Considering that I had known nothing about art colleges I was lucky to have fallen on my feet in this one. Corsham might have been tailor made for me. The principal, Clifford Ellis and his wife Rosemary were visionaries. In the fifties the visual arts in art schools were moribund. His solution was to try to get better art teaching in all schools. In his dream he was supported by three forward thinking County Councils – Hertfordshire, Cambrigeshire and Leicestershire. We all wanted to teach in those counties as they had built wonderful facilities for art and crafts in their new schools, it was a time of great hope after the end of the war.
Clifford and Rosemary didn’t see visual arts as separate but part of the arts generally. Hence we had the opportunity to work with first class musicians, writers, actors , designers etc. I had grown up around music, my mother played the piano and my father the violin. They played light music together whenever they found the opportunity. I used to sit on the stairs and listen (that was before they started to quarrel then I sat on the stairs with my hands over my ears)
Back to the visual arts course. We were able to rotate around ceramics, print making, textiles, calligraphy, puppetry, sculpture and optionally music, drama and poetry. You can see how wide the spread of experiences was. Almost without exception we worked hard…you have to remember that we were residential in a village, there was nothing to stop you working all night, (I have retained the habit as it is nearly 1am as I write this) the studios were always open. The pubs were the main attraction, the drink was rough cider, strong is not the word for it, it blows your head off.
There were two massive parties every year one at Christmas and the other at the end of the summer term. These were dramatic and imaginatively staged. The architecture of the Court provided a wonderful backdrop for decoration with it’s great double staircase. Making the decor and your own costume was actually part of the course…how imaginative is that? In my first term it was called The Waistcoat Party, we were given an assignment to make our own imaginative and decorative waist coats. The response was tremendous. I made mine from stripey pillow ticking. I turned the stripes in different ways (I think I invented Op art before it happened.) I used black trouser buttons to enliven the design even further. There was every kind of crazy waistcoat you could think of. I wore it with my leotard and black footless dance tights. You also have to bear in mind that there was a shortage of materials so you had to be inventive.
The staircase was wreathed in greenery and lit by candles. There was a great Christmas tree brought in from the grounds. It was like a scene from the Regency as students walked down the stairs in pairs showing off their creations, all accompanied by the sound of Christmas music from the talented college orchestra. The musical director was Henry Boys, he had a great understanding of modern music, he was a friend of Benjamin Britten and Britten had dedicated a piece of music to him. I sang in the choir and that Christmas we sang Britten’s The Ceremony of Carols in the village church which was at the bottom of the drive.
As this piece is becoming long I will continue it tomorrow. I don’t pre= write this, it is more like a long stream of consciousness coming straight from my head, (as you can probably see I am not bothering overly about correct grammar etc… I want it to be as alive and spontaneous as I can make it)