Saturday, 22 May 2021

Harold Nelson and depictions of Athena


Harold Nelson and depictions of Athena

Happy 150th birthday to Harold Nelson who was born on this day – 22 May – in 1871.

It’s been a while since I have added something to the blog and thought that it was about time that I got around to doing so. Nelson was best known in his lifetime as a black and white illustrator and ex-libris designer for wealthy clients and organizations.

One of my questions about his working method was whether he re-used image or had a design book that potential patrons could choose what they would like for their personalized ex-libris. He did indeed re-use images which I will delve into further detail at a later date. I have decided on this occasion to focus on his images of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and the arts, she was the counsel of Odysseus during his Odyssey. At the time of the French Revolution Athena began to stand for Freedom and Liberty.

Nelson depicted Athena a number of times through his career and must have been interested in depicting her as she had become seen as the Goddess of the Arts. I have included some examples below from sketches, design drawings and finally to ex libris bookplates.

This exquisite drawing features Athena in the centre flanked by water nymphs. I am not entirely sure whether this was later developed into a finished image.


Design drawing for the Strand Magazine. Here Athena, in armour ready for battle, is depicted to the right of the drawing. Below Athena is written ‘Fact’ an allusion that she stands for wisdom and knowledge. I am unsure whether this design was ever used in print.


A sketch for Athena (most likely to have made for an ex-libris design for a library or book collector), depicted holding a book and a spear. Behind her are the leaves of the olive tree.


This image of Athena with her sword and lantern was also used by Nelson for the National Union of Teachers. Athena is entwined in an olive tree, representative of the one that grew on the Acropolis. The scroll behind Athena has ‘Vince Fide’ (Conquer with Faith) inscribed on it.

Here is the above image used as the logo for The National Union of Teachers. The main discernible difference is the inscription on the scroll. As they are undated I am not entirely sure which came first.



This is such an appropriate representation of Athena for the Bedford College Library. Here she is within an olive tree with an owl on her right shoulder and a lantern in her left hand. Books, source of knowledge, are scattered at the bottom of the ex-libris.


This is a more serious stoic representation of Athena for a potential ex-libris patron as there is no name included in the design (it is included in Nelson’s 1929 volume of bookplates). Athena holds a shield and spear, standing in front of classical architecture (the Acropolis?) and an owl appears in an olive branch in front of the goddess.


As these images are all from my own collection, I am sure there must be other variations in existence from Nelson’s career. Hopefully I can add other images as I discover them. His works are quite accessible and a good way to get into black and white illustration in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Britain.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

A constant across the seasons...

A constant across the seasons...

Over the past few years I have commuted to work through Greenwich Park. On the way to work I have often focused on an oak tree in the park which I found to be a stoic / monumental constant. I have always been meaning to do something with the photos I have taken of the tree and the effect changing of the changing of the seasons on it. The tree has always been an unchanging fixture with the environment around it in flux. This is everything from the sky, to the light around and the shadows cast by the tree and the colour of the grass. 

I was hoping to make this visual record as one image per month to produce a year of images albeit across a few years. What I found was there were some months like February where the atmospheric surrounds of the tree were simply stunning. I have limited myself to two images per month and also discovered that during the summer I wasn't as frequently photographing the park.

I must admit that this was finally prompted by the interesting exhibition Among the Trees which opened recently at the Hayward Gallery I wasn't entirely taken by all of the pieces in the show but it certainly made me think about trees and their place in the world.

Anyway here goes - hope you enjoy...

January 2018

January 2019

February 2019

February 2019

March 2018

March 2017

April 2019

April 2018

May 2018

May 2018

June 2017

July 2018

August 2018

September 2018

October 2019

November 2017

November 2017

December 2017

December 2017

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

A Tale of One and Another... 
A fictional meeting between the two Nick Caves

A discussion with a friend (a musician and fellow Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds fan) led me to write this piece. I now realize that the lines are too long for a song and it's probably more a poem of sorts. It's probably not that great but I certainly had great fun writing it and was surprised by how easy it was to get down on paper... I certainly won't give up my day job but may try to do some more writing like this in future!
Surely I have digressed and it's back to writing up my research on the Blackheath School of Art...
Here goes...

A tale of one and another... (part 1 – The Tale of two Nicks)

I thought I was but unique, a kind of a freak...
Instead I discovered I shared a name with another
One could say he might have been a brother!!!

No way, no way
If only I could stay at one with myself without another sharing a part of me...
If only I could, if only I could...

I have always been subject to visions
Something that has always cut through my mind like incisions...
I can sit and procrastinate with pen in hand.
Sometimes with or without the assistance of my band
A song will appear as if delivered to me by divine inspiration.
Thankfully this process is rarely one of exasperation.

No way, no way
If only I could stay at one with myself without another sharing a part of me...
If only I could, if only I could...

Previously in the mirror all I would see was a tall streak with a slick of black hair
Now I can surely say that I don’t care
As whenever I can catch a glimpse of myself there is always an element of him looking back at me
Don’t you see, can’t  you see that I just cannot let this be...


No way, no way
If only I could stay at one with myself without another sharing a part of me...
If only I could, if only I could...

Statue, statue now I just can’t  look at you
I know now that all do is gaze downwards and introspectively at my shoe
My life was once full of colour and movement
But I fear that there will never be a denouement

No way, no way
If only I could stay at one with myself without another sharing a part of me...
If only I could, if only I could...

I have often been asked what it’s  like to be ‘a bad seed'
But that kind of behaviour was never a part of my creed
It was only when I turned the radio on and heard Henry Lee
I realised that the king of the bad seeds had taken my name from me!
Hang on, hang on, it could never have been me...
Now don’t you see, can’t you see???


No way, no way
If only I could stay at one with myself without another stealing a part of me...
If only I could, if only I could....

That’s when that dark shadow began to loom over me
Nothing could bridge the terror of nothingness stretching across the sea
Unbearable as ever and not even in any small way clever
This matter needed to come to a head one way or another
It was him not me that I needed to smother!


No way, no way
If only I could stay at one with myself without another destroying a part of me...
If only I could, I know that I should remain just me.......

A tale of one and another (part 2 – The Meeting)

We always thought that there was never a chance we would meet randomly
That would most likely be an anomaly...
I went out in a blizzard to MOMA to see a Matisse show[1]
In retrospect I wish I never did go…

(alt verse in green)
We always thought that there was never a chance we would meet randomly
That would most likely be an anomaly...
I went out in a blizzard to the Met to see an El Greco show
In retrospect I wish I never did go…

I went to collect my ticket, and the attendant said…
‘Nick Cave, what do you mean, there’s no chance it’s you instead…
He’s being toasted at the opening of his exhibition as we speak,
There’s no way you can have that identity sit, you are indeed to me, a freak…’

I reached into my overcoat pockets to provide proof
Before I could identify myself the guttural shout came;
‘Security remove this man; there’s no way he’s telling the truth!’
I roared in the faces of those assailants come to restrain me;
‘I won’t go, hell no, I cannot be in no man’s shadow!
Let me see this other who taketh my name,
Surely there is no reason that we cannot cast our eyes upon each other,
Definitely, there should be no shame!’

Eventually the strong-armed men and women acquiesced,
Whilst my chief assailant whispered in quietly into my ear and confessed…
‘Who the hell do you think you are trying to impersonate such a fantastic artist as Mr Cave,
You should not dare think to interfere with his triumphal moment and crowd his enclave!’
I bellowed back; ‘Leave me in peace, I just came to see Matisse!
Once I meet the one who shares my name
I can definitely move on without shame.’

(alt verse)
Eventually the strong-armed men and women acquiesced,
Whilst my chief assailant whispered in quietly into my ear and confessed…
‘Who the hell do you think you are trying to impersonate such a fantastic artist as Mr Cave,
You should not dare think to interfere with his triumphal moment and crowd his enclave!’
I bellowed back; ‘There ain’t no need for prosecco, I just wanna see El Greco’!
Once I meet the one who shares my name
I can definitely move on without shame.’

They ushered me through a number of long galleries,
Each one full of their own mysteries and iconographies,
Swirling stars, melting clocks and tigers in long grass,
All blending into one great expressionist masterclass.

(alt verse)
They ushered me through a number of long galleries,
Each one full of their own mysteries and iconographies,
Holy families, Christs on crosses, many mournful figures facing their losses,
I wanted to stop and stare,
Yet it all blended into in one beautiful, terrifying nightmare.

Where were they taking me, I can no longer see
Not even anything ahead of me
I looked across at each of my escorts,
Looking at their expressionless faces trying to read their thoughts…

Eventually I find my voice to ask; ‘Where are we going?’
It started as a whisper but by the end I was bellowing,
The response was swift and harsh; ‘You’re going to meet your maker!’
In their eyes I was nothing but a faker…

I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth,
In no way was I an identity thief,
As we turned the corner there he was,
As elegant a man I have ever seen,
‘Mr Cave’, they gestured to the arty looking man…
‘This is the one who has been brazenly masquerading as you,
He must be one hell of a fan,
To travel here in a blizzard,
Wearing stylish, yet impractical shoes, made from the skin of a lizard!’

My mind quickly snapped into gear,
What was I going to do here?
I angrily pulled my arms free,
And moved towards him, he who shared his name with me,
Slow down, slow down, my mind was racing.
What should I do with this f***ed up situation I was facing…

I know what Stagger Lee would have done,
Not entirely sure that I still find that to be fun,
Should I grab his f***ing head and smash against the nearest wall?
It’s something that my brain does automatically recall,
I overwhelmingly felt suspicion that this would hasten my fall.

I looked him up and down,
Immediately I began to feel like a carnival clown,
There before me was the most angelic smile on his gentle face
At that moment it felt as if I was in the right place
His welcoming eyes met mine,
 And as he thrust his open right hand out towards my frame,
He said, ‘Pleased to meet you, I’m sure you know my name…

[1] Other options include: ‘go to Rothko’, ‘Take a seat to see Magritte’, ‘I don’t want no censor I’m here to see Ensor’ or ‘Hell no, hell no, I wanna see Delvaux’. Alternatively at the Met to see El Greco – 'I turned to look at the El Greco only to see him holding a glass of prosecco’.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Pre-war aeroplane drawings from the Blackheath School of Art

Among the collection of art works at the Conservatoire are three colour pencil drawings of aeroplanes. These have captured their time perfectly, representing not only aircraft and fashion of the late 1930’s but also of an artistic style that owes a lot to graphic design of the era. The simple metal frames do seem to be later, likely from the 1960’s or 1970’s, however the pictures do seem to be a lot older as will be discussed below. [1]
These drawings most likely date from the period 1937 to 1940 before the art school closed to be annexed by the army pay corps in 1940. Whilst I have found the source photographs for two of the drawings we have yet to discover the source for the third drawing.


Heracles at Croydon Airport pre 1940.

Unknown artist, Drawing After British Airways promotional photograph of Heracles, colour pencil on paper, before 1940.

The first drawing depicts Imperial Airways plane Handley Page HP42 GAAXC, Heracles, at Croydon airport. As with the other pictures, the colours remain vibrant with simple lines and shading portraying a stylistic representation of a late 1930’s airport complete with pilots and passengers. Imperial Airways merged to become a part of British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) in 1939 which was eventually the company known as British Airways in 1974. Heracles first flew in 1931 and was pressed into war service with the RAF on 3 March 1940 and only lasted 16 days before it was destroyed in a gale at Whitchurch airport, Bristol, after being blown into another plane, Hanno. Both planes were damaged beyond repair.

Douglas DST144

Press photograph:  The Launch of American Airlines’ Flagship, Texas at Grand Central Airport, Glendale 1937

Unkown artist, The Launch of American Airlines’ Flagship, Texas at Grand Central Airport, Glendale 1937, colour pencil on paper before 1940.

The other is a depiction of American Airlines plane, Texas, at Grand Central Airport, Los Angeles (above right) with passengers waiting to board on the left and soldiers loading/ unloading the plane to the left of the picture. A Douglas DST144 aeroplane press photo dated 1937 is the source of this drawing. This was the aeroplane which significantly cut down the travel time from the west coast to the east coast of the USA from with the Texas in service in late 1935. [2] 
The artist added extra figures and trucks to the right side of the drawing in order to make the composition more balanced. Even though the work is essentially a copy these extra details show that the artist possessed some skill and imagination.

Dornier Merkur D1104

Unkown artist, Dornier Merkur D1104, colour pencil on paper, before 1940.

Detail of above showing pilot and passengers.

The third drawing in the series is an illustration of the Dornier Merkur D1104 plane which was built in the late 1930’s. The technique and style of this picture shows the influence of the eminent British designers and illustrators of this period: Charles Paine (who taught at the Blackheath School of Art in the early 1930’s), Eric Ravilious (official war artist), Edward Bawden (who did some advertising work for Imperial Airways) and Barnett Freedman (a prominent designer at this time who was a visiting lecturer at BSA). During this period at BSA there were a large number of students who were very skilled at creating posters and advertisements studying under Paine (see my previous entry on Charles Paine). Paine and Douglas Bliss taught Commercial Art at the school in the 1930's. The 1931 / 1932 prospectus listed the subjects that the course would concentrate on:
Training as Commercial Artists or Illustrators: Drawing from Life, Figure Designs and Composition, Painting from Life, Poster Design, Lettering and Writing, Heraldry, Costume, Black and White Drawing, Book Illustration and Decoration, Wood Engraving, Study of Historic and Modern Art, Methods of Reproduction, Study of the business requirements of Commercial Art. [3]
One student in the early 1930's, who later studied at Central St Martin's, Richard Wakeford was noted as having designs accepted by Canadian Pacific. [4]

Unlike the other two drawings I have not yet been able to discover a photograph of this plane or whether there may a photograph that closely resembles this picture. Given that the other two pictures definitely were derived from photos the odds are that this too had its beginnings in photographic form.

[1] The label on the reverse is from Framery Ltd, 39 Blandford Street, London, W1H 3AF. The telephone number shows that the label is from before 1990 but most likely the 1960's -  01-935 4838.
[2] The Vintage Air Photos blog contains an interesting entry on the history of the plane and detailed analysis of the photograph which inspired the drawing. See entry from Tuesday 6 August 2013 entitled Legends: Grand Central and the First DC-3.
[3] Blackheath, Lee, Lewisham and Greenwich School of Art and Crafts: Prospectus & Time Table Session 1931 - 1932 p. vi.
[4] ‘Blackheath School of Art’, in Blackheath Local Guide, 28 March, 1936, p. 6. Although Wakeford was a student at the school before 1937 (the date of the source photographs) this article shows that students were involved in designs for travel.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Blackheath School of Art and art therapy for wounded soldiers in World War I

In the course of my reading about the history of the BSA I came across an article which described a scene that has remained with me from the moment I read it. It concerned a returning soldier standing, silently, neck deep in water in one of the Blackheath ponds. I can only scarcely imagine the awful predicament that he must have been in. What followed was a description that people just walked past him as if it was something strange and not doing anything about it. It took another soldier, passing by, to understand the distress the poor young man must have been suffering. He removed his coat and waded into the water to rescue him, made sure he was okay and then walked away.[1]

Bermondsey Military Hospital, Ladywell.
Source: more available here

Thankfully there were some positive stories relating to soldiers and their state of mind when returning from the Front. Just prior to the temporary move of the Blackheath School of Art to its temporary location at 5 Lee Terrace (opposite St Margaret’s, Lee) in September 1918 the annual students’ exhibition included works by soldiers returning from the Front. These soldiers had been injured and were recovering in Bermondsey Military Hospital in nearby Ladywell.

John Howard Hale, Principal of Blackheath School of Art, 1928.
Blackheath Local Guide, 21 July 1928, p. 14.

John Howard Hale, principal of BSA, worked closely with the medical officer in charge of the hospital, Lieutenant Colonel H Marrett Tims, using arts and crafts as a way to help rehabilitate soldiers. These classes began in the February of 1918 and despite initial worries about funding they ran and were very successful. Funding was secured from the British Red Cross through the hard work of the Mayor and Mayoress of Lewisham. It was Tims’ belief that the recovery of the soldiers would be hastened by undertaking creative craft work.

Bermondsey Military Hospital Christmas Card 1918 from H Marrett Tims and staff.

At the suggestion of Tims and John White, Hale was tasked with deciding on the classes and also recruiting teachers of the classes from the existing BSA staff and advanced students. The following subjects were decided upon as the most beneficial for the soldiers: bookbinding, woodcarving, metalwork, drawing, lettering and design  and needlework (including rug making). Recovering soldiers had been encouraged to undertake art earlier in 1916, at Johnson Hospital in Lincoln although I believe that the organised classes at Bermondsey Military Hospital were some of the first to be tailor made in order help with rehabilitation.[2]

According to the author of the article in the Blackheath Local Guide, it seemed like the expectations held for the classes succeeding (being popular) were not incredibly high. Through the expertise of the teachers and students recruited by Hale the scheme was incredibly popular with the patients. The soldiers were incredibly inspired by their immersion into the world of arts and crafts. The hard work of the instructors allowed an access to the creative process that many of the soldiers were either not familiar with or had never had the opportunity to utilise in the past.

Many of the soldiers stayed in touch with their instructors after they were discharged from the hospital. It also led to others becoming teachers of art when returning to their home countries. The outstanding success of the scheme was summed up by the following:
The scheme has succeeded almost beyond the sanguine expectations of its originator. The instructors, under his [Hale’s] inspiration and direction, threw themselves whole-heartedly into their work and found the soldiers apt and eager pupils. Whilst they received from Lieut-Col. Tims every encouragement. That the scheme, whilst recreative, was at the same time truly educative is shown by the fact that one man has already received an appointment as [a] teacher of wood-carving in South Africa.[3]

The soldiers were inspired by learning new skills and the teaching of the instructors that many of them kept in touch with their teachers after being discharged from the hospital. Others also expressed a wish for art lessons to continue in earnest in their home villages.[4] The instructors for these classes were taken from the teaching staff at the school and advanced students. Some of the students who helped were: Miss Butler, Miss Booth, Miss Cooke, Miss Harding and Miss White and the administrative work was taken up by the school’s registrar Mrs SW Dowling who acted as Honorary Secretary.[5] I haven’t yet been able to find out a lot about these students other than there was a Miss E White whose church book marks were praised in the 1916 students’ exhibition, as were the crocheted pieces by Miss Harding mentioned,[6] and a Mrs EB Cooke’s ceramic works were described as ‘striking’.[7]

Harold Nelson, Design for a Coat of Arms - given Nelson's proficiency with designing arms I can imagine that he helped soldiers with reproducing their crests.
Source: Collection of the author.

Teaching staff during these years included John Kerr (Design and Weaving), Emily Jane Morley (Needlework and Embroidery), Harold Nelson (Black and White Illustration), Mr R Toms (Metalwork), and Mr Edgar Green (Bookbinding). I would presume that some of the works included in the exhibition later held at the hospital included pieces by the teachers of the soldiers’ classes.

Advertisement for courses at BSA featuring details of the exhibition of the works of art created by wounded soldiers.
Blackheath Local Guide, 17 November 1918, p. 1.

Ten days after the Armistice an exhibition of the works made by the soldiers was opened by Lady Haig at the Bermondsey Military Hospital. Included among the soldiers’ works were pieces by their teachers which most likely included the teachers mentioned above from BSA staff and also the advanced students. The opening, on 21 November, received national coverage although the detail was very brief. The exhibition featuring in the Daily Record and Mail, the next day, was described as follows:
Lady Haig, in opening an exhibition of art and craft work by soldier patients at the Bermondsey Military Hospital yesterday, said that her husband’s one hope and one thought, now that the war was over, was for those who had who had been through fighting… She knew that his one aim and ambition in life was to see that those who had fought and suffered should come through all right.[8] 
Lady Haig was incredibly impressed by the quality of the works that were produced over such a short period of time.[9]

The exhibition was extremely popular with the works selling out very quickly. The soldiers were described as being very adept at needlework, I can imagine Emily Morley and Harold Nelson helping them with their depictions of company and squadron crests, these being understandably popular subjects. The works were ‘judged’ by Lady Robertson (a member of the BSA committee) the principal Hale, which makes me think that they gave awards to the soldiers (again sadly I have not found any record of these). Lady Robertson also expressed delight at the high quality of work on display.[10]

I am hopeful, that this might be the beginning of discovering more about an incredible period in the history of the Blackheath School of Art and its role in the rehabilitation of soldiers returning from the battlefields. Perhaps the last words should, for now, belong to the reviewer:
Every visitor must have been struck by the originality both of design and treatment displayed in the work; whether embroidery and needlework or jewellery, and metalwork or pottery and wood-carving. In execution, too, many of the articles on view were marked with a delicacy which one associates with the gentler sex. How highly those present at the Exhibition thought of the work was shown by the quick sale of all the exhibits.[11]

[1] I am usually very good at writing down references, but yet, for some reason I didn’t note the date or page number of the Blackheath Guide I was reading other than it was from 1915.
[2] The classes at Johnson Hospital are believed to have led to the founding of the Spalding Arts and Crafts Society -
[3] ‘Art and the Wounded Soldier’ in Blackheath Local Guide, 14 December 1918, p. 20.
[4] loc. cit., p. 21. Unfortunately there is no reference to specific names of soldiers or teachers.
[5] Blackheath Local Guide, 19 October, 1918, p. 14. The names appear in a brief review of the Students’ Exhibition.
[6] ‘Blackheath School of Arts and Crafts: Exhibition of Students’ Works’ in Blackheath Local Guide, 7 October 1916, p. 15 and ‘Blackheath School of Art: Exhibition of Students’ Works: Blackheath Local Guide, 26 September, 1914, p. 8. In 1914 Miss E White exhibited a processional banner featuring St Peter holding keys on a white ground destined for St Peter’s Church, Eltham. It was described as one of the more prominent works on display.
[7] Blackheath Local Guide, 27 September 1919, p. 24. ‘Nor has the Potter’s wheel been idle. Specimens of pottery thrown, baked, decorated, glazed and fired including some striking work by Mrs EB Cooke.’
[8] ‘Sir D. Haig’s One Ambition’, in Daily Record and Mail, Friday 22 November, 1918, p. 5.
[9] Blackheath Local Guide, 14 Dec 1918, p. 21.
[10] ibid.
[11] loc. cit. pp. 21 – 22.