A Tale of Two Artists

A recent visit to the Dulwich Picture Gallery opened my eyes to a local artist of whom I had not previously heard. Winifred Knights was born in 1899 in Streatham, very close to our new neighbourhood, and she went to my old school James Allen’s Girls’ School. She was a British painter influenced by the Italian Quattrocento but it was her drawings that blew me away; delicate, almost microscopic feathered linework, which appeared to have been rendered by an assiduously graceful hand and yet seemed to me to pulse with life out of the page.

A few weeks later I went to the showstopping retrospective at Tate Modern on Georgia O’Keeffe and despite the thirteen rooms of expansive canvases and her reputation as one of the giants of modern American art, I left feeling decidedly underwhelmed. Having never seen a Georgia O’Keeffe painting in the flesh, I had been expecting a sumptuous, sensual delight for the senses, but every painting just seemed to me to be flat, uninspiring and – dare I say it? – a little amateurish. As we left the final room and walked past a shop display wall covered in posters of her popular flower paintings, I wondered why the monumental Tate show felt like a triumphant display of the Emperor’s New Clothes, and yet the comparatively minor Dulwich show felt like discovering a bright, shining little treasure.

The two women were born within twenty years of each other, and both showed early artistic promise. Born in 1879 in Wisconsin, the young Georgia decided by the age of ten that she was to become an artist. Winifred too had begun to draw at an early age and, according to the Streatham News of 1920, “Even before she could properly talk the young artist cried out for “Chalk, Chalk”, which her mother supplied, and she was happy.”

Both women had teachers who were influenced by the Impressionist movement. O’Keeffe attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and then learnt under the tutelage of William Merrit Chase at art school in New York; Knights went to the Slade School of Fine Art in London where she studied under Henry Tonks. Both won the prize at their respective Art Schools as well as a subsequent scholarship which developed their careers and led each to meet her husband.

Georgia O’Keeffe started her career turning her back on her training in painting as felt she could not distinguish herself as an artist within the mimetic tradition, and instead she started work as a commercial artist and then spent several years teaching art, first as a teaching assistant and later as a head of department. Crucially in 1915 some of her charcoal drawings were shown by a friend to Alfred Steiglitz, the photographer and gallerist who was later to become her husband. Georgia was by nature a loner with a prickly personality, and her relationship with her husband has been described by her biographer as “a collusion … a system of deals and trade-offs, tacitly agreed to and carried out, for the most part, without the exchange of a word.” Yet it was this union which was ultimately to become the key to her success.

Steiglitz was 23 years her senior and as well as being a successful photographer he was an established art promoter, known for the New York galleries he ran in the early years of the 20th century. He 
made more than 350 photographs of her, some of which were nudes that created a public sensation in an exhibition of 1921. Through Steiglitz, O’Keeffe came to know many of his circle of artist and photographer friends by whose work she was inspired. It was he who first promoted her work, eventually organising annual exhibitions of her work which made her one of the most important American artists by the mid 1920s. And it was Steiglitz who first put forward the Freudian theory that her flower paintings – for which she is now best known – were in fact studies of the female vulva, an interpretation which was later to be picked up by the feminist artists of the 1970s, despite the fact that O’Keeffe herself denied its veracity. O’Keeffe outlived her older husband by 40 years, finally passing away at the age of 98 and leaving a legacy which included the Jimson Weed/White Flower No 1 which sold for 44 million dollars in 2014, the highest price ever paid for a painting by a woman at auction. 

By contrast, when Winifred Knights passed away at the age of 47, she did not even receive an obituary. It was not until the 1980s, when one of her most lauded works The Deluge was rediscovered as part of a collection which had been consigned to auction, that her oeuvre of work began to be reassessed. The Deluge was the critically acclaimed entry which made her the first woman in England to win the prestigious Scholarship in Decorative Painting awarded by the British School at Rome. Winifred Knights moved to Italy to complete her scholarship. Her beauty and striking persona attracted attention from the moment she arrived and it was here that she first met her husband, the painter Thomas Monnington. On her return to England she was known for her distinctive dress, favouring the simple clothing style of the Italian peasant woman in contrast to the tubular silhouette fashionable in London circles. Knights worked slowly but steadily as an artist, exhibiting to critical success, and executing work for various patrons, including a commission on which she collaborated with her husband. They had a son together, after a previous pregnancy was tragically cut short by stillbirth, and she proved to be a devoted but over-anxious mother. An unsettled period with the onset of the Second World War mirrored the nervous breakdown she had suffered as a result of the First World War, and it brought her creative productivity to a standstill. Her marriage deteriorated as the war came to an end, and tragically the following year she suffered a brain tumour which killed her.

It is ironic that these two exhibitions were shown simultaneously in London, as they served only to underline to me how much success or failure can turn on a penny – how a fortuitous collaboration with the right person can ramp up a career to the superstellar levels or how fate can turn talent to nothing. It made me sad that Winifred Knights was clearly an artist with so much talent and yet was forgotten for so many years and I applaud the Dulwich Picture Gallery for putting on this, her first major retrospective (until 18th September).

The Thrill of Liberty

I was thrilled, thrilled, thrilled to see my work in Liberty! I love Liberty, I love its Arts and Crafts connections, I love its history and any maker would be honoured to have their work in the store. So it was a lovely surprise to glimpse my Magnolia panel through the lighting installation hanging in the atrium.


My hanging glass artwork is featured on the fourth floor balcony thanks to Patch Rogers who runs the Arts and Crafts Department.

It was wonderful to see my contemporary glass panel hanging alongside original Arts and Crafts furniture, although I was slightly surprised to see it had actually been hung upside down! Not that it matters, but it was curious to see that whoever installed it preferred it with the flowers facing down instead of up. Beauty is evidently in the eye of the beholder!

Ai WeiWei

For the whole of September I was intending to go to the Joseph Cornell exhibition at the Royal Academy, but I always underestimate just how all-consuming putting on our own show is every time we do it. And so it was that it came to the penultimate day of the Royal Academy exhibition and it was my only day off, and I only had an hour before closing time to get round.

What I should have done was to spend the entire hour focussing on the wonderful Cornell shadowboxes, which I have always been rather in love with but which I have never seen in real life in any great number. However queueing in the Royal Academy courtyard I was rather enthralled by the newly erected ‘Tree’ installation by Ai WeiWei, whose exhibition had just opened. With eight trees constructed from the parts of dead trees using hidden joints and industrial bolts, the installation made for an arresting sight against the eighteenth century building. So stupidly I bought a joint ticket which gave me only half an hour in each exhibition.

I zipped round the Cornell exhibition, trying to cut through the crowds who had obviously left it till the last minute like me. Perhaps it was the pressure of the crowds, but somehow the readymade assemblages didn’t speak to me in quite the way I expected them to.

On the contrary, moving round the monumental pieces in the Ai WeiWei show downstairs was not only easier but somehow more engaging. It was helped by the audioguide which, for the first time at the Royal Academy, was given freely as a result of being sponsored by Ai WeiWei himself who is keen to have his audience understand the context of his work. Much of his work is filtered through the political lens of being a Chinese dissident, and the central work of the exhibition, ‘Straight’, is both an homage to his fellow countrymen who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and a criticism of corrupt Chinese officials who compromised on building safety standards to line their own pockets. The huge work unfurls across the floor, 150 tonnes of steel rebar taken from the mangled wreckage of schools destroyed in the disaster, carefully straightened and laid in undulating layers, flanked by wall panels listing the names of all 5,196 children who died.

A number of pieces were concerned with the adaptation, conflation and fetishism of China’s cultural artefacts, which act as a commentary on the iconoclasm of the Cultural Revolution. Furniture from the Qing Dynasty has been bastardised, with unexpected folds and corners expertly incorporated into the antique pieces by skilled cabinet makers. Tables to appear to climb the walls, stools look like they are cloning themselves in an ever-growing cluster, and enormous wooden columns from antiquity pierce and embed themselves into delicate tables. From a maker’s point of view, these pieces are both a wonder of craftsmanship and yet sit unsettlingly with the notion of the preciousness of the craftsman’s hand. This uncomfortable paradox of adapting centuries-old craft pieces was most apparent in one of the later rooms which displayed a collection of Han Dynasty urns dipped by the artist into emulsion paint in lurid colours. I thought they were rather beautiful and would have happily held their own in any contemporary craft show, but they have courted controversy since he started adapting them in the 1990s.

Unusually, we were also allowed to take pictures, though I didn’t realise this until half way around when my window of opportunity was shortened even more by bumping into friends in the main room. The piece in the final room had everyone reaching for their mobile phones to take pictures of the stunning forms of ‘Bicycle Chandelier’, a site specific sculpture consisting of hundreds of everyday bicycle wheels acting as the structure for cascades of white crystals to create a breathtaking chandelier.

The exhibition continues until December and it will definitely be worth a second visit.

Cutting Edge Craft


For the last two weeks the Society of Designer Craftsmen has been transformed into a space bursting with cutting edge craft. We filled it with a collection of work handpicked by us from twelve artists and it made for an arresting show.

We had a stunning spread of work priced from from £25 to £25,000. Alongside the main work, we had also asked some artists to create a limited edition of 25 pieces priced at a more affordable £50. Whenever curating these shows, we are always surprised how well a diverse group of work sits together and we start to see threads of similarity that can be drawn between pieces.

It’s a process that I love and it gives one an interesting insight into the exhibiting process that one doesn’t necessarily have as a maker. Taking the overview of the curator can only strengthen one’s own practice, though the inevitable usually happens which is that one promotes everyone else’s work and forgets about one’s own work!

We held a packed private view sponsored by Grolsch and supported by the London Design Festival. A fabulous craft-driven crowd spilled out of the space into the street, which made for a buzzy evening. The three of us who organised – Alex R, Brett Manley and Lucy Batt – were really happy with the quality of the show.


Designed | Crafted 2015

I’m delighted to announce our new Designed | Crafted exhibition for London Design Festival 2015. We will be returning for the second year running to the Society of Designer Craftsmen Gallery in Shoreditch. We have a final list of twelve artists – some of whom we’ve worked with before and invited back, and some of whom are new artists we have plucked from the membership of the Society of Designer Craftsmen. We are super excited that one of our artists will be the international maker Andrew Logan who is renowned for the flair and fantasy in his sculptural pieces.

Our showcase explores the fine line between craft and design, showing contemporary work at its best in this delightfully intimate gallery in the heart of Shoreditch. From sand–etched glass and wood, embellished textiles and porcelain to bird skulls and preserved fish skins, this is where cutting edge crafts meets dreamland.

To read about all the artists, see our website.

We will be open from 11am-7pm every day from Monday 14 to Saturday 26 September.

To attend the Private View on Tuesday 22nd September (7-9pm) either reply below or send us a tweet @DesignedCrafted

Lobster Sandwich

Sandwiched between a week of running workshops on my school project and a week of making the final work for the project, I had a three day show in West Dean. Had I known my timetable at the time of booking, I probably wouldn’t have attempted to do my first show in a couple of years right in the middle of a commission! So, unbelievably, it was not until the actual morning of the set up day that I even got round to thinking about my stand. But with years of experience at trade shows and selling shows and a full selection of furniture to fit stands of all sizes, it wasn’t the huge challenge that it used to be.

A few hours later I arrived at West Dean College where the sight of two massive lobster claws emerging from the building set the surreal celebratory tone for the weekend. Set up was unbelievably easy, with access straight into the workshop which had been transformed into an exhibition venue. Nevertheless I was feeling a bit rusty at talking to the public about my work and I had a slow first day at the show.

I was staying at the college as a paying guest and for the first time in nine years of visiting West Dean College I actually felt like a guest rather than an employee. My evenings were my own, to wander the grounds or to relax in the Oak Hall. At least they would have been were I not also having to prepare for a talk and demonstration that I had been asked to give on the second morning in the Creative Hub marquee. I had a full house (or at least a full tent!) with about 60 people coming to hear my talk about “Printing Stories on Glass” and I was filmed demonstrating the making of my next product which involves a few different printing techniques.

Getting back to my little stand in the exhibiting area, it was an enormous relief to only having to be talking to the one or two people that squeeze onto my stand at a time!

Every Two and a Bit Years

My fellow Teepee artists and I have just come back from a weekend in Stourbridge in the Midlands to see the Glass Biennale at the International Festival of Glass. As the name suggests, this has always been held every two years since 2004 until last year when it was put on hold because the building that housed the exhibition at the Ruskin Glass Centre needed renovating. Having become a regular fixture in the glass calendar, the Glass Biennale at the International Festival of Glass was always looked forward to on the August bank holiday weekend, but for some odd reason the new director this year decided to hold it instead in May. We were told this was so people didn’t have to wait a full three years before the next one but, frankly, this seemed an unnecessary complication. We would have rather waited the extra three months to see the glass in the sun. So it could have been the occasional drizzle and cold or it could have been the tighter hold on the finances by the new director, but somehow the whole festival felt a little flat.


I was not alone in finding the layout of the Glass Biennale exhibition a little strange. There seemed to be very few wall panels, and also a surprisingly high proportion of object based work, but I felt that the three long tables with objects squeezed onto them didn’t really present the glass in its best light. Curator Matt Duran had apparently explained to the audience at the private view the night before that the layout was meant to be read as a kind of stage set, and I could understand this while we were sitting on the chairs that had been laid out like an audience for the glass show. However once I stood up and walked around to actually look at the glass, it felt more like a table sale with pieces jostling for space.

Despite what I thought was a great shame that each object had not been given space to breathe, there were some interesting juxtapositions set up because of the proximity. One area on the tallest table was given over to glass which looked more like archaeological artefacts that had just been dug up and brushed down. Rachel Elliot’s ammonite form ‘Crude’ was lovely and quite different from what she normally makes. I also really loved James Masktrey’s “Shackleton’s Scrimshaw” which were five bottles which looked like they were filled with sea mist and Shackleton’s historical documents suspended inside. The concerns with history and memories were echoed in Lisa Catherine Sheppy’s suspended ‘Lost Pockets’ which hung screenprinted and fused glass nuggets in sheer organza pockets. I also really liked the overall winner of the Biennale, a gorgeous cast piece by Ashraf Hanna that I just wanted to stare into and immerse myself in its depth of colour.

We wandered around the Ruskin Glass Centre in the afternoon, watching a painting demonstration by the delightful Cappy Thompson who had run a masterclass earlier in the week and listening to a choir who sung harmoniously as the sun came out. We saw Georgia Redpath’s lovely installation which showed the four stages of making her complex cast pieces and then had a chat with her in her studio, admiring her work. We had lots of other places in and around Stourbridge to visit as part of the International Festival of Glass. We saw an engraving exhibition at the Red House Glass Cone after which we sat outside for a chilly cup of tea as actors in historical dress finished their work showing visitors round the museum and headed home in full costume.

Following this, came a Church Crawl, visiting various churches in the area for their own wonderful stained glass such as this example from the Wordsley Methodist Church. In fact in the back of the church there was an exhibition run by Bruntnell Astley. Putting on an exhibition when one is a photographer, as Simon Bruntnell is, must be made easier by the fact one has so many wonderful images to choose from. It seems as though Simon was making a good job of it as he had sold quite a number of pieces, possibly more than at the Biennale. Many of his artists were also showing at the Biennale, including our old friend Nicholas Collins. We spotted a wonderful Georgia Redpath piece that had sold – it was being shown with a cardboard base, but there were arrangements for the base to be cast in bronze later on. The exhibition continued into the garden where there were some grand Jenny Pickford glass and metal sculptures. My favourite pieces of all were a delicious collection of objects by Elliot Walker, darkly textural black blown shapes, and a glass skull cast in a delicious lime green glass.

On Sunday we had just enough time to squeeze in a dash around another church despite the imminent baptism that was about to happen and a lecture back in the Ruskin Glass Centre before lunch. Before setting off back to London we went to see the exhibition of contemporary Hungarian Glass. A small but perfectly formed exhibition, we were debating between us how Péter Borkovics made his wonderful cast piece when the curator suddenly popped up in our midst and explained the technique in terms that made it seem almost simple compared to our convoluted imaginationary methods. We marvelled at the skills required to make ‘Japanese and Chinese’, a rather saucy depiction of two figures in a bath. I fell in love with a smooth jewel-like curl of cast glass by Lazslo Lukacsi, and its subtly irridescent surface inhabited my dreams as I snoozed in the car on the long journey back to London.

Artists’ Open House

In less than three weeks 200 artists’ houses in and around Dulwich will be opening their doors to a stream of visitors as part of the Dulwich Festival. The Artists’ Open House is now an established event in the calendar and people come from far and wide to visit the artists and see (and buy) their work in the context of their own homes. Local businesses are now involved and so you will find art installations popping up in estate agents or local cafes, as well as a handful of markets and fairs which centre around the Dulwich Festival.

Over the last couple of years there has been a coordinated effort by the Dulwich Picture Gallery to invite twenty of the world’s leading street artists to study their Baroque paintings and reinterpret them in their own style on walls and pavements around Dulwich, and during the Festival there will be a guided walk with the organiser to take in this Dulwich Outdoor Gallery. There are also numerous talks, walks, recitals and demonstrations happening all around the area which draw thousands of visitors to the Dulwich Festival.

Charlotte Kessler | Alex R
I am celebrating my tenth year in business and so I thought it would be nice to open up my space to some other work. Charlotte Kessler of Lemonstone Art paints mesmerising images in oils and acrylics, drawing on themes of love, nature, dreams and freedom of spirit. I fell in love with her work just before Christmas when I bought two of her prints for my family, and as they sat so well with my own work I have invited her to co-exhibit with me during the Artists’ Open House. Together we are showing a captivating collection of work across three storeys of the house and studio which will explore the magical interplay between glass and paintings in a space bursting with poetical imagery and wonder.

Five Houses
We warmly invite you to come and visit, and as further encouragement we have joined forces with four other artists’ houses in the immediate vicinity to create our own cluster of exciting work within the larger event. Open across two weekends, our ‘Five Houses in Five Minutes’ is a mini trail which will take in jewellery, print and collage, upcycled craft and mixed media, and fine art as well as my glass. We hope you can come and bring your family and friends to enjoy a day out in Dulwich.

Artists’ Open House: 9th-10th May and 16th-17th May, 11am-6pm.

 The Glass Studio | 47 Pymers Mead, London SE21 8NH

The Artist as Collector

It was such a relief to finally get my website up online after so long working on it. I realised I haven’t had a day off this year so when my other half said he had Monday off this week, I thought I would take the extravagance of an afternoon off and go with him to an exhibition.

Butterfly Unfinished

I didn’t manage to finish the butterfly bowl that I had started that morning, so it got left in pieces on my lightbox and, pretty much as we hopped on the bus, we blindly chose to see the Barbican’s latest show Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector. As we stood in the entrance foyer of the gallery being divested of our bags, coats and mobiles (strictly no photography permitted) I peered in and spotted Damien Hirst’s Last Kingdom across the vast gallery space.

Damien Hirst 'Last Kingdom'

Image: creativereview.co.uk

Mesmerised by the hypnotic coloured lines of almost artificial-looking insects, my husband practically tripped over the velvet rope and toppled dangerously close to the glass vitrine. Meanwhile my heart was beating a little faster for other reasons; there, amongst the entomological concatenation, was a perfect column of pristine Green Swallowtails – the exact same butterfly I had been working on that morning. Damn that Damien! I do so want to hate Damien Hirst’s work for its shameless commercialism, but I am nevertheless seduced every time by his sumptuous decorative sensibility.

Anyway the display of Hirst’s work alongside some of his personal collection of taxidermy and historical anatomical models was the perfect demonstration of how an artist’s collection can influence and inform his work and it set the tone for this exhibition. The two expansive spaces of the Barbican Gallery had been divided into sections for each of the fourteen artists selected for their collecting proclivities.

As we moved from space to space this multitude of objects, all artfully arranged with the heavy hand of the curator evident, started to coalesce in my mind into two categories – objects that spoke to me and objects that didn’t. I had some insight into this while looking at Hanne Darboven’s eclectic collection of items. Divorced from their natural habitat in her Hamburg studio where one might have had some sense of how the objects related to the space and the light there, they seemed to sit uneasily on a demarcated patch on the vast floor of the gallery. A German conceptual artist, Darboven had many objects which just screamed junk shop at me, but there were one or two which immediately struck a chord with me and seemed to be plucked directly from my own childhood holidays spent with the German side of my family.

Photo credit: Peter MacDiarmid

As we walked through the room dedicated to the record collection of the Mexican artist and tattooist Dr Lakra, we giggled at some of the outrageous album covers which flaunted the misogyny of 1970s rock with its naked ladies. I reflected that this room would have appealed to our Designed | Crafted artist Catriona Faulkner who is inspired by Mexican influences and tattoos and also describes herself as a collector. My co-curator and fellow glass artist Brett Manley is also an avid collector – her home is bursting with objects she has amassed over the years, and even her car dashboard is covered with a display of dozens of little ceramic figurines.

As we ascended to the upper level, we came upon a room of hundreds of similar ceramic figurines, collected by artist Martin Wong and his mother in her garage and then brought together as an art piece after his death by an admirer and fellow artist Danh Vo. The sheer scope and magnitude of the collection belied the apparently trivial nature of its individual pieces which were the kind of mass produced kitsch I remember from my childhood – Disney characters, ceramic hamburgers, waving Oriental cats. What was it about collecting so much cheap souvenir-shop stock that brought the artist and his mother such enjoyment? All I could think was how much dusting would be involved! For me, the value in these kind of nostalgic objects which take me back to my childhood would be lost if I was surrounded by them everyday.

I was thinking about our connections to objects so naturally Edmund de Waal was very much in my mind and then, there we were in a section devoted to him and his collections – found objects he had collected as a child, inherited objects he had researched as a young adult and of course objects made by his own hand as a mature artist. I read De Waal’s wonderful book The Hare with the Amber Eyes several years ago which charted his family history back through different centuries and different countries by way of following the trail of inheritance of a collection of Japanese netsuke from generation to generation. On display were some of these netsuke, small sculpted objects which served both functional and aesthetic purposes as part of the traditional Japanese kimono. It was amazing to see some of these objects which he had so beautifully described in his book and I felt a connection to them, imbued simply because of my knowledge of what these meant to him and his family.

I found the show unexpectedly thought provoking, and whilst we had wandered in not knowing what to expect, on my way out I asked for the show programme to have something to read on the train home and as a reminder of the exhibition. I was told there was none and that all the information about the show was on an app that one could download. How ironic, that after this carefully curated exploration of the importance of collecting objects, the closest one could get to a keepsake of the show was an audio trace somewhere in the digital ether!

Magnificent Obsessions: The Artist as Collector is on at the Barbican Art Gallery until 25th of May


We are open!

After a very long set up this weekend, Designed | Crafted is finally open for business!

The set up was slightly traumatic, involving a late night furniture set up on Saturday night, a towed car and a midnight trip to the Hackney car pound and then a fourteen hour styling session yesterday to get the space looking right.

I managed to get a few snaps of the space before we left at midnight, but it was looking lovely.

Come along to the Private View tomorrow night (Tuesday 16th December) from 7-9pm.

Society of Designer Craftsmen Gallery, 24 Rivington Street, London EC2A 3DU

See more details of our ten artists at www.designed-crafted.com