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A History of my Archive in 10 Objects. No.6: Old Man earthenware figure, 1978

The sixth item in A History of my Archive in 10 Objects is an earthenware figure, made during my Foundation Course at Bournville School of Art early in 1978.

Old Man, earthenware figure, 31cm tall, 1978

Bournville School of Art was located at Ruskin Hall in the beautiful surroundings of Bournville Village, the famously idyllic workers’ community built by the Cadbury brothers next to their chocolate factory. Opened in 1903, it was purpose built as an art school by a friend of John Ruskin, and stood in that role until it’s controversial closure in 2012. The suburb was deliberately created to mirror a pastural tudor village, the college overlooked the ‘village’ green. It was a very straightforward commute for me, as it lay on the same train from Four Oaks to Birmingham, just on the opposite side of the city. Every morning I’d get off the train and walk past the chocolate factory to Ruskin Hall, breathing the chocolate scented air – it was almost perfect, the only downside (from a student point of view) was the lack of a pub, the Quaker Cadbury brothers being of course abstainers.

There was also a secondary studio at Steelhouse in the middle of the city, used mainly for life drawing and painting.

The year I spent at Bournville School of Art was an incredibly rewarding experience, it opened my eyes to new artists and a more directly relevant graphic business, many of the tutors were working artists and designers as well as lecturers, so had direct experience of the creative business, it was an intense, exciting course that broadened my horizons, introducing me to life drawing, etching, photography … and ceramics.

And so to this figure, the “little old man” as my mum always called him. It’s a character from my doomed novel In Search of Summer Gold, so in many ways a last gasp of my adolescent fantasising before the maelstrom of degree course. Standing 37cm tall he’s quite heavy, with a detachable head. He used to hold a clay pipe in one hand, which has now broken off and lost.

Like many of the things studied at Foundation Course, this is regretably the only thing I made in ceramics, the course was all too short – focusing all my attention on illustration thereafter, I’ve never been anywhere near a kiln since. Similarly I’ve not made etchings either, which I greatly regret.

This figure would have been familiar to anyone who visited my parent’s home, as it sat in their front room window looking out onto the world for decades, it was the first thing you noticed as you approached the house.

For that reason it conjures intense memories of the family home to me, every trip back from Japan I’d wander up the drive and there he’d be, my “little man”, welcoming me back to the old place. He now sits in my studio, not looking through a window onto the world, but instead glaring reproachfully at my work table. He’s telling me to get back to work….

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