The Lawson Park Collection was founded in 2006 as a working domestic collection in day to day use at the farm. The objects are drawn from a broad spectrum of British design, craft and manufacturing, with the aim of highlighting their relevance to popular cultural development and to art.
The core Collection is augmented by occasional items from other countries that hold particular relevance to Grizedale projects or relationships.
The Collection is centred around domestic design principally by named designers and craftspeople. Items are in use, with some displayed in specific ways which relate to their origins or relevance within the Collection.
The Collection is a resource and reference point illustrating the underlying preoccupations of Grizedale Arts and its cultural and geographical context, the English Lake District.
The Collection has various narratives which run through it; for example, the story of eminent Victorian polymath John Ruskin (Lawson Park was at one time in his ownership): From road building and ideas about labour, to cigar endorsement – Ruskin’s history is personalised and manifested in diverse objects, books and ephemera acquired for the Collection. The intention is to tell an alternative history of the items; it’s influence on the course of a wider design history and popular culture, its sub-plots and failures.
In some instances pieces have histories that illustrate the evolution of design ideas in relation to the wider world:
For example, a chair donated to the Collection is designed by Robin Day and was bought by the donor in 1966 – as a young art student, it was a huge expense. Its acquisition illustrates something of the changing position of women in the 1960’s and of the widespread influence of ‘consumer Modernism’. The chair, now re-upholstered in a traditional English 'pastoral’ fabric, continues the story of the donor through to her life in the Lake District some 40 years later, now a craftsperson drawing inspiration from the Arts and Crafts movement and English mythology.
The Collections are also an interpretative tool describing what Grizedale Arts does - the promotion of multiple cultural perspectives, the local to global relationship, the juxtapositioning and ‘relational aesthetics’ strategies. The Collection also grows to reflect the ongoing programme of the organisation, for example in the Japanese collection of works drawn from the 'Seven Samurai’project undertaken in Japan in 2006. In turn these Japanese pieces contribute to the Collection’s other themes, including the influence of Japanese design on Leach and Dresser.
Housing the Collection
The Collection is housed at Lawson Park, the experimental upland farm and headquarters of Grizedale Arts (GA), situated above the East shore of Coniston Water in the English Lake District. The house and grounds are used as a residency base for artists and curators working with GA and additionally used by small groups for think tank and seminar purposes. After the refurbishment is complete in winter 2008, the building will open to the public throughout the year on a limited basis.
Lawson Park has an interesting and relevant history having belonged to the influential Victorian polymath John Ruskin from 1872 to 1900. The farm and its activities became part of Ruskin’s ambitions to regenerate the rural industries through Arts and Crafts ideals, homecraft and anti-industrialisation. The Crie de Coeur of Ruskin and other key figures are present within the Collections:
‘Truth, Beauty, Power’ (Christopher Dresser), ‘No Wealth but Life’ (John Ruskin), ‘Beautiful or useful’ (William Morris). These continue to generate responses from contemporary designers commissioned to add to the Collection.
The Collection is ‘live’ , being periodically augmented with new purchases and commissions, and diminished through inevitable losses and breakages.
When Modernism goes bad (An alternative history of Modernism)
This collection tracks Modernist themes, appropriations and stylings, following designers whose work has influenced, referenced or rebuked Modernism. Local examples covered include the Keswick School of Industrial Design which was established along Ruskinian principles, making hand-crafted work in the Arts and Crafts manner in copper, brass and pewter. The School moved on to the quintessential Modernist material, stainless steel, in 1930 and adopted a Modernist design aesthetic drawn from Dresser rather than Morris. The company introduced machinery in the 1950’s and ceased production in the 1980’s. The company’s history is particularly pertinent to the Lake District and its rising obsession with the traditional past.
A mug’s history of design (The folly of the mug)
In its very short lifespan, the mug has become a quintessential comfort object. The origins of the contemporary mug are found in the medieval tankard, designed for drinking beer. When the 20th century crafts movement was looking for ways to represent British traditional design it alighted on the tankard and married it with the Japanese aesthetic so prevalent at that time (examples include Tenmoko glazed tankards or Robert Welch stainless steel tankards from Chipping Camden).
The tankard slowly gave way to the mug as we know it (still with tankard-like adornments) and thus the mug is a synthesis of cultures and an unhappy accident. Loathed by the potters of the contemporary Craft Movement - despite being every potter’s bread and butter - it became the ubiquitous pottery object, never satisfying aesthetically but retaining its ‘essential’ position and steadily building up its own mythology and language through exposure in popular media of advertising and TV.
The mug has given us the mug tree, the ugly mug, the branded / promotional mug, the comedy mug. It has introduced the ‘curled up on the sofa with a steaming mug of ….’ notion of comfort, the personalised office ownership of the mug. No one likes the mug, it’s name says it all – mug. It is horrible to use, and yet an essential component of every contemporary home.
There is within the mug an alternative history of 20th century design: Robin Welch, Port Merion, Ugly Mug, branded mug, St Ives, Winchcombe et al.
Authenticity is a key contemporary fixation. It is a particularly mediated and legislated concept in Grizedale’s home, the Lake District, where the most heavily- endorsed notions of authenticity are highly questionable – from planning regulations that require ‘authentic’ Victorian-styling on garages and extensions to the marketing of a wilderness landscape which is in fact meticulously managed.
The Japanese Mingei movement suggested that the maker as a personality should be absent from the enjoyment of a work: However, in general the audience for art find this a difficult proposition, the idea of appreciation without endorsement. This Collection includes fakes and work in the style of key design and craft figures – these ‘fakes’ are not apparent to the user but are detailed in the interpretation materials around the Collection.
Many of these fakes are purchased on the open market via auction and Ebay and so far the Collection contains celebrated fakes including the Wormwood Scrubs Leach forgeries, Martinware (Colston fakes), Lucie Rie, Kurt Schwitters etc. Further fakes have been commissioned by GA.
This Collection reflects the popular, heavily-marketed image - or brand - of the Lake District, and the suprisingly longstanding market for objects marketed using this association.
The items in this Collection are included solely because of their relevant branding. There is no aesthetic judgment made to justify their inclusion. The brands are drawn from local sources, for example Coniston (the nearest village to Grizedale’s Lawson Park farm), and include other locally-branded objects including Ruskin (cigars), Lakeland (homewares), Ambleside (pottery).
Ceramics and glass – Tableware, kitchenware, useful ornamental ware
Wood and metal – Furniture, tableware, fitted furniture, door furniture, fittings
Textiles – Linens, soft furnishings, upholstery
Key practitioners and movements:
Arts and Crafts and Christopher Dresser – the birth of a Modernist aesthetic
Arts and Crafts is an important local (Cumbrian) theme with a number of notable designers and makers associated with the area, icnluding the Keswick School of Industrial Arts, Simpsons of Kendal, Gillows of Lancaster, garden designer Thomas Mawson, Baillie Scott, CFA Voysey, Edwin Luytens, Ruskin and the associated Guilds. All will be represented within the Collections.
Arts and Crafts eccentrics/mavericks:
Sir Edmund Elton, Bernard Moore, George Ohr, Martin Brothers, Edward Bingham, Ruskin Pottery – Ruskin lace, Ruskin woodwork, Ruskin cigars.
Crafts Movement and schools of:
Bernard Leach, Lucie Rie & Hans Coper, Gordon Russell, George Cook (Ambleside Pottery), Mouseman Thompson.
Mass-produced Crafts style:
Susan William-Ellis, Robin Welch, The Ugly Mug, Whitefriars, George Baxter, Robert Welch, Lucienne Day, Barbara Brown, Robin Day, Erno Goldfinger, Ernest Race, John and Sylvia Reid.
Historical and traditional craft references:
Georgian furniture and glass, spill work, coppice- elated crafts, lace, etc.
Overarching themes drawn from the Grizedale Arts programme and local context include:
High/low culture relationship
These themes inform all the Collections without being overtly stated.
Contemporary artists and designers have been - and will continue to be - commissioned to add new works to the Collections under the broad themes established.
The Collection is represented on this dedicated web site, showing the works on display and in use and extending the relevance of each work through the ‘stories’. The site is an ongoing publication and source of reference. Objects that are lost or broken are marked as lost but are not removed from the site.