Honouring Our Roots

Sunday, 01 May 2011

Matthew Scanlan reports on Grand Lodge's sponsorship of students studying traditional craft skills

In 2008 Grand Lodge decided to sponsor three students studying at the City and Guilds of London Art School, where time-honoured craft skills such as stone carving are taught and thereby preserved. And as two of the recipient students are now in their third year and approaching the climax of their courses, Freemasonry Today decided to go and see how they are progressing and to discover more about the work of the school.
The City and Guilds of London Art School is certainly not lacking in pedigree and from its earliest days in mid-nineteenth-century Lambeth, it can boast an illustrious past. Sir Henry Doulton, a founder of the Royal Doulton pottery firm, was associated with the school in its previous incarnation (the Lambeth School of Art) and the manufacture of his ‘Art Pottery’ was begun there by its students. Walter William Ouless studied at the school before going on to become a celebrated portrait painter under the guidance of Sir John Everett Millais (one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood) and the gifted French sculptor Aimé-Jules Dalou also taught there. In fact, several of the establishment’s students subsequently went to work for Auguste Rodin in Paris as a result of Dalou’s friendship with the great man, and it is even believed that Vincent Van Gogh attended drawing classes at the school during a visit to Lambeth in the early 1870s.
At first glance the complex of buildings that make up today’s modern school look deceptively small. But as you enter through a side entrance located just off London’s busy Kennington Park Road, one is immediately confronted by a warren of passages and corridors that seem to cocoon an interior courtyard fl anked on either side by two large workshops, each echoing to the sounds of pneumatic drills and hammer-chiming chisels.

As the establishment’s Principal Tony Carter explained, the school teaches its students everything from art history to the hands-on practical skills required to find work in a number of craft traditions, including the modern discipline of conservation. And it is in this latter area that two of the three sponsored students are currently training. Now both in their third and final years, Suzanne Grasso and Steve Needlestone are both hoping to graduate this summer with a BA Hons degree in Conservation Studies, which involves a wide range of disciplines, from the study of gilding to understanding the compositional make-up of stones commonly used in architecture.
Having worked in the field of graphic design for some years, Suzanne Grasso realised that her heart was no longer in her work and she decided to make a change to the world of conservation. ‘I’m so glad I did it,’ she exclaimed, ‘it’s just fantastic!’ Similarly, Steve Needlestone completed an art foundation course and a degree in economics and economic history at the University of Manchester, before working in an office. ‘But,’ as he recalled, ‘I’ve always been creative and I’ve always made things with my hands, and so I found myself in completely the wrong place.’ After some soul searching, he too came to realise that conservation was the career for him; it was evident that both students were extremely grateful to the Grand Lodge for its financial support.

The third student being sponsored, Florence Glasspool, who is currently in her second year of a three-year BA Hons degree in Stone Carving, has already achieved a measure of success, in that one of her pieces – an abstract carving of a dormouse in limestone – has recently been selected to adorn the fifteenth-century perpendicular masterpiece that is St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. However, somewhat remarkably, unlike many of the carvers who she regularly studies alongside, Florence had never actually carved before joining the school. With an art school background, Florence wanted to but as she explained, ‘I was told it was not advisable and so I went off to university and did something proper. But after studying product-design engineering for two years, I realised that I had to change’. She subsequently looked around for carving courses and, in her own words, ‘quickly realised that this was really the only one’, and so she applied and was accepted.
‘It’s brilliant’, she said. ‘I’m a complete novice really and I was terrified at first because most of the other people on the course are ex-masons and really know what they are doing. I had come from an art school background, but here they sort of go, “there’s your hammer and chisel, now make something”. ’ She laughs, ‘So at first I was very slow, but this year I’ve got a lot quicker’.
‘Obviously it would take a lifetime to become as good as the masons who worked on the medieval cathedrals, but I would just like to thank the Freemasons for sponsoring me and thereby giving me a chance to pursue a career that I love’.


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