Monday, 30 July 2012

'Sculpture, The Arts and The Decorated School' - Henry Moore Institute, Saturday 23rd June 2012.

Catherine Burke’s introduction to the ‘Decorated School’ seminar, taken from an educational perspective discussed the book ‘The School That I’d Like’ (1969), a collection of pupils’ opinions; the child being perceived as the ‘client’ of the school. Its editor, Edward Blishen, drew attention to the perceived importance of the material environment including shape, colour and aesthetics. One 18-year-old pupil, Ann wrote:

‘Above all, education should be exciting. No educated person can claim boredom amidst so much knowledge. School life should be crammed with interest – the building too. Yet nothing is more depressing than the buff-coloured classroom! Revolution must break out, the classroom must be invaded by novel colour schemes and different architectural styles, taken over by paintings and sculpture. No two should look the same.’

Catherine questioned what was an artwork’s educational value? From the findings of the Network, once in situ the fate of the artwork was often in the hands of the school, with murals being boarded or painted over, when perceived as old fashioned or if needing repair. An example that Catherine shared was the ‘Adam Naming the Animals’ mural designed for Yewlands School, Sheffield by Barbara Jones in 1954, commissioned by the architect Basil Spence. At some point the mural had been concealed behind plasterboard and when it was decided that the school should be demolished, the existence of the artwork was remembered too late to save it.

In Jeremy Howard’s ‘Sculpture in Schools’ overview the speaker pointed out that sculptures rivalled painted murals as the most commonly found school artworks (though textiles, mosaics and glass also proliferated). He indicated that the mid-twentieth century was a heyday for school sculpture in Britain and abroad but that its historical development could be traced back at least to the seventeenth century and that there were many works to be encountered around the world from different periods. Jeremy focused on the example of Leicestershire Educational Authority’s patronage of sculpture in the 1960s-1970s in order to highlight some of the issues pertaining to school sculpture. It was wondered whether schools viewed sculpture in a different way to monumental paintings. Was this linked to the materials the works were made from and the response they evoke, whether touch, play, wonderment or vandalism? Or was it the theme that counted, and if the work was didactic, narrational, or institutional?

Jeremy questioned how the users of the school were allowed to respond to a sculpture. Did the power relations of staff over pupils, limit the children’s access to the work, through touch or exploration. Did this ultimately play a part in how it was perceived and its subsequent lifespan? Jeremy also questioned the criteria for selection (‘suitability for children’) of sculptures for school environments.

Jeremy felt school sculpture, placed in non-classroom environments, sometimes challenged the role of the gallery. An example of a successful placement was Phillip King’s sheet metal construction ‘Dunstable Reel’ bought by Stuart Mason for Countesthorpe College, Leicestershire (1970). The sculpture, placed at the heart of the school buildings was respected by the pupils and there was a positive attitude by all the institution’s users to its positioning; as a result it avoided vandalism. This was in something of a contrast to a William Pye sculpture inside the foyer that had suffered some damage. It was felt that these experiences from the past could help care for the work of the future.

In Claire Mayoh’s ‘Stories from the archives’ she illustrated how the Henry Moore Institute’s Archive had an amazing amount of interesting, books, catalogues, photographs, letters, press cuttings and personal papers of sculptors. Just using 'art in schools' as a starting point Claire pulled from the archive a range of information about commissions and purchases of sculpture for schools across the UK. Claire showed examples from the collections of émigré artists Franta Belsky, Peter Peri and Willi Soukop, also Betty Rea’s involvement with the Society for Education through Art for their annual art sales for schools in the 1950s-1960s. Additionally examples of the pioneering artworks commissioned and bought by Leicestershire Education Authority in the post war period.

The variety of gems uncovered included a newspaper cutting from 1958 reporting the rejection of Soukop’s ‘Donkey’ sculpture by Nottinghamshire Education Committee for one of it schools, as it was seen as too controversial; in contrast another school in Leicestershire loved their version of the same artwork. So much so that Leicestershire Education Authority wrote to Soukop, (as evidenced in a letter from the Archive) for advice over its damaged ear. Claire showed that the Archive has in some cases enough information within its files to create a comprehensive over view of how an artwork was commissioned for a school or in others a tantalising snippet that needs to be explored more.

For more information about the Henry Moore Institute Archive of sculptors' papers please visit

The theme of working in partnership and how to gain a further understanding of the relationship between education and the arts led to the discussion, ‘Designing a collaborative research and development project’. As the variety of knowledge and expertise from the delegates was so wide, the responses provided food for thought.

Firstly it was discussed how the Decorated School Network could build a research relationship with the Henry Moore Institute? The suggestions offered were to create a collaborative doctoral award project (AHRC). Also to develop an exhibition about the history of education through the arts, especially sculpture.

Broader research questions elicited responses such as ‘art as an extended architecture: the silent teacher’ (drawn from Henry Morris). ; in contrast looking at the absence of such art. The place of sculpture in relation to the buildings: the significance of site? The place of art in the procurement of new buildings: learning from the past. Sculpture and play: challenging concepts of value. Examining how does public school art develop longevity through memory and through its appreciation by the wider community? Also the meaning of education through art today.

In terms of projects, it was thought that there could be a national recording scheme, also to develop an interactive website as an educational tool utilising the archive at its strongest parts (i.e. 1950s and 60s); ensuring that contemporary artists had access to this information to help promote current work. Additionally examining the idea of 'vandalism' as positive and creative.

In my talk (Dawn Pereira)  ‘Art for the “Common Man” Sculpture in Schools within the London County Council (1957-1965)’ I wanted to pull together some of the strands already discussed, such as placement , theme, genre and response using the artwork placed in LCC schools as a case study.

My account was a chronological journey examining the reasons behind the type of art commissioned or acquired for a range of educational establishments throughout London. I gave an account of individual commissions to illustrate how the type of murals and sculptures purchased changed over the lifespan of the intervention. I discussed how as they progressively became more expensive and abstract, they increasingly became difficult for the public to understand. 

I revealed that many of the problems stemmed from the internal battle between the education department, sub committees and the Arts Council regarding what was considered ‘suitable’, compounded by the negative response of the recipients. The most extreme example being Joe Tilson’s geometric mural that was rejected by the school governors and was never resited. However I also discussed successful commissions, such as Mary Fedden’s ‘Circus’ mural, where the favourite design was voted for by the students.  Also Lesley South’s play sculpture, which initially encountered safety and durability issues at committee stage but was eventually well received by the school and its pupils.

In regards to the long term reaction to the work I concurred with the findings of the Network that sculptures were stolen for scrap value, vandalised, or removed if thought dangerous or unsuitable. However I also found that others were played on and loved. In the respect of murals I discussed that some had suffered the fate of being removed or boarded over, to then in some instances be remade, rediscovered and celebrated.

To read the paper in full please follow the link to Dawn Pereira, ‘Art for the “Common Man” Sculpture in Schools within the London County Council (1957-1965)’.

Cilla Eisner’s talk on Antony Hollaway and Peter Peri’s work for schools in the 1950s and 60s offered the perspective of an artist and teacher, but also a more personal insight. Her access to some of Peri’s archives and her own friendship with Hollaway helped us learn more about the artists’ working methods and what inspired them.

Peri, born in 1899 to a Jewish family was an active communist in Budapest, eventually he moved to London in 1933. In the 1950s he was commissioned to create series of wall murals for the new schools in Leicestershire. Cilla described his methods of working with a new type of concrete ‘Pericrete’, which he had developed himself. She discussed the sculptures, etchings, drawings and designs from private collections not usually accessible to the public and these subsequently formed the major part of an exhibition that she curated for the Sam Scorer Gallery, Lincoln in 2008.

It was particularly interesting from Cilla’s presentation to learn more about the life and career of Tony Hollaway. Born in Poole in 1928 to a coal merchant he went onto to study art at Bournemouth College of Art (1948-53), then undertook an art teacher’s diploma at Southampton University. In 1953 he gained a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, Cilla informed us that his contemporaries were Joe Tilson, William Mitchell and Frank Auerbach and that he was influenced by the work of Ferdinand Leger and the Bauhaus School. In 1957 he started his own practice as stained glass and mural designer, quickly gaining the role of a Design Consultant at the LCC until 1968.

During this period Hollaway became increasingly interested in education, eventually becoming Head of Three Dimensional Design at Trent Polytechnic and later undertaking a PhD (now held at the National Arts Education Archive). He also developed a working partnership with Manchester based architect Harry Fairhurst, which resulted in several commissions for murals and decorative concrete work. In 1972 he started the first of the windows at Manchester Cathedral, leading to four further commissions, culminating in his ‘Revelation Window’ (1995).

Cilla recalled that she first met Hollaway in 1989 when she invited him to give a talk on colour to the students in her class. Through a series of newspaper cuttings, photographs and personal reminisces, Cilla shared some of the stories and inspiration behind Hollaway’s artworks. An early commission made for a school was based on St George and the Dragon created for St. Georges School, Swaythling, (1957). Cilla tells us that Hollaway wanted the contrasting dark and light design of the mosaic panels to represent good and evil. Hollaway went on to develop this symbolic imagery further in his ‘St George’ stained glass window designed for Manchester Cathedral (1972).

An artwork that Hollaway made specifically for King Edward VII Grammar School, Coalville was a sculptural screen wall based on mathematical principles (1961). It was created from reinforced concrete, ceramic tiles and glass, positioned on a raised walkway linking the Main Hall to the Science block. Cilla showed us the press cutting from the Design journal, which featured the work in January 1963. She emphasised Hollaway’s use of pioneering techniques, a photo showing the artist creating the design with an electric hot wire, drawn into polystyrene. During this era artists were photographed ‘in action’ and were featured in many architecture, design and art journals. Headlines such as ‘Art with a blow lamp’, emphasising how new and exciting this type of public art made for schools, was perceived to be.

The pupil in ‘The School That I’d Like ‘wanted a revolution of colour, originality, and variety in her school, and as we have seen at ‘The Sculpture, the Arts and The Decorated School’ seminar this did take place where education authorities or private architects had the vision to commission individual artworks, take the necessary care in their placement and take into account how they would subsequently be perceived by the ‘clients’ themselves

No comments: