Wednesday, October 24, 2018


The word seems so old fashioned now, but very recently brought to my mind, evoking memories of childhood.  First there is the Vuillard exhibition at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham.  I am currently reading - savouring the catalogue, (image above).  A review of the exhibition can be found here.
I am a great fan of Vuillard's intimist work, enjoying it much more than many other of his contemporaries perhaps because he does for me capture so much of the atmosphere which surrounded me as a small child in Thessaloniki, Greece in the very early 1950s.  The UK was forward-looking then, and by contrast the life I encountered with my relatives in Greece was backward-looking.  Refugees in the '20s, they had come from divers locations but were closely related, and met often, and mostly told stories about the past.  Looking back as I grew up, it felt as if I had vicariously lived in a previous century as well as the present.
There was electricity, but because of the strong sunlight during the day, the shutters were often closed and we moved about in the dim light so often seen in Vuillard's paintings.  The rooms were full of women.  Most of my relatives were aunts and great-aunts, and older cousins who had survived their husbands.  Their clothes were black.  There were few shops with clothes because everyone went to a seamstress.  The two we frequented were also Pontic Greek refugees.
My mother paid very little for the clothes that were made for us because not only did we bring our own fabric, but also we used to haul out of date pattern catalogues on our trans-European train journey.  The seamstresses did not need paper patterns, but were delighted to receive the drawings that showed the garments: nearly up-to-date styles.  They were remarkable women who achieved a great deal with small reward.  As we ourselves could afford more, we brought more than enough fabric so that they could use the remainder for themselves, whether for other clients or no.  In fact I never saw our main seamstress wearing anything other than her slip, with a pin cushion tied round her wrist.
Edouard Vuillard: Atelier de Couture de Madame Vuillard (image from here)
The second evocation of my earliest encounters with a seamstress was brought to mind when I went for a breast screen last week.  The radiographer was so gentle she reminded me of my grandmother's and aunts' fittings for brassieres.  In the earliest '50s such garments were not available in any shops in Thessaloniki, but there were seamstresses who specialised in the architectural design and manufacture of corsets and brassieres.  As a toddler I was like Vuillard an observer, amazed by all of the experiences.  
Alas, as the years and decades went by there was less and then no work for the latter seamstress as mass manufacture and sale of underwear became ubiquitous.  I continued to have dresses made for me until I became engaged in 1969, but after that I became a tourist in Greece, no longer living there for the whole season of summer.
But Vuillard's paintings bring it all back to me.  
Edouard Vuillard: The Thread (image from here)

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Dedicated to books and reading

My grand sorting really has led to a great project which has gripped me.  I am not devoting every minute to it, but somewhere in the back of my mind thoughts are churning away.
I wrote a post about the initial idea last month, and since then my interest has deepened, and I have realised just how personally relevant the project is.  My career was in publishing, and specifically in children's non fiction and in educational publishing.  From 1977 - 81 I was a commissioning editor in London for Blackie, whose gazetteer I am now canibalising.  That gazetteer came from my Scottish grandparents' house - and Blackie was a Scottish publishing house. (It was one of the Blackie family who commissioned Charles Rennie Mackintosh to design Hill House.)
I also had a passion for encyclopedias and gazetteers when I was a child.  For Christmas 1953 I was given the complete Arthur Mee's Encyclopedia, and I have had a thirst for reading for information ever since.
So, all in all, I can see that this project will occupy quite a bit of my thinking and designing for a while.

Friday, October 12, 2018

There are some buildings

... to which I become attached at first sight.  Two in Oxford of which I never tired are the Natural History Museum (above) - which is also stunning beautiful inside, and houses the extraordinary Pitt-Rivers Museum, so ticks many boxes - and Keble College (below).
(image from here)
Today in Glasgow we visited another such: the former Templeton Carpet Factory.  It is a bizarre but delightful conceit of an edifice, and thoroughly dispelled any notions of feeling miserable because of the heavy rain (obviously the photo below was not taken on such a day).
These three are decidedly of the decorated school, and are not what I typically go for in a building, generally preferring clean lines.  But these are just so boldly sure of themselves, and have their own elegance I think.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

This is what I call luxury!

Some people crave a roll top bath in the bedroom, but we are enjoying the delight of watching the early morning light change from moment to moment with this view from the bed in the self-catering home we are renting this week.
The big window has a wide sweep over the valley of the Water of Fleet just north of Gatehouse of Fleet.  The garden falls away precipitately to reveal the glorious west-facing view.
Even on a misty drizzly morning it is fascinating.  Thank goodness for the horrid hard bedhead, otherwise it would be too tempting to linger!

Monday, October 08, 2018

Away from the madding crowd

Even when crowded, the occupants of a cemetery enhance one's enjoyment of solitude.  The startling blue in the background is the Water of Ken in Galloway reflecting glorious sky.
This cemetery also boasts a spectacular avenue of limes, and a rowan bower (one side red berried, and t'other yellow) over a well-placed bench.
It is lovely to be far from the bustling metropolis in Autumn.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Instructional and inspiring exhibition

(image from here)
On Sunday we went to see the Renzo Piano retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. (reviews here and here)  It was an opportunity also to see the newly joined buildings, the Piano exhibition is what I still think of as the Museum of Mankind, although the ethnographic exhibits have long been housed in the British Museum.  The galleries that contain the Piano displays are wondrous indeed, helped even more by a clear sunny day.
We found it to be a remarkably pleasing, informative, curiosity arousing, and even inspiring exhibition.  Such beautiful display, thorough, beautiful, and totally uplifting.
(image from here with more photos and a review)
There were three projects where I concentrated most of my time.  One was the Emergency Children's Surgery Centre in Kampala, Uganda.  An element which caught my imagination was the information about the use of packed earth blocks - not only the information, but the presentation of sample coloured blocks themselves.  An acrylic structure housed them in a way - as with all the displayed materials and samples - that made them aesthetic objects in their own right.
This is a Shutterstock photograph showing the displayed blocks.
Another project was the Menil Collection building - one of Renzo Piano's earliest buildings.  Elegance once more to the fore in the shape of the ventilation louvres.  Samples were hanging as part of the project display.
It is fascinating to read the client's brief, then to see the solution which lifts the heart.  As stated in this article, source of the image below, the elements of the solution, the parts which go to make a whole greater than them, somehow transmit a feeling of creative empowerment in the viewer.
I overwhelmingly was drawn to the project the display of which I just wanted to bring home: the Tjibaou Cultural Centre Noumea, New Caledonia.
(image above from here, with an article about the 'Piano Method')
(image above from here)
What struck me most about all the projects was the attention to situation, and the striving for the most elegant practical solution to each individual need.  This is an exhibition which will return to in my mind again and again, I'm sure.

We went through to the original RA building, passing this delightful courtyard between the two.  
Outside in the courtyard stands Cornelia Parker's PsychoBarn.  I was lucky enough to see a film of her visiting old barns in the USA in order to make this piece for the Metropolitan Museum Roof Garden, New York.  A fusion of two iconic images of buildings in the USA, I love the detailing - such as the roof 'slates' being carefully cut corrugated metal.  I find that Cornelia Parker's art is always taking me by surprise.
All in all it was a brilliant day of thinking about buildings.