Getting Hooked on Glassblowing

Our Christmas window show celebrates the potential of glass to brighten our lives. Not everyone knows our KSC Manager Julia Donnelly is also a glass-artist. Nowadays she makes glass jewellery – here she describes her journey into glass and the joys of blowing hot glass.

Back in 1985, I was lucky enough to be taken on at Peter Layton’s London Glassblowing Workshop (LGW) in Rotherhithe to help run their gallery and carry out administrative work. I had a strong interest in art but I didn’t know anything about glassblowing. It wasn’t long before I was invited to ‘have a go’ at blowing glass, such was the friendly and relaxed atmosphere in the workshop.

I was hooked immediately. After staying behind a few evenings with Karen Lawrence, one of the women who worked there, I was encouraged to take my making more seriously. I juggled my admin work with glassblowing and was able to assist the glassblowers in the workshop, including Peter.

This is me assisting a glassblower by applying a trail of colour to a work in progress on the blowing iron, around 1988. (Image: Julia Donnelly)

I was very fortunate to learn this amazing skill on the job with some brilliant makers. It was a very exciting time. I left LGW in 1990 to work full-time on glassblowing. I rented Siddy Langley’s workshop two days a week and sold my glass to shops and galleries around the country, including Liberty in London. I also had a stall at Covent Garden Apple Market in the ’90s which was great fun.                                                                                                                 

Playing with fire. What equipment do you need for a glassblowing workshop?

Furnace with a crucible for melting glass kept at a constant 1200c.

Glory hole – heating chamber for reheating glass during process.

Workbench – bench with an arm at either end for resting and rolling the blowing iron on.

Marver – flat steel table for shaping the glass and laying out glass colours.

Blowing iron – long hollow metal pipe for gathering and blowing the glass.

Pontil iron – solid narrow metal rod used for various jobs including holding the piece towards the end of the process, and for making glass trails as decoration.

Jacks – large tweezers in various forms for shaping the glass.

Annealing kiln (or lehr) – hot glass needs to cool down slowly to let the stress ease out of it. Each piece of glass is put in the kiln which is on all day and then cools down overnight.

Shears – for holding on to the iron where it is hot, and for cutting and trimming hot glass.

How do you make a glass piece? The process.

First of all you need some glass to work with. Molten glass is kept in a crucible in the furnace, which is the heart of the workshop. It is kept at a constant 1200 C. Throughout the day, glass is gathered from it on blowing irons until it is more or less emptied, and then it is time to stop blowing glass. Each day is ended by shovelling glass into the crucible to be melted over night. The furnace is never turned off, unless you plan to be closed for at least a week. Back in the 1980s we used cullet (left over glass and seconds) from Dartington glass factory that arrived in tea chests. We just had clear glass in the furnace and colour was added to each piece individually. Nowadays, most workshops will use pelletised glass manufactured specifically for studio furnaces, which makes life a lot easier as you don’t have to pick out the odd stones and bits of iron that you will find in cullet.

From my Wave series. Three layers of colour picked up from the marver, plus the yellow chips. The wave shape is achieved by twisting molten glass with tweezers. Acid-etched when cold. I love how the turquoise colour breaks up in contact with the hot glass. Each colour has its own character. (Image: Julia Donnelly)
Peter Layton shaping a glass gather on the marver in his Rotherhithe workshop, with Norman Stuart-Clark. Norman set up his own workshop in Cornwall in the early 1980s. Coloured glass chips are on the marver waiting to be applied to the glass by rolling. (Image: Julia Donnelly)

Gathering glass out of the furnace on the end of your blowing iron is rather like twirling honey on a dipper – but hotter. Much hotter. For a small piece you can gather enough glass with one go. You then roll it and even out the shape on the marver (a metal table).

The blowing iron is, of course, hollow so that you can blow into the glass to create the shape and size you want. Starting the bubble is a skill in itself, needing a fast jet of breath and plenty of heat in the glass. Once your bubble has started, you need to pace yourself so the bubble expands evenly. Another vital piece of equipment alongside the furnace is the glory hole, or heating chamber. As the glass you are working on cools (relatively) it hardens and we need the glass to be hot to be malleable. Every minute or so then needs a trip to the glory hole to re-heat the glass. Turning the blowing iron constantly is something that becomes second nature – as the glass is in a semi-liquid state, if you don’t turn, gravity will make your glass droop.

Shaping the glass – as the bubble in your piece starts to expand it’s necessary to start cutting in at the neck, where the glass meets the iron. Tools called jacks are used for this – rather like a large pair of tweezers. You may pull the neck down if you want a final object with a long, narrow neck or a pulled back flange.

I have heard about the ‘punty’ but not sure what it is.

The derivation of ‘punty’ is from the French for bridge, pont, and Italian, puntilo

When the body of the piece is blown and shaped as much as is wanted, the glass will need to be transferred to the punty iron allowing you to work on the mouth of the piece to finish it. To do this a punty iron is attached to the base of the piece with a small amount of hot glass which works as a bond when attached to the piece. The shock of a drop of water on the mouth end and a light tap with a file will make the glass piece break from the blowing iron while staying attached to the punty iron. The blowing iron is set aside and you continue working on the punty iron heating the neck in the glory hole.

The picture of the punty iron being attached to the main body of glass is courtesy of David Jacobson of Maine, USA. The punty iron will hold the piece of glass when it is unattached from the blowing iron.

The mouth of the piece of glass at this stage will be rather jagged as it has broken away from the iron. Applying some heat to the mouth and then using shears if necessary to cut any large jutting out bits, or just flattening down with a flat tool, you can make a lovely neat neck. Or you can widen the mouth of the piece to make a bowl, using well-directed heat and pressure from the jacks.

Much of the skill in glassblowing is in timing and getting the temperature right for what you want to achieve.

You can sometimes find the mark left by the punty on the bottom of handmade glass, but often it is ground away. I rather like it as it signifies the process.

Adding colour to glass

Most studios have just one furnace which contains clear glass. As many people will agree, working with colour in glass is one of the joys of this medium. Glass colour comes in a variety of forms, can be opaque or transparent. These are just some of the ways of applying colour:

Coloured glass rod – this is rather like a stick of rock and is used for casing colour, where you want an even distribution of colour throughout the piece. A slice of the rod is broken off, heated in the glory hole on the end of the blowing iron and smoothed to cover the end. Clear glass is then gathered over the colour on the iron, and as it is blown the coloured glass expands with the bubble. If you look at the top of a cased glass object, you will see a clear layer around the outside of the piece.

From my Water Garden range the background  is fine powdered opaque celadon, with transparent turquoise/purple and green trails. It has been acid-etched for a matt finish. (Image: Julia Donnelly)

Glass powder and frit – coloured glass is available in various forms from very fine powder similar to icing sugar through fine granules to frit or chips of up to 5mm. The colour is laid out on the marver, and when you have the right amount of glass for your piece, you can apply the colour by rolling the glass in the powder and chips. The colour will melt in to the glass as you reheat it in the glory hole.

Trailing colour – gather a small blob of coloured glass on a separate iron, heat it up and then trail it, as you might Golden Syrup, on to the main body of glass in horizontal, vertical or random ways.

In many cases the colour is applied to the main body of glass before the blowing starts and is melted into the glass. It is possible to add a trail of colour in relief form just prior to finishing, heating it enough to attach it to the glass but without melting it in.

Although I left London Glassblowing many years ago and have worked in various areas, I have kept in touch with Peter over the years. And we were delighted that he accepted our invitation to take part in the first KSC symposium back in 2018 when he came to give a fascinating talk about the history of studio glass in Britain, and his own individual journey. Here he is catching up on old times with Ken.

Ken Stradling and Peter Layton in conversation at the Stradling Collection in 2018

Here is a link to London Glassblowing’s website. You will find a film of glassblowing, and lots of information about the current glass world, which their Bermondsey studio is at the heart of.

I stopped blowing glass in 2000, but a few years ago was introduced to lamp-work glass bead making. I have set up a small studio at home and am able to work with hot glass on this tiny scale, which gives the opportunity to be creative with colour and shape but on a more economical budget.

More to follow about that!

Julia

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Making Joy – Fire and Ice

Making Joy – Fire and Ice is our latest Covid-19 safe, street viewable, show at the Stradling Collection in Park Row, Bristol. It is on from 17 December 2020 – 28 February 2021 and is a joyous, bright exhibition for the deep winter inspired by the festive colours of Christmas and the glossy iciness of clear glass.

From our own Collection we are exhibiting a kaleidoscope of vibrant colours and tinsel tones to add a seasonal sparkle for Bristolians taking a walk along Park Row. Fire and Ice brings together the vivid coloured glass of Whitefriars, Britain’s most daring glassworks of the 20th century, with the bold ice white forms of mid-century Scandinavian glassmaking.

There is some exceptional handmade glass being made and displayed in Bristol and we would like to shine a spotlight on this wonderful world of colour. To emphasise that we have invited Bristol Blue Glass and CatMackGlass to take part in Fire and Ice to help us celebrate the creativity of Bristol.

Bristol Blue Glass  Bristol has a history of glassblowing going back to the 1500s, and is known the world over for its famous cobalt blue glass. Thanks to the team at Bristol Blue for the wonderful hot glass photos in the top gallery windows.

https://bristol-glass.co.uk    https://twitter.com/BristolGlass    https://www.instagram.com/bristolblueglass

CatMackGlass

Based at CentreSpace in the heart of Bristol, Catriona Mackenzie, aka CatMackGlass, is a glass artist skilled in hot and cold glass techniques, for whom the tactility of glass plays an important role. Her work ranges from blown glass that has red and orange firey tones, made hot and in organic shapes, to cooler shades inspired by woodlands promoting sanctuary. Together with Cat’s jewellery designs, all her work is about bringing joy and comfort through touch and contemplation

http://www.catmackglass.com      https://www.instagram.com/catmackglass

The exhibition is designed to be viewed entirely from the street outside, making full use of the facade of 48 Park Row. Wrap up warm and include us in your walk around town. Why not post a photo or two on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and tag us – the exhibition looks particularly dazzling in the dark.

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Form and Function: Geoffrey Whiting’s Teapots

Geoffrey Whiting’s teapots are the forms for which he remains best known, having achieved a design that is at once highly functional, but also good to look at as a piece of working sculpture. It is one that combines all the synergy of throwing with post wheel additions and modification, one that looks deceptively simple to the eye, but in fact is a complex task for any potter. As Geoffrey wrote in his article ‘Making Teapots’ in Pottery Quarterly in 1955 (no 7, p 10); “A  teapot is a difficult thing to make well; yet, partly because of this, and partly, I think, because the teapot is such a deep rooted integral part of our daily lives, few things can give the potter greater satisfaction.”

Teapot, porcelain. Geoffrey Whiting, 1987
Teapot, porcelain. Geoffrey Whiting, 1987.

Lucie Rie’s appreciation of his teapots was perhaps not surprising, given the essentially modernist qualities of their fluid and understated forms. Bernard Leach was another admirer, acquiring one for his own collection and writing to Geoffrey after reading his 1955 piece; “Everything that had to be said, you said about teapots’”. Their shape had began to evolve in the early 1950s, gradually honed down to essentials, and the forms gradually more integrated, the strong loop of the handle balanced well with a spout that grew seamlessly out of the swell of the main body. His teapots epitomised the “almost industrial austerity” of his work that Ceramics Monthly (USA) identified in his obituary. This was a comment which would have delighted Geoffrey, drawn as he was to landscapes which he felt had only been enriched by the industrial, by distant power stations, of areas of marshland punctuated by pylons. His love of industrial archaeology was part and parcel with his interest in the mechanics of flame and the kiln (Michael Cardew dubbed him emphatically “a fire potter”). And after all, the craft of pottery brought together, as Geoffrey liked to point out, art and design, chemistry, geology and physics.

Fire Potter. Geoffrey Whiting testing the chimney for the new kiln. Avoncroft Pottery, 1955
Fire Potter. Geoffrey Whiting testing the chimney for the new kiln. Avoncroft Pottery, 1955
A classic Geoffrey Whiting stoneware teapot, c. 1980.
A classic Geoffrey Whiting stoneware teapot, c.1980. (Stradling Collection)

The classic Whiting teapot that first emerged in the 50s, with its familiar red-rust iron glaze (illustrated here, a more recent example in the Ken Stradling Collection), led to a number of variations in other glazes. Some had overhead handles, some were fluted or enlivened with brush decoration, but all shared his concern not only for balance and elegance, but a pot that was light and poured well and truly enhanced the matter of tea drinking. These pots also belied the simplistic notion of the rural versus the urban in modern ceramics. As the artists Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane observed when they included an early Whiting teapot in their exhibition ‘My Yard’ at the Whitechapel Art Gallery (2009), “with its flattened yet sleek shape, it dispels the idea that a rural pottery had no design connections with the 20th century”. 

Geoffrey Whiting lecture invitation with a tower of cups and saucers balancing on a teapot. 1967
Geoffrey Whiting lecture invitation with a tower of cups and saucers balancing on a teapot, 1967.

David Whiting

For more on the Stradling Collection, News and Links go to our website.

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Geoffrey Whiting: a potter and a painter

Geoffrey Whiting had an important parallel activity as a watercolour painter, but this is a lesser known area of his art. His great knowledge of the natural world underpinned all his creativity. It was there in the coloration of his pots, and in his particular brush motifs on clay, for example his foliate decoration and what he called his ‘bird table’ design, an abstracted motif of birds feeding. However it found wider expression in his pictures too.

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Estuary. Waterclour. Geoffrey Whiting, undated.

Drawing was an obsession from childhood, but it was no doubt strengthened by the draughtsmanship that came as part of his architectural training at Birmingham School of Architecture, just before World War Two. He continued to paint on war service in India, but his most typical subject matter really began to flourish in the 1950s onwards. His artistic heroes included John Constable and John Sell Cotman, and like them he was drawn principally to the natural world. The landscapes he painted were those of Worcestershire, the Welsh borders and northern England, but most commonly north Norfolk and latterly the estuaries of north Kent. His depictions of Worcestershire often included his beloved elm trees, now mostly gone from the landscape. He was attracted to understated places, to watery windswept regions, and his depictions connected to the economy and outward simplicity of his ceramics, his broad watercolour washes were in some ways an extension of his glazing on pots. His ceramic exhibitions frequently included his paintings.

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Autumn. Watercolour. Geoffrey Whiting, 1985

He, like his wife Anne, was a keen birdwatcher, and in 1948 Geoffrey became a founder-member of the Severn Wildfowl Trust (now the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust), established at Slimbridge by Sir Peter Scott. The membership was diverse; as well as Scott other founder-members included the playwright George Bernard Shaw, the film producer Sir Michael Balcon, and the painter Edward Seago. In those early days the Trust was a relatively small and intimate affair, and Geoffrey recalled the pleasure of often sharing a bird hide with Scott. When based in Kent, he had a particular fondness for the north Kent marshes bordering the rivers Medway and Swale, often taking his sketchbook, and working his ideas into watercolours that were often a process he said of ‘memoration’, a mixture of memory and the imagination.

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Small watercolour sketch. Geoffrey Whiting, 1985.

David Whiting

For more on the Stradling Collection, News and Links go to our website.

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Geoffrey Whiting’s Candlesticks for Canterbury Cathedral

You can find candlesticks made by Geoffrey Whiting in Canterbury Cathedral

It is always gratifying, but still all too rare when potters get major commissions. In 1982 Geoffrey Whiting was commissioned by the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral to make candlesticks for a new altar at the east end of the church, to mark the forthcoming visit of Pope John Paul II.

Geoffrey spent some weeks working on test pieces and finally came up with a design which was low and broad, with a wide bowl and short cylinder for the candle. The exterior of the design was left unglazed, matching the coloration of the altar frontal and surrounding stonework. The effect was deliberately minimal and low-key, in contrast to the more prominent candleholders made, for example, by Hans Coper at Coventry Cathedral and Robin Welch at Lincoln Cathedral.

The altar and candlesticks were dedicated by the Pope in an ecumenical service in the cathedral in May 1982. In 2017 it became necessary to replace one of the candlesticks, and a near match was found, utilising one of the test pieces Whiting had made. The replacement was dedicated by the Dean, Robert Willis, at Christmas 2017. 

Photographs reproduced by kind permission of the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury and the Whiting family.

For more on the Stradling Collection, News and Links go to our website.

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A Pioneering Ceramic Studio

Behind every successful man, there stands a woman.

A Pioneering Ceramic Studio

There is a very old and famous saying, ‘behind every successful man, there stands a woman’, and Geoffrey Whiting had Anne Whiting. After the second war she co-founded with her husband one of the pioneering studio workshops. Avoncroft Pottery at Hampton Lovett, Worcestershire was established in 1955; alongside Geoffrey’s individual pieces, Anne helped to design and develop the “standard ware”, a domestic range fired in a coal and wood kiln, modelled on that made by Bernard Leach in St Ives.

Anne Whiting

“Artistically-gifted herself, she is typical of so many women of the 1950s and beyond who put her family first, and worked hard to support my father, who insisted on selling his pots at very modest and accessible prices!” David Whiting

The pots were marketed through the Craftsmen Potters Association and the British Crafts Centre, and was collected by museums in Britain and abroad. Anne enjoyed press-moulding dishes, a canvas for her fluid brush decoration.

Avoncroft Pottery brochure

“My mother was one of those very self-contained and stoic people who quietly pressed on, buoyed up by her positive frame-of-mind and a wonderful and often wicked sense of humour. She took on numerous other jobs to help bolster the family income, perhaps being relief milk-woman on a local farm was closest to her heart.” David Whiting

She was born in Golders Green, north London, into an artistically gifted family. Her father combined work in the RAF with making woodcuts, and Anne was a great-great-niece of the watercolourist John Sell Cotman. Her uncle Adrian Berrington, an architectural draughtsman, had been treated at Craiglockhart war hospital, Edinburgh, in 1917 and redesigned its magazine, the Hydra, in which his fellow patients Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen published their poetry. She studied sculpture at Wolverhampton School of Art and nursed war servicemen at nearby Patshull Hall before working as a technical draughtswoman with the Polish air force in Blackpool. In 1947 she went to teach at Dane Court, a prep school in Dorset, her pupils including the distinguished artist Richard Bawden. Geoffrey had started a pottery at Stoke Prior, Bromsgrove, having returned from army service in India in 1948; he met Anne when he went to teach at Stoke House, Bletchley, Buckinghamshire. This had been set up by Anne and her parents, Noel and Dorothea Heath, as a residential college running innovative courses in the arts and education; visiting speakers included Alec Clifton-Taylor and CEM Joad.

Woodcut. Anne Whiting, 1935

David Whiting remembers the difficult times too when his father had periodic bouts of depression and heavy drinking; “this tested us all, but the fact that we somehow got through them was due in no small part to my mother’s strength and resilience. Like my father, she drew so much from the natural world, and their knowledge of birds, trees and wild flowers was formidable.” The success of Avoncroft Pottery was largely thanks to Anne’s strength. She was selfless and optimistic.

Stella Man

Visit our exhibition on Geoffrey Whiting at 48 Park Row, displayed to be completely Covid-19 safe, designed to be viewed from the pavement at any time until the 14th December 2020.

Text and images copyright: Davis Whiting/Whiting Family Collection

For more on the Stradling Collection, News and Links go to our website.

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Making Useful Simple – Geoffrey Whiting at the KSC

1st October – 14th December

Our latest show at the Ken Stradling Collection highlights the art of making beautiful items for the home through an examination of the work of potter Geoffrey Whiting (1919-1988).

The exhibition is totally Covid-19 friendly. The display is designed to be seen from outside using our façade as the gallery. Take a walk past 48 Park Row, Bristol and see highlights from a potter whose understated domestic wares were designed to carry out their tasks with quiet, practical elegance.

Geoffrey Whiting at the wheel at his first pottery near Bromsgrove, c.1952. Whiting Family Collection.

Making

While Whiting’s pots might be quiet, there is another side to his work that is dramatic. Making pots requires kilns and producing the finest oriental glazes -tenmokus, celadons, chuns, ash glazes – means building specialist kilns and firing them by hand. 

Whiting’s love of kilns and firing began early, as can be seen in this photograph of him with his first improvised kiln, Selly Oak, Birmingham c 1931. (Photograph: Whiting Family Collection)

This passage from an article he wrote, shows the deep commitment to making and the enthusiasm that underpins the pots on display.  

‘I have many times lost my eyebrows and forelock with solid-fuel kilns, and once even had myself mildly on fire: but I would not lightly exchange the heat and toil for the dial-reading and knob-twiddling of modern ‘efficient’ methods. One summer night we fired through a violent thunderstorm. The yard flooded and began to discharge its load into the firing-well, threatening to drown all the fuel. Two assistants managed to keep me bailed out while, splashing about, I continued to fire. Then all the lights went out…. The whole atmosphere was an inferno of bursts of flame and sparks, black smoke, steam, the crash of thunder, the crackle of blazing wood, the cut and flicker of lightning and the roar of hail on the temporary tin roof. It was a dramatic scene indeed. What a night! Yet somehow we enjoyed the holocaust and it was a good firing.’ (Geoffrey Whiting, 1958. ‘Avoncroft Pottery,’ Pottery Quarterly, 5, 20, 133-143)

Just ‘mildly on fire’!

Geoffrey Whiting with his kiln at his pottery in Bromsgrove, 1954. Whiting Family Collection.

Useful

His teapots are known for their precision. No drips on to the table cloth from the teapot spout! His pots in all shapes and sizes; dishes, vases, plates and jugs are allmade with thought, care and laboured for in order to achieve a refinement of form, purpose and finish.

The commitment, personal involvement with the process and the acceptance of the unpredictable influence of the kiln on the pots is vital and has ties to Zen Buddhism.

Simple

Two pages from the Avon Pottery publicity brochure, late 1950s.

Simple

There are shades of some of the other figures we have exhibited recently such as Crofton Gane, who was a Quaker. Geoffrey Whiting was born a Quaker and although he didn’t remain a committed Quaker something of its philosophy, as with Gane, did pervade his work. Whiting’s concerns for functionality and an avoidance of self-conscious detail or decoration remind one of the pre-war Modernists. He worked in the Anglo-Oriental tradition of Bernard Leach, making richly glazed work that owed much to the Far East as well as earlier traditions of British pottery. Yet the colour palette he uses is refined, as the potter Walter Keeler commented, “ there is a very particular Englishness about his work”, and Whiting pots, like his watercolours, are very rooted in the shapes and colours of his native landscape.

‘Whiting was a potter’s potter, low key and respected for continually strong work that seemed to capture the essence of studio pottery.’ Ceramics Monthly magazine (USA)

With the help of Geoffrey’s son David, a well known writer on studio ceramics, the Ken Stradling Collection is pleased to be able to mount this celebration of the work of a fine potter.

For more information:

David Whiting in conversation in June 2020 talks about his father with Mike Goldmark: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBmm2HDhD50

Geoffrey Whiting. Galerie Besson. www.galeriebesson.co.uk/whiting.html

Geoffrey Whiting (1919-1988) British Council – Visual Arts. http://visualarts.britishcouncil.org/collection/artists/whiting-geoffrey-1919

Ismay, W. A. 1986. Geoffrey Whiting – Potter. Ceramic Review, 100, 26-28.

Whiting, David, 1989. Geoffrey Whiting. A Personal View. Ceramic Review, 120, 25-27.

Whiting, Geoffrey, 1958. Avoncroft Pottery. Pottery Quarterly, 5, 20, 133-143.

For more on the Stradling Collection, News and Links go to our website.

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Loved Design: an Online Exhibition

1950s Model Fire Truck
Maker:  The Charles William Doepke Manufacturing Company Incorporated, Rossmoyne, Ohio, USA

Reading the obituaries of Sir Terence Conran, who sadly passed away last week, it’s been amazing to realise just how much of what has made life enjoyable came from him and his vision of good design. From the duvet we wake up under to the wok, which we probably never use, whether we think of ourselves as design aficionados or not, chances are we all have a little bit of Conran in our lives. A passionate and lifelong advocate for the life enhancing qualities of design, perhaps his greatest achievement lay in encouraging us to appreciate the objects around us in a similar way.

Ken Stradling has always shared this philosophy – the roots of which go right back to William Morris’ famous dictum ‘have nothing in your house which you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’. And it’s a message that appears not to have fallen on deaf ears, as Loved Design our current online exhibition has shown.


Birchcraft ‘Two-Way’ Chair
Maker:  W. Birch & Co. of High Wycombe (circa 1950)

As Covid-19 has disrupted our exhibition programme for this year, we have devised a project that allows us to continue engaging with people about design online. Friends of the Ken Stradling Collection were invited to submit photographs and stories of objects that they use, value and enjoy in their day to day life and the result is an intriguing selection of artefacts as broad-ranging as the KSC itself.

The Hare with Plastic Eyes (Napkin ring) – Carved phenolic resin and perspex
Maker:  Anonymous, 1930s, USA

The fifty-six objects featured tell a story of how design fits into peoples’ lives, bringing pleasure either by dint of ease of use, aesthetic appeal or quirky charm. You will find things that have been accurately designed to be used such as an electric drill, a set of brushes and a coffee pot; objects that are beautifully made, such as the model fire engine from the 1950s and a host of portraits painted on chestnuts; works of fine craftsmanship such as the Umehara Shoji teapot, ‘Strength’ wooden sculpture by Eve Olsen and a mixed media sculpture by Eleanor Glover; add a sprinkling of fun mass-produced objects including a knitted monkey and a set of Warrior water pistols, and we have an exhibition that tells a multitude of stories about design objects and the lives they have entered.

Sgraffito Dish
Maker:  Jean-Paul Landreau

What the exhibition shows is that peoples’ engagement with their favourite objects usually goes beyond an appreciation of its usefulness or aesthetic appeal. The things that surround us often contain stories and memories that transport us back to our past with all the potency of a photograph or favourite piece of music. Working on Antiques Roadshow, this is something I come across all the time and, in my experience, it is where an object makes the leap from one that is valued to one that is really treasured. One of the joys of being Curator of the KSC, is that, as well as a fund of good design, it is also a kaleidoscope of stories, memories, friendships and travels recalled through objects, reflecting its status as a highly personal collection. In a way, this leads us back to the genesis of collecting, the Cabinet of Curiosity, a sort of 17th century proto-museum, where objects were often mainly prized for their stories and associations – usually linked to famous figures or incidents from history (no matter how spurious). Then, as now, it’s often as much (and sometimes more) about the story.

Psychedelic Milk Jug
Maker:  Crown Devon

Loved Design is in its own way a Cabinet of Curiosity, a repository of stories and memories as eclectic as the objects themselves – some classics, some quirks, some discoveries but all treasures. Most importantly, every object shows how we recognise and value the effect that good design has in our lives. I’m sure Terence Conran would have approved.

To view the exhibition visit http://stradlingcollection.org/loved-designs/

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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.

For more on the Stradling Collection, News and Links go to our website.

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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.

For more on the Stradling Collection, News and Links go to our website.

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