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Skills: City and Guilds of London Art School

18 June 2013
Tim Crawley – Head of Historic Carving at the City and Guilds of London Art School.

Tim Crawley, Head of Historic Carving at the City and Guilds of London Art School.

Tim Crawley has been responsible for some of the most high profile stone carvings produced in the UK in the past 30 years. He has now been appointed Head of Historic Carving at the City and Guilds of London Art School, which is where he embarked on his own career in carving. Here he talks about the school and his role with it.

The magazine Modern Painters surveyed art world professionals in April 2011 to create a list of what they considered the top 10 UK post graduate courses. City and Guilds of London came third, behind the Royal College of Art and Royal Academy Schools.

Modern Painters was considering fine art courses only, but the School stands in no less regard for its undergraduate courses, a significant number of which cover stone carving.

It has a philosophy of employing working artist-craftspeople as tutors and at the start of the new academic year in September engaged Tim Crawley as Head of Historic Carving.

It is a 33-week-a-year post that leaves him time to carry out commissions at his own workshop in Cambridgeshire, where he still lives. He previously worked for Rattee & Kett and was a Director of Fairhaven & Woods, both in Cambridgeshire.

When Tim was starting out on his own career in carving more than 30 years ago he was a student at the City and Guilds of London Art School himself. In the intervening period he has become one of the most highly respected stonecarvers in the country, producing sensitive and high profile sculptures such as the Modern martyrs on Westminster Abbey (he designed them all although some were carved by other craftspeople) and the Lions and Unicorns at St George’s Church, Bloomsbury. His client list also includes the Soane Museum, Ely Cathedral and various Cambridge Colleges.

In most cases, it was important that Tim’s work was informed by the original architecture, and the history of carving and its place in architecture is an integral part of the City and Guilds Art School courses that Tim is heading.

His appointment at the School coincides with his Presidency of the Master Carvers Association (MCA), which is currently working towards achieving accredited apprenticeships for stone and wood carvers.

The first step in this process has involved the development of a National Occupational Standard for Carving. As a peer reviewed professional organization, the MCA has been partnered in this process by CITB (previously ConstructionSkills) and a suite of standards has been devised from which anyone wishing to run accredited courses in carving must draw their curriculum. The next step is to find an awarding body willing to develop a qualification, such as an NVQ, that could be incorporated into an apprenticeship framework.

The problem is that the number of potential apprentices is small, given the highly specialized nature of the work, so there is little financial incentive for awarding bodies to get involved.

Tim feels that the carving courses run at the City and Guilds Art School could form part of a recognized apprenticeship. “Currently we are the only place in the country where a serious full-time study of historic carving can be undertaken.”

The School offers its own Diploma and Post-Graduate Courses in Historic Carving – which run alongside the BA and MA Degree Courses in Fine Art Painting or Sculpture – and in Conservation. They are validated by Birmingham City University.

As the new Head of Department, Tim is developing the existing courses at City and Guilds. He says his aim is to ensure that each practical project undertaken by the students should contribute to their understanding of the development of the style of carved ornament and sculpture.

“It’s important that the students are well equipped intellectually to inform their practical skills, so that they cannot only make replacement carvings in the historic styles so often needed in the heritage industry, but also be able to carve new imagery in any period style.”

Tim had not lost touch with the School after studying there and for three years before his current appointment had been an external examiner for it.

He says that in some ways it has not changed much since he was a student there. “The cast of Apollo still greets you at the front door.” In other ways it has changed – the carving area has certainly improved. “When I was a student it consisted of a ramshackle group of shelters outside.”

Tim became aware of the School in the same way as many of its students hear about it today – from other students or former students, who are among the School’s greatest ambassadors. Tim had a degree in architectural history from Manchester. “When I heard about the City and Guilds Art School I came and had a look and it was a revelation. It was perfect.

“Then, as now, a lot of people who come here are more mature and already have a degree or art training. On the carving course, some have completed masonry courses.

“I think what’s special about this School is that we teach traditional art skills – drawing and clay modelling – as well as carving skills. These are real skills using real materials that you don’t often get at art school.

“The courses are pretty much the same as they always were, but they are growing – and the facilities here now are so much better than when I was a student, both the workshops and the infrastructure. The humanities element of the courses has increased – the history of art. It includes visits to museums – and you couldn’t have more choice of museums than in London. There are also more visiting lecturers.”

The School currently has 170 students on its undergraduate and postgraduate courses and another 80 working on the one year foundation course. It has just acquired access to the former telephone exchange next to the school which, as a consequence, has allowed a programme of development to make the most of space vacated on the main site.

The courses have to be paid for (the fee is £6,500 a year) and the Diploma courses do not attract higher education grants. Nevertheless, Tim believes they are exceptional value for money in terms of the tutor time each student receives and the skills they are taught. Students are even allocated their own individual workspace and because of the high standing of the school there are many bursaries available, including some from the Masons’ Livery Company.

Some of the students pictured here obtained bursaries. Jackie Blackman, for example, is supported by the City and Guilds Institute and Sam Lee has this year gained the Hedley Foundation bursary after gaining the support of the D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust last year.

The students are certainly keen to spend as much time as they can at the School, many attending evening lectures that do not finish until 7.30pm after a full day’s studying.

The students highlighted here explain what they are getting from the School. Jackie Blackman, who did a three-year course in stonemasonry at Bath, says she was fine with masonry but really slowed down when it came to free work. Tim says a lot of students with a stonemasonry background have the same problem. They are used to working with templates and straight lines but can find the freeform of carving more challenging.

Molly Briton, who trained in stonemasonry at the Building Crafts College in London, says she was brought up in Wells in Somerset and believes the exposure to the cathedral there put carving into her blood. Tim says it is an interesting point. He was brought up in Canterbury and “I always thought the Cathedral must have had an influence on my choice of career.”

Many of the students carry out commissions while at the School, some of them working on the three stone grotesques that it produces for St George’s Chapel at Windsor every year, for example, and Louis Russell is currently producing a slate plaque for York Trust. It will have a 267-letter inscription cut into it. In both cases, students were invited to submit designs and the clients chose those they most liked.

These commissions are important to the School because, in spite of being positioned firmly in the art world, it has, from its earliest days, always kept its feet firmly planted on the solid ground of industry.

What the students say…

Louis Russell. Louis is the nephew of internationally renowned stone sculptor Emily Young. He worked with his aunt for four years at her studio in London, roughing out and finishing, before she moved to Italy. Emily Young works straight into the stone, creating art that is sold in galleries – next month (June) she will be showing new work in an exhibition staged in the cloister of the Madonna dell’Orto Church as part of the 55th Venice Biennale.

Louis says he learnt a lot from his aunt about free style carving and he produced some heads and smaller abstract pieces of his own. “But I wanted to learn to draw and set out – I’m interested in historic carving and things of that nature.”

He is now coming to the end of the final year of a three-year Diploma course and is pictured here working on his exam piece, taken from a Giovanni Pisano column figure of a pulpit in Pisa, which he visited and photographed. There is a replica in the V&A Museum in London and a conservator at the Museum, herself an alumnus of the City and Guilds Art School, provided him with measurements of it. He made a small clay model first, then a larger model with changes that it became apparent were needed, then a full size model of the head before he began carving the Caen limestone he is using.

Jackie Blackman. Jackie was in the first year of a three-year stonemasonry course at City of Bath College when she first encountered the City and Guilds of London Art School. It was during a visit to the Natural Stone Show in London, at which the School was exhibiting. She was impressed by the work being shown on the stand and took a card. “I wasn’t qualified enough to come here at that time, so I worked on that.”

But her life took another direction and domestic commitments kept her occupied. “I kept the card from the City and Guilds Art School. I used to sit and look at it and think… one day! And when the kids were old enough, I applied.”

She is now on the second year of a post-graduate course in carving. “I have learnt drawing and modelling and to put that into practice in carving. I was fine with the masonry, but I really slow down on free work.”

The picture shows Jackie making a clay model of a traditional Italian style cartouche. Once she has worked it out in clay she will carve it in stone.

Sam Lee. Sam was at Weymouth College on a two-year foundation degree in building conservation when he heard about the City and Guilds of London Art School from a former Weymouth student.

He became interested in stonemasonry and conservation through family links with E Bowman & Sons in Stamford, where Sam worked for two years.

At City and Guilds, he is on the second year of a Diploma course, after which he would like to further his skills, ideally at one of the country’s cathedrals, before eventually starting his own company in conservation stonework.

He is pictured here with his coursework this year having removed his eye protection for the sake of the photograph.

Molly Briton. Molly is a part-time student at City and Guild Art School, while also working to pay for it. Being part-time means the post-graduate course she is taking will last three years rather than the two that it takes full-time students. She is specialising in lettering – because, she says, “I really enjoy the process of it.”

With a background in fine arts and the study of music, Molly had been working at the British Museum before she turned to stonemasonry and a course at the Building Crafts College (BCC) in London. “I had been looking for carpentry courses but then I came across stonemasonry and it sounded more exotic, to be honest.”

At that time, Nina Bilbey was a lecturer at the BCC. Nina is now Senior Lecturer in Stone Carving at the City and Guilds Art School and Molly thought the City and Guilds would be a good place to continue her education and concentrate on lettering.

Her aim is to establish her own studio and carry out a broad range of lettering work, from memorials to large public commissions and some of her own creative work. “I enjoy the challenge,” she says, adding that she believes memorials help families cope with their bereavement and that “I would like to help people in that way.”



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