Brutalist Dreams in Weston-super-Mare

Chamberlin, Powell and Bon are best known as the architectural practice responsible for the Barbican development in London. Construction began in 1963 after 10 years of design negotiation and is now regarded as one of the most iconic examples of post-war Brutalist urban planning and a sought after location to live in Central London.

Meanwhile…

Would you be surprised to know that at about the same time they were commissioned to design a scheme to redevelop a large area of the centre of Weston-super-Mare here on the Somerset coast?

In Weston-super-Mare museum is a beautiful architects project model dated 1961 presenting Chamberlin, Powell and Bon’s scheme. The area around Oxford Street and Carlton Street south of the main shopping area and fronted onto the beach beside the ostentatious Victorian Grand Atlantic Hotel. A 22-storey round tower was to take the beach-front position rising out of a raised deck that extended well back across the site. An hotel the building would have dominated the whole promenade. Set further back, two lower blocks of flats were to be reached from the deck and two more from ground level. Behind the tower, alongside Oxford Street, a sports complex with a spectacular open-air swimming pool. The model has no legend so it isn’t clear exactly what is what but features were to include a conference centre, a shopping mall and extensive parking at the lower level. The long narrow building the back beside the town hall for instance sits on more-or-less the same footprint as the present Police station although that building is clearly later in date. The blocks of flats are characterised by projecting fins, presumably for stairs, lifts and fire-escapes. The largest has a particularly dramatic detached fire-escape tower with linking walkways.

The integration of recreational opportunities was clearly intended to help make the place a destination as well as a place to live, a characteristic it shares with the Barbican. Unlike the Barbican the planting is fairly unadventurous but the quirky embellishment of the deck in front of the tower with a rococo parterre is a playful touch in the context of so much concrete. What is remarkable to me is Weston-super-Mare’s ambition. Whatever doubts one might have about wholesale replacement of historic town centres, they were prepared to think big and explore the idea with one of the most adventurous architectural firms of the day. This in the context of Bristol City Council’s clumsy home-grown 1966 plan which incorporated some of the same ideas but was wildly overblown and lacked a coherent architectural design brief. As a result of preemptive clearances and the piecemeal building of bits of it, it blighted areas in its path for decades. That said, the area of Weston-super-Mare to be redeveloped in 1961 seems to have had a checkered career in the 60 years since. Clear of the area had begun in 1957, removing an large number of small houses and back-streets. The high cost of the development (over £3m) and protests about the destruction of an well-established neighbourhood ensured it did not happen. Subsequent development has been piecemeal. The proposed site of the feature tower and the sports complex is currently an empty space. I suppose a high-rise scheme featuring a large expanse of raised decking might well have become a troubled area in a town with its share of problems. For admirers of Chamberlin, Powell and Bon and of Brutalist architecture and urban planning this is a forgotten project to savour.

This is an edited version of a post previously published on Oliver Kent’s blog Clay and Fire.

Photos copyright Oliver Kent 2019. Aerial photo courtesy of Google Maps.

Some references:

Brodie, A. and Roethe, J., 2020. Weston-super-Mare, North Somerset: Historic and architectural development. Volume 1: Report. Research Report Series no. 1-2020. Portsmouth: Historic England.

Brodie, A. and Roethe, J., 2020. Weston-super-Mare, North Somerset: Historic and architectural development. Volume 2: Gazetteer. Research Report Series no. 1-2020. Portsmouth: Historic England.

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Bauhaus in Bristol – Otti Berger

It appears that Bristol furniture manufacturer Crofton Gane, whose work with Bauhaus designer Marcel Breuer is well known, considered employing leading Bauhaus graduate textile designer Otti Berger to work for him.

Leyla Daybelge and Magnus Englund’s new book Isokon and the Bauhaus in Britain is a fascinating account of the relationship between Modernist British architects and designers in the 1930s and the founders, staff and students of the Bauhaus design school in Germany. The Design and Industries Association founded in 1915 became a focus for new ideas and brought together an enthusiastic body of people. In 1931 Jack Pritchard and Wells Coates formed the Isokon company with the idea of designing buildings and manufacturing furniture. The first building, the Isokon Flats in Hampstead became a meeting point and when the Bauhaus designers became refugees a haven. Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy and many others became residents as they tried to rebuild their lives and find work. Most eventually moved on tho the USA but meanwhile having a profound influence on design and architecture in Britain.

Bristol made Marcel Breuer furniture in The Bauhaus in Bristol exhibition at the Stradling Gallery (Stradling Collection, 2019).

Bristol furniture manufacturer Crofton Gane was one of the community of people who came together through this process and is best known for his significant collaborations with Marcel Breuer who designed furniture, interiors and a building for him.

Sample of fabric for tubular furniture, Otti Berger. (Harvard Art Museums, BR52.86)

So, it was exciting to read in Leyla Daybelge and Magnus Englund’s book about Gropius and Breuer’s efforts to find employment for Bauhaus textile designer Otto Berger. Enrolling at the Bauhaus in 1927, Berger later ran the Textiles studios and was the only female student to patent her own designs. She set up independently in 1932 but by 1936, like many of the others, she came to London. She spoke no English and found it difficult to find work. Gropius and Breuer rallied round and called upon their friends to help. In a letter to Walter Gropius write that he has talked to Crofton Gane in Bristol who is keen to help and that he will drive Berger over to meet him and see if a contract can be draw up (Daybelge and Englund, 2019, 164).

Upholstery fabric made from natural fibres on a Marcel Breuer tubular steel chair. Otti Berger. (Undated photo. Harvard Art Museums, BR52.329).

Sample of Curve pattern upholstery fabric, Otti Berger. (Harvard Art Museums, BR52.131. 1-7)

Sadly we have no evidence that Crofton Gane and Otti Berger came to an agreement. She subsequently attempted and failed to move to the United States. In 1938 she returned to Croatia to look after her mother. They were later interned as Jews and sent to Auschwitz where she died in 1944.

Christmas and New Year card, 1937. Otti Berger. Typewritten on silk. 17x13cm. Harvard Art Museums, BR58.166).

Daybelge, L. and Englund, M., 2019. Isokon and the Bauhaus in Britain. London: Batsford.

The Harvard Art Museums images are © the President and Fellows of Harvard University used with permission. For more images see Harvard Art Museums’ Otti Berger page.

For more on the Bauhaus in Bristol and the relationship between Marcel Breuer and Bristol furniture manufacturer Crofton Gane go to our Bauhaus in Bristol Resource pages. These include a selection of downloadable documents including the 1936 P E Gane catalogue and a short film made at the symposium.

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Breuer in Bristol Symposium review

2019 is the centenary of the founding of Bauhaus in Weimar and there are lots of exhibitions and events worldwide not to mention documentaries and new books. At the restored second Bauhaus in Dessau you can stay in the student accommodation and wonder who occupied the room before you. The Ken Stradling Collection is very pleased to be part of the celebrations and to present our own exhibition Bauhaus in Bristol focussing on an important but less well-known aspect of the story. The show combines documentary and photographic material alongside examples of original furniture.

Bristol’s part in the Bauhaus story hinges on the relationship between designer Marcel Breuer and forward-looking Bristol furniture manufacturer Crofton Gane. The Breuer in Bristol Symposium at Arnolfini in November 2019 formed a part of the associated events alongside The Bauhaus in Bristol organised by the Ken Stradling Collection in conjunction with the Gane Trust. Speakers included Christopher Wilk, Keeper of Furniture, Textiles and Fashion at the V&A; design historians Alan Powers, Leyla Daybelge and Magnus Englund; Oliver Kent, Programme Leader BA Applied Arts, Bristol School of Art and KSC Trustee; Max Gane, architect and great-grandson of Crofton; Phil O’Shaughnessy, Programme Leader, MA Design at the University of the West of England and Chris Yeo, curator of the Ken Stradling Collection. The combination enabled a full range of perspectives on the short but significant period between 1935 and 1937 when Breuer was in Bristol working with Gane and designed and built the Gane Pavilion, a building that influenced his domestic architecture from then on.

Marcel Breuer was one of the first students at the Bauhaus where he developed an interest in timber and making, He progressed to employment and teaching there but by 1935 he had left the school and had begun working with manufacturers such as Thonet and the Swiss company Embru to put his designs into production. This ran contrary to Walter Gropius’s aim for designs by Bauhaus designers to license their work for production by and for the Bauhaus itself to enable its continuation. In practice its closure put an end to such thoughts. Despite friction, Breuer continued to see Gropius as his mentor and as political pressures in Europe grew, when Gropius moved to London it was not long before Breuer followed. Christopher Wilk emphasised that although he had worked on a small number of architectural projects, (including the Harmischmaler House in Wiesbaden in 1932, his first realised project) he was at this time primarily a furniture designer.

In Britain the Design and Industries Association (DIA), a prominent group of designers, architects and manufacturers were the main lobbyists for contemporary approaches to design. They were very aware of design developments in Europe and leading figures were quick to welcome Gropius and his colleagues to London. Leyla Daybelge and Magnus Englund have just published Isokon and the Bauhaus in Britain which explores the relationship between the refugee Bauhaus artists and designers and the British design community.

The Isokon Flats in Lawn Road, Hampstead were designed in 1934 by architect Wells Coates for Jack and Molly Pritchard. Pritchard’s day job was as UK marketing manager for the Estonian Venesta plywood company and the enthusiasm of the Pritchards for progressive and modernist ideas was focussed not just on architecture, domestic design and education but also by an excitement with the potential of plywood as a material both within building design and for the making of furniture. Together with Wells Coates, Pritchard founded the Isokon furniture company of which in 1935 Walter Gropius was to become Controller of Design. Coates’ interest in modular systems both in building and interior design was reflected in the interiors of the flats.

Isokon Flats, Lawn Road, Hampstead in the 1960s. Architect, Wells Coates, 1934.

When Gropius and the other refugee designers came to London and were made welcome by members of the DIA a number of them took up residence in the Isokon Flats. The Pritchard’s and his friends sought use their contacts and connections to find employment and projects for their guests. Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer found partnerships with architects and this lead to a small number of architectural projects and collaborations. Breuer’s interest in furniture design and new materials was always likely to chime with Pritchard and Wells Coates but it was another of Pritchard’s friends who was quick to offer him work both as a furniture designer and as an architect. Crofton Gane had recently become Managing Director of Bristol furniture manufacturer and retailer P E Gane Ltd and had been an active member of the DIA for some years. He had visited the Exposition des Arts Decoratif in Paris in 1925 with a DIA group that included Jack Pritchard and had worried his father P E Gane with his enthusiasm for plywood and for Modernist thinking.

In Bristol Crofton Gane was a leading local member of the DIA and was well acquainted with Jack Pritchard, Wells Coates and the rest. His interest in modernist design had like Pritchard’s been cemented by the visit to the Exposition des Arts Decorative. By 1930 he was able to explore his ideas more actively, taking full control of the P E Gane company in 1933. By 1935 when he met Breuer, probably in Hampstead, he had been developing the company’s ranges for some time, both selling imported furniture by the likes of Alvar Aalto as well as hiring his own designer J P Hully who worked particularly on ranges of modular furniture – perhaps influenced by Wells Coates. Hully had been a leading member of the design team at Bath Cabinetmakers who designed and made contemporary furniture primarily for large contract projects and who had shown at the Paris exhibition. A Quaker, Crofton perhaps saw himself as part of a campaign of improvement of design and living standards for which the principles of modernism seemed particularly appropriate. Other aspects of his life reflected this too, including providing medical services for his workers and supporting local adult education initiatives.

It is in this context that Gane saw the opportunity to take his commitment to modern design to another level by commissioning Breuer to remodel his home (to include a full range of furniture) and to design a display pavilion for the Royal Agricultural Show held at Ashton Court near Bristol in 1936. The pavilion displayed modern furniture retailed by P E Gane including work by Marcel Breuer, J P Hully, Serge Chermayeff and Alvar Aalto.

Study Bedroom desk, Marcel Breuer for the Gane House, 1935. Stool, Alvar Aalto. Ken Stradling Collection.

Max Gane (Crofton’s great-grandson) presented a detailed look at these projects and their significance. He has the particular experience of growing up amongst the furniture Breuer had designed for Crofton’s home and even admitted to having carved his name into one of the single beds! It is a reminder that objects are not just to be cogitated on by historians and displayed in museums but are active and have histories of their own.

After Breuer left England for the United States, Crofton Gane continued to explore and worked with Wells Coates on interiors and modular furniture designs for P E Gane and for the Queens Court luxury flat development in Clifton. Further projects were undermined and finally brought to a stop by WWII and the destruction of Gane’s Bristol factories and showrooms.

P E Gane showrooms, College Green, Bristol on the morning of 25 Nov, 1940.

The short time that Marcel Breuer spent working with Crofton Gane was significant in his career primarily in terms of architecture and interiors. As Christopher Wilk notes the Pavilion was one of his earliest architectural commissions. Given a free reign by Gane he was able to play and to explore new materials including sheet plywood, plate glass, corrugated asbestos and local stone. The use of local limestone laid in a traditional manner for the walls of the Pavilion gave it a very particular look and relationship with its location. The aesthetic of the Pavilion and this interest in softening and localising a modern building had a lasting impact on his subsequent domestic architecture. For Breuer, his time in Bristol was an important one to be celebrated.

Bauhaus in Bristol. Stradling Gallery, Bristol. 14 Sept 2019 – 25 Jan 2020

There are those who feel that such is the significance of the Gane Pavilion that efforts should be made to reconstruct it – there is even a suggestion that rubble in the park is it! Max Gane expressed the view that in practice the Pavilion was always intended to be temporary and should remain so. Its function removed and its structural shortcomings (lack of weatherproofing, gutters or drains for instance) making it impossible to rebuild without changing it, is it not better to leave it as it is, an important moment in Marcel Breuer’s architectural development and a marker for a point at which Bauhaus design moved on.

An interesting response to the loss of the building is a digital one. Several reconstructions of the Pavilion now exist in cyberspace including one by architecture student xmiseryxwizardx and an animated one by Clifton Downs on YouTube who represents a group interested in physical reconstruction.

This review is a revised version of one previously published by Oliver Kent on His blog Clay and Fire.

For more on the Bauhaus in Bristol and the relationship between Marcel Breuer and Bristol furniture manufacturer Crofton Gane go to our Bauhaus in Bristol Resource pages. These include a selection of downloadable documents including the 1936 P E Gane catalogue and a short film made at the symposium.

References:

Clifton Downs, 2015. Gane Pavilion, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HpfD4x-VXBs&feature=share

Leyla Daybelge and Magnus Englund, 2019. Isokon and the Bauhaus in Britain. Daunt Books

Oliver Kent, 2019. ‘Crofton Gane and Marcel Breuer. Modernism and the Bauhaus in Bristol in the 1930s’. in Kent, O., Yeo, C. and Witt, C., 2019. The Bauhaus in Bristol, Stephen Morris.

Alan Powers, 2019. Bauhaus Goes West, Thames and Hudson

Christopher Wilk, 1981. Marcel Breuer Furniture and Interiors, MOMA

xmiseryxwizardx, 2019. [Practice] Study of the Gane Pavilion by Marcel Breuer, built in 1936. https://www.reddit.com/r/architecture/comments/czt3vp/practice_study_of_the_gane_pavilion_by_marcel

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Breuer in Bristol Symposium

The Breuer in Bristol Symposium at Arnolfini went very well indeed. Speakers included Christopher Wilk, Keeper of Furniture, Textiles and Fashion at the V&A, design historians Alan Powers, Leyla Daybelge and Magnus Englund, Oliver Kent, Programme Leader BA Applied Arts, Bristol School of Art, architect Max Gane, Phil O’Shaughnessy, Programme Leader, BA Interior Design and MA Design at the University of the West of England and Chris Yeo, curator of the Ken Stradling Collection. The combination enabled a full range of perspectives around the brief but significant period between 1935 and 1937 when Marcel Breuer was working with Bristol furniture manufacturer Crofton Gane.

Christopher Wilks detailed knowledge of the Bauhaus itself and Breuer’s roles within it provided an important background to his time in England. One of the first students at the Bauhaus, Breuer had progressed to employment and teaching there but by 1935 he had already left the school and had been working with manufacturers such as Thonet and the Swiss company Embru to put his designs into production. This ran contrary to Walter Gropius’s aim that designs by Bauhaus designers should be licensed for production by and for the Bauhaus itself to enable its continuation. In practice its closure put an end to such thoughts. Despite friction, Breuer continued to see Gropius as his mentor and as political pressures grew, when Gropius moved to London it was not long before Breuer followed.

Leyla Daybelge and Magnus Englund have been closely involved in the rescue and restoration of the Isokon Flats in Hampstead, designed in 1934 by architect Wells Coates for Jack and Molly Pritchard. Pritchard, as a key figure in the Design and Industries Association (DIA) was UK marketing manager for the Venesta plywood company and the enthusiasm of the Pritchards for progressive and modernist ideas was focussed not just on ideas about architecture, education and domestic design but also by an excitement with the potential of plywood as a material both within building design but also for the making of furniture. Together with Wells Coates, Pritchard founded the Isokon furniture company of which Walter Gropius was to become Controller of Design in 1935.

Isokon Flats, Lawn Road, Hampstead in the 1960s. Architect, Wells Coates, 1934.

Oliver Kent and Max Gane were able to outline the detail of the relationship between Crofton Gane and Marcel Breuer. Crofton was a leading local member of the DIA and was well acquainted with Jack Pritchard, Wells Coates and the rest. His interest in modernist design was cemented when he visited the Exposition des Arts Decorative with the DIA in 1925, a key moment for Pritchard too. By 1930 he was able to explore his ideas more actively, taking full control of the P E Gane company in 1933. By 1935, when he met Breuer, probably in Hampstead, he had been developing the companies ranges for some time, both selling imported furniture by the likes of Alvar Aalto as well as hiring his own designer J P Hully who worked particularly on ranges of modular furniture. A Quaker, Crofton perhaps saw himself as part of a campaign of improvement of design and living standards. Other aspects of his life reflected this too, including providing medical services for his workers and supporting local adult education initiatives.

It is in this context that Gane saw the opportunity to take his commitment to modern design to another level by commissioning Breuer to remodel his home, to design a full range of furniture and to design a display pavilion for the Royal Agricultural Show in 1936. The pavilion displayed modern furniture retailed by P E Gane including work by Marcel Breuer, J P Hully, Serge Chermayeff and Alvar Aalto. Max Gane (Crofton’s great-grandson) presented a detailed look at these projects and their significance. He has the particular experience of growing up amongst the furniture Breuer had designed for Crofton’s home and even admitted to having carved his name into one of the single beds! It is a reminder that objects are not just to be cogitated on by historians and displayed in museums but are active and have histories of their own.

Bauhaus in Bristol. Stradling Gallery, Bristol. 14 Sept 2019 – 25 Jan 2020

After Breuer left England for the United States, Crofton Gane continued to explore and worked with Wells Coates on interiors and modular furniture designs for P E Gane and for the Queens Court luxury flat development in Clifton. Further projects were undermined and finally brought to a stop by WWII and the destruction of Gane’s Bristol factories and showrooms.

P E Gane showrooms, College Green, Bristol on the morning of 25 Nov,1940.

Alan Powers drew attention to another Bristol member of the DIA, J E Barton, headmaster of Bristol Grammar School from 1917-1938 and an art and designer lecturer for the BBC. Barton’s influence was wide and his teaching at the school had a profound effect on some of his pupils amongst whom were Allen Lane of Penguin Books and Ken Stradling.

Chris Yeo was able to take the Bristol story up to the present and the Ken Stradling Collection itself. After military service, Ken looked for work in the design field and approached Crofton Gane who was by then running a small design shop at 87 Park St and a larger one in Newport, South Wales. Offered a job in Newport, Ken opted to look elsewhere and lit upon the Bristol Guild of Applied Arts on the other side of the road. From 1948 onwards he progressively developed the Guild as a centre for good design and sought to influence local and regional taste. This has a strong resonance with Crofton Gane’s sense of mission. Ken’s own collection and his intentions for it through the Ken Stradling Trust and its Gallery in Park Row have emerged from this and sit alongside the Gane Trust set up by Crofton to support young designers and continuing to be active today. Both have be instrumental in setting up this symposium and the associated exhibition of Breuer furniture at the Stradling Gallery.

At UWE, Phil O’Shaughnessy has been head of the Interior Design degree and is now leading the Design MA course. He is very interested in using Bauhaus educational concepts in the structure and teaching of design and has actively done so within his courses. The influence of Bauhaus theory cannot be overstated and the Foundation courses that most students take as a first year at art school are direct descendants of Johannes Itten’s Basic Course. The BA Interior Design makes specific use of the Bauhaus syllabus to underpin the course structure.

The short time that Marcel Breuer spent working with Crofton Gane was significant in his career primarily in terms of architecture and interiors. As Christopher Wilk notes the Pavilion was one of his earliest architectural commissions. Given a free reign by Gane he was able to allow himself to play and to explore new materials including sheet plywood, plate glass, corrugated asbestos and local stone. The use of local limestone laid in a traditional manner for the walls of the Pavilion gave it a very particular look and relationship with its location. The aesthetic of the Pavilion and this interest in softening and localising a modern building had a lasting impact on his domestic architecture subsequently. For Breuer, his time in Bristol was an important one to be celebrated.

For more on the Bauhaus in Bristol and the relationship between Marcel Breuer and Bristol furniture manufacturer Crofton Gane go to our Bauhaus in Bristol Resource pages. These include a selection of downloadable documents including the 1936 P E Gane catalogue and a short film made at the symposium.

Some references and links:

Leyla Daybelge and Magnus Englund, 2019. Isokon and the Bauhaus in Britain. Daunt Books

Alan Powers, 2019. Bauhaus Goes West, Thames and Hudson

Christopher Wilk, 1981, Marcel Breuer Furniture and Interiors, MOMA

Gane Trust http://www.ganetrust.org.uk/

BA (Hons) Applied Arts, Bristol School of Art , (South Gloucestershire and Stroud College) https://www.sgscol.ac.uk/study/uni/ba-hons-applied-art

BA (Hons) Interior Design, UWE https://courses.uwe.ac.uk/2C3W/interior-design

MA Design, UWE https://courses.uwe.ac.uk/W2001/design

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Finding Marcel Breuer in Bristol

Stradling Collection volunteer Rosemary Silvester has been particularly excited by our current Bauhaus in Bristol exhibition. Her research in the 1980s into the activities of Bristol furniture manufacturers P E Gane Ltd has given her a real enthusiasm for the subject and she has been enjoying making visitors welcome.

Rosemary Silvester celebrating the opening of Glassworks, a recent show of experimental glass by researchers and students at the University of the West of England.

In 1982 I was working as a research technician in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol and studying for an Open University degree in my spare time. That year I signed up to A305 History of Architecture and Design 1890-1939’ which turned out to be a turning point in my life.

It was really exciting when each new package of units arrived; I was discovering Mackintosh, the Bauhaus, Le Corbusier and the rest, for the very first time. This was an education which opened my eyes to the buildings around me, museums, exhibitions, history…

When it came to choosing a project for A305 I remembered a 1976 exhibition at Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery about furniture by E W Godwin and Marcel Breuer. Why Breuer was commissioned to design furniture for Crofton Gane, a Bristol furniture manufacturer and retailer, was an intriguing story and this 1930’s furniture was clearly part of the history of Modernism in the UK. As well as Breuer furniture in the collections at Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery, I found more belonging to Mr Ken Stradling, then Managing Director of the Bristol Guild of Applied Arts, and that the Gane family still owned some. Curators at the Museum, Ken Stradling and Mrs Dorothy Gane all very kindly let me photograph and study their Breuer furniture for my A305 project. This was well before the internet so I sent a letter to the Bristol Evening Post and when it was published several people contacted me who had worked for P E Gane Ltd or bought their furniture.  It was fascinating to follow up as much as I could in Bristol and beyond.

Catalogue for Furniture by Godwin and Breuer, Bristol City Museum, 1976.

Crofton Gane and Marcel Breuer Furniture, Rosemary Silvester, Open University, 1985. P E Gane company history, A Swan Sings, 1954.

As I was grateful for the help Id received from the Museum I decided to join their friends group, then called Bristol Magpies.  So began my long association with this and other voluntary organisations. I edited the newsletter and annual journal of the British Association of Friends of Museums, was a trustee of the Architecture Centre in Bristol and helped the organiser of Bristols annual Doors Open Day, Penny Mellor.  In 2006 I started volunteering with a new charity, Kids in Museums, and ended up assisting with their social media.  All these activities were voluntary and unpaid  and Im a firm believer in the mutual benefits of volunteering.

In 2015 I retired from the School of Chemistry. By then Ken Stradling had set up a charitable trust so that the ceramics, glass, furniture and crafts hes been collecting since the 1940s are accessible to everyone. This remarkable collection of design and applied arts is housed in central Bristol so I joined the Friends of the Ken Stradling Collection and became a volunteer steward. This means I’m back with the Breuer furniture I studied all those years ago and the journey I started with A305 has come full circle.  Ken Stradling really appreciated Crofton Ganes design interests and educational aims and so the Stradling Collection contains the largest group of 1930’s Marcel Breuer furniture from the Gane house in Bristol held in a public collection.  Please do visit the free exhibition ‘The Bauhaus in Bristol’ which is open Wednesdays and Saturdays until 25 January 2020.  https://stradlingcollection.org/whats-on/

Rosemary Silvester

For more on the Bauhaus in Bristol and the relationship between Marcel Breuer and Bristol furniture manufacturer Crofton Gane go to our Bauhaus in Bristol Resource pages.

If any of you are interested in volunteering or becoming a friend of the Stradling Collection see our Support Us webpage for more information and get in touch.

Images copyright Ken Stradling Collection and The Open University.

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Crofton Gane reviews the Gane Pavilion, 1936

We thought it would be good to hand the next Blog post over to Crofton Gane himself. The following is his review of the success of the PE Gane Pavilion designed for him by Marcel Breuer for the 1936 Royal Agricultural Show held at Ashton Park in Bristol. It was published in the house newsletter, News of Gane in the November.

Materials and New Uses

WARMER AND MORE HUMAN TREND IN THE MODERN MOVEMENT
image © Stradling Collection

How do you measure success? Nobody can say that the Royal Agricultural Show at Bristol enjoyed good weather. Our dismal summer was at its worst. Nor can we claim that hundreds of people went straight from our Pavilion to College Green and ordered suites of furniture. And yet we have no hesitation in describing our exhibit as a great success, because it did what it set out to do. The Gane pavilion was one more step in our long-term policy of showing the West of England the very best of modern ‘design for living.’

Making Converts

In a sense, we are even more interested in those who ‘don’t like’ modern furniture than in those who do. They will come to Gane’s anyway. But the unconvinced are usually those who have been put off by ‘chromium-plate-jazz-modernistic’ stuff and we want to prove to them that good modern design is superbly lovable.

It was for this reason that we were glad to hear so many comments on the combination of rugged Cotswold stone an£ sleek modern furniture which was a feature of the pavilion. Outer walls of glass were offset by inner walls and ceilings faced with warm and friendly birch, needing no ‘decoration’ but its own subtle grain and the pattern produced by the slightly differing tones of the various panels.

Heirlooms of Tomorrow

As one country lass said ‘It does grow on you.’ That sums up our own attitude, and we have been turning timber into good furniture for 116 years. You do not get tired of good modern furniture – it’s graceful simplicity and its common sense make you more and more satisfied with it as time goes by.

A professor of Agriculture and a City Alderman both asked for the name of the architect, as they proposed to build in the near future. Thus gradually the modern movement goes forward, making converts by its own inherent logic and beauty; we are proud to be its pioneers in the West Country.

PRICES of furniture exhibited in the Gane pavilion. Handmade in oak-figured timber…

Photograph on this page

Chest 2ft.9in. wide. 6. 12. 6.

Mirror over. 2. 3. 0.

Wardrobe 3ft. wide. 9. 18. 6.

Bedside Cupboard. 3. 0. 0.

Bedstead 3ft. wide. 4. 15. 0.

Easy Chair. 2. 19. 6.

Crofton Gane, News of Gane, 2, November 1936.

For more on the Bauhaus in Bristol and the relationship between Marcel Breuer and Bristol furniture manufacturer Crofton Gane go to our Bauhaus in Bristol Resource pages.

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Dessau – Design – Destiny

Earlier this year Stradling Collection Friend and volunteer Tanya Martin took advantage of the opportunity to spend a few nights at the iconic Bauhaus building in Dessau. This year being the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus, what better to do it. Over to Tanya –

Our trip to Bauhaus from Bristol in April 2019 was surprisingly quick and easy: an hour and a half flight to Berlin Schönefeld Airport and just over an hour by road (mostly autobahn) in a rented car to Dessau.

One moment we are driving along a sleepy provincial road passing typical post-war apartment blocks and small offices, and the next moment – suddenly and without any warning, comes the most recognisable façade in the design world  the matt grey wall with the famous vertical lettering in Bauhaus typeface!

 

As it is already Friday evening our first experience is not of the School itself but of the Prellerhaus – the studio building with its iconic diving board balconies, now restored and available for overnight accommodation. Our studio room for the night (for only 40) is simply but elegantly furnished in the Bauhaus style: a bed, table and chair, two lamps, a wardrobe and a washbasin, with the original steel-framed window spanning the whole external wall. No carpets and other soft furnishings, just grey linoleum on all the floors and accent colour panels on the landings. Falling asleep I am imagining that perhaps Marcel Breuer or Marianne Brandt may have stayed and worked in this room.

The School itself was designed by the Director, Walter Gropius, and built in 1926. Our tour of the buildings and grounds next morning is a delight; everything that meets the eye has been designed, the buildings themselves, their window openings, light switches and light fittings, staircase handrails, door handles. Breuer’s Wassily chairs abound, inviting visitors to sit down and look out of the windows at the other elevations of the School’s buildings. These windows take up whole facades and the light makes the shadows inside dramatic and sharp, almost monochrome. 

Despite the fact it is Saturday the School has just a handful of visitors, who seem to be mostly architects in black polo necks with cameras on their necks – wandering and wondering just like us with incredulous eyes. It is almost impossible to believe that all this is now 90 years old as it looks as fresh and radical today as it must have done when first opened. Today there are still builders on the site busily finishing things for the official Bauhaus centenary celebrations and the new design museum which is opening this September.

A short walk along from the School brings us to the Masters’ houses: Gropius own house a detached villa standing among the pine trees alongside three other semi-detached houses. Next to the Director’s the Moholy-Nagy/Feininger houses were destroyed by a wartime bomb and are now being rebuilt as full-scale models with the interiors re-designed as artists’ galleries, their crisp concrete and glass mirroring the original design ethos of the School.

All of this now is a UNESCO World Heritage site sitting alongside such famous sites as the Pantheon and Stonehenge  what recognition and celebration of 20th century design! Please go and see it soon.

Tanya Martin

For more information on accommodation at the Bauhaus visit the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation website.

All photos copyright Tanya Martin 2019

This post is part of our celebration of the Bauhaus centenary. Our show The Bauhaus in Bristol opens on September 14 and is accompanied by a range of events including a symposium Breuer in Bristol at the Arnolfini. See our website for more information.

Posted in Architecture, Bauhaus, Breuer, Dessau, Furniture, Interior Design, Marcel Breuer, Modernism | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bristol home of Gill Sans typeface

In 1926 Bristol bookseller and printer Douglas Cleverdon asked his friend Eric Gill to paint a shop-sign for him. The lettering that resulted was seen in 1927 by Stanley Morison of Monotype Corporation who asked Gill to develop it as a full typeface. The result was Gills Sans one of the best known faces of the 20th century.

The sign itself vanished years ago. A black and white photograph of Cleverdon’s shopfront in Charlotte Street shows two windows sitting close to the steeply sloping pavement, the sign and a few bits of the surrounding architectural detail. A rubbing also survives of the metal nameplate Gill cut for the entrance. The address was 18 Charlotte St – just across the street from the Bristol Guild of Applied Arts.

I have tried several times to work out exactly where Cleverdon’s shop was and where the famous sign hung. No one seems to have photographed the lower end of Charlotte St – essentially the side and rear of 71 Park Street. Hill St behind is little more than a back alley. The present street numbering and that used in the 1920s/30s do not seem to match; Charlotte St has no number 18.

In the blitz on November 24th 1940 the end of the block between Park Street, Charlotte St and Hill St was gutted and subsequently demolished. A photograph of the junction of Park St and Charlotte St on the morning after the bombing shows the destruction. The corner building (71 Park St) has lost its front, roof and floors and the side wall into Charlotte St only remains vertical because steel joists and a column inserted as part of the shopfront are resolutely holding on. The side wall running up Charlotte St is visible as far as the front door to the building above and a bit beyond. The empty doorway opens on nothing but the opposite wall. Above is a large Guinness poster. A few doors down and two more shops are completely gone.

Today a temporary-looking single storey building is the last evidence of the bombing of the street and functions as a shop on Park St and at first floor level a restaurant in Charlotte St. Vincenzo’s Restaurant is accessed at ground level further up Charlotte St and extends out as a roof-terrace over the shop. Vincenzo’s is a longstanding Bristol institution if ever there was one and still boasts chianti bottles hanging in nets from the ceiling. Both give 71 Park St as an address; Vincenzo’s is 71a.

Stephen Groome recently published the wartime photo on the Facebook group Bristol – Then and Now Photographs and pointed out a detail I had not noticed before. Above the side door to the burnt-out building are painted the words Clifton Arts Club.

Suzanne Clarke wrote a history of the Clifton Arts Club in 1993. The Club originally met in the Royal West of England Academy but by 1922 the space was needed for other things and they sought new premises.according to Suzanne, in 1923 they moved into 17/18 Charlotte St ‘over number 71 Park Street… a large room with a stage, a smaller room and a kitchen, the rooms being entered up some steps from a door in Charlotte Street.’ ‘Further up Charlotte Street, in the same building was Douglas Cleverdon’s antiquarian bookshop… started in 1927.’ Above the CAC rooms the two upper floors were a flat and photographic studio occupied by Methven Brownlee. According to Suzanne, Douglas Cleverdon rented the flat (presumably after Brownlee left) and Eric Gill was a frequent guest (the reference is to Fiona MacCarthy’s 1989 biography of Eric Gill).

So the destroyed building on the corner of Park St and Charlotte St had four components. The first was a shop on the ground floor numbered 71 Park St. The Clifton Arts Club meeting rooms on the first floor and a two floor flat above were accessed from the main door to the side in Charlotte St and numbered 17/18. Behind the main building prewar maps show the rear yard/outbuilding area back to Hill St built over and this must be Cleverdon’s shop also numbered 18 Charlotte St. It may have been Methven Brownlee’s studio. The neighbouring building at 69 Park St has a small yard and a two storey stable/outbuilding at the rear. Judging from the photo of the bookshop the same was true for 71/17/18 – the maps showing that the yard area had been built over long before.

The photo of Cleverdon’s shop shows a two storey building with an internal floor level cutting into the slope. Given that it must be part of the buildings to the rear of 71 Park St it must be level with the first floor and at the point where that cuts into the slope. Bearing in mind the floor level and the slope of the pavement, the only viable location for the photograph of Cleverdon’s windows and sign is right at the top of the slope where Vincenzo’s front door is now. The collage below is approximate but I am pretty happy with it. A blue plaque perhaps?

References:

Clarke, S., 1993. Clifton Arts Club. A History 1906 – 1993. Clifton Arts Club.

Anon., 1958. ‘Eric Gill.’ The Monotype Recorder, 41. 3.

This is a version of a post published on 16 Jan 2018 on Oliver Kent’s blog Clay and Fire Continue reading

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Kaleidoscope: colour in the Ken Stradling Collection

​The current show at the Collection has been assembled by Curator Chris Yeo with an eye for the most colourful aspects of it. The objects from the 1960s and 1970s are particularly known for their lively palette but there are examples throughout of designers and manufacturers revelling in oranges, pinks and intense blues. Below a few highlights. 


An early pineapple by Kate Malone (1980s) and a glass vase by Pauline Solven (2000).


Red Spun chair by Thomas Heatherwick (2010).

Orange. Medallion porcelain (Rosenthal/Thomas, 1965); plastic juicer (Gustavsberg, Sweden, 1967); glass bowl by Eric Hoglund for Boda, c.1967 plus a classic Penguin from 1935. 

Scrapyard in Barton Hill, Bristol. Anna Teasdale, 2011. Oil on canvas.

The show is on from 4 Feb to the 31 May. We are open every Wednesday 10am -4pm and on Sats 4 Feb; 4 Mar; 1 Apr and 6 May from 11am – 3pm. 

Posted in Ceramics, Crafts, Furniture, Glass, Interior Design, Sculpture | Leave a comment

Queen’s Court flats, Crofton Gane and Wells Coates

Queen’s Court, Queen’s Road, Clifton, Bristol

In 1937 a large triangular site on Queens Road in Clifton, a hundred yards uphill from the landmark Victoria Rooms became the site of the first large-scale luxury block of flats built in Bristol. Of plum-red brick with white stucco details and Crittall windows, it is of a type that in London became the characteristic form for some areas. Not so often perhaps a dramatic arrow-shaped example with a feature balcony on the top floor. In Bristol such buildings are much less common and Queens Court was presented to the public as a new and editing concept.

QUEENS Ct Brochure 1

Queens Court web

This is another building that has come to my attention partly because of researching the Bristol furniture manufacturer P E Gane Ltd. Director Crofton Gane had employed Bauhaus furniture designer and architect Marcel Breuer in 1935-6  and worked with him on several major projects including remodelling and furnishing his own house and making all the Breuer furniture for the Ventris Flat in Highpoint. Breuer joined Walter Gropius in the USA later in 1936 and Gane cast around for another prominent interior designer/architect to work with. This time it was the New Zealander Wells Coates.

Queens Court was designed by Alec French and is an eight-storey V-shaped block of 74 one, two and three-bed flats, the larger more luxurious ones at the prow. Twenty balconies along the sides are each shared by two flats and contribute to an ocean-liner look. On the ground floor of the main Queens Road frontage a row of small shops offered a use range of services. Within the V a garage provides parking for residents. Uniformed porters, fitted kitchens with refrigerators and electric lifts were provided. A two-bed flay cost £150-200 p.a. and the penthouse £350.

Queens Court rear web

Queens Court was promoted as offering a luxurious new style of living and Gane’s were contracted to furnish show flats. Wells Coates was a leading proponent of flats as the future of urban living and was interested in designing unitary furnishings to go alongside them. He had already designed the interiors of the Lawn Road flats in Hampstead for Isokon where Walter Gropius and others had been living. Gane would have been a guest there and would have been very familiar with Coates’ work. He had previously recruited Marcel Breuer as a designer and chose Coates as a fitting new figure to maintain his company’s design credentials.

QUEENS CT Brochure 10

Crofton Gane had two ranges of unitary furniture designed in the early 30s by the companies own designer J P Hully. The idea that a fixed range of adaptable components could be combined to furnish a home was a popular new concept in the 30s and  is the parent of IKEA today. For Billy, read FIT-IN No. 5. Wells Coates was commissioned to provide a new range which was based on the Lawn Road designs and named Flexunit. The new pieces included built in electric fires and double-sided island units. A show flat built in the College Green shop was then presented both as a showcase for the new range and also as a prequel to the show flats at Queens Court.

Queens Court windows web

Queen’s Court has had a varied history since the 30s and been quite run-down at times. A recent refurbishment has given it some of its dignity back. The little row of shops underneath still thrives. The pergola on the end of the penthouse has gone but the Crittall windows are still intact to give it the classic look. Wells Coates as an architect and designer is less well known than he should be and his involvement with Crofton Gane and in Bristol needs more research. The Cresta Silks shop on Park Street, destroyed in 1940 is another of his projects.

Oliver Kent

For more on Wells Coates see Farouk Elgohary’s 1966 PhD thesis ‘Wells Coates and his position in the Beginning of the Modern Movement in England.’ Thanks to Chris Yeo our Curator for the photos of the Queen’s Court brochure and for drawing my attention to it. The Ken Stradling Collection has examples of J P Hully’s unitary furniture (including FIT-IN No.5) as well as other P E Gane furniture from the 1930s.

This post is a revised version of one posted on my blog Clay and Fire.

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