Appreciation of The Beautiful

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

This was the sole school aim for a long time.  When the current five aims were framed early in my time, I was adamant that this nugget would find its place in the current aims, as it does in Aim 3, (To foster individuality and encourage initiative, creativity and the appreciation of the beautiful).

This awareness informs each assembly, which begins with music; it certainly informed my assembly on Wednesday, as I begin with Raphael’s Madonna della Seddia and ends with Helen Dunmore’s poem to her newly born daughter, Tess, (All The Things You Are Not Yet).  It informs daily decisions, whether those be about the curriculum, a flowerbed or the balance in an individual student’s life.  And this impulse is animating the lives of Old Bedalian scientists, writers, engineers, inventors, musicians, designers, dancers and actors daily.

But what about utility, I hear you (sensibly of course) say?  How handy (crafty too perhaps) to have our Arts & Crafts heritage, because Morris & Co reverenced what was beautiful and useful; therefore it’s unsurprising that furniture and architecture should be at the heart of the Arts & Crafts movement, with the hand crafting of wood at the centre of both its furniture and its architecture.

Good therefore to learn this week that the suite of furniture at the office for the Secretary of State for Education was designed and made at the Edward Barnsley Workshop in 1960.  I am delighted to hear this from our local MP and now Education Secretary, Damian Hinds.  Edward Barnsley, apprenticed to Lupton after leaving Bedales, made some of the Library furniture.  Edward, carrying on the proud Barnsley tradition of his father Sidney who built the Library to Gimson’s design, carried on working into the 1980s and would no doubt have had a personal hand in this important government commission.  You will recognise the distinctive design of his most famous chair, below.

Edward Barnsley chair - BedalesLeft: chair designed by Edward Barnsley in memory of Basil Gimson and used in the Bedales library. Bedales School: The First Hundred Years, by Roy Wake and Pennie Denton (1993) p.306






Below: the suite of furniture designed by the Barnsley Workshop and used by the Ministry for Education, reproduced by kind permission of the Edward Barnsley Workshop.

Barnsley Workshop

New views

Gemma Klein Photography

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

Saturday morning and I am sitting on a hard bench in the Lupton Hall listening to the music that precedes our Open Day panel.  I am looking up over the stage out of the Oriel window behind the stage at Scots pine branches that are swaying within this stark round frame.  This is the first time I have sat, listened and looked within the newly reborn Lupton Hall.  With the old curtains stripped away and the original stark beauty of the Lupton Hall now evident, its original conception is clear – and it’s stunning.

The New Hall, as it was originally called, is an integral part of Bedales’ founding, being a product of the friendship and early professional partnership of three of the master-craftsmen of the late Arts and Crafts movement, Geoffrey Lupton, Ernest Gimson and Sidney Barnsley.  In 1911 Lupton asked Gimson to draw up plans for new buildings at Bedales – a hall, library, gym and labs around a large open quadrangle.  The New Hall became the Lupton Hall because Lupton supervised the building  and did most of the work himself; it is also thought that he paid for it himself.   The majesty of our Memorial Library, Gimson’s design but built by Lupton and the Barnsleys (Sidney and his son Edward), has overshadowed the Lupton Hall, but the refurbishment of the latter will, I suspect, re-balance matters.

Our architect, Richard Griffiths, has re-captured the original uncompromising conception of the building: the old curtain and the sloping stage have gone, re-capturing the original volume of the room and enabling the stage to be used for music ensemble practices and for concerts across all three schools.  The view I now enjoy over the stage and out that Oriel window hasn’t been enjoyed for a good 90 years because of the curtain.

Reflecting on this I remember another new view: in April 2006, hard hat on, climbing up amongst the scaffolding to the top floor of the Orchard Building site,  I looked across to the Library and could see the Library’s shape from above and the clerestory windows that you wouldn’t know existed without that perspective. Only birds and passing balloonists had seen that before.

It feels just as good to see a wonderful old building restored as it did to see a new one, like the Orchard Building, opened.

Space to make and grow

Much talk here about creativity and its links with entrepreneurship.  This comes partly through discussions with parents (current and prospective), colleagues and students, partly because of the changes we are seeing to buildings and spaces at Bedales and partly because of the way in which the aspirations of young Britons in their twenties seem to have changed.

Let me try to flesh out each of these three threads in turn.

You do not need to be a futurologist to see that the world of work has changed markedly from the one most parents of secondary school age parents emerged into.  Jobs within corporate structures for life are rare; serial careers will increasingly become the norm; individuals will have to become much more proactive in the development of their own personal “brand”; and chunk of jobs in professions currently considered to be relatively safe from automation will disappear as some of the more routine work done by, for example, lawyers and pharmacists is automated.

Accompanying parents’ awareness that this will be the case is a healthy scepticism about schools’ ability to prepare children for the future.  Strange to find me saying this? Maybe.  But think about the way that the state determines the curriculum: decisions taken by Michael Gove in, say, 2011 will affect those sitting some GCSEs in 2017 and therefore those students emerging into the workplace from 2019 at the earliest – 2022 if they have gone to university.  And this was a (famously) quick curriculum change (and maybe with an eye more to the past than the future, but that’s another topic).

You do not need to have seen Sir Ken Robinson’s famous TED talk to know that the way that our schools are organised, with the emphasis on orderly progression and the silos of individual subjects is largely a Victorian creation.  Schools are good at doing all sorts of things but in general they adjust only in miniscule ways to the needs of the future.  My education equipped me splendidly to stride out into the empire that had more or less disappeared by my birth.

Second thread: changes to buildings and spaces.  Create a new building which combines all the different elements of Design (i.e. designing anything and making anything) with all the different elements of Fine Art and you have new possibilities; put that new Art & Design building close to the department (Outdoor Work) that also builds, creates and grows things (from lettuces to pigs, via hedges and barns, not to mention chutney, pizzas, duck houses and fleeces) and you are making a space where all sorts of additional things will happen.  Have an idea? Good, you can probably see if it will work.

Creating the space within and between these areas of endeavour will only result in interesting things happening if these moves are accompanied by a no-fear, can-do, give-it-a-go approach by the teachers who oversee them and a broader willingness to trust students to develop their initiatives.  I am very confident that this instinct is alive and well here.

Third thread: young Britons in their twenties (aka millenials) are much more likely to want to run their own business and to favour a high degree of autonomy over their lives than their parents.  Having children and numerous nieces and nephews in these areas, it is clear that the proportion of them and their friends whose interests lie in either starting a business themselves or joining a small enterprise is considerable.  The reputation that London – and in particular its hipster /start up centres such as Shoreditch – has gathered as a start up hub is of course a factor, but I suspect that this is much more trend than fad.

My spur to writing about this came on Monday morning when I watched a lesson which involved the making of butter in Outdoor Work.  There in the folksy surroundings of the Bakery I saw eight Block 3s make butter from scratch: the pouring of Jersey unpasteurised cream into little hand churners; the careful churning; the separation of the butter from the butter milk; the patting of the butter and then the addition of different flavours – garlic, radish, tarragon or chilli.   As the Outdoor Work farm shop (under the ODW clock tower) becomes a reality next academic year, the incentive for students to devise new things they want to make and sell will increase.  I heard yesterday that one is now developing a business making soap.  Expect a farm shop with a big range of products. This is a space definitely to be watched.

Doing, making and appreciating the beautiful

Doing, making and appreciating the beautiful – all have been in good evidence this weekend.

My amble round (accompanied by singular dog) takes in A2 devised drama rehearsals in the theatre, BAC design and Outdoor Work.  The dancers have had a productive weekend choreographing their pieces and are content as I catch them on their way out.  Designers in evidence include Charlie whose beehive-inspired spice rack has been a fiendish thing to create, initially on the computer: now the CAD (computer aided design) machine is in its sixth hour of toil, bringing Charlie’s vision to life.  Chris’ concentration over the metal lathe is palpable as he makes the delicate little legs for his piece. Over in the wood corner, students work in oak and chestnut – here, for example, Izzy’s table is shaping up well as she smooths the legs – there’s an island etched into the top.

Upstairs in Fashion Design and ingenuity is also afoot – who would have thought of a dress with a sumptuous oil spill weaving its way down it?  Nellie has. And doesn’t that Art Deco dress – striking in black – have a beautiful gold-etched design at the top?  Its inspiration is the Chrysler building in New York, I learn, from Emily.

Over in Outdoor Work and they have had a productive weekend too.  The Bridge across to the Lake is becoming a reality, thanks to Talulah, Dylan and Henry S; it looks elegant and sturdy.  I recommend both a plaque and a formal title.  Other fruits of the weekend include a fine piece of hazel fence weaving – courtesy of Ed and Henry F, whose magnificent duck house looks all set to take its place in Marie Antoinette’s garden – and, over by the Black Barn, clever work with the classy pig sty and the egg incubation unit.

But even ahead of all of this in my mental scrap album is a Saturday evening at St Peter’s Church in Petersfield where the Bedales Cecilia Consort joins with Southern Pro Musica.  Conductor Jonathan Willocks, formerly Director of Music at Bedales conducts the combined group in Mozart’s Dixit Dominus, Ave verum corpus and Haydn’s Insanae et vanae curae.  This is a wonderful opportunity for our choir to work with a professional orchestra, performing to a packed audience in a building with a fine acoustic.

But the evening belongs to the young Bedales cellist, Caleb, whose performance of the Haydn Cello Concerto in C is breathtaking in its virtuosity.  I have seen a number of very fine individual performances in schools but nothing can match this. His performance is the product of a year’s intense practice and focussed learning. It is a stunning result and the encores roll on. Bravo, Caleb!

Building speak

“Duskily glowing, I always think,” murmurs Mem Library, as if to himself.

“What are you burbling on about, now? Do I detect a recurrence of literary reference, august friend and neighbour?”

“You can hardly blame me for being a bit literary, what with all my books – and that ‘duskily glowing’ just seems to capture how the mid January evening sun feels on my flank of an evening – lovely, you know? And it’s from Edward Thomas, y’know; he’s one of ours, a Steep fellow.”

“I suppose it’s fine for you to be a bit pleased with yourself – ‘most beautiful school library, jewel of the late Arts & Crafts’ blah, blah blah! It’s not fair: lots of interesting  things happen in your much visited, Grade listed 1 interior – and you are so warm; here I am with my lovely crucks, my bold austerity, my Powell clock, my Grade 1 status too, my sleek benches and all I have is some music and a bit of LAMDA – not for me the constant patter of student feet, those fascinating exhibitions of warriors and that recurrent lovely shhhh! Sound –“

“It’s your benches – they are too many – and they are too hard.”

Mem Lib and his bosom adjacent pal, Lupton (nee New) Hall have these kind of ruminative talks, as befit the products of Ernest Gimson – and, of course, the two most distinguished of Bedales’ buildings.

The reflective silence is broken by Lupton’s tentative thought:

“The new one’s coming on all right.”

Art & Design, you mean?”

“Yes, it’s all been so quick – one moment those disreputable sheds are there, the next another big one is springing up – and quite close to cousin Steephurst too – “

“Not that close, you old fusspot, just cosy.”

“OK, cosy….. I like her cladding – a bit like that Orchard Building you are so snooty about.”

Mem Lib gathers for the kind of portentous statement you can make if you are such a jewel of the late Arts & Crafts movement.

“I think A&D is going to be a welcome addition to the family of Bedales buildings – and that we lucky products of the great Gimson (pronounced J as in ‘genial’), we lucky few – “

“Aw, pipe down, dear Mem, pipe down…”

Arts and Crafts – Why bother?

outdoor work polytunnel

In discussing with our Block 3s what they are doing at the moment, I was glad to hear that clearing their tutor group’s area in the polytunnels and planting their winter vegetables feature prominently. As an earthy activity well away from the classroom, it may be a more lasting influence than what happens within the traditional academic curriculum. Likewise, a chance visit to our theatre to hear Blind, a one person beat boxing show on Friday night, could have a profound influence.

Over the last couple of weeks UK broadsheet newspapers have given space to news of a group of Swedish academics and their long-standing bet concerning their respective abilities to quote Bob Dylan lyrics in their research articles. Thus, science and the arts coincide in an entertaining way that, clearly, is seen as exceptional in some way. And yet are they really such unlikely bedfellows?

The late Steve Jobs, perhaps the best known popular innovator/entrepreneur of recent times, explained that he and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak were also big Dylan fans. However, Jobs’ involvement in the arts extended well beyond simple appreciation: rather, he is on record as seeing artistic sensibilities such as intuition as central to the business of technological innovation.

To continue on this theme, Einstein explained how the music of Mozart revealed to him a harmony he believed existed in the universe, and that he was convinced that music was a guiding principle in the search for important results in theoretical physics. Albert Schweitzer, as well as being an eminent physicist, was an organist and Bach scholar. Besides being a highly successful author, Beatrix Potter conducted highly respected work on the reproduction of fungi spores. So far, so anecdotal – but there is more compelling evidence emerging that those working successfully in STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) benefit from the development of a facility in the arts and crafts.

In 2008 a study[1] of large numbers of scientists found that the most eminent were significantly more likely to spend some of their time in productive arts and crafts pursuits, with the resulting skills being of direct professional benefit. This not a new phenomenon – in the late 1900s JH van’t Hoff investigated several hundred historical figures in science and concluded that the most innovative of them practised in the arts and crafts when they weren’t hard at work on the day job.

A study by LaMore et al published in 2013[2], and drawing on the testimonies of a sample of science and technology graduates from Michigan State University, challenges any assumption that arts and crafts should be considered optional extras to ‘serious’ subjects. Instead, findings supported what the more anecdotal material seems to tell us – that people working successfully in STEM professions are far more likely to have arts and crafts experience as calibrated through numbers of company start-ups and patentable inventions, and that their innovative capacity is directly stimulated by arts and crafts knowledge. This brings to mind Steve Jobs’ observation that the team that developed the Macintosh desktop computer were musicians, poets, artists, historians and zoologists who just happened to be the world’s best computer scientists.

At Bedales, we are of the view that there is considerable intrinsic value to be had in an education that is rich in the liberal arts, including the visual arts and design. But for those who are persuaded only by instrumental arguments of value, the question as to why we should bother with such things can be answered simply and emphatically: the creative industries comprise a significant and growing proportion of GDP and so offer great opportunities, whilst the influence of an artistic/crafts sensibility and attendant skills appears to go hand-in-hand with successful scientific and technical innovatory careers.

This being the case, the questions we should be asking are why the arts and STEM subjects have come to occupy such very different places in policy thinking, and why the former have been so significantly downgraded in the priorities of the current government? It is of note that the arts-sciences dichotomy has not always been as unshakeable as it appears to be today. Jung’s ‘Artist-Scientist’ archetype united these supposedly disparate elements in the wonders and dangers implicit in curiosity; more recently, the sociologist Richard Florida posited a ‘creative class’ made up of scientists and engineers as well as poets and people in design and the arts – something that I suspect would have found favour with Steve Jobs and Einstein alike. Life at Bedales very much reflects a similar belief.

[1] Root-Bernstein, R.S., Allan, L., Beach, L., Bhadula, R., Fast, J., Hosey, C. & Weinlander, S. 2008. Arts fosters success: Comparisons of Nobel Prize winners, Royal Society, National Academy, and Sigma Xi members. Journal of the Psychology of Science Technology. Vol 1(2), pp.51-63.

[2] LaMore, R., Root-Bernstein, R., Root-Bernstein, M., Schweitzer, J.H., Lawton, J.L, Roraback, E., Peruski, A., VanDyke, M. and Fernandez, L. 2013. Arts and Crafts: Critical to Economic Innovation. Economic Development Quarterly. Vol 27(3). Sage.

Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.