Books

After 50 years, Pickford is a worthy successor to update the Warwickshire Pevsner

Almshouses

The definitive guide to the buildings of Coventry and Warwickshire has been revised after 50 years – and was launched at a venue chosen with some significance by the revising author.

The Buildings of England Warwickshire, by Chris Pickford and Nikolaus Pevsner was launched at the Governor’s House at the Chamberlaine Almshouses in Bedworth.

Mr Pickford, formerly Bedfordshire archivist, who has spent six years revising the 1966 original by Pevsner, said he had considered many grand houses for the launch before deciding on the almshouses just off Bedworth’s pedestrianised precinct (above).

He said: “Some of you who knew the old book will understand why. Pevsner called Bedworth a ‘depressing small town’ and dismissed its buildings in 16 small lines. He gave two lines to these wonderful Almshouses.”

He said many more buildings had been included in this revision and he aimed to right wrongs where necessary – Bedworth now has three and a half pages, including an engraving of the Chamberlaine Almshouses from 1839, and a suggested perambulation around the town to take in the sights.

Mr Pickford said Warwickshire had many places such as Warwick and Stratford to attract tourists, but he added: “One of the other reasons we have come to Bedworth is the north is less well known than the south. This is a county of immense richness and what we are saying is don’t ignore the north.”

He grew up in Warwickshire, and said he first explored the county’s buildings with the original Pevsner volume as his guide. A sixth form work experience at Warwickshire’s county record office set him off on a career in the archives.

Speaking at the launch, Charles O’Brien from Yale University Press (below right with author) said Chris Pickford had helped him with the Bedfordshire revision, which led to him being asked to revise Warwickshire. He said: “We were keen that we confound people’s expectations by finding buildings people knew nothing about and we think we have fulfilled that aim amply this evening.”

Chris Pickford

The 801-page book explores the county and Coventry in depth, commenting on the history and architecture of buildings. It covers churches, public buildings, plus other structures such as folly towers, toll houses, railway viaducts, mansions and other houses. There are walks around towns included so readers can use it to explore places.

Artworks and memorials inside buildings are also described and commented on, with an index of architects and artists so you can locate work by those you are interested in. The new version is also two and a half times the size of the first, so is a thorough guide to the buildings of the county. Information from the original Pevsner remains and is expanded on where Chris has more to say, though of course many buildings have been or gone since the original. Some of Pevsner’s more waspish comments have been questioned and challenged.

At the launch, Pickford added: “I have been revisiting many places from my youth. I was treading in my own footsteps as well as Pevsner’s and it was great fun meeting people who’d met him on his first visit. They said ‘he was a very rude man’!”

Someone he met at a remote farmhouse told how they had let Pevsner in, then wondered if they should have done, it being just a few days since the Great Train Robbery.

He said he hoped he had brought to the new book 50 years’ knowledge of the county and its buildings, and he in particular wanted to include more information on local architects and their buildings. Having road tested the new volume at various places in the county, it’s certainly true that it now answers many questions about who was the architect or firm behind various buildings.

There are also of course many new buildings included; in Pevsner’s day Coventry University as such did not exist, and there are references to Lanchester College of Technology and the College of Art, but in the new volume it has three pages to itself. Similarly, the University of Warwick had less than a page referring to the plans, but now it also has nearly three pages. Many other new buildings are also of course included for the first time.

• The Buildings of England, Warwickshire, by Chris Pickford and Nikolaus Pevsner is published by Yale University Press at £35.

Book

Don’t miss University of Warwick’s art collection on show at Mead

An exhibition not to miss is on for only a couple more weeks in Coventry.

Imagining a University: Fifty Years of the University of Warwick Art Collection is on at the Mead Gallery at the university until June 20.

I have already written about it in the Coventry Telegraph, but it also seems worth mentioning again alongside the book produced to go with it, which is a delight in its own right.

The book contains pictures of the university when the site had just a few buildings in open green fields, and art works in position from the early days. There are also many beautiful photographs of the works of art discussed. The book contains a series of essays by experts in the field which add a lot to our understanding of the foundation of the collection and the Mead Gallery.

Simon Patterson, Cosmic Wallpaper, 2002, digital wa

Simon Patterson, Cosmic Wallpaper, 2002, digital wallpaper

Alan Powers writes what is logically the first chapter on The University of Warwick: the architect, the collector and the patron, which explains how it came to be built, the brutalist architecture and the founding of the collection.

The exhibition tells the story with Coventry Telegraph newspaper cuttings about the permission being given for the University of Warwick and six others to be established in the 1960s to provide higher education for a more socially diverse cohort of students.

Some of the first paintings are those discussed by Powers and by Beth Williamson in her chapter on Becoming a Collection. There are some of the nine huge, colourful abstract paintings given by Alistair McAlpine. Large abstracts dominate the first room, including two works by Patrick Heron, and one by John Hoyland, and one full of zig zag lines by Roger Barnard, who travelled from Japan to the exhibition opening, plus Terry Frost’s Red All Over.

Williamson discusses the difficulties that went with the decision for the collection to not be kept in a gallery or store room, but to be displayed around the place to add to everyone’s education. Along the way some pieces have regrettably been damaged, but others have become part of people’s daily lives.

Throughout this book, current and former member of staff and students explain the importance of individual pieces to them, sometimes as an irritant but more often something to gaze at for inspiration or to escape daily life.

In my own five years as a part-time Warwick student I remember several pieces in rooms in the humanities block, and when my mind wandered to them I knew it was time to concentrate harder on the seminar. Other works on library stairs had me causing a crush when I stopped to read the labels.

Later, as a part time university worker, I was delighted in my first office to have a Michael Rothenstein one side of the doorway and a Stanley Nolan the other; sadly an office move left me lacking that daily art. Visits to University House were a joy to see a Terry Frost, or Maggi Hambling’s portrait of a former VC on the way to a meeting room.

The exhibition gives a chance for everyone to see artworks from all over the University gathered together.

Screenprints and lithographs feature in one section, including Birmingham Race Riot by Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein’s red and blue Sandwich and Soda. There are 12 Paolozzi screenprints inspired by Wittgenstein.

The exhibition moves on to a wall of screenprints and etchings, including works by Paula Rego, Babe Rainbow by Peter Blake, a Kitaj collage, and two small works by Coventry artist George Shaw, showing desolate garages and fence posts by a hedge, lacking a fence.

There are some works donated by Cyril Barrett, a Jesuit Priest and Reader in Philosophy at Warwick, including two boxed mixed media works by Harry Thubron. Other works came into the collection with the merger with Coventry College of Education in 1984, whose principal Joan Browne had collected paintings and ceramics.

A collection of land art works include The Wet Road by Richard Long, and Hamish Fulton’s Callanish, A Five Day, One Hundred Mile Walk photograph, as well as Andy Goldsworthy’s Bullrush Debris, a photograph created on site when he was the university’s first artist in residence. In the catalogue, former registrar Michael Shattock writes of focusing on this work during many meetings, and being grateful for then discovering the artist.

Newer additions to the collection include Hannah Starkey’s posed photograph of a woman with leftover office flowers in a bag, Olga Ivanova’s two photographs of people in Russia from a 2014 exhibition, and the painting Scenes from the Passion: The Swing, a George Shaw work showing nearby Tile Hill.

Other essays in the book cover the forming of the Mead Gallery in the 1980s, the development of the collection and site-specific installations, and its future.

Wherever it goes in the future, don’t miss the chance before June 20 to see so many fantastic works brought together in one place.

*The book, Imagining a University: Fifty Years of the University of Warwick Art Collection, is £18 or £25 after June 21. The exhibition is free to visit.

Pop Artist (and woman) Pauline Boty finally gets the attention she deserved

colour her gone
Colour Her Gone by Pauline Boty
The past few decades are full of examples of people who looked good, and died young, becoming a legend and an icon. Unfortunately her tragically-early death did not do this to the artist Pauline Boty, but an exhibition and book are likely to bring her the lasting fame she deserved.
Pauline Boty, Pop Artist and Woman are the title of the exhibition at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, and the accompanying book by the exhibition’s co-curator Sue Tate. Both tell Boty’s story but more than that, place her in the 60s world which she seemed to revel in, and also examine her role as a woman artist, and what that meant at the time. Tate’s book includes many images but is scholarly in approach, coming firmly from a gender analysis perspective which is refreshing.

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