‘Creative Wiltshire’ is Chippenham Museum’s first exhibition in its newly opened gallery space. It features the work of many influential artists who moved to North Wiltshire during the 20th century for work, study or a simpler life. For them the area provided new inspiration for their creativity, producing artwork directly responding to the local landscape.
The exhibition features works by well-known artists such as Howard Hodgkin and Robin Tanner displayed alongside examples of local pottery by Penelope Ellis and silver by Graham Watling. Also on display are items by the Ellis family, telling the story of the influential art establishment at Corsham Court.
Many of the items on display have been acquired as part of the Creative Wiltshire project and this wonderful exhibition is running until 17 March 2018; admission is free. Visit the Chippenham Museum website for further details.
To help celebrate the artistic work of north Wiltshire, one of our Creative Wiltshire volunteers wanted to share further details of the work of the Bath Academy of Art at Corsham Court… enjoy!
Lord Methuen – the artist Paul Ayshford – allowed his home, Corsham Court to be used to establish the new Bath Academy of Art at Clifford Ellis’s request in 1946 after the destruction of the original premises. Additional annexes in Monks Park, in Bath and at Beechfield incorporated a first English residential college for art teachers that Ellis had dreamt of. The first Principal was Clifford Ellis (1946-1972) and his wife, Rosemary, also served as a member of the teaching staff. The early syllabus included printmaking, film, music, drama, painting and sculpture.
Lord Methuen’s home is an exquisite location that left us an art collection in its fine 18th-century Picture Gallery. In the garden of Corsham Court from time to time we can see more contemporary works associated with BAA. They include work by Michael Pennie, one of the longest serving teachers, who had various works exhibited at the original site in Corsham and also at Bath Spa University eg. Sculpture Within: seven woodcarvings. Peter Randall-Page, a student in the 1970s, had Cupressus, an outdoor statue placed at Corsham Court in 2011. Pennie displayed one of Kenneth Armitage’s semi-abstract bronzes at Sion Hill and later at Corsham Court; Armitage was Head of Sculpture in 1946 at BAA. The exhibition Corsham Painters and Sculptors – Revisited included both works that are part of the collection of the current BSU and also items on loan from artists. John Hoskin’s who taught sculpture 1957-68, had Little Cantilever Square made of painted steel and brass plate at Corsham Court as part of the exhibition, next to a small bronze of Pennie’s, Six Zigs/Three Storeys. Three paintings by lecturer Peter Kinley were also part of this exhibition. The works on loan included a sculpture by former teacher Bernard Meadows – a bronze entitled Armed Bust Version II, 1961, and another bronze, by former student Hubert Dalwood, Orb, 1959. In 1996 Andrea Garrihy, a former student from 1968-71, was commissioned to carve Lord Methuen’s dog in Bath stone and this can be seen in the garden. A team of ex-Corsham sculpture students, including Garrihy, represented England in 1992 in an international snow sculpting competition.
Ellis invited numerous beginner artists to teach who later became influential; William Scott, Peter Lanyon, Terry Frost, Howard Hodgkin, Robyn Denny, Michael Craig-Martin, John Ernest, Richard Hamilton, Jim Dine, Henry Cliffe and Peter Potworowski. The establishment of a Research Centre for Arts Education helped gave BAA recognition. Regarding the painting course, Ellis ‘held together two disparate dogmas’: the figurative and the abstract. The finest representative of these contrasting strands is Adrian Heath, student and teacher of BAA. His main opponent at BAA was the constructivist Malcolm Hughes. Ellis wanted to ‘challenge the established order’ (http://artdesign.bathspa.ac.uk/about/) with the skills taught.
Two artists who worked under Clifford and knew him well are John Eaves, course director from 1958-85 and Michael Pennie. During 1986 it was Pennie who organised the Sculpture in the City exhibition to herald the move of Bath Academy of Art to Sion Hill, becoming part of Bath College of Higher Education; this took place under protest and demonstration. To attract foreign artists to the Fine Art course at Sion Hill Pennie persuaded the Henry Moore Foundation to enable International Fellowships. The closure of the Academy at Corsham and its return to the City of Bath was led by social change reflected in new art forms, leading to the School eventually becoming part of today’s Bath Spa University as Bath School of Art & Design. Corsham Court now houses facilities for Bath Spa University.
Clifford (1907-1985) and Rosemary (1910-1998) were graphic artists and illustrators, oten working together. Their partnership was part of the essence of the Academy and one of a kind in the art world. They are perhaps best known for the covers they designed for the ‘New Naturalist’ series of books published in the Fifties. In collaboration they designed posters for Shell, The General Post Office, The Empire Marketing Board and London Transport. Their daughter Penelope (1935-2016) was a sculptor, who lived and worked at Corsham Court in close collaboration with Bath Academy of Art. She also made ceramics, jewellery, and models of all sizes to professional standards, as well as photography with Rosemary. In 1963 working with students, her design, a construction based upon the ancient monuments of Wiltshire, was awarded first prize in the Travaux d’Equipe section of an International Arts and Architecture competition in Paris.
The Ellis legacy includes paintings, drawings and posters by Clifford and Rosemary, working separately or together. Prints by Clifford and Rosemary range from examples of animals and birds comparable to the works produced for ‘The New Naturalist’ to a number of series of linear prints – lithographs and woodcuts characteristic of 1950s abstraction. In his position as head of Bath Academy of Art, the influence of some of the leading artists of the day is clearly visible in Clifford’s work. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s art education in Britain was second to none, thanks to Clifford and Rosemary.
Penelope’s studio pottery, including beaker inspired vases, and original sketches and paintings were auctioned as part of their family archive in 2017, and we were fortunate to acquire a number of pieces as part of the Creative Wiltshire project. Now housed at Chippenham Museum and the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre in Chippenham, an archive has been created from a wide selection of the works, including preparatory material giving as insight into the work of this hugely talents artistic family. A number of Penelope and Rosemary’s photographs which arose from a collaborative project about an organic farm at Rushall are also stored at WSHC in the Historic Photograph & Print Collection.
Viktoria Kiss, Creative Wiltshire Volunteer