Sunday, 24 April 2011

The Lion in the Attic – more of Blount’s plasterwork

Lion detail, from the attic of Godfrey Blount's Studio
from T.D.L. Thomas, ‘Rustic Renaissance: Arts and Crafts in Haslemere’, Country Life, April 15, 1982
Stewart Dick in The Craftsmen concluded his article on Blount’s plasterwork (‘Godfrey Blount’s Free-Hand Plasterwork for Interior Decoration’, The Craftsmen, Vol 12, April 1907-September 1907) “Of course the success of such work will depend very much on the design very much on the design, which in Mr. Blount’s case is as free and spontaneous as the work itself.  Everything stilted and formal should be avoided; the whole charm of the work lying in its ease and freedom.”   Dick reported that the plasterwork illustrations accompanying the article were “taken from work done by Godfrey Blount in different houses in the north of England”.  However one of pictures is labelled “Frieze in hall of the Knipp, Chiddingfold”, which is a few miles away from Haslemere.

Frieze in hall of the Knipp, Chiddingfold by Godfrey Blount, The Craftsmen, Vol 12, April 1907-September 1907

In 1982 Country Life (T.D.L. Thomas, ‘Rustic Renaissance: Arts and Crafts in Haslemere’, April 15, 1982) reported that ‘Three years ago in the roof space of a house in Haslemere, Surrey, some crude plaster reliefs were discovered, which incorporated the Latin inscription “We owe our knowledge and inspiration to the Greeks and the Barbarians”  The house had been the studio of the artist Godfrey Blount, and the discovery of these reliefs and their motto sheds new light on the personal interpretation some of the protagonists made out of the Arts and Crafts movement at the turn of the century…The doggerel in his (Godfrey Blount’s) studio …may roughly translate, in a catch-phrase, as “art for nature’s sake” and is perhaps a plea for rationality interestingly opposed to the feverish “art for art’s sake” movement which was catching the imaginations of other artists at the time.”  This building is called The Old Studio, Kings Road, Haslemere.

Godfrey Blount plaster friezes,
from T.D.L. Thomas, ‘Rustic Renaissance:
Arts and Crafts in Haslemere’,
Country Life, April 15, 1982

The plasterworks shown in the article suggest that the plasterworks are on both sides of the studio roof, effectively presenting four separate pieces.  Above the boarded windows on one side of the building are two lions, and on the right hand side is a man surrounded by greenery.  On another side is a stag that Thomas describes as “the symbol for religious aspiration.  The stag stands in a grove of trees: pear, rose and vine, which are all symbols of Christ and his passion”  A stag can also be seen amongst trees in the plaster frieze at the Knipp, Chiddingfold above and below at Sandhouse, so it is clearly a popular motif.

Godfrey Blount plaster friezes, from T.D.L. Thomas, ‘Rustic Renaissance: Arts and Crafts in Haslemere’, Country Life, April 15, 1982

Other plaster frieze’s in houses local to Haslemere, are the plaster frieze that was in the entrance hall of Sandhouse, Joseph and Maude Egerton King’s house.  I believe it was later removed. 

Godfrey Blount plaster friezes at Sandhouse, Witley,
from RIBA's Francis Troup archive

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Our Daily Bread by Godfrey Blount

A perfect Easter poem / song by Godfrey Blount.  I think the version of this song that was published in The Vineyard had pictures, seeing as it is subtitled 'a song with pictures', but I have not seen them!  Having said that, I've just found an illustration for The Song of the Sower and added it to the previous post.  This song and the The Song of the Sower, were both printed on large hymn sheets that are somewhere between A3 and A4 size.  I presume that both of these songs were sung by the congregation of The Country Church, the church that Blount established.  

When the seeds are sown
  They quicken all together,
In soothing showers, and sun,
  And wind and wintry weather.

When the green blades sprout
  From their purple prison,
Little song-birds shout,
  “Jesus Christ is risen.”

When kind people walk
  Where the corn is yellow,
Every sturdy stalk
  Stoops to kiss his fellow.

When the harvest heaves
  With many a golden gable,
All shock-headed sheaves
  Praise God who spreads the table.
from Blount, Godfrey, Arbor Vitae, Fifield, 1899

Give us this day our daily bread,
  And daily honest labour,
That every creature may be fed,
  And learn to love its neighbour.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Plastering with Godfrey Blount

Discussing Godfrey Blount's plasterwork allows me to use this most special photograph of Blount, the only photograph in existence I believe, of him at work.  

Godfrey Blount at work (leaning on some peasant tapestry
with some of his woodcarving in the background)
picture courtesy of The Dartford Warbler
Stewart Dick reported in The Craftsmen that (‘Godfrey Blount’s Free-Hand Plasterwork for Interior Decoration’, The Craftsmen, Vol 12, April 1907-September 1907) “Mr Blount has kindly furnished me with detailed notes as to the process as follows: 

Ground – The ground should be of Portland cement, with as little sand as possible to avoid suction, and left with a slight tooth on the surface.

Mixing – Shake Kenne’s cement into a large basin full of water and beat up with an egg beater.  Then more cement should be added and the mixture stirred until it will hardly pour.  Keep this as a stock.  Have ready a board eighteen inches and a square headed putty knife.  Pour some of the already mixed stock on this board and add more dry cement, beating up with knife till thick enough to use.  The degree of thickness required will depend on the character of the modelling.  Place some of this second stock on a plasterers’s palette and with an ordinary putty knife, previously ground down till it is supple, begin your work.

Detail of a ceiling for a Gate House, by Godfrey Blount
The Craftsmen, Vol 12, April 1907-September 1907
Working – Let us suppose the design is sketched out in any fashion on the cement ground (I sketch it in outline with ink).  Have sundry flat, hog-hair brushes in a small tin saucepan of water.  Then take up on the putty knife a quantity of mixture, smear it on to the design, cut it into shape with the palette knife to any extent you can and finish with the hog-hair tools.

It is impossible to give exact directions.  Here are a few hints:

First – The work is impressionistic in a high degree.  In hot summer the plaster dries so quickly that it is almost impossible to work without the addition of some size.  In winter it will keep open half an hour.  But the best work is that which is most rapidly obtained.  It is a waste of time to finish.

Second – Finger work is impossible.  The brush must do the double work of knife as well as brush.  Even the carving is done with the brush.

Third – You may lay a thin coat of plaster from stock two as a ground for immediate work as you proceed, or you may lay the ground up to your work.  This is not the original ground (of Portland cement); that, of course, has to be laid first and is covered entirely in work.
Free hand plasterwork by Godfrey Blount,
The Craftsmen, Vol 12, April 1907-September 1907

Fourth – Stir your stocks now and then to keep them open, as you will have to mix more.

Fifth – Don’t try to correct mistakes.  Scrape off and begin afresh.

Sixth – If you don’t like sketching and can’t sketch, don’t attempt this craft.  Take up wood carving instead.

Seventh – Lumps are easier than lines.  This must influence your designs.
Free hand plasterwork by Godfrey Blount,
The Craftsmen, Vol 12, April 1907-September 1907

Eighth – The craft is more suitable for decorative effects than realistic ones and for grotesqueness than for pretty pretties.

Ninth – In details let accidents have their share in modifying results.  A happy accident is worth an hour’s plodding.  ‘Be carefully careless’.

Tenth – Where joining a piece of new work to the old, wet the old or it will suck up the water from the new.

Eleventh – The work will crack in drying.  Fill up the cracks, they don’t matter.  Cracks are only dangerous when between the work and the ground, but if the cement ground has got a tooth and you work vigorously there ought to be no accident of this kind.

Twelfth – It is exciting work and will quickly tire you if you don’t feel sprightly."

Sunflowers and peacocks: Free hand plasterwork by Godfrey Blount,
The Craftsmen, Vol 12, April 1907-September 1907

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Godfrey Blount's Free-Hand Plasterwork

One of Godfrey Blount’s most enduring artistic legacies is his plasterwork, which must still exist in buildings in the local area.
Free-Hand Plasterwork Bird Frieze by Godfrey Blount, The Craftsmen, Vol 12, April 1907-September 1907

The Craftsmen in 1907 devoted their ‘Our Home Department’ section to Blount’s plasterwork.  They report that Blount described his free-hand plasterwork as “impressionism in plaster”.  The Craftsmen noted that “in complete contrast to the careful and academic friezes, cast piece by piece, and afterward fitted into place, the work in this case is all done on the wall.

Free-Hand Plasterwork by Godfrey Blount, The Craftsmen, Vol 12, April 1907-September 1907
The design is sketched in, and with the wet cement the whole work is carried out there and then.  There can be no alterations, no niggling; the work must be done swiftly and surely, for the plaster sets very quickly.  A trowel, a palette knife and few hog-hair brushes, such are the simple tools required, but more important than the tools are the hand and eye. 

High finish, of course, cannot be looked for in such work and is not wanted.  What can be attained is a delightfully fresh and spontaneous effect, which, especially in work which is placed high, like a frieze, is much more pleasing than elaborate finish.  The work can be left the natural colour of the plaster, or which adds much to the richness of the effect, may be coloured after the plaster has set. (‘Godfrey Blount’s Free-Hand Plasterwork for Interior Decoration’, The Craftsmen, Vol 12, April 1907-September 1907)."

Sample design in free-hand plasterwork by Godfrey Blount,
showing foundation and method of working,
The Craftsmen, Vol 12, April 1907-September 1907

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Song of the Sower by Godfrey Blount

What time with hand and heart aglow
The sower goeth forth to sow,

Supine within her purple bed
Naked the idle earth lies dead;

He scatters with an open hand,
His burning words fall on the land,

To melt the cruel clods, and save
The maiden from a living grave.

See all her acres, fetter-freed,
In hungry furrows catch the seed.

Deep in her heart the earth conceives
The advent of a million leaves.

Then first she wraps a restless brood
In swaddling-clothes occult and crude;
from Blount, Godfrey, Arbor Vitae, Fifield, 1899

Like motes in sunbeams soon they fly,
Ripening beneath their Maker's eye,

To dance about our feet and sing
The rapturous inrush of the spring.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Peasant Arts Museum - the European influence

The Peasant Arts Museum was opened in 1910 at No.1 The Pavement in Haslemere High Street, with the first visitor being recorded as Gerald Davies, who opened the museum.  In his speech Davies called upon the audience to “revolt against this dreary life, so highly machined that all the vitality went out of it” (‘The Revival of Handicraft’, Haslemere and Hindhead Herald, 30 April 1910).
Spinning Wheels plate from Guide to the Collections of Peasant Arts,
Haslemere Educational Museum 
 Describing the Museum’s aims, The Peasant Arts Museum at Haslemere (1911) “acknowledged that other centres held far more literature and knowledge on the subject than it ever would but felt that with their emphasis on everyday life, it could encourage emulation of some of the traditions upheld in the work of ‘pride and pleasure’.  The Museum was to provide an example of a perfect existence, in harmony with nature, that all right thinking people should aspire to (Crowley, David and Taylor, Lou, The Lost Arts of Europe: The Haslemere Museum collection of European Peasant Art, Haslemere Educational Museum, 2000).  Greville MacDonald called the Museum of Peasant Arts “a collection quite unique in this country for beauty and significance, though not to be compared with the vast Folk Museums of Stockholm and Christiania.” (Reminiscences of a Specialist, London, George Allen and Unwin, 1932). 
Folk Dress Exhibit photograph, Norsk Folkemuseum

It is clear that what is now called the Skansen Museum, Stockholm and the Norsk Folkemuseum, Oslo had a keen influence upon Haslemere’s Peasant Arts Museum.  Joseph King traveled around Europe visiting numerous folk museums, as evidenced in the postcard published in Establishing Dress History (Taylor, Lou, Manchester University Press, 2004)  that King sent in around 1925 to the Haslemere Educational Museum of Hazelius’ Lapp sledge scene at the Nordiska Museet, Stockholm (Skansen).  
Lapp sledge scene postcard, Nordiska Museet, Stockholm c.1925
sent by Joseph King to Haslemere Educational Museum, 

from Establishing Dress History (Taylor, LouManchester University Press, 2004)  
At Skansen, founded in 1891 as the world’s first open-air museum by Artur Hazelius, the “romantic ideas and the patriotic spirit of the latter part the nineteenth century, …strongly influenced Hazelius”.  The Skansen museum describe Hazelius’ creation of the museum as a reaction against the urbanization of Sweden “(he) undertook long journeys in the Swedish countryside on foot and saw with his own eyes the radical changes that the traditional farming society was undergoing.

 At the beginning of the 1870s, three million of Sweden’s population of just over four million people still lived in the countryside.  But country life had changed.  The number of independent farmers had declined and the ranks of the landless had grown. The increase in population created a growing body of tenant cottagers, servants to the gentry and indentured labourers.   Land reforms that destroyed villages and re-allocated the fields transformed the way of life in the countryside as well as its buildings.  Agriculture became mechanized, industrial products did away with crafts and new means of communication opened up more efficient ways of distributing goods.

Skansen Museum

The landless classes left their homes to seek work on the railways, in the shipyards and the factories and in the sawmills of northern Sweden. Sweden developed into an urban society.  Crop failures at the end of the 1860s caused more than 100 000 Swedes to emigrate to America.  This wave of emigration reached a peak in the 1880s when 325 000 Swedes left for America and a further 52 000 emigrated to other countries.
Hazelius realized that Swedish society was changing. During a visit to the province of Dalarna in the summer of 1872 he noted how rapidly the transformation was taking place. He started to collect clothing, household utensils, furniture and hand-tools from the old farming culture: everything that needed to be preserved for posterity.

In 1873 Hazelius opened his first museum, the Scandinavian Ethnographic Collection, in Stockholm.  His museum showed cottage interiors decorated with authentic objects as well as fullsized dolls dressed in folk costume.  Painted panoramas provided the backdrops. …
Traditional exhibitions and museum interiors were not sufficient to fulfil Hazelius’s educational aims. He wanted to emphasize the sense of history by showing complete environments, that is, fully furnished houses occupied by people wearing period costume surrounded by their domestic animals in a natural landscape.

… During the expansive 1890s Skansen’s activities were organized in accordance with aims that Hazelius was later to enumerate: “But the Skansen open-air museum has much greater diversity and still greater tasks... It seeks more to be a living museum, a museum that does not merely exhibit buildings and furnishings, tools of very varying sorts, memorials... Along side all of that it seeks to do much more: to present folk life in living brushstrokes.”

…The basic programme of events, which remains the backbone of Skansen’s popular entertainment, was thus laid down during the 1890s: the celebration of feasts throughout the year and in people’s lives, traditional country dances and folk music, living crafts and household
activities in cottages and farms.”
Cover detail of Guide to the Collections of Peasant Arts,
Haslemere Educational Museum 

In 1912 the Peasant Arts Museum moved from Haslemere High Street to Foundry Meadow, now 38-40 Kings Road (the Weaving House).  “The display space was thoroughly inadequate and the problem only grew as more items were added to the collection.  In such cramped conditions it could not be the ‘fountain of inspiration’ that was intended (Crowley, David and Taylor, Lou, The Lost Arts of Europe: The Haslemere Museum collection of European Peasant Art, Haslemere Educational Museum, 2000).  

Friday, 1 April 2011

Peasant Art Talk - Saturday 21st May 2011

From William Morris to the Ballets Russes: Perspectives on the Haslemere Collection of European Peasant Art.

The Peasant Arts Museum - a beginning

One of the most tangible legacies of the Peasant Arts movement is the Peasant Arts Museum’s works.  The collection is of household items, woodwork, metalwork and textiles.  These are now held by the Haslemere Educational Museum..  The Peasant Arts Museum pieces were mostly collected by the Rev. Gerald Davies, who sold it onto the Peasant Arts Guild. 

Davies was a master at Charterhouse School in Godalming, Surrey nearby to Haslemere.  He began collecting pieces that he found beautiful following a holiday in Norway in 1885.  Lou Taylor (Establishing Dress History, Manchester University Press, 2004) describes Davies’ motivation to display peasant works “as a counterweight to mass-produced goods”.  Taylor claims that the “motivations behind the formation of this specific collection stemmed from the same utopian interests in the ‘purity’ of peasant culture, coupled with local philanthropic concerns over migration from the countryside to the city”.

Davies held strict puritanical views on what constitutes a “peasant object”; Taylor recounts that Davies “decided that pottery, even if made by a village potter for commercial sale to his local community, was not of genuine value as ‘folk art’”.  Davies’ “guiding principal in buying the craft was to obtain work made by the peasants themselves, ‘for their own use and not for sale’” (Crowley, David and Taylor, Lou, The Lost Arts of Europe: The Haslemere Museum collection of European Peasant Art, Haslemere Educational Museum, 2000.
page from Guide to the Collections of Peasant Arts, Haslemere Educational Museum

Davies looked for a buyer for his collection in 1908 as his job moved to London, to become the Master of Charterhouse, London.  Greville MacDonald says in his memoirs MacDonald (Reminiscences of a Specialist, London, George Allen and Unwin, 1932)  “…he (Gerald Davies) allowed me to buy it at a price well below its value, but on the condition that it should never be displayed in any City Museum, where, he thought, its beauties might be swamped, and its materials damaged by smoke.  Realizing the national worth of the collection, I put it, by Trust Deed, in the hands of the Founders of the Peasants Arts Guild for the public benefit, thus protecting it against any possible mishap to the Guild.  But at last, because Mrs Joseph King’s illness made it no more possible to carry on the Guild, we, the Trustees, offered the collection to the Haslemere Museum, whose Committee put at our disposal two of their largest and best-lit rooms. …One passage of an article he (Gerald Davies) contributed to The Vineyard dealing with his collection is worth quoting:

“…I am not saying that Peasant Art is the only art worthy of preserving or practising.  It is the spontaneous expression of the joy of life uttered in a very simply and very delightful language.  It is full too of the handcraftsman’s pleasure in and understanding of material.  It asserts, all unknowingly, the Use is beauty and beauty is Use.  If you divorce one from the other there is less beauty and also less use.  But it does not attempt to express any great independent idea, spiritual, social, intellectual, literary.  These ideas are the property and field of a different Art which exists as a rule but not invariably, in isolation from the industries.  The two phases of Art aim at satisfying two very different cravings of humanity, though once upon a day very far back in human history they set out from the same starting-point.  It is as the difference between a Devonshire folk-song and a sonata of Beethoven…”
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