CSAD Ceramics has long been connected with the Ken Stradling Collection in Bristol, with a collaborative second year project now entering its fourth year. Our partnership spurred the collection to widen its community engagement initiatives recognising the significance to education of first-hand encounters with historic, quality crafts practices. The collection now networks across the South West liaising with primary, secondary and foundation courses, BA ceramics, textiles, Illustration to MA curation.
A selection of outcomes from these partnerships will soon be celebrated in an exhibition at the Ken Stradling gallery entitled: ‘Makers of Tomorrow’ including work from Spencer Penn from our 2016 collaborative project, Marek Liska and Toni De Jesus from 2017, and Yixia Lin from 2018.
Here is how our collaboration began:
Our CSAD Ceramics graduate Chloe Monks first bought my attention to the collection back in 2015 when in her second year she had spent the summer as gallery steward. I visited for the first time shortly afterwards, as Programme Director seizing the opportunity for another professional practice engagement for our students. I met with Julia Donnely, Ken Stradling himself and trustee Oliver Kent to discuss possibilities. The current exhibition of the time showcased work exploring ‘humour’ from across the collection demonstrating differences in its representation across history, subject matter and of course across a breadth of material practices but I was after less of a dictate for a project brief.
In Ceramics we are united by one material but wildly diversify in terms of subject, genre and material processes. Our responsibility as academic staff is to create projects that underpin rather than prescribe themes so that all approaches from potters to figurative modellers to time-based practices can each make connections between the collection and their own particular ways of working.
I started to consider how the building itself was contributing as a backdrop for the artefacts within it (text taken from my catalogue introduction for the 2016 collaboration):
Creativity is etched into the floor, walls and objects of 48 Park Row. Whilst the presence of any original occupants may have long since been removed by the buildings reconstruction after bombing during the second world war, its link to domesticity remains offering an enriched context for interpretation of its collection.
At first, the odd angles of the interior suggest a limitation of scale and remit; a narrow stair leads you to an intimate room with a fireplace and window, but as with similar ‘domestic’ venues namely, Kettles Yard – Cambridge, High Cross House – Devon and Blackwell Arts and Crafts – Lake District, there is no tethering to function and history. The preservation of the buildings former life as a private house through interior detail is what makes the collection such an intriguing proposition, offering a unique contextual frame for a diverse range of objects, paintings, sculpture and furniture.
It seemed clear that the qualities of the gallery offered a very particular framework from which to interpret objects inside, pulling on both historical and domestic perspectives and this, became the focus of the project brief. Students were required to explore the very act of interpretation; how we create frameworks to identify objects by forging connections and associations to it. The work they produced was to build upon or respond to ideas contained within a chosen object or property within the collection.
The students now make two visits to the gallery, first to identify a potential catalyst and speak to trustee Oliver Kent and Ken Stradling about its historical, thematic lineage – this discussion is seminal in prompting them to review ways in which their emergent practice might contribute further dialogue. The second visit, is to return with the resultant artwork and resituate it within the collection reflecting upon narratives arising from its juxtaposition with the original artefact.
In 2016 we were extremely lucky to have the extraordinary talents of photographer Toril Brancher to take photos of students work against their catalyst object, herself a master of composing and (re)framing objects. Subsequent years have been documented by the students themselves but with equally revealing results.
Click here to read Chloe Monks blog post written during that summer.
The Ken Stradling Collection is an extraordinary collection of design and applied arts amassed by Ken Stradling over more than 60 years as a retailer and patron. From 1948 to the present, Ken has been involved in the selection of products for the well-known design store the ‘Bristol Guild of Applied Arts’. His knowledge, his friendship with so many designers and makers and taste has been a central to the success of the Guild. Throughout all that time, Ken has acquired pieces for himself – firstly to furnish a home and latterly more consciously as a collector and patron. The resulting collection is unique in the way that it reflects the broad nature of Ken’s experience and knowledge of the field. Studio pottery sits alongside fine pieces from major manufacturers such as Rosenthal or Arabia – steel sits alongside glass and oak alongside plywood. It accurately reflects the changing face of design and the applied arts as seen by one dedicated individual with a keen eye.
Ken Stradling: www.stradlingcollection.org