Bible of British Taste
  • Artists
  • February5th

    6 Comments

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    In the autumn of 2016 I visited the artist and renowned textile designer Pat Albeck in the Oxfordshire gate lodge where she has lived for about four years. She came there with her husband the acclaimed stage and costume designer Peter Rice (who died in 2015), leaving the family home near Aylsham in Norfolk. Before that, the couple  – who met as art students at the RCA –  had lived in London with their son Matthew Rice, now a brilliant artist-designer in his own right and married to Emma Bridgewater, the founder of Bridgewater Pottery in Stoke on Trent.

    ‘Matthew and I are quite often at loggerheads taste-wise,’ says Pat. ‘When we reached 80 each, Matthew thought it would be a good idea if we were nearer, so we packed our bags and followed him here. It’s very clever, Matthew designed it, it was a poky little cottage but he added another floor for Peter’s studio, and my studio and the living room.’

    ‘When we reached 80 each, Matthew thought it would be a good idea if we were nearer, so we packed our bags and followed him here,’ she says. ‘Matthew designed it, it was a poky little cottage but he added another floor for Peter’s studio, and my studio and the living room.’ 'I really do like growing vegetables very much.'

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    ‘I really do like growing vegetables very much.’

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    Beneath the large topographical print of a country house in the hall is a more modest painting of a house in the border country  by Charles Oakley(d.2008).

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    Looking from the hall into the garden, orange watering can hand bag on table.

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    Pat Albeck’s little picture of her young son Matthew Rice, painted on holiday in Nassau, and more two cat paintings: the first an Xmas card from Julian Trevelyan, the second of swimming cats a ‘Collins’ from Mary Fedden thanking for the invitation to the first night of one of Peter Rice’s productions.  Apples just picked from the abundant garden.

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    Kitchen work top and kitchen table beyond. Above the table hang two student works, prints by Matthew Rice executed at the Central School of Art.

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    One of Pat’s rag dolls, a pyjama case.

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    Jug collection, two mackerel on a plate by Richard Bawden, and our morning coffee. ‘These flowers are from what I call the Glyndebourne border.Whenever I’ve moved house I’ve always had a Glyndebourne border. Peter’s first job was at Glyndebourne and I’d never been aware of how wonderful gardens could be.’

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    ‘In my life I’ve always felt different from everyone else.I was very upset when I was about 10 that everybody in the area had pale green or maroon stair carpets, and we had some most extraordinary ones that my father had had woven at Libertys or something.’ Her father, a Polish emigre, was a furrier and an anarchist. In 1933 he had built his ‘Dream House’ at Anlaby, just outside Hull.
     
    ‘It was Art Deco inside, with a “Stockbroker Tudor” exterior. The house was built in the grounds of Tranby Croft. Our front garden was part of their woods. Tranby Croft was known for the famous Baccarat scandle in 1890 involving the future King Edward VII… I had a stained glass surround to an electric fire in my bedroom. It represented Little Red Riding Hood and was designed and made by students at the Hull Art School.’
     
    At the age of 16 she began four happy years of study at the College of Arts and Crafts in Hull.  ‘ The ambition of all art students at the time was to go on to The Royal College of Art. It was the idea of living in London and working with the best students from all over the country that made the thought so exciting. Well, I made it, and so starts the 50’s.’

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    In the large sitting room an architectural print by Edward Bawden, a poster designed by fellow RCA student David Gentleman  a small portrait of Pat aged 21 by Alan Price and over the chimneypiece, Envelope by Joe Tilson R.A.

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    Sculpture bought from a student degree show at the RCA, Flower painting by Mary Fedden. ‘I lived opposite Mary Fedden in Hammersmith. Her cousin Robin who was a director of the National Trust had asked her who could design a tea towel for them and she recommended me, they got onto me and I designed for them for over 30 years!’ The little cat sitting on the frame was made by Mary too, ‘they were presents that she gave to children.’

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    Above the Empire bureau hangs Fern Garden at East Ruston, a large early paper collage by Pat Albeck of the hellebore wood in Norfolk at her previous house, ‘a wonderful garden, my favourite place in the world.’ On the left, two family portraits painted by her witty friend the artist Harry More Gordon, whose house appears here in an earlier blog highlighting the work of his artist daugher, Domenica More Gordon.

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    ‘In the bottom portrait Matthew is reading a copy of The Field, but in the 10 years between those two paintings he had left home. The beautiful rug I’ve got my foot on was in my nursery, I’ve still got it.’

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    A table lamp by Cressida Bell and behind it a seaside scene by Julian Trevelyan. More Mary Fedden cats.

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    Landscapes in pen and  watercolour by Matthew Rice made at the age of c.15, the result of a private commission to paint Venetian scenes hang in the yellow bedroom.

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    A tour de force still life by Pat Albeck, ‘when I started painting instead of designing, and had a show at the Chelsea Arts Club.’

    ‘I had started doing water colours in the 80’s and 90’s just because Peter and Matthew were always painting and I felt left out. I had always drawn and painted in my sketchbook for design reference, but this was the first time I had done actual pictures. I started using a water colour box, which I had never done before. I had used all kinds of media but never a watercolour box. So this prepared me for lots more painting, which I have been doing ever since.’

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    ‘My life used to be completely full of cats and if I had my life again I would make sure that I got my cat situation better organised.’ Cats by William Chappell, ‘who was a friend.’

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    A crop of works in progress from her new style of ‘cut paper paintings’ on Pat’s drawing board.

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    All done directly from life, from flowers and onions growing in the garden,

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    Part of her archive of textile designs (more of her design archive is held by the Victoria and Albert Museum). ‘My first job in the 50s was working for Jimmy Cleveland Bell. Peter [Rice] was working in the theatre and I was in fashion. My boss was quite unusual, he let me do anything I wanted. He said, ‘You’ve just been to Venice on holiday. So I designed a pattern inspired by the fish market there.”
     
    ‘I had too much work towards the end of the decade. I decided then to have an assistant to work with me. This was the start of a series of amazing girls who worked for me, each staying with me for about a year. My first assistant was Susan Collier who later created the textile company Collier Campbell. Most of my assistants came straight from their degree course at art school. They have nearly all gone on to greater things.’

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    ‘I have designed two or three hundred tea towels.’

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    ‘Before, tea towels in England were plain, except occasionally when they were designed for advertising, eg Colman’s mustard, or they had “Glass Cloth” woven in a primary colour stripe down the middle. There were all these new products waiting to be decorated.’ (This picture copyright:Back to the Drawing Board/ Keele University.)

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    ‘This was a design I did in the 60s. John Lewis suggested I did them a William Morris design, and I said, I don’t copy things but I can do something inspired by him. ‘Daisy Chain’ is not quite what they wanted, but it was their ‘Best Seller’ for 15 years. Each year I produced new colourways. It was used for countless different things, plastic coated for tablecloths, laminated into trays, made up as skirts, oven gloves and eventually, in the brown colourway, into dog cushions. For the National Trust I did something much more Morris-y for William Morris’s house.’

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    Dining Room. Large collage by painter–poet  Sophie Herxheimer, bought by Pat Albeck, ‘because I liked it so much.’

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    ‘A friend of mine discovered an old 50s Horrockses skirt of mine on ebay. I did it in ’55. It cost me £70 to buy on ebay.’ The Venetian fish market-inspired pattern. For more of her wonderful patterns from the 50s click the link here :

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    ‘When I was at Horrockses there was an exhibition of a stage designed called Sophie Fedorovitch at the V and A, she had just died. I was commissioned to design some fabrics based on her costumes, I rather enjoyed it, they were done on arithmetic [graph] paper in the mid 50s, Madame Butterfly.’

    Back to the Drawing Board: Pat Albeck.

    A  designer stuck together a lot of my National Trust paper bags and used them as a backdrop for the Stephen Sondheim musical,  Into the Woods.

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    ‘These belong to Lanhydrock, my range of earthenware ceramics made by Portmeirion for the National Trust in the 1980s. They turned out looking very modern. It’s my very, very favourite design that I’ve ever done and that I still use, based on a border of tiles in the kitchens at Lanhydrock.’

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    Wrapping paper and wall paper designs by Pat Albeck. ‘Domenica More Gordon worked for me briefly after art college. I asked her to design wrapping paper, she didn’t know what I meant, ‘We always use newspaper,’ she said!’

    Back to the Drawing Board: Pat Albeck.

    ‘I drew these very, very carefully, they are early sample designs. I was about 23 at the time.I worked differently for the pottery industry in Stoke on Trent. Because it was expensive bone china like Minton and Spode and stuff, I felt it had to be very beautifully carefully drawn. I really enjoyed doing it.’

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    ‘Two tea towels were designed by Peter [Rice] for the National Trust, they wanted something architectural, that was one, the other is the story of wool. Pansy is one of my furnishing fabrics for  John Lewis. When felt tips came out I fell madly in love with them, ‘tho everyone was very superior about them.’

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    National Trust tea towels from the 1970s. ‘I used acorns, oak leaves and oak apples to design this Tea Towel for The National Trust. The acorn is The National Trust’s emblem. I was designing things that people might be tempted to buy at the end of a visit to a National Trust house or garden. This influened my style. I was using line drawing as my work became more representational and my colour became more muted, to go with the historic houses. Also it meant that I really had to learn to draw buildings accurately. Many of my designs were for specific properties, which I always visited, so I got to know a lot about the English countryside.’

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    Pat Albeck’s cut paper pictures, a selling show held in 2016.

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    Flowers in a Greek key jug. Cut paper picture by Pat Albeck, 2016.

     

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    Keele University’s forthcoming exhibition program will feature Peter Rice, Matthew Rice and Emma Bridgewater.
     
    Pat Albeck’s next selling show ‘A Cut Above,’ will be held at Colefax and Fowler’s new showrooms, opening on the 22nd of May to coincide with the Chelsea Flower Show.

     

    Excerpts from Pat Albeck’s website, www.pat-albeck.co.uk 

    Thanks to Pat Albeck and Matthew Rice. All images copyright Pat Albeck and bibleofbritishtaste.

     

  • October30th

    23 Comments

    Years ago, when our children were young, our generous friend Mary took us all for summer holidays at her family house, on one of the outermost islands in the Outer Hebrides. There in the rain, with white sands and beach lunches cooked for 22 people, I met Domenica and her husband the screenwriter and author Charlie Fletcher. She is so modest that it was only a few years ago that I found out what she was doing. Domenica was an art student, the child of two more artists, who had once worked on The World of Interiors and Elle Decor  in London and LA. But she was a maker at heart, fashioning dolls, toys and dolls clothes for her daughter, ‘who wasn’t the least bit interested. But I became more and more obsessed.’ The extraordinary canine menagerie that she began to make after that features at the end of this photo essay. But first, the house.

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    A top floor bedroom.

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    The hall.

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    Domenica’s father, the artists Harry More Gordon (b.1928) who died last year, taught at the Edinburgh College of Art. The painted hall floor was executed by two of his students. Bobs, one of two family dogs, the cheerful mongrel bitch whom he befriended on holiday in Greece.

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    Harry’s choice. An early Hockney poster, The Rake’s Progress.

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    Harry’s painting of Domenica, garden flowers.

    p1150537And two more of his watercolour portraits propped on the hall bench.

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    The house,a few miles north of Edinburgh towards the sea, austere, sandstone, dated 1748 in the pediment, built for Archibald Shiells. Domenica’s parents Harry and Marianne, bought it in run-down state in the 1960s when she was three years old. They found its furnishings in local auctions and junkyards.

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    And the back, with dog, semi-couchant.

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    Dining Room. Marianne More Gordon’s textile hangings made with a local community sewing group for Remembrance Sunday 2015 appliqued with doves and poppies, the work in progress on the table.

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    Harry More Gordon, lively, outspoken, ‘the best dancer ever, and unlike most fathers, never embarrassing’, one time picture and layout editor at Vogue.

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    Francis Kyle exhibition poster, another family portrait. Domenica in bed and James Holloway, director of the Scottish Portrait Gallery at the time and a keen biker, on the sofa.Watch out for this four poster bed later on.

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    Domenica’s younger sister Zillah, ill in bed. Harry More Gordon loved painting pattern and oriental fabric.

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    The first floor spine corridor, icons, Staffordshire porcelain and two Chinese portraits that Zillah gave to her parents.

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    View into the Drawing Room.’Dad’s taste was much more flamboyant, more twentieth century, whereas Mum would be much more eighteenth century, most of what is here is Mum’s. This house  is all about Mum and family and roots’.

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    House plants, one in a chamber pot planter.

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    End wall of the Drawing Room, the next photograph is a detail of the watercolour by Harry More Gordon hanging on the right.

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    Domenica, Zillah and tigerskin rug painted on the same spot.

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    Seat cushion and 3D textile (detail below) by Marianne More Gordon [nee Thompson-McCauseland], who trained at the Central School of Art. This house with its aqueous colour and pattern is another of her works of art.

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    Marianne’s bedroom.

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    Ditto, with ironing board.

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    Harry and Marianne painted in 3 poses by their friend, Patrick Procktor, who inspired Harry to use watercolour without any preliminary pencil drawing thereafter.

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    The crimson bed in that poster, hung by Marianne with a document linen bought at a local junk yard that she painstakingly washed and restored.

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    Harry More Gordon designed textiles and scarves for Libertys, this is one of his designs, hung in an upper corridor above the jugs that were often props in his paintings.

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    Top floor lavatory painting, the gift of one of his students.

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    [My] guest bedroom.

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    View from the back of the house across open fields, a scattering of wee raindrops.

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    Another guest bedroom.

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    Exquisite antique textiles and linens collected by Marianne, who was responsible for decorating and arranging the house’s many rooms.Tulip paintings by Rory McEwan.

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    My favourite portrait.

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    Zillah by Harry More Gordon, post-school, with home made badge, ‘Piss Off.’

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    The top floor spine corridor, with eighteenth century mural of country pursuits, commissioned by the house’s builder and first owner, Mr. Shiells. Dolls house at the end of the enfilade, outside Charlie’s writing room.

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    Charlie’s writing room, with another of Harry More Gordon’s designs for Libertys, and a landscape oil painted by an illustrator for the ‘Ladybird’ book series, bought for £5 in the fabled local junk yard. Here he wrote his compelling stories of British folklore and the supernatural, the mesmerising Stoneheart trilogy for children and now The Oversight, his darkly atmospheric adult novels set in Victorian London.

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    How to decorate a bathroom.

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    When Charlie, Domenica and their two children came back from living in LA, they moved into the house’s generously proportioned raised basement. This is one corner of their long room, both sitting room and kitchen. Orkney chair with one of Domenica’s dog cushions designed for Chelsea Textiles.

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    Tablescape.

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    Window-seat.

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    Paper tree birthday card made by Domenica.

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    Lunch and garden flowers in the little vase that Domenica found on our trip to the mythical junk yard.

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    Sitting room overmantle.

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    Late still life by Harry More Gordon. Objets trouves, the ceramics, feathers and the things picked up around the house that habitually made up his compositions.

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    A jolly nice bath.

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    And the bathroom corner cupboard. Euthymol toothpaste.

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    Domenica’s studio in an old stone pavilion building in a corner of the courtyard.

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    At last! The dogs. Sculpted from felted wool, conceived and hand made by Domenica.

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    Domenica’s worktable. If you see the same things in two different places it is because these pictures were taken on two visits made about seven months apart.

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    Sharp pencils.

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    Archie is a beloved, elderly black and tan Lakeland Fell terrier, the family pet for many years now. He was Domenica’s principal muse and model, and then became the hero of her books written and illustrated for children.

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    Hand knits, tartan, Fair Isle and roller skates. Note the minute elastic striped belt.

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    Bride dog, work in progress, seen in autumn 2015.

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    Domenica’s eye for costume detail is immaculate, She cuts and tailors and sources everything herself. Back on the Hebrides one summer we took 2 Calmac ferries to the island of Barra, where in the local history museum she pored over old photographs of crofters and their children in homespun jumpers, hand -me-downs and Harris tweed. All this knowledge percolates through.

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    Braces.

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    Bride dog resplendent.

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    Now Domenica has taken her menagerie much further back in history, creating a troupe of characters who enact the narrative of eighteenth century Grand Tourists, and writing and illustrating the story of their travels in watercolour. You can see some of her work on her instagram feed here.

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    Cobblers workbench with minute eighteenth-century shoes being made in all sizes.

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    I chose dogs because they are such good channels of emotion, ideal for capturing that childhood intense connection with an object [They] are usually with me in my studio and I have to be careful to keep my work out of their reach as I have found some of my wool dogs in a fairly battered state in their dog baskets.  I take it as a compliment and feel that I have achieved a certain level of intense connection… Actually, I think it’s the smell of the wool…’

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    Studies of ceramics.

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    Vignettes and character sketches for the new book.

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    These dogs have a sweet, toy-like quality, the smallest fit into the palm of your hand. Domenica’s next exhibition, Noble Dogs, is at Arts and Sciences in Kyoto from 18 November 2016. Or you can buy your own felting kit and make a dog of your own. Domenicamoregordon.com

    Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to bibleofbritishtaste, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

    Grateful thanks to Domenica and Marianne More Gordon and Charlie Fletcher. All photographs copyright Domenica More Gordon and bibleofbritshtaste.

    NB: You can read Charlie’s privately published short story, Safe Home, here. It was written as a ‘venting exercise,’ in response to the Iraq war and the Chilcot enquiry. I  highly recommend it.

  • December31st

    8 Comments

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    Flanking the chimney in Malplaquet House – the home of Tim Knox and Todd Longstaffe Gowan – are shell candle sconces in the Baroque taste made by Belinda Eade almost 20 years ago.

    As a pupil at Marlborough School Belinda had helped to  restore the tumble down grotto in its grounds. In the 80s she studied jewellery at the Central School of Art and Design, and joined up with Diana Reynell and Simon Verity to restore the very elaborate shell grotto at Hampton Court House (built by the second Earl of Halifax for the Drury Lane actress who was  his mistress and designed by the Georgian architect Thomas Wright), and then to build a new one at Leeds Castle. ‘Grottoes are huge jewels,’ she said then. She has been designing and building shell encrusted rooms and grottoes ever since.

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    Belinda is also a stone carver ans sculptor, designer of gravestones and cutter of monumental letters.

    When we first met she was making stark, experimental metal candlesticks from old tractor parts and others cast with a small bronze bird, but to my continual regret I never bought one then.

    Belinda carving in a grotto that she designed and built in Spain.

    Belinda carving in a grotto that she designed and built in Spain. Her earliest grottoes were encrusted  with limpets, clams, oysters, mussels, and cockles and glittering black anthracite, gathered from the embankments of disused railway lines.

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    This is a gloriously Brutalist fireplace of slab and shuttered concrete that she built in a former studio about five years ago, modeled on those invented by the sculptor Lynn Chadwick for his manor house Lypiatt Park.

    Belinda has lived in an old stone house in Somersetshire now for about a decade

    Side door.

    Belinda has lived with her husband and two children in an old stone hilltop house in Somerset for about 10 years now, set amongst fields and the gardens that they have created.

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    The scullery.

    Still life of kitchen sink with array of hanging pot and bottle scourers

    Still life of kitchen sink with array of hanging pot and bottle scourers

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    Log box.

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    Hearth in the long room, once the  principle room in the Elizabethan house, now mainly for dogs and ping pong.

    Ruby the rescue greyhound drowsing.

    Ruby the rescue greyhound drowsing.

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    Marble sculpture by Cornwall-based artist William Peers, exhibited at Rosie Pearson’s biennial Asthall Manor stone sculpture show

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    Paneled Drawing Room.

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    Biscuit coloured linen curtains.

    Biscuit coloured linen curtains.

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    Guest bedroom, the most comfortable bed

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    And hanging next to it her glorious shell pier glass with blue mussel shells and a limpit shell embellished table lamp

    Belinda in shell tiara, styled for a Vogue photo shoot in the 90s by the late Isabella Blow.

    Belinda in shell tiara, styled for a Vogue photo shoot in the 90s by the late Isabella Blow, from a tattered magazine cutting.

     

    William Morris Willow pattern in the second guest bedroom.

    William Morris Willow pattern in the second guest bedroom.

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    Telescopic feather duster in the spine corridor.

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    This is the ‘sister’ urn  of another that was one of four garden pieces carved with Virgilian texts, made by Belinda for Christopher Bradley-Hole’s ‘ Best in Show’ Gold Medal winning Chelsea Garden in 1997. The Latin inscription reads Inter peritura vivimus  (We live among things which will perish).

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    The topiary yew hedge sunk garden that Belinda and Patrick designed and laid out below the house. They are both very good gardeners.

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    The walled kitchen garden designed and built about eight years ago. Totem pole by artist and garden designer Tom Wood of Kalnoky Wood Garden Design. Tom’s other website is here.

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    December marigolds.

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    Galvanised zinc and corrugated iron corner of the kitchen garden.

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    Memorial stone carved by Belinda to her family pet killed by a fox, the rabbit ‘Curious Brown,’ d.2002.

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    The designs for a shell temple on Belinda’s desk.

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    Belinda in the grotto that she built over a year of Sundays, in the back garden of her west London house in c.1990, from The Sunday Telegraph, April 28, 1991. The materials  – fossilised limestone and thousands of shells supported on a wood and metal armature – had taken years to collect, and later the grotto-work was extended into the laundry room at the back of the house. In those days she collected all the shells herself, gleaning along the Devon coast for oysters and the east coast of Scotland for mussels and picking up grey and white flints in the fields of Hertfordshire. We all contributed too, giving her exotic Nautilus and spiky Murex lifted down from dusty bathroom shelves and bags of native specimens that we had picked up while beachcombing. The deep blue of mussels shells and the nacreous insides made some of the most beautiful shell work of all as well as good eating. The fly-speckled moon shells which made up the central arches of this grotto were served up to Belinda for lunch on a bicycle holiday in Normandy, and carried back, reeking of garlic.

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    The slate stone given to me by Belinda in memoriam for my Battersea dogs home cocker spaniel, buried at the foot of this wall in my back garden.

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    Above and below, two more of the Virgilian inscriptions carved for Christopher Bradley Hole’s 1997 Chelsea garden.

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    To contact Belinda about a potential commission please send a message via the bobt – all messages will be promptly passed on.

    Thanks to Belinda and Patrick.

     

    Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to bibleofbritishtaste, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.