As featured in the Bardfield Times Feb 2017
‘Life in an English Village’ exhibition
and Artists of Great Bardfield book
One evening last summer, I was talking to Janet Dyson and Jenny Rooney about Edward Bawden and the sketches he gave to the village depicting Great Bardfield village life in the 1940s. These were preparatory sketches, drawn from life, and reproduced as colour lithographs in Noel Carrington’s 1949 King Penguin book Life in an English Village, which looked at how post-war rural life was changing. Great Bardfield Historical Society own 14 of the 16 sketches. We were discussing how frustrating it is that there is nowhere in Great Bardfield they could be put on public display. In terms of social history they are significant to the village as they show everyday scenes of Great Bardfield life – for example, shoppers in Piper’s village store on Bridge Street, a cleaner in St Mary’s Church, Mr Bone the Butcher at work, Reverend Cartwright writing his sermon, Miss Duffield with her class in the primary school and the artist John Aldridge enjoying a pint with corn dolly-maker Fred Mizen in The Bell (see image)
Our conversation led on to Janet’s unfinished book – an updated and expanded version of the booklet published back in 2008 and long out of print. It differs from recently published books on the Bardfield Artists as it looks at the lives of the artists in our village, their friendships and relationships, the Open House exhibitions and what the locals thought about the unusual number of artists who had chosen to live in their village. Excited, I went back to work, looked at the collection we hold at Braintree Museum and discovered we hadn’t put on an Edward Bawden exhibition since the 100th anniversary of his death in 2003. Wasn’t it high time we looked again at this great artist and designer who was born in Braintree? In fact, he had been born just around the corner from the Museum in Woodfield Road.
After several tentative conversations with Janet and Jenny asking if the book could be ready by January, a few sighs and ‘maybe by the end of January’ mutters, we decided it would be great to launch it with an exhibition at Braintree District Museum. So, our project began.
Janet and I visited the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery in Bedford which holds the Bawden Archive. We found some great photographs from the Open House exhibitions of the 1950s and looked at the work they held that showed the village. To supplement the sketches and our collection, I began looking for other works by the Bardfield Artists depicting the village. I naturally approached the Fry Art Gallery and we have been fortunate to borrow a number of works for the exhibition by John Aldridge, Michael Rothenstein, Walter Hoyle and Sheila Robinson. I also discovered that Chelmsford Museum had an oil painting of Mr Bone the Butcher by George Chapman, a ‘must’ to go alongside Bawden’s sketch.
By the time I’d been given a copy of the book to proof read, I was fascinated. I fell in love with much of the artists’ work and the story of their time in our village. The book looks at the early years of the 1930s when Bawden and Ravilious lived at Brick House and the arrival of John
Edward Bawden’s sketch of The Bell, with John Aldridge leaning on the bar with his pipe talking to Fred Mizen who stands underneath his corn dolly of a bell. Mr Jarrold pulls a pint while the local bobby looks on.
Aldridge and his wife Lucie to Place House. Then the coming of artists Kenneth Rowntree and Michael Rothenstein to the village during the Second World War followed by Bernard Cheese, Sheila Robinson, George Chapman, Stanley Clifford-Smith, Walter Hoyle, Marianne Straub and Audrey Cruddas in the late 1940s and 1950s. It examines the series of Open House exhibitions when the artists opened their studios and houses to the public, bringing literally thousands of visitors from all over the country to our village. Anecdotes from many villagers, particularly the Slow family – Mrs Kathy Slow was housekeeper to John Aldridge, William Slow was a student of Edward Bawden, who gave art lessons to local working men, and David Slow who as a lad worked for John Aldridge – are intriguing. Discovering that Charlotte Bawden had taught pottery at the school and realising that the wives of the artists were all trained artists too, some exhibiting alongside their husbands, was a revelation.
Interestingly, as the title suggests, the book looks not just at the Bardfield Artists but other artists like Linda Richardson and Miriam June King whose work, like that of the Bardfield Artists, drew inspiration from the village and the surrounding countryside.
Writing this in the middle of January, I am installing the exhibition and the book has just gone to the printers. The walls in our gallery are looking amazing and the book is beautiful. Come and see for yourself.
Collections and Exhibitions Curator, Braintree District Museum
The exhibition at Braintree District Museum runs from Saturday 28th January to 15th April.
“Artists of Great Bardfield – Great Bardfield Shows Beautiful Things” by Janet Dyson will be launched on Monday 6th February at 6.30pm at Braintree District Museum with special guest, Grayson Perry. If you would like to attend the book launch, please RSVP Braintree District Museum on 01376 328868 or email claire. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copies of Janet’s book will be on sale at Between the Lines bookshop from 6th February at £12.99. All profits will go to the Great Bardfield Historical Society.