Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Victorian House of Arts and Crafts - Episode 1

I watched The Victorian House of Arts and Crafts on Friday night and was quite pleasantly surprised.  On the whole I'd recommend it as worth watching.

It was mostly about the reality of making arts and crafts objects for the parlour of "The Victorian House" used for the series (emphasis on the quotes - see below as to why) - and not too much about the clash of personalities (yet!).

There again let's see what happens in Episode 2 - on BBC2 at 9pm on Fridays.
Episode 1 is available to watch by all those who can get BBC iPlayer.
The Arts and Crafts House in the series - Wyndcliffe Court
see more below as to why this is a contradiction in terms
In this new, unique four-part series a late 1800s Victorian Arts & Crafts commune in the Welsh hills has been painstakingly brought back to life as a group of six 21st century crafters - three men and three women - move in to experience the highs and lows of living and working together as a creative commune.
Over their month-long stay the crafters are set to renovate four of the key spaces in the house. BBC

Why are the "makers" always kept anonymous?

Trying to work out who the artisans are was well nigh impossible - I finally found a photo with names.

Pictured: Rod Hughes, Niamh Wimperis, Patch Rogers, Ilsa Braniff, Anita Rani, Keith Brymer Jones, Abdollah Nafisa, Bryony Knox, Stephen Winstanley

I am getting very tired of the people who genuinely make the programme i.e. the people making things whether it's paintings or crafts - having their names left out of the press releases, the credits at the end of the programme and in general receiving very little formal recognition.

I can only assume one of two things
  • EITHER the union for people who appear on television must have an absolute stranglehold on the bosses and refuse to allow the participants to enjoy the same benefits as those who hold union cards
  • OR the bosses buying and/or making the programme are not prepared to pay the going rate for others who would normally appear on such programmes.  I gather from various people that the amounts they get paid are nominal in the extreme!
To me this is simply unacceptable.
  • It's treating artists and craftspeople as commodities and not as people or professionals.
  • Worse still, it treats them as anonymous nonentities who don't deserve a named credit when the credits roll at the end. Every other professional working on the programme is listed EXCEPT FOR THE PEOPLE WHO ARE MAKING THINGS ON THE PROGRAMME!
The cook who appeared for 10 seconds gets a credit - but the artisans don't!

I feel very strongly this is wrong

I came across this website about freelance fees - and anybody appearing on television might want to take a look at what the television companies pay for expert comment in other areas of television

[ UPDATE: see also my other posts. I'm very pleased to tell you that the artisans wrote to the producers of the programme about the lack of name credit - quoting my blog post - and by the second episode, they'd got their name credit at the end of the programme!

The people getting paid properly

The programme is presented by Anita Rani (all purpose gungho cheerer upper of the troops who usually presents Countryfile) - in the middle above - with no obvious background in arts and crafts.

She is joined by
  • potter and ceramic designer Keith Brymer Jones (left over from The Great Pottery Throw Down - which is no more, more's the pity) who seems to be cast in the role of all purpose crafts person representative.
  • arts and crafts expert Patch Rogers - the only person with any genuine claim to be participating in the programme
I wonder how much they are being paid - compared to those making the objects for the house who look like they're working well outside normal working hours!

It strikes me that when the BBC (and other television companies) review what they pay people (eg women) they might also like to review how they treat those people who appear in their programmes make the things out of which they get to create a television series. I'm not asking for them to be employed by the BBC just paid fees comparable to the others they contract with to make programmes.

For my part I will be doing my bit by trying to identify who the artisans are as we go through the series. (see below - two out of three so far this week)

The Arts and Crafts Movement

The Arts and Crafts movement emerged from the attempt to reform design and decoration in mid 19th century Britain. It was a reaction against a perceived decline in standards that the reformers associated with machinery and factory production. Arts and Crafts Movement | Wikipedia
It seemed to me that the programme makers have got a bit confused between "Victorian" and Arts and Crafts" - and related timescales - of which more later in relation to the house.

It's not making for an easy explanation of what's happening for those who know nothing about either - without some contradictions and confusions.
The programme seems to trying to stick to the ideals in terms of artists and crafters living together in a commune. I'm not quite sure how all the features of an art and craft commune life for a month are true - but it's an interesting premise underpinning the programme.

Book about William Morris in the British Museum bookshop
I certainly like the idea of highlighting some of the ideals, ideas and design of those associated with the arts and crafts movement.

Features of Week 1

There are six crafters in the programme. Each week three of them will be called upon to create something for one specific room of the house which they are decorating but the whole team will be sharing knowledge and responsibility for the completion of the work.

This week the room was the parlour.

In terms of how the act of creation works, the artisans
  • each have a particular skill which they employ in real life
  • are strictly limited to the materials, tools, equipment and techniques available to them at the time e.g. the chap making the William Morris chair had to start with half a tree trunk - with the bark still on!
The three artisan crafters this week were:
Links in their names are to their websites. These are no amateurs!

Porringer by Charles Robert Ashbee,
Hart & Huysche, Camden, Guild of Handicraft, 1925, silver, agate
- Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt - Darmstadt, Germany

In week 1 what I noticed were:
  • These artisans have a LOT of skills - although not always as transferable as the producers might like them to be i.e. how can an embroiderer be expected to know how to make a rush seat?
  • I wondered exactly how much help they get with the design and the making. They've obviously got some technical help in terms of generic literature (eg about wood block wallpapers) - but one wonders how specific this is to the particular items they are supposed to be reproducing
  • There was a bit of a sense of jockeying for position by at least one of the artisans - who seemed to feel left out - so he was given a special assignment that played to his strengths.
  • The format seemed odd. I suspect dictated by where the cameras needed to be. Although the emphasis was on three items and three makers, at least two of the others made a significant contribution in terms of their own skills to the room. There was very limited filming of the people who were not "designated artisans of the week"
  • I was less keen on the hyping of the "interpersonal histrionics" and more interested in how things were actually made. As per usual, the producers saw fit to give us only limited access to this - which meant we got the "here's one I made earlier" tweak at the end.
Bottom line - the works they produced were excellent. I was hugely impressed by all of them, the amount of work involved in producing their objects and how they resolved the challenges they faced during the week. 

Plus the programme was educational. As I said I'd have opted for more education around the reason for the programme and less Simon Cowellesque features. People who watch this type of programme by and large are simply not interested in the human dynamics - unless how they are handled are also very clearly part of the education.

I'll be watching again next Friday....

The next BBC series - filmed in 2019

I saw an advert recently for another programme by the BBC for filming this year - and given the requirements for that programme and having seen this one I think we now know what to expect. However I'm guessing it will be a different design period for the second series.

Which rather suggests the BBC has given up on painting and left that to Sky

Or are they making two very similar programmes using different companies?

The House - a contradiction in terms

One of the things that struck me as very odd at the beginning of the programme is that the house did not look Victorian. Intrigued I did some digging....

For the record this is what I found out about the house

Wyndcliffe Court House from across the pond
(Wikimedia Commons by Andy Dingley- licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
The house is called Wyndcliffe Court (Grid Reference ST 51798 97252)

This comes from Keith Brymer Jones website
Wyndcliffe Court is a Grade Two listed, privately owned country house built for Charles Leigh Clay in 1922*. Its construction began before this but was interrupted by the First World War, therefore architect, Eric Francis, couldn’t complete it. This Arts and Crafts style house is situated in the Monmouthshire area of Wales and features beautiful gardens designed by Henry Avray Tipping. He was influenced by the work of his friend Gertrude Jekyll (one of the visionaries that inspired the show) who liked to design gardens with a sequence of outdoor ‘rooms’.
So - it's NOT a Victorian House!  It was NOT even started in the Victorian era.  It's also built in  the "Cotswold Tudor" style, with mullion and transom windows - so NOT even designed to look like a Victorian House.

CADW - the official list of listed buildings in Wales - states it has a predominantly Jacobean style with a smidge of Arts and Crafts.
It is in a straightforward Jacobean/Arts-and-Crafts manner, ... although this house is more Jacobean and less Arts-and-Crafts in style........Included at a high grade as a good and unaltered Jacobean style house of 1922 which was designed by Eric Francis, and which retains an unaltered contemporary garden.....
This is how Brymer comments
*Interesting fact – The Victorian Era ended in 1901 after Queen Victoria’s death on the 22nd of January. This was then followed by the Edwardian Era which ended in 1914 due to the beginning of the First World War which began that July. This means the house is technically not Victorian but due to it’s style and construction it counts as one.
The contradiction between the design issues of the house and the title of the programme coupled with the presenter's expertise on architecture border perilously on the ridiculous.

However,  the gardens were designed by H. Avray Tipping and Sir Eric Francis in 1922. Arts and Crafts 'Italianate' style. That's the ONLY real claim to "arts and crafts style" that I can find online.

Possibly the owners have decided they'd rather like an interior to go with the gardens?

P.S If the programme makers want to know what an Arts and Crafts House really looks like I suggest they go and look at the Red House in London - where William Morris lived

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