The importance of the small Cornish seaside town of St Ives in the history of British art is well-known. Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, Patrick Heron, Terry Frost, the list goes on, almost a who’s who of twentieth century British Art. Less well-known is the vibrant community of craftsman that grew and thrived alongside these artists. This talk will explore this community and its place alongside the artists. They worked, lived and exhibited together and this well illustrated talk will introduce you to a number of craftsmen and women who deserve to be better remembered.
The most numerous and influential group of crafts workers were the potters, led by Bernard Leach, many makers came to have successful careers in St Ives, not least his sons David and Michael and his last wife Janet, others such as William Marshall, Michael Cardew, Norah Braden and Katherine Pleydell Bouverie trained at the pottery at one time or another. These potters founded a crafts based pottery tradition that still flourishes today. Without the impetus of Bernard Leach and the St Ives pottery this might never have happened. Leach had a powerful voice within the artistic community, he encouraged others to work in the crafts and acted as a focus for makers encouraging them to move to the Penwith peninsular and develop their own crafts workshops. The wider influence that Bernard Leach and his patrons had over the production, exhibition and retailing of crafts will be considered, great craft needs confident patrons and Leach was influential in bringing St Ives to the attention of the wider public.
Less well-known is the crafts based furniture workshop run by Robin and Dicon Nance where fine crafts based furniture was made and then retailed in the Nance crafts shop in Fore Street and then on the Wharf in St Ives. Their furniture, initially influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement developed to embrace a modern aesthetic always underpinned by fine materials and traditional craftsmanship. Ladder back chairs first developed by Ernest Gimson and the Cotswold group of Arts and Crafts furniture makers were manufactured by Dicon Nance in St Ives playing an important part in establishing the workshop in the difficult immediate postwar years. Dicon went on to work with Michael Cardew in Africa and Barbara Hepworth at Trewyn. Little known today, but well-respected once, this furniture is now finding a good market amongst those collectors who recognise its place in twentieth century furniture history.
Guido Morris, a ‘fine printer’ worked nearby as a ‘jobbing printer’ producing posters and catalogues for the artist’s exhibitions as well as his own pamphlets and short volumes of poetry, all beautifully printed. Working within the Arts and Crafts tradition, his goal was to produce ‘ordinary’ work beautifully. Now largely unknown his work is scarce due to its ephemeral nature, it deserves to be better remembered. Alice Moore was the best known of a number of needleworkers, her work has been very much forgotten by the secondary market. All these makers were closely involved with the artistic community and active in the formation of the hugely influential Penwith Society of Arts. The society that formed a focus for the progressive ‘moderns’ that St Ives has become so closely linked with, links were broken with the traditional artists and a focus for the best progressive work was created. The Penwith had a separate section for crafts member and made the pioneering decision to show the best contemporary art alongside furniture and pottery and other crafts. The role of these makers in the Society will be considered in this talk, without them it might not have risen to the prominent position it maintains to this day.
St Ives and the surrounding Penwith peninsula are central to any history of 20th century British painting, this talk will place the craftsmen and women within this history and show that they were an integral part of the artistic success that continues to thrive in Cornwall today. With many illustrations of beautifully crafted objects, and the background of the artists and St Ives this is a talk I love to give both in Cornwall and further afield.