Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

On this day, in this room . . .

Like Little Dorrit, I was born in the workhouse. Well to be accurate it was no longer a Victorian workhouse, but had been converted into a maternity hospital – the irony intended or not, probably wasn't lost on the thousands of women who had their babies here between 1934 and 1983. I took a photo through the railings as I passed by, walking along Mill Road in Cambridge at lunchtime today.

I turned down a side street and along a very familiar path to a red brick building behind a row of terraced houses. There were signs to the theatre and the Student's Union Shop (closed!) and huge new buildings which loomed all around. But I found a familiar door . . .

. . . this was and still is the entrance to the Cambridge School of Art, now it's part of Anglia Ruskin University. Like a nucleus it remains at the heart of a shiny new campus and inside it's much the same as I remember. The School of Art is 150 years old and there is an exhibition of especially commissioned drawings inspired by a quotation from John Ruskin, here's an exert:

There were many familiar names on the walls: past and present tutors and esteemed ex-students – all had produced a pen or pencil drawing inspired by the art school or it's locality. Some chose to illustrate Ruskin himself, others scenes of students at work; there were views of the bustling multi-cultural Mill Road and the quiet oasis of the Mill Road cemetery a stones throw from the college. All are masterful examples of observation and drawing.

I sat on the squashy brown leather sofa and looked through a sketch book I'd got in my bag – I made this book in December 1979 in this very room during the first term of the Foundation Course in Art & Design. We used a selection of papers – cartridge and sugar paper – and learnt how to make a bound book with a linen cloth cover; I could picture the pile of paper on a table and the guillotine for trimming the pages; the wooden floor splattered with ink and ground-in charcoal; the wooden easels and donkeys smeared with paint. The floor has been polished and the walls painted white, there are modern gallery lights hanging from the ceiling. How many students have sat here and learnt to look?

I found the page in my sketchbook for 17 December 1979 to see what I'd been doing 29 years ago. Some studies of Japanese fans – I remember, the fashion and textiles module! This took place in an annexe in a maze of little back-to-back houses a short walk from the college (probably now under the foundations of the Grafton Shopping Centre). We studied Japanese design and made patterns and textures inspired by lacquer work and kimonos; then we made a miniature folding screen using the papers we'd painted. I've been fascinated by Japanese art and design ever since.

Maybe I'll share more pages during 2009.


  1. Happy Birthday, Celia! And what a lovely meander along Memory Lane. (The lovely old house where I was born[in Cambridge, NZ!] is now a restaurant!)

  2. Hi Moreidlethoughts - I think I must have misled you with the title! It's not my birthday - that was a while back in October.

    Cambridge NZ, I'm sure I've been there and had my photo taken beside the road sign. But jet lag was kicking in and the memory of that day is all fuzzy!


  3. I love reading about how people's life journeys have led them to where they are now. That sounds like a wonderfully inspirational place Celia and was clearly the seedbed of your love of Japanese art.
    Btw-both my children live near Mill Road-what a vibrant place.

  4. What a lovely post Celia with lots of lovely memories.

  5. I was wondering whether this post meant it was your birthday too. So lovely to go back and relive this day though - and so magic that it was a Japanese fan - quite seminal in your inspirations. Emma x

  6. What an interesting story about where you were born! Love the photo of those doors to the art school... there's something about going back to where you studied or lived. One can have such strong memories that had been forgotten. Sounds like a great day you had! I'd love to see more of your old sketchbook!!

  7. That's where I was born too!

    I love the smell of art schools - there's nothing quite like it...


  8. Belated birthday wishes!

  9. Just adding my name to the list of those born at Mill Road.
    In the early 80's my mum rescued a large concrete doorstep from a skip outside the hospital, which I then spent a lot of my teen years sitting on (it was in the garden). Sadly, it was left behind when we moved house. I then went on to do Art Foundation in the wonderfully rambling building on Paradise Street - inspiring times.


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