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.
Chris Watson Watch
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