wall sculpture‎ > ‎

Alan Holt; Following Wallace's Passion(script)

Wallace Farrar’s Artwork

When, in late 2017, I was asked by Pam Jordan to renovate a decoratively carved ‘salt box’, she announced the fact that it had been made by her grandfather who had studied Art in his spar time and had aspired to becoming an Art Teacher.

She then went on to show me the paintings and drawings which he had produced in the years around the turn of the 20th century. The work is well preserved for its age and the style was of its time, in that the woodwork and carving were typical of ‘Arts and Crafts’ designs and his ‘Graphic Floral Designs’ are very much in the Art Nouveau style both of which were pre-dominant at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries.

Wallace travelled to Todmorden after finishing work to study at the Fielden School of Art at Ewood Lane where he amassed a large collection of certificates. Wallace’s pencil draughtsmanship and his use of light and shade are important aspects of all his drawn work. The stand-out piece is the still-life drawing of the chair stood on a plinth with a violin balanced on the seat, leaning against the back of the chair. Beneath the chair to the side and at the front of the composition is a trilby hat which is shaded to give it a rounded smooth form. The lines of the plinth and those of the chair rails, drawn in perspective which along with the overlapping of the objects, give the composition depth. Where an object sits on another we are in no doubt about the weight and gravity holding them together.

The frame, also made by Wallace is carved with references to Gothic tracery and Celtic crosses and loops. The influence of the Arts and Crafts movement is apparent here by the absence of swirling showy forms which were associated with the Art Nouveau style.

The ‘Salt Box’ is a functional object which has decorative carving to four faces: top, front, both sides, left and right and the back which protrudes above the top. This is also decorated and there is a hole in the centre on which to hang the box. The hinged top raises to reveal the inside space which is presumably to store salt to help keep it dry. Below there is a small drawer. When I renovated the piece I had to reinforce the hinged top and also the back of the box was strengthened. A new section was carved to replace a damaged piece on the protruding back.

The flowing stylised floral and foliated designs used on the top, back and sides are very much more in

 keeping with the Art Nouveau style whilst the other panels of carving are more of a mixture of styles possibly leaning towards Arts and Crafts. For these reasons, I think that this is an examination or final course piece of work, as the ‘Chair, Violin and Trilby’ may also have been an assessment piece.

The portrait of the young girl is a particularly striking piece which brings the youthfulness of a young lady across the years. The drawing is concentrated on her face and head with her dress top or blouse appearing a little vague. Her hair is long, slightly wavy and brushed with a parting to the left. The focus on the facial details and the delicately shaded smoothness of her skin drawn in absolute clarity portray her alert and alive but contemplative expression, whilst giving us a good idea of her age. The girl’s identity is not clear although it is possible that she may have been the daughter of Wallace’s cousin.

The treatment of the eyes, nose and lips, I feel, show a similarity to the portraits of Dante Gabriel Rossetti who had been painting with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood since 1848 until his death in 1882 and he had produced hundreds of sketched portraits, many of Lizzie Siddal who became his wife. Wallace would have been familiar with the work of Rossetti who had become a very successful artist during his own lifetime.

The thirst for Art and Design had a boost in 1851 with The Great Exhibition for which the Crystal Palace was built in Hyde Park, London. Unfortunately the building later burnt down in 1936, after being moved to Sydenham in Kent, but the Exhibition was an outstanding success with 14,000 exhibitors and over 6 million visitors. Not only did the Exhibition promote trade and advertise new technologies but new ‘well-designed’ products were on show. Prince Albert had been a prime mover in the organisation of the Exhibition. He was the chairman of the Royal Commission for the Promotion of Fine Arts in Britain and some of the profits from the Exhibition went to set up the South Kensington Museum which was later renamed The Victoria and Albert Museum.

The methods of art used to base designs on were from the classical styles taught in the earliest Art Schools of the nineteenth century some of which, like drawing from plaster-casts continued well into the twentieth century.

Art Nouveau was a style which had developed in Britain after 1880 although it wasn’t named until 1895, after a Parisian art shop. Strongly influenced by the graphic work of Aubrey Beardsley amongst others, it quickly spread around the world synonymously with the increase of industrialisation and growth in the wealth of the populations. Essentially, it used line in sinuous curves taken from nature and the plant world. Lilies, irises and orchids were used along with dragonflies, peacocks, swallows etc.

The Art Nouveau style was used more and more for graphic design and decoration of products being made in the vast new commercial enterprises which were a result of the Industrial Revolution. As time passed the style was used more frequently for design purposes and the general public eventually thought it appeared old-fashioned and around 1910, it disappeared from use. Wallace produced several attractive Art Nouveau graphic designs in colour, I am presuming, around 1904 to 1906.

Art writer and Oxford professor, John Ruskin, was harshly critical of the standards of design at the Exhibition. He disliked intensely anything which was mass-produced and called for a return to handmade art as it might have been created in the Middle Ages by individual artists working in a pastoral setting. Ruskin’s friends were the painters of the Pre-Raphaelite group and William Morris who founded Morris and Co to design stained glass, carpets, tapestries etc. using natural form in usually simplified compositions. This became the Arts and Crafts Movement and was of importance through to the early nineteen twenties.

The National Art Training School was set up at the South Kensington Museum in 1853 with the purpose of training more designers to work in manufacturing industries. Art Schools were being opened all over the country for students to take part in the courses which the NATS intended to sponsor. As the National Art Training School, it was originally intended to train designers for fabrics, etc., to train craftsmen rather than artists. Acceptance to the courses was on merit and was open to women. In 1896 it was renamed the Royal College of Art and was allowed to grant diplomas.

The Fielden School of Art was opened in October 1898.It was built in 1871 for, mill owner, Mr Sam Fielden and opened in 1872 as a day school. It was given to Todmorden Council in 1896.

From the beginning, Wallace took the drawing courses. He moved from ‘Drawing of Light and Shade’ to ‘Freehand Drawing of Ornament’ to ‘Geometric Drawing’ and ‘Model Drawing’ in the first three years. Interestingly it was not until after nine years of study that he took the ‘Clay Modelling’ and Wood Carving’ courses. Also, in topics which now seem obscure like: ‘Drawing on a Blackboard’ and ‘Memory Drawing of Plant Form’, Wallace gained first class passes.

‘Drawing Light and Shade from a Cast’ was course taken by Wallace for four years out of five prior to 1905. This is an Art School Tradition dating back to the 15th century when Classical sculpture was cast in plaster of Paris to make copies to furnish the collections of scholars, artists and aristocrats. The replicas represented examples of what were considered to be masterpieces of the ancient Greek and Roman world and were used to study anatomy etc. and to learn ‘the idea of beauty’. The Victoria and Albert Museum produced plaster casts of their own antiquities to distribute amongst the schools and colleges offering the National Art Drawing courses and diplomas.

The large ‘Baroque Acanthus Scroll’ is a an exquisite piece of shaded drawing, executed on a large scale, of a plaster of Paris cast arrangement of acanthus leaves in a festooned and layered, probably cast from an architectural feature in the Victoria and Albert’s workshops. It is drawn with incredible clarity and has great depth due to the overlapping of each leaf and frond, all shaded in their own gradated tone. Again, I think that this probably was an assessment piece. It would have been Wallace’s ‘piece de resistance’ where he demonstrated everything which he had learnt and all his skill and natural ability in drawing.

Plaster of Paris is so named because of the fact that, alongside the limestone bedrock beneath Montmartre, are deposits of gypsum. This was quarried and heated to make a powder which sculptors could use, when mixed with water, to cast and make a hard solid white substance. Plaster of Paris has been described as the sculptor’s traditional creative medium, i.e. it can be used to imitate any form or surface. I have used ‘plaster’, in recent times, for casting, carving and have altered the surface by adding colour to the mix before casting or applying to a board to make a relief.

Wallace lived through a momentous period in Art history after which nothing would ever be the same again. Picasso was four years younger than Wallace. By 1904 Picasso had moved to Paris and in 1907 he painted ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’, leading on to the development of Cubism. Paris would have been an exciting place to be, in the Art world, with many new ideas stretching back to The Impressionists.

In France, Art Nouveau was known by the term ‘Modern Style’, in Spain it was called ‘Modernismo’ and in Italy it was labelled ‘Moderne Stile’. This was the first time that the word ‘modern’ had been used in the name of an art style or movement. The theme of modernity was in the consciousness of all those involved in art and style around 1900.

It was artist and critic, Roger Fry who is reputed to have seen two paintings by Cezanne at an exhibition in London in 1906. One a landscape entitled ‘‘Houses in Provence’’ and the other a still-life called ‘’Apples’’. In both paintings the brush strokes of paint, in different colours and tones make up the pictures dividing and delineating the scene. Fry believed that Cezanne had raised himself up above other artists because he had taken natural objects and had reduced them to ‘pure elements of space and volume which he described as abstracts. He also believed that it is important to express strong emotions rather than to depict things accurately. This was possibly the beginning of modernism in painting and sculpture.

Abstract art and abstraction were now in the artists’ vocabulary. Kandinsky became the first person to paint a purely abstract picture in 1911. Picasso’s work was always abstracted or distorted after 1907 when he was influenced by African Tribal art.

In 1910, Roger Fry curated an exhibition, in London, at the Grafton Gallery. It ran from the 8th November to the 15th January 1911 and was entitled ‘’Manet and The Post- Impressionists.’’ The exhibition introduced the work of Manet plus Cezanne, Gauguin, Picasso, Matisse and Van Gogh. This was the first time that the term ‘post impressionist’ had been used and was arrived at on a whim when Fry was asked on the spur of the moment to come up with a title.

The exhibition became known, at the time, as the most scandalous art show ever mounted in Britain. The art critic of The Times claimed that the exhibition ‘’throws away all that the long-developed skill past artists had acquired and perpetuated.’’ There was even the accusation that ‘’Post-Impressionism was analogous to the criminal anarchism which accompanies socialism.’’ The English art establishment was not, it seems, prepared to accept anything which would alter the concepts about art and society which had evolved in the later years of the nineteenth century.

The problem seemed to have been that the English art-loving public had grown used to the Pre-Raphaelites; the scenes and topics they portrayed were understood by British people. In short they were happy with a traditional style. Resistance to change may have been an English trait but when the change came from a country which had not always been an ally of Britain it would have been difficult to accept but Fry had laid a cuckoo’s egg and younger students of art, looking for change, started to take notice.

In the process of training people to draw by studying the skills used in Classical Art, the Victoria and Albert opened a window for the working class to experience the upper class preserves of creative pursuits and art appreciation. This was the start of the artistic emancipation of the working class. After years of intolerable working conditions, long hours, low wages and child labour, all of which occurred in the Calder Valley, philanthropic mill owners, like John Fielden in Todmorden, started to be more successful. The Labour Party was formed in 1900, by the Trade Unions which had grown up to protect workers rights.

The Fieldens were, initially, Quakers but after becoming Methodists, moved to the Unitarian church along with other radicals and philanthropists. John became the Liberal MP for Oldham and his wife worked in education first in Manchester then at the school built by her son, John Ashton Fielden, which then became the School of Art.

We do not have anything which suggests that Wallace attempted to produce any work which could be described as abstract. I am sure that he would have heard of the concept. He would probably have decided that it was not for him and he may even have found it so distasteful that, eventually, he may have lost his enthusiasm for art. It is noticeable that in the later years of the 1910s he may have concentrated more on three-dimensional art subjects like woodcarving and clay-modelling

Wallace was a Methodist; he was the caretaker at Mount Zion Methodist Chapel in Mytholmroyd. Methodism was not so different in its outlook to Unitarianism and so he would always be given support in his zest for studying drawing and art in general etc.

Wallace would have known a young Ted Hughes, the future Poet Laureate, who along with his parents attended Mount Zion for the first eight years of Ted’s life. Ted’s mother’s maiden name was Farrar and she was probably distantly related to Wallace.

The doors were open for talented working class people to enter into the world of art and design and presumably into the Fine Arts, painting and drawing etc. but not so wide. A degree of discrimination was still there, like the commentator who claimed that a type of art could be linked to criminal anarchy. He probably wouldn’t accept anything which was out of the ordinary. The first World War was approaching and the society would change forever.

The Art Nouveau style was now confined to the past; art movements were developing in various parts of Europe. The French inspired Post-Impressionism, introduced by Fry, might not have been so well received in West Yorkshire but it was gaining ground in the country, especially after we got to know the French a bit better as allies in the First World War.

Ruskin, the Oxford Professor and Fry, the Cambridge scholar never saw eye to eye, in fact they hardly ever communicated with each other. Ruskin died in 1900 and with no champion, Arts and Crafts was on the decline and the styles which Wallace practised as a trainee artist/designer had no future.

Two generations on from Wallace, Ted Hughes was involved in the arts and made it right to the pinnacle of his ambitions in his chosen sphere. Ted hailed from a similar sort of background to Wallace in the same village and went to the same chapel and both had great talent in what they did yet had such different outcomes. By the time Ted Hughes went to Cambridge University, it was in the post second world war period, when there was a drive and new vision for the future. That seems like a good reason for what happened. It seems unfair.

The constraints put on him by his family situation, would almost certainly have affected his ability to make headway in his studies but the effort which he seems to have made is quite extraordinary under the circumstances.

If Wallace walked to Todmorden from Mytholmroyd then it is reasonable to expect that there were other students who made the trip from other towns and villages and that someone else has paintings and drawings from the time. If so, I would be intrigued to see such examples.

When I learnt that Wallace studied Art in Todmorden , I began to see that there were parallels between our lives. I left school and got a job working in Todmorden and took ‘A’ level Art at Calder College, Todmorden. I went on to go to Art School and eventually became an Art teacher. Unfortunately Wallace never taught Art but he did qualify to teach Crafts and taught wood carving and clay modelling at the Fielden School, on part-time basis

In the last part of the twentieth century abstract art became increasingly understood by the general public in Britain but a small group of people were still suspicious that it was a conspiracy to trick them. My work has been mainly abstract since starting at Art School in 1971 and then, whilst studying for my degree in Fine Art sculpture and after, all my work was abstract. Without thinking too much about it, I was just continuing, what had become a modernist tradition.

After seven years of teaching Art and Sculpture, I left to start a woodcarving business. This was in the late 1980s and in the middle of the Victorian Revival in Interior Design. There was plenty of demand for good quality products and I started to make carved mantelpieces in oak and mahogany. For my design ideas I took photographs of carved stone decoration on town centre buildings in Halifax and Huddersfield and developed ideas for mantelpieces in Victorian and Edwardian style.

I was, in fact, re-living the Arts and Crafts ideal which harks back to styles and times gone by and to the making of objects in a traditional manner. I had to learn the skills necessary to do the job and to obtain new carving tools as my chisels weren’t the type which were suitable to carve detailed designs in oak and mahogany and I bought myself a copy-carver which is a mechanical pantograph, to ‘rough-out’ the carvings and to help me work quicker. Similar machines were actually used in Victorian times.

I had moved in the opposite direction; now from modernist art to using craft based traditional style to make functional objects which Wallace was also training to do. I then immersed myself in decorative woodcarving for eighteen years before returning to abstract sculpture but now with a carved ‘craft’ emphasis.

We have forgotten what it was like before modernism but to some people the term ‘Modern Art’ still generates antagonism, without them realising what the world was like previously. Fry would have pointed out that, in modernism, there was emotion expressed in the way paint was applied or wood carved etc. There was experimentation and the elimination of sentiment, decoration and representation. It is hard to know what the real effect was on people like Wallace but his life and art did seem to change at about this time. Now, we are used to the idea of experimentation in art and it would be difficult to turn back the clock.

My life overlapped that of Wallace by two years and I wish that I could have met him although conversations may have been difficult. The experience of seeing his work and learning about his life has certainly had a positive effect on my work and decision making.

A big thank you to Pam for introducing me to Wallace.

Alan Holt






 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments