Museums, memories and myth making.

Written by the daughter of Guido Morris, the famous St Ives printer and illustrator. A fascinating mélange of her family and personal archive with the changing history of museums. It emphasises the importance of touch as a means of recollecting the past.

In reading about museums I discovered that Derrida had written about archives. He develops a post modern approach to how the perspectives on the past are subject to change. Witness the recent debates about racism and colonialism in relation to this.

From My Archives: Derrida’s Archive Fever

There are two moving poems by Louis MacNeice that moved me when I read them this morning. The first was an early poem called just “Museums” with a pronounced rhyme scheme. The second is more interesting and called “In the Reading Room at the British Museum”. The final line is perhaps more poignant than ever.

Museums by MacNeice

Museums offer us, running from among the buses,
A centrally heated refuge, parquet floors and sarcophaguses,
Into whose tall fake porches we hurry without a sound
Like a beetle under a brick that lies, useless, on the ground.
Warmed and cajoled by the silence the cowed cypher revives,
Mirrors himself in the cases of pots, paces himself by marble lives,
Makes believe it was he that was the glory that was Rome,
Soft on his cheek the nimbus of other people’s martyrdom,
And then returns to the street, his mind an arena where sprawls
Any number of consumptive Keatses and dying Gauls.

On Derrida this link may be of interest

https://youtu.be/uHtXeUH4gnY

 

 

Remembering Red Barnaloft

I have previously posted about Red Vienna – the time in the 1930s when an attempt was made to establish a form of social security system in the elegant city and when worker’s flats were built to ease the conditions of poorer citizens. Notoriously, they were shelled by nationalists in the dark period leading up to the Anschluss when the Austria was annexed to Nazi Germany. https://jacobinmag.com/2017/02/red-vienna-austria-housing-urban-planning

Karl Polanyi wrote: “Vienna achieved one of the most spectacular cultural triumphs of Western history … an unexampled moral and intellectual rise in the condition of a highly developed industrial working class which, protected by the Vienna system, withstood the degrading effects of grave economic dislocation and achieved a level never reached before by the masses of the people in any industrial society.”

In my personal psychogeography towns and cities remind me of St Ives where I spent many years of my early life. After the gas works was deconstructed and I think, before the Tate arrived many of the fisherman’s lofts and artist studios next to Porthmeor Beach were replaced by the Barnaloft and then the Piazza flats. They seemed to stand out as a statement of the modernism with which the town had been associated. The interior courtyard of the latter had an interesting Hepworth sculpture. They were not by any means worker’s flats but were frequently occupied by what has since been called champagne socialists.

Properties for Sale in St. Ives, Barnaloft St. Ives Cornwall | Nethouseprices.com

Before the flats were constructed there was the beach cafe occupied by the Val Baker family. This was a homely venue offering a superb view of the sea and marvellous sunsets over it to the West. Little was seen of Denys himself whom I assumed was upstairs with leonine head bent over the typewriter. Denys may be somewhat forgotten but represented the spirit of bohemian values to the locals. He had been active in promoting the celtic culture as a Welshman intrigued by Cornwall and St Ives in particular. He and his wife were committed to pacifism and had been active in the committee of 100. https://www.rainydaygallery.co.uk/denysvalbaker.html

100 years of Red Vienna - VIENNA – Now. Forever

The Foot family has been long associated with St Ives. Issac Foot, bibliophile and liberal politician as well as a staunch Methodist stood in the town for Parliament. That by-election was rather interesting in the troubled atmosphere of 1937 and very narrow indeed. Isaac Foot went on to become Mayor of Plymouth.

Left Foot Forward | The Isis

Paul Foot his grandson and active contributor to Private Eye was often to be seen around the town. He was an active and intelligent member of the Socialist Worker’s Party as well as a campaigning journalist with a splendid sense of humour. He died rather young and was a notable loss to radical progress in this country. His book on Red Shelley is a moving introduction to that committed poet. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Foot_(journalist)

 

Also some years ago spontaneous outdoor performances were given by another group associated with the Foot family-The Footsbarn Theatre Group. These were jolly and musical. Particularly memorable was a performance in St Ives Guildhall of Around the World in Eighty Days with a scence at the Old Bore’s Club which was gloriously funny -a tour de force.

Which leaves us with the intriguing figure of Peter Shore. Any Freudian would not be surprised that given his name he might have been strongly attracted by the glorious beach at Porthmeor. I used to see him taking his morning beverage be-shorted high above the sands at Barnaloft. These buildings were designed by the St Ives Architect, Cyril Gilbert- a shy charming gentleman who later ran the superb Wills Street Gallery near the Police Station. I digress- Shore was a fascinating figure who it seems travelled from the intellectual left of the party to total opposition to what was then called the Common Market. He was for some time an active M.P. for Stepney. Apparently he acted in a sort of Alistair Campbell role in that he advised on media promotion. I well remember how he responded when interviewed later in his career by someone like Robin Day or Brian Walden. He would begin by rephrasing the question and pointing out the precise strength of the case to which he was opposed. It was about then to be devastated by the power of his retort. However, in the questioning this just didn’t happen due to the interviewer’s interruption.  You were left with the impression of his honesty and rather sad disappointment. And yet now I feel a little more straight honesty in political matters is crucial- a Balm of Gilead.

Sometimes it is salutary to hear what the opposite case – this clip exudes English chauvinism which is deeply misguided.

A house in Downalong in St Ives

Bethesda Hill toward Porthminster, St. Ives

Bethesda Hill

(The Pool of Bethesda was a pool in Jerusalem known from the New Testament story of Jesus miraculously healing a paralysed man, from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John, where it is described as being near the Sheep Gate, surrounded by five covered colonnades or porticoes.)

This cobbled hill leads down to the harbour and affords a view of the pier and the more recent lighthouse at the end. These are fisherman’s cottages essentially, and there was a sail loft- now Bradbury’s architects with a small raised forecourt from which artists would frequently paint the attractive view. Fore-sand is just at the bottom of the Hill and very popular with tourists. Just to the right of the exit at the bottom was an area often occupied by a horse and cart selling vegetables. Yet another horse and cart was used for unloading the catch of fish directly from the punts- very useful in this tidal harbour. The horse had no problem in a depth of water of the order of a metre. The catch was weighed at the platform in front of the Sloop- an area now completely occupied by the customers. The small weigh-house is still there; now entirely unknown except to a small number of locals.

The house itself backed onto a concrete lined fish cellar, into part of which, coal was delivered by Bennetts merchants and sold by the hundred weight. Its price, a constant source of worry for my parents. As far as I can recall, the house was purchased from my Uncle around about 1953 though I had slept there before whilst my Mother had to go suddenly into West Cornwall for an appendix operation. I think she was in hospital for some two weeks or so and probably operated upon by Mr White, the esteemed surgeon who perfected his skills in the Western Desert.

The coal cellar under the house occupied much of my time in childhood. It had my father’s tool kit – he had worked as a plumber and an aircraft fitter during the war. The was a steel ARP helmet and a washday mangle which became my “spaceship”, but I had been well drilled in health and safety. The lighting and ventilation were poor. I should perhaps explain that when my parents moved in, there was no bath and no hot water. Mr Brian Stevens, now a distinguished St Ives historian assisted in the building of a kitchen and bathroom at the rear of the property. My father installed a boiler system behind one of the coal fires and this was supplemented by a cylinder with an immersion heater. This rapidly used up 2-shilling pieces in the coin slot meter. Every time this ran out, my Mother would ask, “Where was Moses when the lights went out?”

It is perhaps worth mentioning that the walls between houses were very thin. We could easily hear, each Sunday evening our neighbour’s son playing Elvis whilst his parents were at Chapel. The small house was overfilled with visitors for many years and sometimes we all had to sleep downstairs. This was the era of Bed and Breakfast when everywhere was packed during for instance, Swindon week when railway workers had free transport to St Ives.

The Hill had two or three interesting features. There was a small meeting house tucked away in a small courtyard which was said to be used by a small Jewish community. There was at the top of the Hill on the way to the Island several larger guest houses and a shop where I was frequently sent where saffron cake was cooked each week and sold, there was often a long ash on the cigarette of the gentleman stirring the mixture and I often wondered if it fell in with the other ingredients. Cheese was sliced through by a wire and quarter a pound of sweets served into small paper bags from large tin boxes which had glass lids. On the doorstep milk was delivered in glass bottles and potato skins collected from a bin regularly by the “pig-man” in return at Christmas we sometimes received a pork joint. Ray (Skate) wings were often hung up for a day or two -said to improve its taste but also attractive to flies.

Monday was wash-day and sheets would sometimes be taken to the Island to dry. At this time there were some difficulties as fisherman used much the same space for drying freshly tarred nets!! The fisherman’s loft above Porthgwidden Beach -close to where Sven Berlin once worked was where the netting was stored. During the war, camouflage nets were made here and in the early 60s there grew a cottage industry in making up Brussel sprout bags with thick cord drawstrings. I remember helping my Mum a little by carrying rolls of 100 nets for which she was paid just a penny, I think. I would also load up bone needles- cut by my Father’s fret-working skills from ribs-with string. I could do a number of these quite quickly. The string was bound the thick cord around the net which was suspended from a cup-hook at a convenient height in the wooden door frame.

We left left the house which then still had round pin 15 Amp plugs in 2002. It is now, I think, an Air B’n’b cottage and house prices are currently above a third of a million.

 

 

West Penwith by Adrian Stokes

This poem interests me and looks fairly simple – let us  consider one or two lines and see if we can explore some more deeply. Indeed, this is a poem about surfaces and depth with a number of words that suggest rest- abolish pace, slow, apart and torpor. There is too a general feeling for sculpture as is expressed in his remarks about stone and it’s weathering or erosion by water. Details about Stokes may be found at his Wikipedia entry where it states about his early writing;” In The Quattro Cento he characterized the intense Early Renaissance feeling for material and space as ‘mass-effect’ and ‘stone-blossom’. The stone—deeply respected as a medium – is, he said, ‘carved to flower’ thereby bringing to the surface the fantasies the artist reads in its depths.” Let us continue to dig beneath the surface of these lines.

There seems to be a general feeling of relief perhaps reflecting Stokes returning to Cornwall. The lines about outhouses and stone retrace unmeagre time seems somewhat demanding. Does this mean that such structures seem and suggest aeons of time? Meagre is a synonym for sparse. So this may mean that the scene implies the extensive nature of time. As Stokes studied philosophy, then it is quite possible that some sort of Bergsonian concept of time.{See https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0004s9w }

In the next line herd is somewhat unusual- maybe the light from the shining mica in the granite is being collected by the eye. It also is a homophone for heard which brings a whimsical feeling of  synaesthesia together with the metal clang of time colliding with rhyme. In the next stanza there is hoard and heart which may be associated with the unusual word hurd, the coarse parts of flax or hemp that adhere to the fiber after it is separated. — called also hards. This sounds very much like the Golden Fleece and adds to the reference to the early Cornish tinners. A milksop is a person who is indecisive and lacks courage. Milksop can be a piece of bread dipped in milk. The flower might mean a milkwort  or just a general term for any flower in a field which may have cows in it!

Cow Dairy Happy Stock Photos - Download 2,051 Royalty Free Photos

The word also brings to mind that Stokes was deeply interested in psychoanalysis and was in fact an analysand of Melanie Klein whose work focused around infantile phantasy at the breast. He was also a friend of Barbara Hepworth whom he brought to St Ives where he lived near The Cornish Arms pub with his wife Margaret Mellis, The feelings of support, skin texture and associated tactile imagery come out in the second section where closeness is increased by the use of our. This underlying emotion of support and nursing passivity brings to an end this interesting poem.

The background about Adrian Stokes and his leading contribution to modernism in St Ives may be found at https://www.stivesart.info/lyrical-light/

A useful discussion on Margaret Mellis is at http://www.artcornwall.org/interviews/Margaret_mellis.htm

The Outwardness of Art: Selected Writings of Adrian Stokes: Amazon ...

 

Harry Ousey-Neglected Colourist amongst the St Ives Artists

 

Very recently I attended an intriguing talk by Sue Astles, Ousey’s neice about this little known Northern  Artist. I found myself wondering just how such a brilliant colourist could seemingly be rather overlooked. Further information and background can be found at

https://www.lancashirelife.co.uk/out-about/harry-ousey-exhibition-at-the-salford-museum-and-art-gallery-1-4082392

and at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Ousey

There are two possible factors which one might surmise for this aberration. Firstly, it seems that his interest in experimenting in so many various styles may have mitigated his being recognised for any definite style. His restless interest in both conventional and abstract work is not difficult to recognise. There is a certain interest in certain themes such as stone wall construction and the sea horizon. Certain influences seem to be lurking in the background from Miro, Dufy and perhaps Rothko. However, the multiplicity of his painting styles, doubtless including original work, could have inhibited proper recognition.

Such recognition might have been easier if he had access to gallery display. My second point is that I surmise that the influence of more recognised and prominent figures in the St Ives nexus made this difficult. Artists like Denis Mitchell and Terry Frost would have understood this. There was a social class barrier to surmount and I am fairly sure this is a pressure that a less wealthy northern painter would have encountered this even in the more enlightened postwar period. A glass ceiling even amongst progressives and bohemians!

Image result for harry ousey artist

Image result for harry ousey artist

Ousey’s later interest in environmental compositions reminded me also of the not dissimilar work of Margaret Mellis. (Not to be confused on grounds of alliteration with the abstract Penwith artist Marlow Moss!)

 

The Last of the Fire Kings -an extract from Derek Mahon

Five years I have reigned
During which time
I have lain awake each night

And prowled by day
In the sacred grove
For fear of the usurper,

Perfecting my cold dream
Of a place out of time,
A palace of porcelain

Where the frugivorous
Inheritors recline
In their rich fabrics
Far from the sea.

I find these few lines deeply even profoundly moving.  The whole poem may be found at http://www.troublesarchive.com/artforms/poetry/piece/the-last-of-the-fire-kings 

There it states,”Derek Mahon’s reference to an ancient curse can be construed as referring to the weight of tradition in Northern Ireland and the legacies of division and violence.” However, it is the mythological images that it conjures up and which I do not fully understand which particularly appeals to me. Although it may help a little to know that a frugivore is an animal that thrives mostly on raw fruits, succulent fruit-like vegetables, roots, shoots, nuts and seeds. It can be any type of herbivore or omnivore where fruit is a preferred food type.

For those interested in an analysis or interpretation of the whole poem, there is a PhD thesis from Durham at https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/108461.pdf

St Ives in the 1950s as portrayed by Hyman Segal

This uniquely illustrated pamphlet of around 20 pages offers a brilliant summary of life in St Ives just after the War. The town’s Silver Age it might be termed. This fascinating time period is manifest in the vivid sketches by the well-known St Ives artist, Hyman Segal. https://cornwallartists.org/cornwall-artists/hyman-segal   

Segal is probably best remembered for his African paintings as well as for his skill in portraying cats with sweeping economical lines. A Daily Mirror photographic  frontispiece shows him, an Art Therapist at West Cornwall Hospital, helping the recovery of a young lad at Tehidy Sanatorium in Camborne. This classic photograph by Bela Zola indicates the pride in the newly created NHS.{Zola was a leading photographer who recorded later the Aberfan Disaster and the profumo Affair among other renowned assignments.) https://www.worldpressphoto.org/collection/photo/1956/28663/1/1956-Bela-Zola-GN1-(1)

The first sketch in the pamphlet is of our celebrated Town Crier, Abraham Curnow -here just 54 years old. This is accompanied by a sketch of his Father-in-Law, Ernest James Stevens, popularly known as “Jimmy Limpets”. This drawing with others by Segal now hangs in the Sloop Inn.

On the following page is an image of Thomas Tonkin Prynne who had been the manager of Lanham’s picture framing business which in previous years  supplied the Royal Academy and other galleries with canvases by inter alia , Julius Olsen, Louis Grier and Moffat Linder. In addition to running an efficient business, he worked for 16 years as a member of the volunteer fire brigade, had a blue Persian cat and loved fishing.

 

There is also a magnificent sketch of Alistair St Clair Harrison, like Churchill, an old Harovian who had been a fighter pilot during the Second World War. It was Harrison who broadcst for the BBC about the rescue of HMS Wave in September 1952 and also about his interest in Antartic whaling. It was with his Norwegian wife that he established “The Gay Viking”;almost as famous for its colourful clientele as its innovative continental cuisine. ( Gay Viking was incidentally one of eight vessels that were ordered by the Turkish Navy, but were requisitioned by the Royal Navy to serve with Coastal Forces during the Second World War)

Alistair St Clair Harrison by Hyman Segal

Frank Edward Endell Mitchell, appropriately portrayed with bow-tie, fashionable in the 1950s, was known as “Micheal” and was the tenant of the Castle Inn. His friendship with Dylan Thomas must have been firmly established in the bohemian atmosphere of the bar there, then opposite Lanham’s and the Scala Cinema (presently Boots). Mitchell who was the brother, I believe of the eminent sculptor, Denis Mitchell, offered the Castle lounge for the display of art works and in his spare time, he himself did pastels and was occupied in breeding Boxer dogs.

The donation of this little pamphlet to the Morrab Archive offers members the opportunity to recreate for themselves the ambience of the Fifties through “The Familiar Faces of  St Ives”.

 

 

 

 

Coming soon- “Growing up in West Cornwall”

Coming soon

Complementing our previous title, Women of West Cornwall (ed. Pam Lomax, 2016), Growing up in West Cornwall describes the experience of childhood in West Cornwall, from the seventeenth century onwards. It documents childhood memories, mostly from the early years of the Twentieth Century, set in the context of institutions that structured the children’s lives – the village schools and the workhouse. The recollections captured here deal with schooldays, holidays, home life (sometimes when the father has gone mining overseas, or when the parents are busy Newlyn artists);  and starting work, as an undertaker’s apprentice in a spooky situation or a cabin boy preparing meals for the crew. How many of us regret that we did not ask our grandparents more about their childhood? This book helps us to understand how it felt to be a child in West Cornwall in the very different world in earlier centuries. Family historians will welcome the surname index.

 

 

 

 

 

The main chapters:

Chapter 1 Clifford Harry’s Recollections of Carnyorth Schooldays 1908 -1916 (Carlene Harry)

Chapter 2 The Decline and Fall of the Village School in Lamorna (Sally Corbet)

Chapter 3 St Erth Wesleyan Day School 1900-1922 (Cedric Appleby)

Chapter 4 Memories of a Mousehole Childhood (Susan Soyinka)

Chapter 5 Young People of Zennor 1600-1750 (Jean Nankervis)

Chapter 6 Children of the State (Sue Nebesnuick)

Chapter 7 The Artists’ Child (Pam Lomax)

Chapter 8 Word of Mouth (Jenny Dearlove)

 

Shorter articles:

Children’s Books (Dawn Walker)

Pamela Smart remembers (Caroline Baker)

Children’s Toys (Dawn Walker)

Jean Mitchell remembers (Dawn Walker)

May Day Celebrations (Carlene Harry)

George Care remembers (George Care)

Bad Boys up the Rec (Linda Camidge)

The eleventh publication of the Penwith Local History Group

100 pages, A4, illustrated throughout in colour and black and white

Published July 2019

Editor Sally Corbet

ISBN 978-0-9954940-1-5

RRP £10 from local bookshops, Morrab Library, Penzance, or from the Penwith Local History Group

Here is one old tradition that used to take place at Man’s Head the other side of Porthmere from the Island in St Ives

 

Four Old Photographs from St Ives

Here is my Mother’s Aunt Vera

as though for a test on the screen

like a Hollywood Star, pure smile;

happy, serene, genteel like a heroine-

war survivor, positively engaged

with the future a dream.

 

Turning the page where a collection

of ladies, mostly hatted with one man

wait on the wharf for Crimson Tours to bring the charabanc.

One lady, in control, in the centre

banters with the photographer, another

has her back turned as the shutter clicks.

 

The next, a street party, circa 1960

or before, all festive with my mother

looking happy serving a group of pensioners

who look like they are reliving a Sunday School band-tea.

Everyone wears hats and there is a lovely bunch of flowers,

one lady glowers, a man has his customary

goofy smile and there are delivered milk in bottles

unlikely to be stolen on the step behind.

 

By 1970 the future seems to be arriving more suddenly,

when standing with camera on the end of the quay,

and almost unbelievably four or five

ducks carry a squadron of marines

into the harbour. What have we done

to be thus invaded? History approaches

us on a stormy day and I bury my chin

into my duffel coat.

 

Modryb Marya, or Aunt Mary

We always had a holly tree at Christmas decorated with fairy lights in little copper lanterns made by my Father. These contained rice paper to diffuse the light and the same rice paper was used as a base for the coconut macaroons that my Mother made as part of the preparations for Christmas.

The Holly Tree is referred to in this beautiful poem by R.S.Hawker.

Image result for Holly tree

There is a little more information at https://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poems/modryb-marya-aunt-mary