The Art Room

Because Peter Wilmot Dear and Veronica Anstey were putting on stage performances regularly, we were kept busy making the costumes and scenery on an almost nil budget. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I sent a note home to all parents asking for interesting materials in the way of velvets, brocades, old curtains, jewellery, hats, feathers, lace etc. It was absolutely amazing the things they bagged up for us. They had to be stored. There was a store cupboard between the two rooms but that was already pretty full of regular art materials. In the end I got large boxes and labelled them Red fabric, Blue fabric, hats etc. they were stowed under the tables. We were not only able to make the costumes but we could make big fabric collages and hangings. It gave me quite an insight into the creative use of textiles as an expressive art medium.

When we designed the costumes I got them to look at examples of the design pages of the best costume designers of the day, remember I had been taught by Riette Sturge Moore, so I had some idea. They couldn’t just do a drawing they had to include the construction and the choice of materials. I only have one faded example of one of their pages. It was always best if they chose the material first, in this case the fabric of the red and yellow pieces were old curtains, we had the feathers and we steamed an old felt hat into an appropriate shape. One of the things they most enjoyed was making jewellery and using paper rope. You could get white paper rope in different thicknesses and glue it onto fabric with Copydex. Copydex had an awful smell when it was still liquid.  PVA wasn’t around much in those days. Once you had fixed the rope on you could paint or dye it add gold or silver etc. It made a ordinary fabric look very opulent.grammaraguecheek

I can remember Androcles and the Lion and the making of the lions head. I thought of the rope chicken I had made when I was a student and the sisal used on the Horseguards helmets at St Margarets. I managed to get some free rope and string and we used that for the mane. Plumbers tow came in useful as well. The daughter of the school secretary, Mrs. Salmon, became Androcles I can’t remember who played the lion but whoever it was moved really well in a cat like way. Litz would have been impressed (see earlier piece)

I was asked if I could offer another subject at a higher level and I remembered that when I was at school all those years ago I had done subsidiary level Gothic architecture and how much I had enjoyed it. The exam was still going strong and we had St Albans Abbey and above all the beautiful Ely Cathedral close by, so I offered to do it. To my surprise  I had five takers which was fine, as at a squeeze we could all get into my car. I used the same book that I had used myself as it was still recommended…the good old Bannister Fletcher.


bannister fletcher

The book is an obsessively detailed investigation of the great historic buildings in Europe with comparative drawings. I am especially fond of the Romanesque ( Anglo Saxon in England) and early Gothic and not so keen on the over decoration of the middle and late Gothic. The Quaker in me likes the pure simplicity of the earlier styles. Ely has the extraordinary wooden lantern high up in the middle of the transepts. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world. A few years later I went to a candle lit performance of a Palestrina piece sitting in that transept. It was semi dark and the voice of the counter tenor went soaring up into the huge space, one of those spine tingling moments in life.

5dayelywhole Ely Cathedral West front from the Close.

Under the Octagon at Ely Cathedral. Picture by Keith Heppell The extraordinary Lantern

As in so many churches you could see the development of the different styles from the simple to the more ornate. St. Albans was largely Norman.

By the end of my second year the numbers were too great for me to manage on my own and a second art teacher was appointed, I was made Head of Dept.( greatness thrust upon me!!!)  He was Peter, fresh from art school. We got on OK but he made it obvious that he was scornful of some of the things I was doing. He didn’t say so but I could tell, I think he thought I was fuddy duddy (perhaps I was)  It’s not difficult to make me feel an inferiority complex and I did. Anyway he worked in the way he wanted to and I was happy about that, they would get a different perspective.

I cheered up no end when we had a full general inspection. Sorry to be boastful but I had a glowing report and Peter had a bit of a roasting. The Art HMI was retiring and he asked me to apply for his post. Of course I was flattered but I couldn’t think of anything worse. Just imagine going into schools where teachers are waiting to be judged, all on edge.

Peter didn’t last long and in his place Anne Foxley was appointed. Her speciality was ceramics, although she did the more general art too. She had been at Corsham, not in my year. She was married to Alan Foxley also a Corsham potter. The kiln was being well used at last. I really enjoyed having her around she was so elegant with a marvellous dress sense. After she left, a few years later, she went to teach ceramics at the Quaker boarding school in Saffron Walden and Alan was appointed lecturer in ceramics in the training college for teachers in the same town. Later when the college was closed Alan and Anne became full time potters specialising in ceramic sculpture for gardens. I hope they won’t mind if I include photos.

AnneFoxley Anne’s piece.

Alan’s piece.


Alan and Anne.

alan and anne

When I was doing my peripatetic job I was asked to talk about the art of young children to a residential International Conference of teachers hosted by the Herts Education Committee at Offley place. I met some interesting teachers from Sweden and Holland and we corresponded for ages after that about all aspects of the arts in schools.  I did another couple of the conferences then I was asked by Mary Hoad, the Principal, to go to speak to the students at St Albans Art School. Of course by this time I had a great collections of slides of children’s work from aged four to eighteen.

My strangest invitation was to teach art in an International Camp for teenagers run by the Herts County Council in the summer holidays. Herts had a large piece of beautiful woodland at Cuffley. There were huts and a canteen. It was used by schools during the term time, whole classes would come and camp there for a week. There was a group of five Belgian boys that no one could control and they gave them to me. I had a long think about it and I thought they needed something really physical. The chief woodsman agreed to cut down five small trees that were going to be coppiced anyway. I went to a local hardware store and bought mallets and chisels (imagine doing that today you’d never get away with it) I had all these pictures of totems and they each made their own, I didn’t have any trouble with them thank goodness. They all became absorbed and it was a funny sight seeing the five of them getting on the bus to go home each carrying a five foot totem on their shoulder. Incidentally they had great keynote speakers and the one that impressed me was a young Kathleen Whitehorne.cuffley camp 3.jpg


Present day school using the camp. Mission to build a shelter for five people to keep out the rain. Well back to square one then!

For the purpose of the blog I looked up Cuffley Camp on Google today only to learn to my dismay and disgust that the Herts County Council, in spite of massive protests, have just had to close it down because of cuts. Ironic, just when everyone else is recognising the importance of outdoor education in this electronic age. I think the site has been leased to a company for outdoor learning. But this is why I was impelled to start this blog in the first place. I fear that all imaginative character forming elements of education are being decimated and I am furious.




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