Forgotten Masterpieces: Indian Painting for the East India Company

forgotten masters  forgotten masters

 

Even though I am a regular art exhibition-goer in London, I often miss many excellent but less publicised exhibitions in town. Luckily, I did manage to see the rare and wonderful “Forgotten Masterpieces: Indian Painting for the East India Company” at The Wallace Collection before my travels to Asia.

Guest curated by renowned writer and historian William Dalrymple, the exhibition is the first in the UK to showcase 100 artworks by Indian master painters commissioned by East India Company officials –ranging from botanists and surgeons, through to diplomats, artists, governors and judges, and their wives – in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (1770 to 1840). These Indian artists include Shaikh Zain ud-Din, Bhawani Das, Shaikh Mohammad Amir of Karriah, Sita Ram and Ghulam Ali Khan, who were all uncredited for their intricate artworks. Until now.

The exhibition explores the four main centres of what has traditionally been described as ‘Company School’ painting: Calcutta and Lucknow, where provincial Mughal painters from Murshidabad, Patna and Faizabad were employed; Madras and Tanjore, where artists from the South Indian traditions received patronage; and Delhi, where Imperial Mughal artists created some of the finest works of this period. India’s natural world appeared to be a popular subject for the British officials at the time.

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters  forgotten masters

 

After I started to do botianical illustrations as a hobby in recent years, I became very interested in botanical art. Hence I was immediately drawn to all the bold and meticulous botanical paintings of Indian flora at the exhibition. There is a timelessness feel to these paintings, and you could easily see them being transferred to wallpaper or fabric and sold at House of Hackney to trendy East Londoners.

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters  forgotten masters

 

The fauna paintings are equally interesting. I particularly liked the study of “Great Indian Fruit Bat” (around 1777-82) by a well-known Indian artist Bhawani Das, who was trained in Mughal miniature painting and commissioned by Sir Elijah Impey, Chief Justice of Bengal (1774–1782), and his wife, Lady Mary, to make extensive natural history studies at their estate in Calcutta. I have never liked bats, but the paintings are so intriguing that I found it hard to move away from them.

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

 

Aside from the natural world, another highlight was the painstaking architectural drawings of India’s manmade wonders including the Taj Mahal. I felt like asking for a magnifying glass in order to study these drawings! These drawings were done by an unknown artist (possibly Sheikh Mohammed Latif), and each drawing showcases the detailed ornamental patterns and calligraphy on the facades of the buildings. I am not sure if such drawing techniques and craftsmanship still exists today – these works are immaculate and priceless.

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

 

The exhibition also displays masterpieces from the famous Fraser Album for the first time since the album was broken up and sold in the 1980s. Fraser Album is a collection of paintings documenting various aspects of Mughal life, made between 1815 and 1819, commissioned by a British Indian civil servant, William Fraser. The last court painter of the Mughal empire, Ghulam Ali Khan, was commissioned to illustrate Mughal life using traditional techniques but with English watercolours on English paper. This fusion style is known today as the Company School. 

 

forgotten masters

forgotten masters

 

Of course this exhibition is not just about art; the exhibition is fascinating because of its Anglo-Indian history and context. Through these works, we could get a glimpse of the last days of the Mughal Empire, and appreciate the last phase of Indian artistic genius before photography and the influence of western colonial art schools – ended an unbroken tradition of painting going back two thousand years. From the exhibition, we could see that the commissioned Indian artists not only responded to European influences, they also maintained their own artistic visions and styles, therefore these works are truly original and remarkable. Sadly, the vast array of ‘fusion’ works produced during this period were largely forgotten by the world, which is why this exhibition could be seen as a late tribute to the ingenious Indian masters from that period.

 

Historic Colchester – the former capital of Roman Britain

Colchester Castle

 

Although Colchester is only 50 miles from London, I have never visited this historic market town before. Regarded as Britain’s oldest recorded town, it used to be the capital of Roman Britain, but it does not seem to attract as many visitors as Cambridge and Oxford. After visiting The Beth Chatto Gardens in Elmsmarket, I took the opportunity to trace its history and learn more about Roman Britain.

 

Colchester

colchester

Colchester   Colchester

Colchester

Colchester

Colchester

Colchester

Colchester

 

The MUST-SEE sight in Colchester is the Grade I listed Colchester Castle, an imposing Norman Castle dating from 11th century. Built on the foundations of the Roman Temple of Claudius, Colchester Castle is the largest Norman keep in Europe. The museum displays artefacts up to 2,500 years old, from Celtic Britain, through Roman invasion and Boudiccan revolt, to Norman conquest and medieval life. Visitors can also see the prison cells in the basement.

Personally, I was fascinated by the Roman artefacts especially the beautiful mosaic floors. There is a large Middleborough Mosaic (made up of around 250,000 tesserae) on display dated to about AD150-175. It was laid inside a large villa in Middleborough outside of the town wall, and was discovered in 1979. Although it is damaged, you can still appreciate the design which features two wrestling cupids being observed by a bird in the centre, four sea creatures (hippocamps), and an acanthus scroll border with large flowers, heart-shaped fruits and four more birds.

This museum has a vast array of collection that includes pottery, vessels, armour, coins and jewellery etc; it is a gem not to be missed.

 

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Colchester

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Colchester Castle

Colchester castle/museum

 

Hollytrees Museum

Colchester

Hollytrees Museum

 

Another interesting sight is the ruins of St Botolph’s Priory, founded about 1100, one of the first Augustinian priories in England. The building was badly damaged by cannon fire during the Civil War siege of 1648, yet it was never rebuilt. This is an example of early Norman architecture built in flint and reused Roman brick, and it still looks impressive with the remaining arches and piers.

 

Colchester St Botolph's Priory

Colchester st botolph's priory  Colchester st botolph's priory

Colchester st botolph's priory

Colchester st botolph's priory  Colchester st botolph's priory

Colchester st botolph's priory

Colchester st botolph's priory

Colchester st botolph's priory

St Botolph’s Priory

 

Holy Trinity church is the oldest surviving Saxon building in Colchester. The Saxon-style tower has a triangular arch over the west door and features re-used Roman bricks. The tower dates to the mid-11th century, probably around AD1050, but the body of the church was built in 1349. The church was made redundant in 1956 and now not opened to the public.

 

Colchester trinity church

Colchester Church

Colchester

Holy Trinity church

 

The Minories Galleries houses a contemporary art gallery run by Colchester School of Art, part of Colchester Institute. The A listed Georgian building also has a shop selling arts and crafts made by local artists, as well as a Tiptree’ Tea Room with a spacious and relaxing garden.

 

Colchester Tiptree’ Tea Room

Colchester Tiptree’ Tea Room

Colchester Tiptree’ Tea Room

Colchester The Minories Galleries

The Minories Galleries & Tiptree’ Tea Room

 

Honestly, I was rather surprised to see a contemporary art institue in the middle of this historic town. Designed by starchitect Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly (also known for his car-melting Walkie-Talkie building in London), the conspicuous gold metal structure looks a bit out of place here. Built in 2011, the controversial Firstsite took 8 years to build and costed £28 million (!). It has received criticism for its sloping walls and failing to attract footfall. When I visited the venue, there were only a few visitors, which felt quite strange… However, I was impressed to see the Berryfield Mosaic reinstalled at its original site after it was unearthed in 1923 and moved to the Colchester Castle. Dating from around AD200, the mosaic originally formed part of the dining room floor of a wealthy Roman townhouse; its design features a central rose motif surrounded by four panels depicting sea monsters chasing dolphins.

 

Colchester Firstsite

Colchester Firstsite

Colchester Firstsite

Colchester Berryfield Mosaic

Colchester Firstsite

Colchester Firstsite

Colchester FirstsiteColchester Firstsite

Firstsite

 

Due to time contraint, I didn’t have enough time to visit more places, but I had a good time and would want to explore more around this part of the UK in the future.

 

Stunning coastal walk: Dover to Deal

dover

 

I have attended many group coastal walks/hikes in the past, like Seven Sisters (from Seaford to Eastbourne), Hastings circular, and Newhaven to Brighton… the coastal walks/hikes around the South East England are extremely popular with many meetup walking groups due to its proximity to London, and of course, the spectacular views.

It was a sunny September Sunday, and I joined my regular meetup walking group on a walk from Dover to Deal. The fine weather was a huge draw, so places filled up quickly. We took a high speed train from London to Dover and arrived in just over an hour. It is amazing that we could enjoy the sun, sea, and panoramic views in less than 80 mins from London. I think we all got quite excited when we hiked up to the top of the clff and saw Dover Castle. Interestingly, all our networks switched to the French ones when we reached the top of the cliff, which shows how close we are from France!

 

dover

dover castle

dover cliffs

dover cliffs

dover cliffs

idover cliffs

South Foreland Lighthouse

 

Compare to some other coastal walks, this one is relatively easy and linear. The distance is 10 miles (16 km) and takes about 4 hours. The first part of the walk offers the most breathtaking views of the white cliffs, and passes by South Foreland Lighthouse, a Victorian lighthouse built in 1843 on the South Foreland in St. Margaret’s Bay.

About half way, we descended down to St Margaret’s Bay where we had our lunch break. There is a pub at the bay that offers lunch, but many of us chose to have our packed lunch on the rocky beach while listening to the waves and seagulls.

 

st margaret's bay

st margaret's bay

st margaret's bay

st margaret's bay

st margaret's bay

 

The last half of the walk was fairly easy as we descended down to Deal’s seafront. We walked past two histoic landmarks: Walmer Castle and Deal Castle. Like most group walks, we ended the walk at a pub for a drink before heading back to London.

 

dover

dover

deal

deal

deal

deal

deal

deal

deal

deal

deal

 

I highly recommend this coastal walk and I think it would be even better if you can combine it with visits to the castles en route. Since it is easily accessible from London, it would be a perfect day trip with friends or family. I had a brilliant time and would definitely want to do explore this area more next time.

 

sunset

Watching sunset from the train

 

 

William Morris’ Red House in Bexleyheath

bexleyheath

bexleyheath  bexleyheath

Architecture in Bexleyheath

 

Although I live in London, there are still many areas of the city that I am unfamiliar with or have never been to. I have long wanted to visit William Morris‘ former residence Red House in Bexleyheath, but somehow never got round to it. Since August is a quiet period, I decided to venture out to the SE part of Greater London on a sunny day.

To my surprise, the town centre of bexleyheath has some interesting historic buildings like Trinity Baptist Chapel (1868) and Christ Church (1872–7), and it feels more ‘Kent’ than London. After a 15-minute walk from Bexleyheath train station, I reached the National Trust-run heritage building and garden in a quiet residential area. With my National Art pass, I was able to get free entry and arrived in time for the guided tour.

 

red house

red house william morris  red house william morris

 

Commissioned in 1859 by William Morris, founder of the Arts & Crafts movement, Red House was designed by his friend and architect Philip Webb which completed in 1860. At the time, Upton was a hamlet on Bexley Heath, a largely picturesque area dotted with cottages, medieval ruins, and Tudor mansion (Hall Place). Intended as a post-wedding house for him and his new wife Jane, Morris financed the project with money inherited from his wealthy family, and dreamed of the house becoming a ‘Palace of Art’, a place where his artist friends could decorate the walls with stories of medieval legends. Influenced by Medievalism and Medieval-inspired Neo-Gothic styles, the building was constructed based on Morris‘ ethos of craftsmanship and artisan skills, which later became known as the Arts and Crafts movement.

 

red house william morris

red house william morris  red house william morris

red house william morris

red house william morris

red house william morris

red house william morris

 

Summer is definitely a good time to visit the house and garden, and since it was during the week and summer holiday period, there were very few visitors during my visit. Before entering the house, I spent some time walking around the north side of the 2-acre garden, and it made me feel at ease immediately.

Red House garden was first laid out over 150 years ago and successive owners have put their own stamp on the garden. The garden was important to Morris, hence he and Philip Webb put a lot of thought into the design of the garden. They wanted it to ‘clothe the house’ to soften the effect of the startling red brick. Little of the original garden design remains, so Red House’s head gardener Robert Smith and his team embarked on an ambitious project to re-introduce some of the spirit of Morris’s ‘lost garden’.

 

red house william morris

red house william morris  red house william morris

red house william morris

red house william morris  red house william morris

 

Inside the house, it was Philip Webb who designed most of the furniture, while Morris, Jane, and his friend/painter Edward Burne-Jones designed all the furnishings including windows, wallpaper and tiles. Their collaborative works paid tribute to medieval craftsmanship, for example the glass in the gallery features flowers painted by Morris painted flowers, birds painted by Webb, overlaid with Burne Jones‘ work depicting Fortuna. On some windows (see the round one below) and tiles, inscriptions of Morris‘ motto: ‘Si je puis” (if I can) can also be seen.

Another notable piece of furniture is a settle-cum-cupboard in the landing designed by Webb, with door panels painted by Morris which depict a scene from Malory entitled ‘Sir Lancelot bringing Sir Tristram and the Belle Iseult to Joyous Gard‘. The picture features Edward Burne-Jones offering cherries to his wife Georgie and Janey Morris and with Morris’ servant, ‘Red Lion Mary’ in the background.

 

red house william morris

red house william morris  red house william morris

img_0523

Orginal architcetural plans and belongings of Morris are exhibited in one of the rooms on the ground floor.

 

red house william morris

red house william morris  red house william morris

red house william morris

red house william morris

Dining room

 

red house william morris

red house william morris  red house william morris

red house william morris

red house william morris

 

As visitors walk up to the first and second floor, they can admire Morris‘ patterned wallpaper which covers the ceiling suppored by wooden beams. In a small room on the first floor, there is a catalogue of Morris & Co‘s archive wallpapers. In 1862, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co began to design woodblock-printed wallpaper for the house, thus Morris & Co was born, a company still exists today producing wallpaper and textiles based on Morris‘ designs and ethos.

 

red house william morris

red house william morris  red house william morris

red house william morris  red house william morris

red house william morris  red house william morris

 

On the second floor, there is a drawing room which showcases an original built-in settle, and a fireplace painted with Morris’s motto: “Ars Longa, Vita Brevis” (Life is short, art is forever). On the sides of the settle are murals painted by Pre-Raphaelite artist/his friend, Edward Burne-Jones depicting the 15th century marriage feast of of Sir Degrevan.

Although the structure of the house was not altered, many of the original furnishings and wallpaper were either removed or painted over. Hence, the wallpaper in some of the rooms are simply reproductions of Morris‘ original designs. Since there is a sharp contrast between the murals and the surprisingly ‘modern-looking’ yellow polka dot patterned wallpaper on the ceiling, it made me wonder if the latter was added on during the restoration.

 

red house william morris

red house william morris  red house william morris

red house william morris

red house william morris  red house william morris

 

In 2013, the National Trust discovered a mural hidden behind a large built-in wardrobe on Morris‘s bedroom wall. The near-lifesize figures on the wall are believed to be the joint efforts of Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his wife Elizabeth Siddal, Ford Madox Brown and Morris. The figures are from the Bible, which include Rachel, Noah holding a model ark, Adam and Eve, and Jacob with his ladder, and they were painted as if hanging on fabric.

 

red house william morris

The rediscovered mural by William Morris, Jane and other young pre-Raphaelites

 

Sadly, after five years living in their dream house, Morris, his wife and his two young daughters had to sell the house due to financial difficulties. Morris never returned to visit the Red House again, but described the five years as being “probably the happiest and not the least fruitful of his life.”

Over the years, the house changed ownerships quite a few times and was threatened to be demolished until it was designated a Grade I listed building by English Heritage in 1950. Since the National Trust took over the house and garden in 2003, research and efforts were made to restore and conserve the house to its original condition.

 

red house william morris  red house william morris

red house william morris

red house william morris

red house william morris

red house william morris

red house william morris

red house william morris

red house william morris

 

Besides the house, I particularly enjoyed spending time in the garden surrounded by flowers and fruit trees and vegetables. After touring the house and garden, I had a coffee at the cafe’s outdoor seating area and left feeling jolly and energised. Maybe good design and nature are two of the elements that we need in our lives to make us happy; though Morris did not get to spend much time here, thanks to him, we are now able to appreciate his vision and legacy as a revoluntionary designer and entrepreneur.

 

LCW 19: Creative Inspiration Walk – Text in the City

black friar pub

 

How many of us pay attention to the text and typography around us in the city? When we are rushing around the city, we tend to miss what is right under our noses. During the London Craft week, I joined the “Creative Inspiration Walk: Text in the City” organised by The Goldsmiths’ Centre and City of London. The two-hour walk explored the city’s lettering heritage and craftsmanship focusing on engraving and carving of text.

Our meeting point was Blackfriars station, and right opposite the station is the Grade II listed Art Nouveau The Black Friar pub built in 1875, and remodelled in about 1905 by the architect Herbert Fuller-Clark. Much of the internal decoration was done by the sculptors Frederick T. Callcott and Henry Poole. I have always been fascinated by the facade of this pub, especially by the mosiac y the mosaic type and wonderful metal signage outside. Although this stop was not part of the walk, I thought it is apt to include it here.

 

The Blackfriar pub

The Blackfriar pub

The Blackfriar pub

The Blackfriar pub

The Black Friar Pub

 

The first stop of the walk was located in the new concourse of the station. Fifty four stones from the original Victorian station, each engraved with destinations served by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR), have been preserved and relocated. The stones list destinations as diverse as Bickley, Marseille, Gravesend and Venice, as the LCDR advertised Blackfriars’ links to towns and cities of the south east, and the business capitals of Europe via cross-channel steamers. These blocks were removed from top to bottom, one-by-one, by chiselling the mortar joints between each stone. The lightest stone weighs 54 kg and the heaviest stone about 120 kg. The lettering on the sandstone was gilded with 24 carat gold leaf before it was rebuilt in the new location.

 

The 54 inscribed stones inside Blackfriars stationThe 54 inscribed stones inside Blackfriars station

The 54 inscribed stones inside Blackfriars station

 

From one of the station’s platform exits, we were led to a rather grey and gloomy concrete square outside of the brutalist British Telecom owned office building called the Baynard House. Surprisingly, in the middle of the empty square stands The Seven Ages of Man, a 22-foot cast aluminium sculpture by British typeface designer, stone letter carver and sculptor, Richard Kindersley. The sculpture was commissioned by Post Office Telecommunications and unveiled in April 1980.

Inspired by William Shakespeare‘s pastoral comedy As You Like It, in which a monologue is spoken in Act II Scene VII Line 139. The speech compares the world to a stage and life to a play and catalogues the seven stages of a man’s life, sometimes referred to as the seven ages of man.

The high column features seven sculpted heads, stacked in totem pole fashion, on top of each other. The youngest is at the bottoms and it gets older as you progress up the column; on the pedestal, Shakespeare’s verses are inscribed around it.

This is a fantastic piece of sculpture, but its odd and hidden location is unlikely to draw passerby’s attention (unless they look up from the street level). It is certainly a hidden gem in the City of London.

 

The Seven Ages of ManThe Seven Ages of Man

The Seven Ages of ManThe Seven Ages of Man

The Seven Ages of Man

 

We then walked towards the river bank, and under the Millennium bridge stands The Millennium Measure designed by British sundial maker, hand-engraver & sculptor, Joanna Migdal in 2002. The Millennium Measure measures is the gift of the court & livery of the Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers to the City of London in commemoration of the millennium. It comprises a 3 sided, 2 metre (2M = 2000MM) rule depicting two thousand years of history of the City, the Church and the craft of scientific instrument making. The initials ‘MM’ stand for ‘Millennium Measure’, ‘millimetre’ and ‘two thousand’ in Roman numerals.

 

london river

sundials

Millennium Measure Millennium Measure

Millennium Measure Millennium Measure

Millennium Measure

The Millennium Measure

 

Although I have walked past St Paul’s Cathedral many times before, I have never paid much attention to the public art outside of it. To my surprise, on the pavement at the western end of the churchyard is a floor-plan of the pre-Fire Cathedral with an outline of the present one superimposed on it. Designed by Richard Kindersley (see above), the 7m long installation is made of various Purbeck marbles and Welsh Slate. The outlines were created through the use of waterjet technology, which enabled the stone to be inset in a manner which would either be impossible or prohibitively expensive if done by hand. The inscription around the border was hand carved into the stone, noting the Great fire of London in 1666 that destroyed much of the medieval City of London.

On the other side of the Cathdral at the west end of the Festival Gardens, there is a bust of the English Poet and Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, John Donne by the sculptor Nigel Boonham. Underneath the bust feature lettering by one of UK’s foremost letter carvers, Andrew Whittle.

 

st paul's cathedral

Richard Kindersleyst Pauls cathedral Richard Kindersley andrew whittle

andrew whittle

st paul's cathedral  st paul's cathedral

 

On the northside of the Cathedral, there is another installation by Richard Kindersley called People of London. It is a memorial to the people of London who died in the blitz 1939 — 1945. Carved from a three ton block of Irish limestone, the memorial has large carved letters and gilded around the edge reading: “REMEMBER BEFORE GOD THE PEOPLE OF LONDON 1939 — 1945”. On top is a spiral inscription written by Sir Edward Marsh and used by Churchill as a front piece to his history ‘The Second World War’.

 

People of London

People of London

People of London memorial 

 

Not far from St Paul’s, we visited the enchanting Christchurch Greyfriars Church Garden, which is situated on the site of the Franciscan Church of Greyfriars, established in 1225. Destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 it was rebuilt by Christopher Wren, but later destroyed all but the west tower in WWII. It was decided not to rebuild the church and some land was lost to road widening in the 1960s. The present rose garden was laid out on the site in 1989 with rose beds and box hedges outlining the nave of Wren’s church, with wooden towers representing the pillars that held up the roof.

At the garden, a new public art installation (2017) was created to commemorate Christ’s Hospital School’s 350 years presence in the City of London, 1552-1902. The installation is a 2.4m long bronze sculpture by renowned sculptor, Andrew Brown, casted at The Bronze Age Foundry in London. It was selected following an open competition organised by the City of London Corporation, and it is positioned close to where Christ’s Hospital was originally founded in Newgate Street.

 

img_4388-min

img_4393-min

img_4394-min  img_4391-min

 

Nearby, there is another well-hidden small garden called The Goldsmiths Garden. It is located on the site of the churchyard and medieval church of St John Zachary, which was damaged in the Great Fire. The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths (also known as the Goldsmiths’ company) had acquired land here in 1339, and built the earliest recorded Livery Hall. After part of the Company’s property was demolished in WWII, the site was first laid out as a garden in 1941, redesigned in later years. A central fountain was installed in 1995 and the ‘Three Printers’ sculpture (1957) by Wilfred Dudeney was relocated from New Street Square in 2009 in the sunken garden.

Commissioned for New Street Square by the Westminster Press Group, the sculpture represents the newspaper process, with a newsboy, a printer and an editor. The printer (the figure on the left) is holding a “stick” which contains the metal type spelling out of the sculptor’s surname. This piece is Britain’s only public monument to newspapers. However, when the area was redeveloped, the sculpture was removed and ended up in a scrapyard in Watford. Luckily, It was rescued by the writer Christopher Wilson, who persuaded the Goldsmiths’ Company to reinstall the sculpture.

Another interesting feature at this garden is that several golden leopards heads can be seen at the entrance. The leopard’s head is actually the company’s symbol. There is also an arch presented to the Goldsmiths by the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths. Designed by Paul Allen, the arch incorporates the London Assay mark for gold in the shape of individually made leopards heads.

 

The Goldsmiths Garden

The Goldsmiths GardenThe Goldsmiths Garden

The Goldsmiths Garden

The Goldsmiths Garden

'Three Printers' sculpture formerly in New Street Square, installed in St John Zachary Garden, May 2010.

The Goldsmiths Garden

 

A large (but easily-missed) metal memorial ‘Aldersgate Flame’ stands outside of the Museum of London was erected in 1981. On the face of the memorial are enlarged facsimile extracts in cast bronze of Anglican clergyman, evangelist, and co-founder of the Methodist movement in the Church of England. John Wesley’s account of the events of Wednesday May 24th 1738, as described in his original printed text of the first edition of John Wesley’s Journal. On the back of the Memorial are the names of the three local tradesmen concerned with Wesley in the production and marketing of the Journal.

 

Aldersgate FlameAldersgate Flame

Aldersgate Flame

 

I am not sure how many Londoners are aware of the competition-winning sculptured stone bench (erected in 2006) at the circular Smithfield Rotunda Garden. Designed by Sam Dawkins and Donna Walker from Edinburgh University, the bench is inscribed with text and quotes relating to the history of the area, and the carving process was managed by apprentice stone masons from Cathedral Works Organisation in Chichester.

However, it is hard to read the inscribed text, and the bench looks out of place here. Most passerby would ignore it and choose to sit on the wooden benches instead, which is a shame.

 

img_4427-min  img_4428-min

 

Finally, before finishing at the Goldsmiths’ Centre, we stopped at Turnmill Street in  Farringdon, outside of a building to look at the inscribed letters above. Built in 1874, the building was formerly the premises of Ludwig Oertling, whose firm ‘manufacturers of bullion chemical and assay balances and hydrometer makers’ remained there until the 1920s. Although the premise is now occupied by Spanish restaurant, the inscribed lettering remains above it.

 

long lane

farringdon

farringdon station

Farringdon

 

As always, I learned a lot about London’s history during the two-hour walk, which is why I love joining guided walks in different parts of the city. It also encourages us to observe more as we wander around the city. There is so much to explore in London, and all you need is curiosity and awareness.

 

 

LCW 19: Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making at G.F.Smith

G.F.Smith

 

I have been wanting to visit paper specialist G . F Smith‘s showroom since it opened in 2016, but somehow never got round to it. The London craft week provided me the opportunity to visit the showroom as well as the new exhibition ‘Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making’ co-organised by MaterialDriven, a design agency and Material Library. The exhibition presented a collection of new, experimental materials that are at the forefront of design and sustainability.

 

GF SMITH

GF SMITH  GF SMITH

GF SMITH

 

G . F Smith & Son was founded by paper merchant George Frederick Smith in 1885. And for nearly 140 years, the company has been providing the finest speciality papers to the creative and fashion industries. Their Soho 4,000 sq ft showroom features a 14m-long collection wall displaying their paper in 50 Colorplan shades, accompanied by paper installations that change regularly.

The company’s long-time collaborator Made Thought not only designed the colour wall but also the corporate identity that was awarded D&AD “BLACK” Pencil for Brand Expression in 2015 (see below).

For those who think paper is ‘dead’, they probably have yet to visit this stunning and inspiring showroom.

 

GF SMITH

GF SMITH

GF SMITH

GF SMITH

GF SMITH  GF SMITH

GF SMITH

 

At the exhibition space downstairs, the display included a wide range of sustainable and experimental materials that reflect the current landscape of making across fashion, interiors, architecture, and graphics.

 

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making   Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making   Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

 

Some of the innovative materials at the show are as follows: ‘That’s Caffeine’ tiles made from used coffee grounds and biodegradable resin by industrial designer Atticus Durnell; recycled polystyrene by designer Sam Lander; Papertile made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper by design duo Jasna Sokolovic and Noel O’Connell; textiles made from upcycled seashore plastic by De Ploeg; and Ecopet, a recycled polyester fibre made from plastic bottles etc.

It is always encouraging to see designers and makers using waste materials to produce new and biodegradable materials are not harmful to the planet. We certainly need more innovations and collaborations in this sector as a way of conserving our raw materials and preventing further damage to our highly polluted planet.

 

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making   Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making   Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

  Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making   Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making   Beyond Paper – The Craft of Material Making

 

To be continued…

 

HK heritage: “Once lost but now found” exhibition at Oi!

oi!

oi!

 

In the middle of a busy commercial and residential district in North Point, a Grade II historic colonial-style building surrounded by highrise looks rather out of place here. Built in 1908, this heritage building was the clubhouse of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club located on Victoria Harbour’s foreshore. But the reclamation project in 2009 changed the area’s landscape and now the coastline has since moved northwards.

Located at Oil Street, the building was converted into Oil Street Artist Village from 1990 to 2000, and in 2013, the Government’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department developed it into Oi! art space aiming at promoting arts and providing venue for exhibitions.

It was my first visit to the art venue; from afar the green lawn and outdoor seating area looks like an oasis in the busy district. It also appears to be a popular lunch spots for white-collar workers in the area.

 

oi!

oi!

oi!

 

The exhibition “Once lost but now found” explores the geographical history of Oi! and its relationship to the sea. As a witness to the course of time and the evolution of cities, the sea evokes emotions and memories, responds to the development of natural ecology and, at the same time, shapes the cultural ambiance of the city and tells the story of the island.

Four artists Zheng Bo, Leung Chi-Wo and MAP Office (Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix) were invited to explore the relationship between nature, culture and society, examining the history, present and its possible future.

Chinese artist Zheng Bo‘s text installation “You are the 0.01%” was inscribed boldly on the lawn. The project is based on two publications: In 2011, economist Joseph Stiglitz’s published article titled “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%.” He writes, “The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year.” Then in 2018, three scientists published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences titled “The Biomass Distribution on Earth.” They estimated that humans account for only 0.01% of Earth’s biomass, but consume 30% of the biosphere’s total primary production.

Zheng Bo‘s project aims to address the issues of inequality and biosphere inequality. The grass on the lawn reminds us that we are only 0.01%, and we must protect the rest of the ecosystem.

 

Zheng Bo, YOU ARE THE 0.01%

Zheng Bo, YOU ARE THE 0.01%

Zheng Bo: You are the 0.01%

 

In the main gallery, a conspicuous bamboo installation entitled “Ghost Island“, two videos and documentations are installed by MAP Office (Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix). Created for the 1st Thailand Biennale 2018, “Ghost Island” is a 9-metre high bamboo construction covered with piles of ghost fishing nets collected in the sea around Krabi. The installation recalls the particular geology of the surrounding islands formed by the accumulation and stratification of numerous distinct layers. It also addresses waste at sea, and the difficult but necessary labour needed to protect our environment. Reconstructed in Oi! is a smaller version, partially built by Cheung Chau Island fisherman and Hong Kong beach-cleaning volunteers.

One of the video shown at the exhibition records the construction of three artificial islands designed by the artists on a tidal beach near Krabi on Thailand’s Andaman Sea. The other records a fictional day for a fisherman living on the Andaman Sea’s Ghost Island. Both videos are fascinating, and they address environmental issues facing these fishermen, including rising seawater levels due to global warming.

 

MAP Office (Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix), Ghost Island

MAP Office (Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix), Ghost Island

MAP Office (Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix), Ghost Island

MAP Office (Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix), Ghost Island

MAP Office (Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix), Ghost Island

MAP Office (Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix), Ghost Island

 

In another room, Leung Chi Wo’s “Scratching on the surface” installation is presented in a dark room with a two-channel video projected on a long wall behind a pool of actual seawater installed in the gallery. The videos are reflected on the pool’s mirror water surface.

The installation is based on the notion of memory—our own memory and water memory—a controversial theory devised by French scientist Jacques Benveniste. Using words and imagery of nature and water, the poetic installation was shot in various locations in Hong Kong and Thailand, all connected ultimately by water, which echoes the fluidity of memory.

 

Leung Chi Wo, Scratching On The Surface

Leung Chi Wo: Scratching on the surface

 

In a separate building, architect team Streetsignhk was commissioned to create the ‘Sign City’ immersive installations, featuring Hong’s Kong’s famous neon signage. Various traditional signage and signboards are installed in s small room covered with mirrored walls and floor. Outside of the room, visitors are invited to create their own signboards and get to know the different aspects of this dynamic building component. The craft of neon signage is dying in Hong Kong, and hopefully this exhibition would bring awareness to this unique heritage that makes Hong Kong’s streetscape so special. You can read more about this topic via my previous post here.

 

  sign city

  sign city

 

 

 

Hong Kong heritage: The Hong Kong Railway Museum

img_3900

 

After my visit to the Green Hub, I walked downhill and headed towards The Hong Kong Railway Museum located about 10 minutes away. This is a small but very pleasant free open-air museum that is likely to attract railway fans and families with children.

Located at the old Tai Po Market railway station built in 1913, the station buidling is of indigenous Chinese architectural style, with pitched roof and decorative figures on its facade that are commonly found in old southern Chinese temples.

 

The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum   The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum

 

The Kowloon-Canton Railway (British Section) opened in 1910, and Tai Po Market station was erected three years later as one of the stops in the New Territories. After the Kowloon-Canton Railway was electrified in 1983, the station was taken out of service and was declared a monument a year later.

Inside the building, there are permanent exhibits of the station and railway’s history, a refurbished ticket office, and signalling house.

 

The Hong Kong Railway Museum   The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum   The Hong Kong Railway Museum

 

However, the main attraction here is not the exhibits, but the heritage locomotives on display, and the six coaches where visitors can walk through. One of the heritage locomotives is the W. G. Bagnall 0-4-4PT narrow gauge steam locomotive that ran on the narrow gauge Sha Tau Kok Railway line between Fanling and Sha Tau Kok. When that closed, the two steam locomotives were transported to the Philippines to be used by the sugar mills. The locomotives eventually returned to Hong Kong and were restored.

The second locomotive is Sir Alexander diesel locomotive that was introduced in Hong Kong in 1955 to replace the steam ones, and it was named after former Governor Alexander Grantham.

 

The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum

Steam locomotive W.G.Bagnall 0-4-4T

The Hong Kong Railway Museum

Sir Alexander diesel locomotive

 

The six other coaches are from different periods: 1911, 1921, 1955, 1964 and 1976. Visitors can walk through each coach to see the changes that took place over the years.

 

The Hong Kong Railway Museum   The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum   The Hong Kong Railway Museum

The Hong Kong Railway Museum

 

There were very few other visitors while I was at the museum (probably because it was a weekday), and I really enjoyed my visit. From the archive photographs, I could imagine how exciting it must had been when the railways were built and steam locomotives were introduced. Although this is not a major museum, it traces and celebrates the history of Hong Kong’s railway, which has played (and continues to play) a crucial role in the city’s infrastructure. Hong Kong’s public transport system is regarded as one of the best in the world, and ironically it has surpassed the British system decades ago, so if you want to see where it all started, this museum would be a good starting point.

 

Hong Kong heritage: old Tai Po Police station/ Green Hub

old tai po police station

 

Even though Hong Kong is a small city, there are many hidden gems that are off the beaten track, and Green Hub is one of them. I only discovered this place via google map while I was in Tai Po after a visit to the Tsz Shan Monastery. Originally I was simply looking for a place to have lunch, but then I ended up spending hours there, which was completely spontaneous.

Green Hub is situated at the site of the Grade I listed Old Tai Po Police Station up on a Tai Po Wan Tau Tong Hill that overlooks Tai Po. This site was also the location where the British flag-raising ceremony took place, marking the official British takeover of the New Territories in 1899. The Police Station was erected in the same year as the Police Headquarters of the New Territories and lasted until 1949, but eventually closed down in 1987.

In 2010, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden had been selected to transform the Old Tai Po Police Station into a ‘Green Hub for Sustainable Living’. The Hub offers a range of low-carbon living programmes and workshops to help individuals and organisations understand the low-carbon living alternatives to unsustainable consumption that is causing climate change and rapid resource depletion. Opened in 2015, this revitalisation project was recognised with an Honourable Mention in the 2016 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.

 

old tai po police station  old tai po police station

old tai po police station

old tai po police station

The wooden planks (pictured above) are actually recycled railway sleepers collected from the nearby Tai Po market station

 

The site comprises of three buildings: Main Building, Canteen Block and Staff Quarters, and they are arranged around an open lawn. The colonial style architecture is an excellent example of east meets west. It features verandah and louvre windows catered for the hot and humid climate in Hong Kong, and Chinese-styled timber roof structure with double-layered pan and roll tiles that are commonly used in Hong Kong’s colonial buildings. The design of the site reflected a utilitarian approach, which adopted a rather irregular form for the Main Building. The conservation team used archive photographs to restore the architectural details, and even repainted the buildings to match the original colour.

 

old tai po police station

An old Camphor Tree Cinnamomum camphora near the entrance

 

The Canteen Block has been transformed into the Eat Well Canteen to promote low-carbon food culture. The canteen serves fresh, seasonal, locally-sourced, and fair-trade vegetarian dishes that aim to minimise energy during the cooking process, as well as reduce food waste.

 

green hub Eat Well Canteen

green hub Eat Well Canteen

Vegetarian food at Eat Well Canteen

 

Next to the canteen is the kitchen’s garden where herbs and vegetables are grown, and they are used as the ingredients for canteen, so they are guaranteed to be fresh. And on Saturdays, organic vegetables, herbs, and eggs from the Kadoorie farm and the garden would be available for sale in their eco shop. The Canteen also makes and sells homemade bakery products, seasonal sweet or salty pickles and different styles of sauce. Meanwhile, there are regular cooking classes and farming workshops that promotes the ethos of the hub and farm.

 

old tai po police station

old tai po police station

green hub

old tai po police station  old tai po police station

old tai po police station

green hub

The Kitchen garden and eco shop

 

After lunch, I found out that there was a free one-hour guided tour of the site, so I signed up for it. The tour was very informative and it enabled us to visit the inner quarter that is normally not open to the public.

We first visited the heritage display of the Old Tai Po Police Station that has been carefully preserved. Visitors can see the typical setting and layout of a colonial Police Station with a report room, retention cell and armoury.

 

old tai po police station  old tai po police station

old tai po police station

old tai po police station

old tai po police station

old tai po police station

 

In order to fully appreciate this heritage site, one must join the guided tour as it enables visitors to enter the beautiful inner courtyard that is not normally open to the public. The once unappealing inner courtyard has been redesigned to an Enchanted Garden to enhance natural ventilation within the Main Building. Around the courtyard are the Police Quarters that have been converted into a guesthouse. The guest house have twelve rooms that can accommodate 24 guests, and they are available as single, twin, triple-bed to six-bed rooms at reasonable prices.

Standing in the courtyard, it is easier to appreciate the restored decorative architectural details, such as the Dutch gables, windows with voussoir-shaped mouldings and aprons, ornamented fireplaces, chimneys with moulding and cast iron downpipes with hopper-head.

 

old tai po police station

old tai po police station

old tai po police station  old tai po police station

old tai po police station

The inner courtyard

 

Before the tour ended, our guide took us to the Seminar Room where we could observe twenty or more egrets resting not far from the site. Apparently, the northern slope of the Old Police Station is a nesting and breeding site for egrets and herons. Hence, a bird screen is in place along the walking path at the northern side of the Greeb Hub to reduce disturbance to wild birds that nest in the Egretry. The ecologists here continue to monitor the Tai Po Market Egretry, and in the summer of 2015, they counted more birds nesting nearby than before the renovation began.

After leaving Green Hub, I was curious about the red brick buidling nearby and decided to walk up the hill to explore. Built around 1907, this building used to be the Old District Office North and was the earliest seat of the colonial civil administration of the New Territories. The building also housed a magistrate’s court until 1961, but now it is used by the New Territories Eastern Region Headquarters of The Scout Association of Hong Kong. Although you can’t go inside the building, you can walk around outside to appreciate the architecture and the surrounding nature.

 

Law Ting Pong Scout Centre

Law Ting Pong Scout Centre

Law Ting Pong Scout Centre

Law Ting Pong Scout Centre

Law Ting Pong Scout Centre

 

It was very calm and quiet as I walked along the path towards the Tai Po Contour Sitting-out Area located up on a small hill. I was surprised to see so much greenery here, which is a huge contrast from the bustling Tai Po market not far away.

As city dwellers, we often think that we need to escape the city in order to find tranquility, yet we forget that nature may be around the corner from where we live. When we look harder, we would find that nature is really everywhere.

 

tai po  tai po

tai po

tai po

Tai Po Contour Sitting-out Area

 

 

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The Mills (Part 2): Art, design & retail

the mill tseun wan

 

One of The Mill’s main attractions is CHAT (Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile) – a space dedicated to the past, current, and future of Hong Kong and Asia’s textile industry.

Welcome to the Spinning Factory! is the inaugural exhibition designed by Turner Prize winning U.K. architect collective Assemble and UK/HK design firm HATO. Set within the former cotton spinning mills of Nan Fung Textiles in Tsuen Wan, the exhibition tells the story of the cotton industry and the role it played in shaping Hong Kong’s past, present and future. The interactive exhibition features old machinery, vintage cotton products and archival documents and objects. Visitors can also experience the manual cotton-spinning process using traditional spinning instruments, and design and create cotton labels at the workshop stations.

 

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

The mill

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

‘Welcome to the Spinning Factory!’ exhibition at the The D. H. Chen Foundation Gallery

 

An interesting piece of artwork caught my eye outside of the gallery and it was a long piece of knitted textile on a table titied Fabric of CHAT. It was the work by Hong Kong-based artist/designer Movana Chen. Movana is known for her KNITerature, which combines stories by knitting books from people she encounters during her travels. When she first visited the construction site of The Mills, she discovered stacks of old discarded documents, so she shredded and knitted them into a new art form that contains the history and memories of the factory.

 

Fabric of Chat

  Fabric of ChatFabric of Chat

Fabric of CHAT by Movana Chen

 

CHAT’s inaugural exhibition, Unfolding : Fabric of Our Life, curated by Takahashi Mizuki showcases the works and performances by 17 contemporary Asian artists and collectives who use textile as a testimony to articulate forgotten histories and repressed lives through textile production. The thought-provoking exhibition reveals the region’s colonial capitalist exploitation through the use of fabrics and garments. One work that I found quite powerful is called ‘Day Off Mo?by Filipino artist Alma Quinto, who invited Hong Kong’s Filipino domestic workers to speak out about their experiences through a video and their DIY craft book.

 

Dayanita Singh's 'Time measures', 2016

Dayanita Singh's 'Time measures', 2016

Dayanita Singh’s ‘Time measures’, 2016

 

Norberto Roldan's 'Incantations in the land of virgins, monsters, sorcerers and angry gods', 1999 - 2018

Norberto Roldan's 'Incantations in the land of virgins, monsters, sorcerers and angry gods', 1999 - 2018

Norberto Roldan’s ‘Incantations in the land of virgins, monsters, sorcerers and angry gods’, 1999 – 2018

 

Jakkai Siributr

Jakkai Siributr

Jakkai Siributr’s Fast fashion, 2015/19

 

Reza Afisina, Under Construction as Long as You’re Not Paying Attention, 2018–19

Reza Afisina’s ‘Under Construction as Long as You’re Not Paying Attention’, 2018–19

 

Alma Quinto's 'Day Off Mo?', 2018–19

Alma Quinto, Day Off Mo?, 2018–19

Alma Quinto’s ‘Day Off Mo?’, 2018–19

 

the mill tseun wan  the mill tseun wan

 

I was also intrigued by Vietnamese artist Vo Tran Chau‘s ‘Leaf picking in the ancient forest’, 2018-2019. The name of the artwork is inspired by the title of a monk’s manuscript. Buddha, taking a few leaves in his hand, said to the monks: “All that I have seen and encountered are numerous, just like leaves among the grove, yet my teachings which I have revealed to you are but little, just like this handful of leaves in my palm…”.

The artist collected abandoned clothing from second-hand clothing stores to create her abstract mosaic chamber. Each quilted mosaic references historical photographs of Vietnamese textile factories and reflects the distinct cultural and political climates of North, Central and South Vietnam at different periods of time. The quilts reflect only blurred images as if a metaphor for the fate of the textile factories. Inside the chamber, one sees another side/story in these historical images.

 

Vo Tran Chau's Leaf picking in the ancient forest, 2018-2019

Vo Tran Chau's Leaf picking in the ancient forest, 2018-2019

Vo Tran Chau’s Leaf picking in the ancient forest, 2018-2019

 

One encouraging aspect of The Mills is that the retail outlets here differ vastly from other shopping malls in Hong Kong. Instead of international chained companies, the shops here are mostly independent and with a strong focus on sustainability.

I was glad to see that Book B (which we have worked with previously) has found a new home here. The space is inviting and it also has a nice cafe inside. I think this is one of the best independent book shops in Hong Kong, and I hope it will continue to thrive.

 

KoKo Coffee Roasters

KoKo Coffee Roasters

KoKo Coffee Roasters

 

book b the mill tseun wan

book b the mill tseun wan

book b the mill tseun wan

Book B

 

Another surprise was to see a garment upcycling shop called Alt:, which is a partnership between HKRITA (The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel) and Novetex (a leading textile firm), together with funding from HKSAR government, H&M foundation and The Mills.

A garment-to-Garment (G2G) Recycle System is placed in the shop for the public to learn how old clothes can be upcycled and made into a new ready-made garment in 4 hours, with the aid of the innovation of upcycling technology. The on-site mill can upcycle up to 3 tons of textile waste per day, which hopfully will help to tackle the city’s fashion waste issue.

 

Alt:

Alt:

Alt:

Alt: – the upcycling garment shop that can turn your unwanted clothing into something new

 

 the mill tseun wan

 the mill tseun wan

 the mill tseun wan

 the mill tseun wan

the mill

 

Overall, I enjoyed my visit to The Mills; I think it offer an alternative retail experience (which is much needed in Hong Kong), and the new textile centre is an exciting cultural space that showcases Hong Kong’s textile heritage while looking forward to the future.

 

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