Written by V&A/ University of Brighton, AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership Student Joanna Weddell
The V&A recently announced that it will use the Art Fund Museum of the Year 2016 prize money to fund DesignLab Nation, a programme to support design education in secondary schools, working with local museums, initially in Coventry and Blackburn. This blog post highlights the impact of an earlier incarnation of this scheme, uncovering hidden links between two V&A objects.
In Room 142 of the V&A Ceramics Galleries adjacent displays have an unusual connection; a freestanding case contains William Newland’s Figure of a Bull, 1954 with Emmanuel Cooper’s Striped Dish, 1970 on a glass wall shelf nearby. These ceramics were acquired by the V&A Circulation Department which closed in 1977 – but they have another hidden link.
Circulation toured exhibitions of art and design around the UK to museums, schools of art and to secondary schools – an historic variant on the new DesignLab Nation proposal. The ceramicist Emmanuel Cooper revealed the impact of Circulation’s regional Schools Service in a 2001 interview with Dr Matthew Partington for the University of the West of England Ceramics Points of View oral history project. Cooper vividly recalled viewing Newland’s earthenware Bull, as a teenager at Tupton Hall grammar school in Derbyshire:
When I was at school, which was in the 1950s, a very nice grammar school, they took the cases, which were circulating exhibitions from the Victoria and Albert Museum and in one of them there was a bull. And I don’t know whether it was this bull or a smaller version, he made many versions, but I just thought at the time what a wonderful object it was. It seemed to me to be so up to date, so clear and simple and I don’t know, it just seemed to me to be so thrilling. So when I see it I’m back in that art room in that grammar school in Derbyshire thinking and seeing that bull there and thinking about that. And this brings it back. What is always a shock to me when I see this is how big this bull is. My memory is that it’s always very much smaller and he did make smaller versions, but this is actually quite a big piece and when you pick it up, it’s a tremendous weight which roots it.
In a neat resolution, Cooper’s own stoneware dish is now displayed just steps away from the work he found so memorable and inspiring. It is significant that Cooper responded to a contemporary object, ‘so up to date’, recalling viewing as a physical experience, ‘back in that art room’. Cooper emphasises the importance of studying three dimensional objects at first hand in relation to scale, ‘a shock to me’, and haptic impact, the ‘tremendous weight’. These responses are from a time when the Museum’s touring objects formed an integral part of the nation’s design and technology education, continuing our founding purpose. It is fascinating to imagine how the new DesignLab Nation scheme might generate similar connections between objects placed on future display in the Museum.
Visit Room 142: Ceramics: The Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Gallery
Case 18, No. 9, William Newland, Bull, 1954, CIRC.57-1954.
Case 2, Shelf 3, No. 27, Emanuel Cooper, Dish, 1970, CIRC.490-1970.
Go to UWE ‘Recording the Crafts’ for a 2001 video clip of Cooper talking about Circulation’s Newland ceramic bull: http://www.uwe.ac.uk/sca/video.htm
Or another clip here, with a transcript, third video down: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/c/ceramics-points-of-view-william-newlands-bull/
More on DesignLab Nation here: www.vam.ac.uk/designlab or follow #DesignLabNation