The cre­ativ­ity and con­flict that has helped make the town spe­cial

Cotswold Life - - INSIDE -

One hun­dred years ago, a 26-year-old Broad­way man re­turned to his Cotswold vil­lage along with other com­rades who sur­vived the First World War. Over the four years he served in the Worces­ter­shire Reg­i­ment, this young man – namely Gor­don Rus­sell steadily earned his way up through the ranks to Com­mis­sioned Of­fi­cer and was awarded the Mil­i­tary Cross for brav­ery. Like so many he was dev­as­tated by the loss of life and hor­rific scenes he wit­nessed, but Rus­sell came back with pur­pose and a de­ter­mi­na­tion to do some­thing pos­i­tive with his life. In­ter­est­ingly, in his of­fi­cer’s record book he had writ­ten down ‘De­signer of Fur­ni­ture,’ as his pro­fes­sion. He ad­mit­ted it was “an ex­pres­sion of hope rather than a state­ment of fact,” for at the time he had only dab­bled in de­sign, learn­ing about the his­tory of fur­ni­ture de­sign as well as the ideas of the Arts and Crafts move­ment. His dad owned Ly­gon Arms which had a work­shop restor­ing and re­pair­ing an­tique fur­ni­ture. Rus­sell’s eye for de­tail and draw­ing as a method to un­der­stand how some­thing worked, was de­vel­oped on the bat­tle­field. Rus­sell’s sketch­books of war draw­ings - re­veal­ing his sense of hu­mour de­spite the hor­rors and his pow­ers of ob­ser­va­tion - are on show at the Gor­don Rus­sell Mu­seum in Broad­way along with all the sub­se­quent fur­ni­ture de­signs he went on to cre­ate. It is tes­ti­mony of the ful­fil­ment of this pledge he made a cen­tury ago:

“My gen­er­a­tion, which had de­stroyed so much lovely work, had a con­struc­tive duty to hand on to those com­ing af­ter us, good things of our own cre­ation.” Rus­sell spent a lot of his time think­ing about fur­ni­ture de­sign in the army. He drew when he could so that when he re­turned he trans­lated those ideas into re­al­ity.

Rus­sell’s legacy wasn’t just about de­sign. It was about in­vest­ing in peo­ple and fu­ture tal­ent. The skills he used in man­ag­ing men on the front line were trans­ferrable to build­ing up a work­force where high morale was para­mount.

“The army taught me a great deal about the del­e­ga­tion of re­spon­si­bil­ity and the esprit de corps of a well or­gan­ised unit,” he stated in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. He also men­tioned that “devo­tion to the work in hand was para­mount,” a mes­sage which came through his busi­ness ethic.

Ver­ity El­son, mu­seum man­ager and cu­ra­tor be­lieves that Rus­sell’s time at war helped fuel his de­sire to make a dif­fer­ence.

“De­spite ev­ery­thing he faced, he re­flected on how he could use his ex­pe­ri­ences for good when he re­turned. He not only wanted to cre­ate some­thing of value af­ter wit­ness­ing so much de­struc­tion, but his time in the army also helped him learn how to lead and to in­spire. He went on to have a na­tional role and was able to spread ideas about good de­sign and the im­pact it can have on peo­ple’s qual­ity of life. En­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to take pride and plea­sure in their work was part of it,” she tells me.

In­side the mu­seum, items of fur­ni­ture in­clude de­tailed la­bels which de­tails the names of who took part in the de­sign­ing, mak­ing and fin­ish­ing process. To Rus­sell, who em­ployed up to 250 peo­ple at one time, each per­son was im­por­tant and de­served to be cred­ited. Dur­ing World War II, Rus­sell, he was re­spon­si­ble for the Util­ity Fur­ni­ture pro­gramme and was later ap­pointed Di­rec­tor of the Coun­cil of In­dus­trial De­sign. In 1955 Rus­sell was awarded a Knight­hood for his ser­vices to De­sign and Bri­tish In­dus­try and as Di­rec­tor of the De­sign Coun­cil.

“I be­lieve his ex­pe­ri­ence in the ranks shaped his de­sign phi­los­o­phy in many ways, not just in his ca­reer as a de­signer, but how he ran the com­pany and the na­tional roles he took on as well,” she adds.

In­ter­est­ingly, whilst Rus­sell’s ex­pe­ri­ences at war in­flu­enced the way his art de­vel­oped, it is the sto­ries of those who fought in the war that have in­spired the cur­rent work of Broad­way’s suc­cess­ful liv­ing artist, Jeremy Houghton.

To mark the cen­te­nary of the Royal Air Force, Jeremy has been track­ing down and sketch­ing the re­main­ing air­men who flew in Spit­fires, Hur­ri­canes and Lan­cast­ers dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. As well as cre­at­ing a group pic­ture of the four sur­viv­ing fighter pi­lots who flew on the Bat­tle of Bri­tain en­ti­tled The Last of the Few, he has pro­duced a group pic­ture of the seven re­main­ing bomber air­men en­ti­tled The Last of the Many. Both im­ages were sold in a silent auc­tion this sum­mer to raise money for the RAF Air Cadets. As well as these por­traits, Jeremy has com­pleted other his­toric avi­a­tion works which will be on show through­out Novem­ber at Trin­ity House in Broad­way and at the Ly­gon Arms, where he has been res­i­dent artist.

One of the last Bat­tle of Bri­tain pi­lots, John ‘Tim’ Elk­ing­ton lives in Riss­ing­ton near Stow. Tim sur­vived only be­cause when he bailed out, an­other pi­lot man­aged to cre­ate a slip­stream that car­ried him to­wards the land in­stead of an al­most cer­tain death by drown­ing in the sea be­low. Jeremy ap­peared on The One Show on BBC TV in­ter­view­ing and sketch­ing Tim.

“Their al­most mat­ter-of-fact at­ti­tudes to what by any mea­sure were ex­tra­or­di­nary hero­ics, re­flect how they mod­estly un­der­play their own per­sonal con­tri­bu­tion to the de­fence of many priv­i­leges that we now take for granted,” ex­plains Jeremy.

“My hope was sim­ply to try and cap­ture, in the un­com­pli­cated and straight­for­ward terms that they pre­fer, the sense of ser­vice, courage and brav­ery they showed.”

“They were all so young, so brave, so fright­ened… they were still boys and they all said that they were freez­ing up there as there was no heat­ing in the planes.”

Jeremy chose to do the por­traits with wax pen­cil, partly be­cause none of the men wanted to be painted. In­stead, he re­calls, they pre­ferred the sim­plic­ity of a sketch and an ab­sence of cer­e­mo­nial dress and the many medals they have rightly earned. In­ter­est­ingly Jeremy’s work is usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with move­ment, but for this project his sub­jects have been mo­tion­less, yet rep­re­sent heroic ac­tion in the skies. In re­cent years Jeremy has cap­tured speed be it ten­nis balls as Cham­pi­onship Artist at Wim­ble­don 2017, or cars, horses and live ac­tion through his artist res­i­den­cies for Land Rover Ben Ainslie Rac­ing, Amer­ica’s Cup; Wind­sor Cas­tle for Her Majesty the Queen, High­grove for HRH The Prince of Wales and the Lon­don Olympic and Par­a­lympic Games.

“This time my brief was no more than to sketch. My bless­ing was that we did also talk, ben­e­fit­ing me cer­tainly, in that, for me, the con­ver­sa­tion in­forms the pic­ture. Sketch­ing is ef­fec­tively my note tak­ing,” says Jeremy.

“This project has been such a priv­i­lege. These guys are all mod­est peo­ple but to me they are very much live he­roes.”

While I visit Broad­way I pop into Trin­ity House in the High Street where Jeremy’s work will be on show. Noah War­ren, who runs the gallery, is proud of the vil­lage’s past.

“It’s all about the his­tory in Broad­way and there’s been an as­so­ci­a­tion with art for so long since the turn of the 20th cen­tury. We work as a com­mu­nity of gallery own­ers to try and pro­mote it as a mecca for art,” Noah ex­plains.

Trin­ity House Paint­ings will be show­ing a col­lec­tion of work by the renowned artist Neil Hel­yard from Septem­ber 28 un­til Oc­to­ber

14. Neil’s award-win­ning work has been a main­stay of Trin­ity House’s con­tem­po­rary col­lec­tion for a num­ber of years. Mean­while, Broad­way Mu­seum & Art Gallery will be host­ing Mak­ing an Im­pres­sion, fea­tur­ing prints by Édouard Manet, Camille Pis­sarro, Paul Cézanne, Berthe Morisot and Mary Cas­satt. Cu­rated by Kather­ine Wode­house from the Ash­molean Mu­seum, Ox­ford, this ex­hi­bi­tion which runs un­til De­cem­ber 19, not only ex­plores hid­den as­pects of the Im­pres­sion­ists’ achieve­ment, but show­cases the work of in­flu­en­tial print­mak­ers who ex­hib­ited with the Im­pres­sion­ists, in­clud­ing Félix Brac­que­mond and those who suc­ceeded them such as Henri de Toulouse­lautrec. An­other must-visit des­ti­na­tion for art lovers in Broad­way is the ex­cel­lent Lit­tle Buck­land Gallery which has year-round ex­hi­bi­tions of work by artists and de­signer mak­ers such as Su­san Early, Char­lie Calder-potts and Ara­bella Kiszely.

Broad­way has a long as­so­ci­a­tion with vis­it­ing artists and other creatives. An Amer­i­can artis­tic colony chose it has an idyl­lic spot to make home in the 1880s. John Singer Sar­gent paid his first visit to Broad­way in Septem­ber 1885 and it was here where he painted what was to be­come one of his best loved pic­tures, Car­na­tion, Lily, Lily, Rose.

Land­scape de­signer Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown used his tal­ent to help cre­ate Broad­way Tower, a vi­sion which was car­ried out with the as­sis­tance of renowned ar­chi­tect James Wy­att for Ge­orge Wil­liam, 6th Earl of Coven­try. This was com­pleted 220 years ago. The 65ft high tower built on an an­cient bea­con site is at the sec­ond-high­est point of the Cotswolds (af­ter Cleeve Hill) and con­sid­ered one of the coun­try’s finest view­points. Up to 16 coun­ties can be seen on a clear day. My twins, hus­band and I en­joy the view from the top and watch the res­i­dent Red Deer down be­low. It is fit­ting that our visit ends at this spec­tac­u­lar land­mark, for it

‘Rus­sell’s legacy wasn’t just about de­sign. It was about in­vest­ing in peo­ple and fu­ture tal­ent’

has con­nec­tions to both art and war. The Royal Ob­server Corps used the unique van­tage point to track en­emy planes dur­ing the world wars and later built a nu­clear bunker to re­port nu­clear at­tacks dur­ing the Cold War. The bunker is one of Eng­land’s few re­main­ing fully equipped fa­cil­i­ties. Not far from the tower is a memo­rial to the crew of an A.W.38 Whit­ley bomber that crashed there in June 1943 dur­ing a train­ing mis­sion.

Broad­way Tower has also been used in hap­pier times, namely as an in­spi­ra­tional re­treat for art folk who used the sur­round­ing coun­try­side to re-en­er­gise. It the place Wil­liam Mor­ris, his wife Jane and daugh­ters Jenny and May used as a hol­i­day re­treat and where he be­gan his cam­paign for the preser­va­tion of his­toric mon­u­ments. The day we visit is par­tic­u­larly windy, so I find the words of Mor­ris’ daugh­ter May (on dis­play in the Tower’s ‘Mor­ris Room,’) quite apt.

“The tower was cer­tainly ab­surd – the men had to bathe on the roof, when the wind didn’t blow the soap away and there was wa­ter enough... but how the clean aro­matic wind blew the aches out of our tired bod­ies, and how good it all was.”

The same views, the same open skies greet those who visit to­day. And whilst we can’t quite have a bath like Wil­liam Mor­ris on top of the tower, peo­ple still come here to grab those pre­cious care-free mo­ments. Man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Broad­way Tower, An­nette Gor­ton says it hasn’t lost its charm through­out the years.

“I think it is an as­ton­ish­ing land­mark. The im­por­tant thing is that we share it with oth­ers. It helps us step back, re­gain a sense of calm and more clar­ity and en­ables us to cel­e­brate the joys of life. It is why the tower was put there by Ca­pa­bil­ity Brown and James Wy­att and it is some­thing that is still very im­por­tant in our lives to­day,” she ex­plains.

“Broad­way Tower helps us ex­pe­ri­ence a bit of magic in this won­der­ful coun­try­side. It’s why peo­ple have such an emo­tional con­nec­tion with it. They come back time and time again and it is such a fix­ture in lo­cals’ lives.”

Like some of the key char­ac­ters who have lived in Broad­way and be­yond, the Tower has wit­nessed war and been con­nected to cre­ativ­ity. The height, view point and open skies con­tin­ues to en­cour­age fresh per­spec­tive and an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the things that mat­ter. Per­haps most of all it is the ap­pre­ci­a­tion of liv­ing – some­thing the life of fur­ni­ture de­signer Gor­don Rus­sell and the war he­roes Jeremy Houghton has cap­tured on pa­per, dis­play so well. www.broad­way­ www.jere­my­ www.visit-broad­ www.broad­way­mu­ www.trin­i­ty­house­paint­ www.lit­tle­buck­

BE­LOW RIGHT: ‘Tim Elk­ing­ton’, by Jeremy Houghton

BE­LOW LEFT: Jeremy Houghton’s stu­dio desk

ABOVE: ‘Rush­ing for the Skies’, by Jeremy Houghton

ABOVE (LEFT TO RIGHT): A page from Gor­don Rus­sell’s sketch­book, show­ing his sense of hu­mour de­spite be­ing on the front line;Gor­don Rus­sell in his later years; Ver­ity El­son, Gor­don Rus­sell mu­seum man­ager and cu­ra­tor, looks at some of Rus­sell’s war sketch­books

ABOVE: Rog and Tracy feel­ing sheep­ish at Broad­way Tower; Rog, Tracy, Kezia and Rosie out­side The Ly­gon Arms The view from the top of Broad­way Tower

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