Well well well

The history of East Dereham Church in Norfolk isn’t so unremarkable as other churches, but it has become the resting place of a poet and a saint. The bell tower to the right of the picture above was used to house French prisoners during the Napoleonic War.

St Withburga was originally buried there, but when her bones were removed to become a relic for Ely Cathedral, it is said that water filled the grave and so a well was built. Relics brought pilgrims, and pilgrims brought money. Above the well is a plaque that reads:

The ruins of a tomb which contained the remains of Withburga, youngest daughter of Anna, King of East Angles, who died AD 654. The Abbot and monks of Ely stole this precious relic and translocated to Ely Cathedral, where it was interred near her three royal sisters, AD 974.

The poet buried in the grounds is the anti-slavery campaigner William Cowper (1731-1800). The only other mystery is what is the lady doing in the image below. Running out of John Pipers way no doubt.

John Piper – East Dereham, Norfolk. c1950

Fashion Is Indestructible

If you think Anna Winters was the original pioneer of Vogue, you’d be quite wrong. Audrey Withers was editor of Vogue from 1940-60, and she worked with many photographers to make the magazine stand out. One of the most remarkable photoshoots was this series by Cecil Beaton set in blitz bombed London.

Today I think, if you took these photos there would be an outcry of insensitivity, however, the contemporary opinion of these photographs were that London, like fashion, is indestructible.

Paper Bag

The first woman to be issued a patent in an American court, was Margaret Eloise Knight (1838-1914) for a machine for folding and gluing flat-bottomed paper bags.

As a little girl, ‘Mattie’ (as her parents and friends nicknamed her), preferred to play with woodworking tools instead of dolls, stating that “the only things she wanted were a jack knife, a gimlet drill, and pieces of wood. She then made kites and sleds out of wood.

After the early death of her father, Knight was forced to leave school aged 12 and work in the cotton loom mills in her town. After an accident at one of the mills where a shuttle flew off the loom stabbing a worker, she suggested a safety measure that was adopted with no credit to her.

Ill health ended her work in the mills but in order to survive she worked any job she could set her mind to. In 1867, she moved to Springfield, Massachusetts and was hired by the Columbia Paper Bag Company. She noticed that the envelope-shaped machine-made paper bags they produced were weak and narrow – unsuitable for groceries and hardware goods.

The British had been using paper bags since the 1840s and also had machines that made wider bags, however what Margaret Knight was to do was to make a machine that cut, folded, and glued paper to form the flat-bottomed brown paper bags familiar to shoppers today.

The trials to make the machine took three years and in order to obtain a patent a model of the machine was made in iron. During the manufacture, the design was stolen by Charles Annan, who had seen the prototype in the workshop of the company producing it and applied for a patent first. When Knight attempted to patent her work, she discovered Annan’s patent and filed a patent interference lawsuit in the autumn of 1870. She won the claim based on her journals, drawings and witnesses and was granted the patent for her machine. She was not the first woman to be awarded a patent but she was the first to win one in court.

With the patent she teamed up with a businessman and formed the Eastern Paper Bag Company. She received royalties from her invention that were capped at $25,000, around one million dollars today. Knight went on to be awarded another 26 patents and on her death an obituary was headlined as a “woman Edison”.

The eloquence of an Essex printmaker

This is an interview from Michael Rothenstein to Michael Rothenstein’s prints of cockerels make an immediate impression on you the moment you enter the 1981 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition – beckoning the eye, their vivid contours eloquent of the printmaker’s art.

A graphic artist and printmaker, Rothenstein worked for many years in Great Bardfield, where in 1954, he founded the famous graphic workshop. Later he moved to his present studio a large barn at Stisted, near Braintree. Here, away from that hub of activity (the workshop at Great Bardfield attracted thousands of visitors every year) he feels he can work more privately. “Each technique has its own magic, and different artists come upon a technique which for them is magic at different times in their lives”, says Rothenstein, who did not himself discover printmaking until he was over forty. Once he had embarked on the process it took him over completely. “It was like a rebirth”, he says. Because printmaking had relatively passed him by when he was at art college, Rothenstein was able to convey the excitement of his own discovery in the books he began to write on printmaking. in the 1960s.

His graphics were immediately widely reproduced. Today from Stisted, working with Shelley Rose (a talented young printer who is his part-time assistant) his work is shown all over the world, rare for a graphic artist. Already this year there’s been a large retrospective exhibition in Scandinavia as well as exhibitions in West Germany, at the Tate and the
V&A and his works on paper will be shown all summer in the prestigious Ljubljana Biennale.

Over the years Rothenstein has developed a finesse and precision hitherto unattained for such a revolutionary process. For many of his relief prints he uses huge tree-trunks which he obtains from Sible Hedingham. He also uses quite cheap crate wood waste from a factory in Braintree, as well as corroded iron and lino.

A lithe-bodied, charming man, his sustained vigour, evident during twelve gruelling weeks on the Royal Academy Senior Hanging Committee, left younger colleagues marvelling. “I put it down to a reformed diet”, he says. For the recipe-book by Royal Academicians, which the Royal Academy is to publish later this year, Rothenstein own contribution is an invigorating breakfast which includes muesli, homemade yogurt, lecithin, wheat-germ and blackcurrant juice, ideas inspired by the American “nutrition against disease” movement. His cover-illustration of this book, the cockerel, points again to how this virile theme runs constantly through his work.
Rothenstein exhibition “Works on Paper” at the Minories, Colchester, took place in May. That same month his barn was the centre for an art exhibition by children from seven Essex schools, part of the Braintree Arts Festival – for Rothenstein is also: president of the Braintree Arts Association.

Next year he plans to exhibit in the gallery of Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury. Here a print workshop has been set up in the garden for artists who work in print, but have no presses of their own. There is a permanent portfolio of their work on show in the gallery itself.

Rothenstein feels strongly that there should be a centre in North Essex where the many distinguished graphic artists who work there could have their work permanently available to the public. “There is nothing like this at present in the area and they deserve it!” he says.


Mauve is a synthetic dye named in 1859. Chemist William Henry Perkin, then eighteen, was attempting in 1856 to synthesize quinine, which was used to treat malaria. Though his experiment failed, Perkins found that the solution in the bottle was a purple colour, stained fabrics and would not wash out. He had discovered the first aniline dye. Perkin originally named the dye ‘Tyrian purple’ after the historical dye – but he filed for a patent in August 1856 (patent No. 1984). The product was renamed mauve after it was marketed in 1859 to Perkin’s mauve, mauveine, or aniline purple.

Choice of mauve shades of paint

He established a factory in Greenford Green called Perkin and Son and in 1860, Queen Victoria wore a silk dress dyed in the colour. The public went wild from this royal patronage and the introduction of this new colour caused a craze that took over the public’s imagination. Everything that could be dyed mauve, was. The previous fashions in colour were brown or beige and dyes were made from insects or botanical substances, that needed large quantities and made them expensive.

The passion for this colour also fuelled a race in chemistry to find the next wonder dye to be a colour of the moment.

Crystal Clear

Jacob Epstein – Orchids, 1954

The American crystal glass company Steuben was set up in 1933 as a branch off of another company founded in 1903 by British glassmaker Frederick Carder. The Corning Glass company took over the company in 1918 and then Steuben was founded to be the high end department. The ethos of Steuben was hand blown and crafted design. Their companies design department was set up under the American sculpture Sidney Waugh who designed many of the shapes of vases but also engraved them too. Their headquarters and centre was the rather airport and modern looking Corning Glass Center, Corning, New York, pictured below.

Steuben wanted to push their wears on the British Market, so they went on a charm offensive, commissioning British artists to make designs for various pieces in their collection. These were then engraved and made up part of an exhibition at Park Lane House, 45 Park Lane, London, an exhibition centre throughout the 1950s. (Not the location of the Dorchester, as that is build on top of 25 Park Lane and the numbers were all changed in the 1960s)

The event ran from October 14-November 9, 1955, and had its own booklet printed by the Curwen Press of the history of the company and images of some of the designs. The whole event was designed to inspire the public, but most of all, shop chains to stock the companies domestic ranges of glasses and decanters (many of these would be custom orders as wedding list gifts, rather than items on the shop shelving, prêt à partir). Most of these companies will be ones only your mothers will recall, like, Debenhams, Binns, Peter Robinson, Dickins & Jones and other stores consigned to history.

Below are some of the designs by the British artists they engraved.

The engraved designs were likely one off and individual. This might be reflected in the prices that were rather steep for the time in 1954. Listed in American dollars the prices are: Muirhead Bone’s Spanish Fountain $1200. Jacob Epstein’s Orchids $2000. Duncan Grant’s Summer $750. Graham Sutherland’s Mantis $900.

Many other artists listed in the exhibition booklet, but not depicted included: John Nash, John Piper, Matthew Smith, Reynolds Stone, Eric Gill, Leslie Durbin, Robin Darwin and Cecil Beaton.

As a bonus image, below is a vase by Matisse that was also included in the exhibition. This was part of a French collection of designs Steuben made in 1939. It was bought by the Louvre. Many of the unsold British designs were donated to the New York Museum of Modern Art.

Matisse – Pan, 1939

The Visitors Book

Percy Withers (1867-1945)

Dr. Percy Withers (1867-1945) is said to have had a wonderful skill with keeping friendships, but this is likely due to his welcoming hospitality of visitors at his Lake District and Oxford homes, and for keeping up with correspondence. His popularity is visible in the pages of his visitors book, aptly called ‘A Paradise of Dainty Devices‘, titled after the Richard Edwardes poem. It was kept for the visitors of his home near Oxford, Souldern Court and later, Epwell Mill in Warwickshire.

Percy Withers bookplate, designed by William Nicholson.

The leather bound book contains handwritten contributions from poets such as A.E. Housman, W.B. Yeats, and Robert Bridges, alongside cartoon sketches by Max Beerbohm and William Rothenstein; watercolours by artists including Edward Vulliamy and most surprisingly Paul Nash and John Nash. Although most of the poems have been published elsewhere, the sketches and paintings are unique. The visitors book was donated to Somerville College, Oxon, by Audrey Withers, an alumni in 1976.

Withers was a physician and writer. He also gave lectures to many societies of his trips and travels, he also wrote books on a vast range of topics, from: Egyptology, Cumberland, and childrens verse, to his most known work, the biography of his friend A. E. Housman.

A.E. Housman in the garden of Souldern Court, 1922.

Withers was transferred to the National Service Board (Conscription) in Cambridge in the early summer of 1917 and Housman was the Kennedy Professor of Latin at Trinity College, it was at this time the men met and became friends. In the years after the war, Housman was a guest at Souldern Court. After Housman’s death in 1935, Withers wrote a biography of his friend, A Buried Life: Personal Recollections of A. E. Housman (1940) reviewed by Archie Burnett as “a sympathetic but somewhat baffled memoir”.

The pages below are all from the visitors book of Souldern Court, and it is the guests of Withers there, that make up this blog.

F. L. Griggs – A view in Souldern.
A. E. Housman – Illic Jacet, 1917.
Edward Vulliamy, Landscape, 1923
W. B. Yeats – When You Are Old, 1922.
John Nash – Landscape, 1924
Paul Nash – Souldern Court, Oxfordshire, May, 1922.

The view Nash painted is likely of the garden at Souldern Court. It is likely that the tennis court at the property now, existed in Nash’s time.

Souldern Court, Souldern near Banbury

Percy Withers asked Paul Nash for four watercolours of the house and village, they were Nash’s first commision. Nash looks to have painted the works in oil but he only returned three works out of the four.

The painting below, is the view over the road from Souldern Court. The elevated angle of the work show Nash must have painted it from his bedroom window as it is before he started to use photography as an aide memoire.

Paul Nash – Pond at Souldern, 1923

SOULDERN or “SULTHORN” as it was originally called was founded before Roman times — it lies between the flood plain of the River Cherwell and the upland of the Great Oolite, from which limestone water percolates down to emerge as excellent springs. One of these may be seen as Souldern pond, old name — Town Well. A photograph taken in 1905 is shown (below).


The oil painting of the pond at Souldern, and below is the photograph. I am delighted to say the village scene looks the same today.

In 1923 Paul Nash also made a wood engraving of the view and called it Hanging Garden, it was editioned in 1924.

Paul Nash – Hanging Garden, 1924

Below is one of the other paintings from the village, though even with those iconic windows, I can’t trace the buildings location.

Paul Nash – Thatched Cottage, Souldern, 1923

Below is a watercolour painting by Paul Nash of Cottages in the area. However the photograph comes from the 1995 auction guide and is as clear as I can make it. Another painting called The Walnut Tree (1923), a watercolour was sold in 1989 but last exhibited in 1975 at the Tate Gallery Retrospective of Paul Nash.

Paul Nash – Thatched cottages, Souldern , 1923

Adam and Eve

Sometimes when writing the blog it is helpful to pick a topic that artists paint and react to, in this case it is Adam and Eve. Go into any gallery and normally there are at least ten paintings of this bible tale, but those paintings, usually pre 1900, were made to sell under a system of patronage of artists and their collectors. Today the topic is less fashionable, but I think these are curious works by modern artists.

Eric Fraser – Adam and Eve.

Charles Mahoney – Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, 1936.

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, 1936

Elisabeth Frink – Adam and Eve, 1968

Thomas Watt – Adam, Eve, Serpent and Angel, 1947

Catherine Wood – The Garden of Eden, 1971

In the picture below we have a curious bending of the tale, with Péronne used as the location, a shelled and bombed town in the Somme during World War One. A paradise lost and in ruins.

William Orpen – Adam and Eve at Péronne, 1918

Stanley Spencer – Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, 1936

What I also have thought of is the colour red and it’s link to danger, from signage, to the ruby slippers of Dorothy Gale. The serpent is green but the fruit is red.

The artists at Cresta

Wells Wintemute Coates design for the Cresta shop front.

Tom Heron (the father of Patrick Heron) was born in Bradford in 1890. He had rather artistic connections and unusually for a manufacturer at that time, he was left wing and was in the Guild Socialist League, taking on sweatshop conditions in factories and mixing with left wing artists and politicians. Heron was a silk manufacturer with Cryséde silks (1926-1929) and moved from St Ives, Cornwall to Welwyn Garden City in 1929 to set up Cresta Silks Ltd. For this high class, high fashion brand, he used professional gallery artists as designers, most notably Paul Nash, as well as architects like Wells Wintemute Coates to design their shop fronts and logos and packaging designed by Edward McKnight Kauffer.

Cresta Silks Ltd was a dressmaking firm that specialised in producing high quality silk clothing during the 1930s and 40s, thereafter covering a more general … The early designs were mainly by artists who later became well known-Paul Nash.

Museum Bulletin – Volumes 23–24, 1983

Paul Nash – Phalanx Pattern, for Cresta Silks Ltd, 1930

When WWII broke out silk was requisitioned for parachutes so Heron switched to wool fabric enabling Cresta to continue. The company had to leave its Howardsgate factory which was used by Murphy Radio for essential war work. Cresta Silks went into Welwyn Stores temporarily and Heron went to the Board of Trade as ‘Advisor on Women’s and Children’s Clothing’ where he initiated the famous Utility Clothing scheme for the wartime population. In 1946 the company was able to return to its Howardsgate factory though it would eventually move back to Welwyn Department Stores in 1954.

Welwyn Garden City – Heritage Trust

Patrick Heron – Amaryllis, 1936

Paul Nash – Cherry Orchard, 1932

Paul Nash – Design, for Cresta Silks Ltd, 1930

Aztec – Patrick Heron, for Cresta Silks Ltd, 1947

Graham Sutherland – Web, for Cresta Silks Ltd, 1947

Below is a silk scarf by Patrick Heron, designed in 1948, but produced in 1985. ‘St Ives’ was one of the silk scarfs Patrick made for his father’s company, but Cresta Silks rejected it and didn’t produce it, so it was made as high class merchandise for the Barbican Art Gallery’s 1985 retrospective of Heron.

Patrick Heron – St Ives Design, designed in 1948, produced in 1985

What was the Omega Workshop?

The Omega Workshop was a curious idea set up in 1913 by Roger Fry. It was really following Fry’s rise as a rebel in the art world. Though hard to think of as controversial now, in 1910 he held the first British exhibition of the Post-Impressionists to some upraw.

Posters for the first and Second Post-Impressionist exhibitions in London.

It featured Gauguin, Van Gogh and Matisse. He then followed this with another exhibition in 1912 of Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso. These exhibitions are noted with contemporary accounts of Slade art teacher, Henry Tonks, forbidding his students from going to it as it might corrupt their mind; and it did just that, for many of them like Mark Gertler and Dora Carrington it changed their styles of painting and bought them into the Bloomsbury groups orbit.

The Omega Workshop Studios

The Omega Workshop was an attempt to celebrate handmade items, without being too rooted in the Arts and Crafts tradition. Though the link is undeniable, the decorations of the items was not precise and Omega was more like the British version of the Mingei movement that happened later in Japan. On visiting the Omega studios in 1913 Yone Noguchi noted that Roger Fry was “attempting to create an applied art just as (William) Morris did” and that the studio was using Cubist motifs and designs, of abstract shapes in the fabrics and wood marquetry.

Room at 4 Berkeley Street, Painted by Omega Workshops.

What Roger Fry brought to the workshop was an inquisitive nature on designs from Africa as well as encouraging the artists to look at the works of other modern painters like Kandinsky. The main success of all these abstractions is that the studios were an area were the artists could play with ideas, as well as an exhibition space for their outcomes. They would give themselves a basic education on the method of the craft, say rug weaving, and then look at the limitations of the process and work designs around this.

Though the projects originally included Wyndham Lewis, he went off to explore the other outcome of European cubism – futurism. The main contenders were Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Simon Albert Bussy, Roald Kristian, Edward Wolfe, Edward McKnight Kauffer, Frederick Etchells, Winifred Gill, Henri Doucet, Nina Hamnett.

The rug (below), and used in this postcard (above) was made for Lady Hamilton, by Royal Wilton Carpets, for Omega Workshops by Vanessa Bell.

Vanessa Bell – Rug for Lady Hamilton, 1914

As the studios printed and made their own publicity material, they also started to print books. One if their earliest was by Arthur Clutton-Brock’s Simpson’s Choice, 1915. It had printed boards with a geometric design and woodcuts by Roald Kristian. Clutton-Brock worked as a reviewer and critic for The Times and was a personal friend of Roger Fry, it was this type of journalist the workshops needed on their side.

Soon after Leonard and Virginia Woolf were looking into hand-printing and bought a box of type blocks, a printing machine, and where printing their own books (though later they did employ a typesetter). They featured the prints of artists at the Omega Studios, though they were printed on the table at Hogarth House, the close connections ties them to the Omega Workshops.

In March 1917, the Woolfs walked along Farringdon Street, London, and purchased a printing machine, materials and an instruction booklet from Excelsior Printing Supply Company. The purchase was impulsive, but they had been discussing the idea of setting up a printing press since autumn 1916. Although the Woolfs were enthusiastic and absorbed by the work, their first publication shows some signs of amateurism such as irregular spacing and blotted ink. As Hermione Lee highlights, however, the Woolfs quickly developed into professional printers.

It took two and a half months to print 150 copies of Two Stories, which was released for sale in July 1917. Because the printing process was all-consuming, Virginia did not compose ‘The Mark on the Wall’ until the printing of Leonard’s story was complete. The 32 pages were sewn together and bound with paper covers by hand. Being bound on an ad-hoc basis, different covers exist: the British Library’s copy is bound in a blue weave-textured material.

Below is one of the Woolf’s early books, from Two Stories, The Mark on the Wall, by Virginia Woolf, with woodcuts by Dora Carrington.

The Mark on the Wall, by Virginia Woolf, 1917

The pottery that Omega originally decorated was bought in, but soon he asked a pot asked someone to make pots for them. “He contacted George Schenck , a potter at Mitcham , Surrey , and tried to get him to throw the simple shapes he wanted . The potter was unable to alter his long – practised throwing and Roger realized he would have to learn to do it himself “. Then on Schenck gave Fry pottery lessons were he experimented with designs and glazes, rather than using household paint applied onto vases. Later in 1915 when Fry designed a table service production was moved to Carter & Co, Poole, (later to become Carter Stabler and Adams, and Poole Pottery). At this time Carter & Co were making designs for garden pots for Liberties and were a high class artisanal pottery. Many of the works potted had a chinese influence.

When it comes to the furniture, many companies were employed to make pieces, for different uses, the marquetry cabinet here John Joseph Kallenborn.

Dryad made the cane seating and the chairs that were later painted by the workshop members.

I attach a write up by Roger Fry here, not to offend, as it is contemporary language about historical artifacts, but rather to show how many inspirations Fry was feeding off and his aims.

If you look at a pot or a woven cloth made by a negro savage of the Congo with the crude instruments at his disposal, you may begin by despising it for its want of finish. If you put them beside a piece of modern Sevres china or a velvet brocade from a Lyons factory, you will perhaps begin by congratulating yourself upon the wonders of modern industrial civilization, and think with pity of the poor savage. But if you will allow the poor savage’s handiwork a longer contemplation you will find something in it of greater value and significance than in the Sevres china or Lyons velvet. It will become apparent that the negro enjoyed making his pot or cloth, that he pondered delightedly over the possibilities of his craft and that his enjoyment finds expression in many ways; and as these become increasingly apparent to you, you share his joy in creation, and in that forget the roughness of the result. On the other hand the modern factory products were made almost entirely for gain, no other joy than that of money making entered into their creation. You may admire the skill which has been revealed in this, but it can communicate no disinterested delight. The artist is the man who creates not only for need but for joy, and in the long run mankind will not be content without sharing that joy through the possession of real works of art, however humble or unpretentious they may be.

The Omega Workshops, Limited is a group of artists who are working with the object of allowing free play to the delight in creation in the making of objects for common life. They refuse to spoil the expressive quality of their work by sand-papering it down to a shop finish, in the belief that the public has at last seen through the humbug of the machine-made imitation of works of art. They endeavour to satisfy practical necessities in a workmanlike manner, but not to flatter by the pretentious elegance of the machine-made article. They try to keep the spontaneous freshness of primitive or peasant work while satisfying the needs and expressing the feelings of the modern cultivated man.
ROGER FRY, Director, Omega Workshops, Ltd.

Room decorated by Omega Workshops for the Cadena Cafe, 59 Westbourne Grove, London. The rugs, attributed by Roger Fry but likely designed by Frederick Etchells with chairs made for Roger Fry by Dryad.

Henry Harris’s house in Bedford Square by Omega Workshops.

Maybe part of the biggest failures of the group was the building they set themselves up in. George Bernard Shaw’s concern voiced to Fry in May 1914 was that “you need a shop window, Morris found that out. It is all very well to live in a quiet London Square and look like an Orthopaedic Institute, but the price you pay is that your business remains a secret of a clique.