian)

Along with the chair, we purchased some bills and correspondence relating to Gardiner's dealings with the Craggs over some years.

The Gardiner connections span the entire twentieth century, and indeed tip beyond it at either end. He learned his chairmaking from Ernest Gimson (1864-1919) and was a partner in Gimson's business based at Sapperton in Gloucestershire from 1904-13. Gimson had many talents and moved in the inner circles of the Arts and Crafts movement. His furniture style was much influenced by the guidance of Phillip Clisset in Herefordshire in the 1890s and refined further by contact with the brothers Ernest and Sidney Barnsley, with whom he moved to Gloucestershire in 1893 for the purpose of putting the countryside at the heart of their respective businesses.

After the First World War, Gardiner set up on his own at a workshop near Rugby in Warwickshire, where our chair was subsequently made, essentially to a Gimson design. In 1939, Gardiner took on a pupil, Neville Neal, who, after Gardiner's death in 1958, continued in business from a workshop in nearby Stockton. Today, Neville's son Lawrence continues the tradition of chairmaking there, and will happily supply a new chair very similar to ours (the Bedales No.1) for around £315. (See

Thursday 15 July 2010

Plant pot by Quentin Bell, 1951

Here's something from another equally well-connected twentieth century potter. Quentin Bell (1910-1996), product of the unconventional marriage between Clive and Vanessa Bell, grew up amongst members of the artistic and literary Bloomsbury set who were frequent visitors to Charleston, the farmhouse near Firle set idyllically into the Sussex downland, that his mother occupied from 1916 through to her death in 1961. It's outwardly an eighteenth century building with a sixteenth century inner core but, from the unique interior decoration applied by Vanessa Bell and her friends, is best remembered now as perhaps the clearest physical expression of the twentieth century connection between art and the countryside.

The base of the pot is inscribed GH from QB 1951 and we know from the provenance that this was a present, Christmas or birthday one imagines, from Quentin Bell to Grace Higgens, who worked at Charleston as variously maid, nurse, cook and housekeeper for fifty years from the age of 16 in 1920. An indispensable part of Charleston life, she was close to the leading players and her own extensive archive of diaries and correspondence is now in the Briitsh Library.

Quentin Bell continued his potting but was also part of the academic world, as a professor of fine art in the 1960s and 70s, and also wrote an acclaimed biography of his aunt, Virginia Woolf, which was published in 1972.

Thursday 8 July 2010

Stoneware bowl by Ursula Mommens, c.1995

I thought the project should include a piece by Ursula Mommens (1908-2010) who spent most of her long adult life - she died earlier this year aged 101 - as a potter. Her metropolitan cultural and artistic connections were impeccable but yet from a rural setting she dedicated herself to producing spirited but practical household wares. She was the great granddaughter of Charles Darwin and great great granddaughter of Josiah Wedgwood; her father, Bernard Darwin (1876-1961) was for fifty years golfing correspondent of The Times and Country Life; she studied at the Royal College of Art and, after setting up a studio near the Darwin home at Down in Kent, by the mid-1930s was active in the London avant garde art scene along with her first husband, the surrealist Julian Trevelyan. A spell working with the great slipware potter Michael Cardew set her on a new course of unpretentious and useful country ware and in 1951 she established a pottery with her second husband, the sculptor Norman Mommens, at South Heighton near Newhaven in Sussex where she remained for the rest of her life. After working initially in earthenware, stoneware became her principal medium from the 1960s, for sensitively decorated, soundly functional tableware.

Thursday 1 July 2010

Stanley Anderson line engraving, 1934

We have taken the opportunity to add to our collection of engravings by Stanley Anderson (1884-1966). This one is entitled Sheep Dipping and is signed in pencil at the bottom. It had been framed with a pristine copy of the Daily Telegraph for January 1934 to provide padding and has the remains of a label on the back for The Birmingham Exhibition 1936 with a price tag of £4 10s (framed).

It is one in a series of precisely-observed rural studies that Anderson produced over a 20 year period from 1933 when he went to live in a cottage in the heart of the Oxfordshire countryside at Towersey (now home, incidentally, of the Towersey Village Festival which began in 1965 and is still going strong).

It would be difficult to think of any other twentieth century artist who managed to capture the ordinary business of farming in such clear and accurate detail, so attractively without tipping over into excessive sentimentality. This one, entitled Three Good Friends, shows a ploughman and his team taking a rest:

The Bristol-born Anderson was apprenticed to his father in heraldic engraving initially but subsequently studied at the Royal College of Art and Goldsmith's College, where in 1925 he was taken on as engraving instructor. He was a frequent exhibitor at the Royal Academy and became a Fellow in 1941. These engravings were produced in 40 print editions and sold through the Royal Academy and other exhibitions. This last example from our collection has the title Good Companions and shows an early morning farmyard scene as a horse is led from the stable ready to be harnessed to the Buckinghamshire type wagon in the background.