I thought I would feature this Mine as an unlikely source of inspiration. I came across two works on the same day and I thought it was nice to show an alternative to artistic inspiration in Cornwall other than St Ives.
Sammy Solway – Wheal Friendly Mine, 1905
The Wheal Friendly Mine in Cornwall was a small tin mine at St Agnes which formed part of the more famous and rich Wheal Kitty tin mine. It was operating prior to 1863 but was out of use and abandoned by 1930. Below it is imagined when working from a 1966 Match box cover.
Below is a photograph of the mine by John Piper taken when he was researching the Shell guide for Cornwall. It is a romantic ruin but also looks like an outpost for Mars.
John Piper – Wheal Friendly tin mine engine house, St Agnes, Cornwall, 1933
The last picture is a painting by Olive Cook for the Recording Britain project. For Olive Cook it is a rather lovely watercolour.
Olive Cook – Tin Mine, St. Agnes, North Cornwall c1940.
Olive Muriel Cook was born in Cambridge on 20 February 1912, the daughter of Arthur Cook, a librarian at the University Library for 56 years, and his wife, a dressmaker for Robert Sayle (John Lewis Partnership). She was educated at the Perse School before gaining a scholarship to Newnham College in 1931, where she read Modern Languages. She obtained her MA in 1942.
Olive Cook – I Am the Ancient Apple Queen, The Fry Gallery
Her first job was that of art editor for Chatto and Windus, followed by supervisor of publications at the National Gallery (1936-1945), where she worked with Kenneth Clark and Arnold Palmer. She met and became friends with official war artists including Eric Ravilious, Thomas Hennell and Stanley Spencer, and it was during this time that she met Edwin Smith, whom she married in 1954. In 1945 she left the National Gallery to devote herself to her own writing and painting and she and Smith started to write and illustrate articles for The Saturday Book edited by Leonard Russell, to which they both contributed annually until Edwin’s death.
She took a two week painting course at Sir Cedric Morris’s Benton End school in Hadleigh Much. She is now one of his forgotten pupils of the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing. The other prominent artists of the school are Lucy Harwood, Lucian Freud, Maggi Hambling, David Kentish, Bettina Shaw-Lawrence, Lucy Harwood, Joan Warburton, Glyn Morgan, Valerie Thornton and top legal scholar Bernard Brown.
Olive Cook – Portrait of Michael Rothenstein Reading – The Fry Gallery, 1947.
She wrote ‘Suffolk’ in 1948, ‘Cambridgeshire: Aspects of a County, 1953’, and children’s books illustrated by George Adams in 1954. That same year saw the publication of ‘English Cottages and Farmhouses’ with text by Cook and photographs by Smith, their first major work for Thames and Hudson. After their marriage they lived in Hampstead where they had a large circle of artist and writer friends. More joint books followed including ‘English Abbeys and Priories’, ‘British Churches’, ‘The Wonders of Italy’, ‘The English House Through Seven Centuries’.
Olive Cook – In The Garden, from my collection.
They moved to Saffron Walden in 1962, where Olive Cook pursued her passion for the preservation of the countryside, her book ‘The Stansted Affair’ presenting the case against the development of the airport (1967). They purchased the Coach House in 1967, remodelled and decorated it in their own inimitable way (see photos in Series 9). Sadly, Smith died of cancer at the early age of 59, leaving Cook devastated. However, a woman of great spirit, she rallied and continued to further the reputation of her beloved husband, producing ‘Edwin Smith: Photographs 1935-1971’ in 1984, and continually promoting his work through exhibitions and in books of others, such as Lucy Archer’s ‘Architecture in Britain and Ireland 600-1500’.
Her own writing also continued: she wrote the libretto for ‘The Slit Goose Feather’ composed by Christopher Brown, ‘Tryphema Pruss’, illustrated by Walter Hoyle, as well as the introduction for his ‘To Sicily with Edward Bawden’. And, in the 1980s she along with Iris Weaver was instrumental in establishing the Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden, writing biographical sketches of the artists of the North West Essex Collection deposited there.
Olive Cook had an enormous capacity for friendship, as the hundreds of cards in her papers attest, and although she had no children herself, she was clearly a great favourite with those of her many friends. Right up to the end of her long life, messages came pouring in. She died on 2 May 2002, aged 90.
Olive Cook – Edwin Smith with Flowers and Ducks, National Portrait Gallery, 1954.
Edwin George Herbert Smith was born on 15 May 1912 in Canonbury, London, the only child of Edwin Stanley Smith a clerk and his wife Lily Beatrice. After leaving elementary school he was educated at the Northern Polytechnic, transferring to the architectural school at the age of sixteen. He then won a scholarship to the Architectural Association, but for financial reasons gave up his course and worked as an architectural draughtsman for several years, most notably for Raymond Myerscough-Walker. >From 1935 he became a free lance photographer, though painting remained his first love, working briefly for Vogue as a fashion photographer, but mostly concentrating on the mining community of Ashington in Northumberland, the docks of Newcastle, and circuses and fair grounds around London.
In 1935 Smith married Rosemary Ansell, daughter of Henry Ansell, a confectioner. Their son Martin was born in 1941, but the marriage ended in divorce two years later. By this time Smith was living with Olive Cook, whom he married in 1954. Smith was also a writer, producing photographic handbooks, including ‘All the Photo Tricks’ (1940), for Focal Press. But he is best known for his photographs of architecture and landscapes, both of Britain and Europe. His books include: ‘English Parish Churches’ (1952), ‘English Cottages and Farmhouses’ (1954), ‘The English House Through Seven Centuries’ (1968), ‘England’ (1971) ‘Pompeii and Herculanaeum’ (1960) ‘Rome: From its Foundation to the Present’ (1971). Many were collaborations between him and Cook: his photographs, her text.
In addition to his photographic output (60,00 negatives are now at RIBA), Smith was also a prolific artist. When at home, not a day went by without him drawing or painting. Throughout his life Smith produced water and oil paintings, drawings, linocuts and woodcuts. And in later years at Saffron Walden, he drew up architectural plans for local properties. It was only after his death that exhibitions of Smith’s work appeared.
He became ill in the spring of 1971, but his cancer was not diagnosed until a few weeks before his death on 29 December. There is a poignant account in one of his notebooks written by Olive and addressed to him three months after he died, recounting in detail his last day.
Cook inherited Smith’s estate on his death, 29 December 1971, and towards the end of her life deposited his huge photograph collection of some 60,000 negatives at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) along with their letters to each other. The remainder of his papers became part of her archive at Newnham.
Olive Cook – Nude and Iris in the Garden, from my collection.
It seams more and more in ‘second hand books’ that the photographic content and illustrations are boosting prices more than the topic of books themselves – easy examples are High Street by J. M. Richards, or anything with an Edward Bawden or John Minton dust jacket, it’s a mad rush for any artistic ephemera. But it extends to what were cheap magazines with articles by John Nash or Graham Sutherland, once they were disposed in the bin, now they are rare and so are getting expensive. Times past, there were high class standards like Verve or Derrière le miroir but a copy of The Country Life Cookery Book from 1937 can now equal those prices.
This week I bought a book of ‘Pompeii and Herculaneum’ by Marcel Brion. Noting what I wrote above, I am more interested in the artistic content of the book rather than the subject matter, but happily I am interested in history and archaeology too. This book is full of the photography of Edwin Smith.
As it happens, books with the photos of Edwin Smith seam to be very cheap, due to how popular he was in the 1950s and 60s. There were many reprints and print runs so you can find good copies on Amazon for 1p, or £2.81 with postage – but still a pittance. There are a Thames & Hudson series of books co-written with Edwin Smith’s wife Olive Cook too; English Parish Churches (1952) and English Cottages Farmhouses (1954) being the most popular and thus, cheap to buy. I bought ‘Pompeii and Herculaneum’ for £2.99 in a charity shop.
In the introduction Brion writes ‘I am indebted to Mr. Edwin Smith for his photography which I trust the reader will find as brilliantly evocative as I myself do’.
Edwin George Herbert Smith (15 May 1912 – 29 December 1971) was an English photographer. He was born in Canonbury, Islington, London, the only child of Edwin Stanley Smith, a clerk, and his wife Lily Beatrice. After leaving school he was educated at the Northern Polytechnic, transferring to the architectural school at the age of sixteen. He then won a scholarship to the Architectural Association, but gave up his course and worked as a draughtsman for several years.
He became a freelance photographer in 1935, working briefly for Vogue as a fashion photographer. However he concentrated his artistic efforts on subjects such as the mining community of Ashington in Northumberland, the docks of Newcastle, and circuses and fairgrounds around London.
Smith was also a prolific artist. He produced water and oil paintings, drawings, linocuts and woodcuts throughout his life, and in later years at Saffron Walden, he drew up architectural plans for local properties.
He became ill in the spring of 1971, but cancer was not diagnosed until a few weeks before his death on 29 December. It was only after his death that exhibitions of Smith’s work appeared, with a monograph finally being published in 1984.
After Cook’s own death in 2002, her papers and some of those of her husband were placed in Newnham College Archives, Cambridge.
A collection of over 60,000 negatives and 20,000 prints were given by Olive Cook, Smith’s widow and collaborator, to the Royal Institute of British Architects Library. From urban scenes documenting British social history to evocative landscape images and atmospheric interiors, the images displayed reveal the genius and breadth of his work.
Edwin Smith was also an avid collector and creator of Toy Theatre. On his wife’s death, the collection passed to the Pollock’s Toy Museum Trust. A collection of his paintings, woodcuts and photographs is held by The Fry Gallery.
Below is a piece on James Ravilious, written 20 years ago in ‘World of Interiors’, March 1996 by Ronald Blythe. The pictures are the same as in the magazine.
I was inspired to type it up after having gone to see a show of James Ravilious’s works at the Fry Gallery, running from 18th June – 24th July (2016). The exhibition’s booklet has a quote by Olive Cook from Matrix Magazine #18: "I know of no other presentation of a particular place and people which is as broad and as captivating as James Ravilious’s photographs of North Devon. They are the fruit of a quite exceptional acuity and patience of witness and of a quite unusual humility and warmth of spirit. This great body of work establishes its author as a master of the art of photography whilst at the same time it makes an unparalleled pictorial contribution to social history.“
James Ravilious – Young Bulls eating Thistles
Plainly Pastoral – James Ravilious. World of Interiors. March 1996.
For over 20 years photographer James Ravilious has captured on camera powerfully candid images of rural North Devon life for the Beaford Archive. A Corner of England, a new book of his pictures, is full of ‘private moments’ photographed without pathos.
This second collection of James Ravilious’s work has to be studied for three distinct reasons. Because it is in the great tradition of Henri Cartier-Bresson, because it corrects our distorted vision the English countryside, and because it reveals the poetry of the commonplace. In 1973 Ravilious was invited to restore and add to the Beaford Archive, a remarkable library of photographs of village life in North Devon. This wonderful book shows him way ahead of his commission. His Leica records his own intimacy with the region, its landscape, its people, its creatures. No ordinary journalist or social historian could have gained
Ravilious’s entree to these extraordinarily private rooms and fields, or be taught to see what he so naturally sees.
James Ravilious – ‘Dr Paul Bangay visiting a patient, Langtree, Devon 1981
The book’s pictures have been drawn from his own contribution to the Beaford Archive and he describes them as ‘rather like scenes from a tapestry I have been stitching over the years’. His wife Robin, a local girl, contributes a few hard facts. ‘The small mixed farm is the commonest unit still. Short of labour, short of capital, bothered by paperwork and recession, farmers struggle stoically in a cold soil, high rainfall and awkward upland terrain…’
James Ravilious – Pigs and woodpile, Parsonage Farm
Ravilious’s camera scrupulously avoids wringing the usual bitter-sweet agricultural drama out of this situation and his work is masterly in its absence of comment.He has a way of capturing a private moment without making it public, so to speak. So the reader/looker has to share his intimate views if they are to see anything at all. As one stares into these twisting lanes, farmyards, churchyards, bedrooms, kitchens, animals’ faces, sheds, shops, schools, one often feels apologetic at invading something so personal, then grateful for having been shown what is actual, true and good.
James Ravilious – Red Devon cow, Narracott, Hollocombe, Devon, England, 1981
This is a rural world without ‘characters’, only people. Not even the old tramp sunning himself amidst the rubbish tip of his belongings is a character – just a naked man on the earth. Nor do the farm animals set out to beguile but are captured without sentiment. A snowdrift of geese on a darkening hilltop and a dog on a blackening road are waiting for the first thunderclap. A sick ram rides home in a tin bath. Here is the ordinariness of the harsh and lovely pastoral. The Ravilious ‘interior’, whether of houses or hills, can shock or inspire- usually both. A rare country book. – Ronald Blythe.