Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Hinton House state bed re-construction project update

Copy of the cornice, delivered and it looks fantastic. The carving and carved curves of the original cornices has been faithfully copied by carver Mike Howden. Jon Wray, joiner, undertook the manufacture of the structural works, to which the carvings are attached, and mouldings such as the very bold cove, technically quite a challenge to make. As with the tester, whose original construction left rather a lot to be desired, so it is with the original cornices. Brilliant carving, but rickety structural work. Jon Wray, working with Mike Howden, devised an understructure that is very light, but rigid. Like the consolidation work on the tester the new constructional design is essential for rigidity, but unseen.

Meannwhile, work progresses on the construction of the oak bed frame. State beds of this era follow a standard pattern, and it is the state bed at Dyrham Park that has been used as the example to follow.

Conserving the textiles involves, in part, careful cleaning to remove years of dust.

The tester has been turned over so that the textile conservator can undertake consolidation and cleaning of the surviving textiles, and disguise areas of loss.

The ceiling void above where the tester is to be suspended has been assessed, and the requisite support structure designed. There is a massive RSJ steel beam to attach to, a beam that was added years ago to support the weight of the showcases in the room above the Crimson Bedroom. The pilot hole is being marked in the picture left. The RSJ is on the left side of the picture on the right. The drill bit can just be seen between the tape measure and the RSJ.

And one very dead bird near the point of tester suspension. Poor thing must have found its way in through a disused sealed up chimney in the room, with a gap down in the void, and gotten trapped. All chimneys were capped when Temple Newsam was re-roofed in the late 1990s. Not the first dead bird I have come across in Leeds' historic houses, I hope it is the last.

Posted by Ian Fraser

Friday, 11 March 2011

Willow Pattern Take Two

As a ceramics graduate I was somewhat surprised to discover my ignorance of the story of the Willow Pattern. I stumbled across the tale whilst carrying out my internship on the documentation of the pearlware collection at Temple Newsam. The now familiar blue and white Chinese scene, created by Josiah Spode in the late 18th century to imitate Oriental porcelain, proceeded to flood the market and appeared on a whole host of earthenware, from egg cups to potted meat dishes. The legend of the pattern had passed me by but fear not, I shall fill you in..

Willow Pattern PLate, Spode, Late 1700s, LEEAG. 1969.11.86

A Mandarin customs officer, who lived in the large two storey temple centre-right of the image, grew rich whilst his secretary Chang did all the work. Amongst rumours of bribery and corruption, the officer was granted retirement by the emperor, and he withdrew to his lovely house taking with him his secretary and Koong-se, his beautiful daughter. Chang and the Mandarin's daughter soon fell in love and continued to meet in secret after Chang had finished the work and been dismissed. They knew their love could never be as they were from different classes and her father had forbidden their relationship.

The Mandarin imprisoned his daughter in the smaller house next to the main building, enforcing the separation with a fence to keep them apart, and then betrothed her to his wealthy duke friend Ta-Jin who came bearing a box of wedding jewels. Obviously ancient Chinese grooms and fathers-of-the-bride are no different from their modern Western counterparts, and they set about getting drunk before the nuptials. Taking their chance, Chang and Koong-se raced across the bridge to freedom, pursued by her whip-brandishing father. Evading him, they sailed on a boat to a far off island and settled there happily.

Luckily they had remembered to grab the box of jewels before their escape, which they sold, using the money to buy the island and build a home. Chang wrote a book on agriculture and gained a great reputation which sounds lovely, but unfortunately this success was to be his downfall. His fame led the angry jilted Ta-Jin straight to his door, who then had him arrested and killed. Koong-se was so distraught at the death of her partner that she ran to her home and set it alight, dying in the flames. Koong-se and Chang were reunited in death, transformed into the two doves which make the Willow pattern so distinctive, the fated lovers flying together for eternity; the willow tree at the heart of the pattern signifying sadness.

Blue and white transfer printed Chinoiserie was hugely popular from the moment it was manufactured, and though it may flit in and out of fashion it won't go away. The Willow pattern has come to symbolise an entire era of British ceramic production. It still continues to inform and inspire. As in all contemporary art mediums, ceramicists draw inspiration from the past. Two relatively recent Leeds Museums and Galleries acquisitions which clearly demonstrate this are Robert Dawson's plates, 'Bridge' and 'Border', from the After Willow series designed for Wedgwood in 1995.

Bridge and Border by Robert Dawson for Wedgewood, LEEAG.2006.13.1&2

These plates, which directly reference the pattern, reinterpret the familiar design and present it back to us in a fresh way, encouraging us to look again at the 18th century ware side by side with the new. Skewed and slanted, they could be dismissed as mere copies of an original, but is that not what the first Willow pattern itself was created for - imitation and suggestion? To me, these pieces represent the importance of adding modern work to museum collections, they have such value in moving collections forward, challenging us to create new connections and references. Seeing them in the pottery store cabinets placed next to the 200 year old earthenware is so much more rewarding than only viewing them in a contemporary gallery setting with no reference to their origin.

I love the sentiment of the Willow and its enduring imagery, the timeless story. Once I knew its history, I connected to it and got so much more from it than taking it for face value. Now I know this tragic story, its easy to distinguish the pattern from other similar variants. Imagine my delight upon finding my own small piece of ceramic history in an antiques shop; a marked Middlesbrough Pottery Willow pattern plate, cracked and unwanted and mine for 25p. A real bargain.
By Helen Pickles, Ceramics Intern, Temple Newsam House