From Somerset to York Minster: my carving journey

Adam Wilson graduated from the BA (Hons) Historic Carving: Woodcarving & Gilding in 2021 and is currently starting MA Carving at the Art School.  When he graduated, he was awarded The Joiners & Ceilers’ Prize, in recognition of the development of his woodcarving skills over the three-year course and dedication to his studies.  We asked Adam to tell us about his experience as a carver so far, his plans for his MA and to share some of his impressive work.

I have a deep interest in historic timber buildings and after taking a PgDip in Historic Timber Building Conservation at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in West Sussex, I worked as a building conservator, specialising in traditional carpentry and joinery repairs to historic houses in Somerset.

I came to the Art School to advance my woodworking skills and learn historic carving, as I had developed an interest in pierced frieze and wished to explore their manufacture and design theory. During the first three terms at the Art School, I taught myself to make projecting cornice mouldings with wooden hand planes. This lead to an interest in curved work including sprung mouldings and circular joinery, which I combined with carving on projects in the second year.

17th century French panelling with applied circular frame, constructed of 12 pieces (Work in progress)
Riven Baltic oak (Quercus petraea), 38” x 27”

As a trained carpenter and joiner, I enjoy combining woodworking disciplines to create complete objects which contextualise the carved work, allowing the viewer to gain a better understanding of its role as part of a culturally significant object.

My work for the final submission of the BA (Hons) Historic Carving: Woodcarving & Gilding at the Art School was based upon detailed research into material culture of the 16th century English and Venetian workshop.

Both projects (shown below) began in the woodland and were constructed of timber which I had self selected and converted, relying on in-depth knowledge of timber as a material learnt over the course of many years.

The picture frame was constructed of air dried sawn stock and the chest from unseasoned riven stock. The timber came from within a 20km radius of my workshop, reducing the environmental impact of each piece considerably, and both objects were constructed entirely by hand using historically correct methods.

The chest was left unfinished to naturally oxidise and darken and the frame was water gilded with 24 karat gold.

Picture frame, spruce (Picea abies) and oak (Quercus petraea) with gilded applied gesso ornamentation, 800mm x 1000mm

Carved, joined chest, Riven Baltic oak (Quercus petraea), 43” x 26” x 24”

For the MA Carving course, I have been offered a mentorship in fan vault design by John David, master mason at York Minster. Under his tutelage, I will build upon my previous studies in historic carpentry and joinery to realise an ambitious fan vault. This vault brings the three woodworking disciplines that I have been trained in together in one challenging project.

Vaulted ceiling of the Edward the Confessor Chapel Canterbury Cathedral

I have chosen to construct a timber vault based on the vault from the Edward the Confessor Chapel at Canterbury Cathedral to a scale of 1:3, which will be appropriate for the canopy of a medieval tester. This will be eventually decorated with gilded carved gothic vine leaves and polychroming.

This elegant design employs a moulded three centred transverse arch, which divides the two bays and produces two flat central spandrel panels. The sides of the bays incorporate slightly higher four centred arches to accommodate the gothic styling of the windows and is decorated with a geometric design constructed from tangental circles containing cusping and sub-cusping.

The tracery and the deeply moulded ribs will be joined using traditional methods and the shaping of the ribs and construction of the superstructure that supports the fan will be done by hand using historic joinery and carpentry tools and techniques.

The aims of the project are to research the historic construction methods and techniques used to produce these quintessentially English architectural designs, explore the connection between disciplines and contextualise a variety of carved architectural elements which are often carved as stand alone pieces.

The project will challenge my design skills along with my practical skills and is intended to recognise the generous support of the Worshipful Company of Joiners and Ceilers and the Worshipful Company of Carpenters during my BA (Hons) in Historic Carving.

Adam’s work will be exhibited at the MA Show, 16-23 October 2021.

Sarah Davis, a graduate from the Art School’s BA Historic Carving course, recently appeared on BBC Radio 6 Music, talking about her sound-art project Day Zero.

Based in part on Sarah’s undergraduate dissertation for the carving course, Day Zero is sound and word exploration of Sarah’s personal experience having treatment for cancer. This informed both her innovative carving work on the studio course and led to a new area of artistic activity, semi-autobiographical writing and audio art. Working with experimental musician, Edward Simpson and others, Sarah produced a piece that was broadcast in August 2021 on the BBC Radio 6 Music show, BBC Introducing Arts.

Described by presenter Huw Stephens as “deeply moving” the work involves spoken words and recordings made by Sarah of the sounds she heard while undergoing treatment in hospital.

According to Sarah, “When you go through an experience that is so life changing it’s quite hard to slip back into your old routine and your old way of making. For me, reclaiming that creativity came about through writing.” This she describes in part as being “cathartic”.

A recording of Sarah’s interview and the audio-art piece she made can be found on the BBC Radio Sounds App at



Sarah Davis in her carving studio.

Sarah Davis, ‘Octopus’, 2021, Limewood.

Sarah Davis, ‘Pill Cup’, 2019, Sterling silver.

We strongly believe that it is the responsibility of an Art School to create the conditions in which learners can safely explore, investigate, experiment, create, write and think, without the distraction of life’s everyday demands. But we also recognise that for our programmes to remain culturally, socially and politically relevant, our students need to actively engage with others outside of the protected and privileged space of the workshops, studios or library.

That is why the MA in Art & Material Histories incorporates projects into its syllabus that require our students to collaborate with artists, scientists, writers, craft and trades people outside of the institution, in order to learn from them and the contexts in which they work and develop professional networks to draw from after graduation. This year, in alignment with the current theme of the Art School’s Material Matters research platform, our students have been collaborating with professionals from the world of clay.

Sabine Amoore Pinon continues her exploration of pigments through a collaboration with the artist and developer of London Pigments, Lucy Mayes. Together they have produced a fascinating in-depth study of the origins of Potters Pink, Celadon and Ceramic White.

Matilda Sample worked with a group of women from a range of backgrounds to explore the overlapping properties and qualities of the clay body and the human body. Through hands-on workshops and open discussion, the participants explored and challenged themes of malleability, impressionability, and the natural.

Maddie Rose Hills teamed up with the research-based artist Robin James Sullivan to investigate Cornwall’s china clay quarries and the impact they have had on the landscape and the lives of those who have lived and worked there. Staging a revisionist and a-chronological dialogue that mimics the process of mining itself, these two collaborators have unearthed a range of geological issues and excavated rich and precious social histories.

Oscar Wilson conducted a series of interviews with potter, artist and craftsperson Dr Mark Sowden. In his work Tidings, Mark collects, identifies and then reconfigures found sherds of ceramic and other objects found on the Thames foreshore. Through Wilson’s generous sharing of knowledge, Oscar learnt about London Bricks, mud larking and the history of pottery.

Check out the publication of our Art & Material Histories students’ collaborative research projects and other fascinating materials projects on our Material Matters Research Platform here.

This week the Art & Material Histories course was delighted to welcome Laura Wilson (@wilsonlaurawilson) to give a talk about her practice. Laura will be joining the staff team next year and her talk provided an ideal opportunity for our students to acquaint themselves with her material practices and ways of thinking.

Laura’s process involves researching, collaborating and re-telling the material histories of things through performance, film, writing and sculpture. She is interested in how history is carried and evolved through everyday materials, trades and craftsmanship and works with specialists to develop sculptural and performative works that amplify the relationship between materiality, memory and tacit knowledge.

Thanks so much Laura for a fascinating and inspiring talk!

Laura Wilson, Deepening, 2020. Still from video, 15:36 minutes. Co-commissioned by New Geographies and Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery.

Wilson’s interdisciplinary and research-based works have been exhibited widely including at: The Collection, Lincoln with Mansions of the Future, UK;  First Draft, Sydney, Australia (2021); 5th Istanbul Design Biennial – Empathy Revisited: Designs for More than One; Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Norwich, UK (2020); The British Museum, London, UK with Block Universe; Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, UK; and The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London, UK (2018); SPACE, London, UK; V&A Museum, London, UK; and Invisible Dust at Hull and East Riding Museum, Hull, UK (2017); Delfina Foundation, London, UK (2016 & 17) Site Gallery, Sheffield, UK (2016); Whitstable Biennial, UK (2014); Camden Arts Centre, London, UK and Turner Contemporary, Margate, UK (2013); W139, Amsterdam and De Warande, Turnhout, Belgium (2012). Her project Trained on Veda, a malted loaf and evolving artwork was initiated during her residency at Delfina Foundation in 2016 is being developed in partnership with TACO!, Thamesmead, Grand Union, Birmingham and Site Gallery, Sheffield, supported by Arts Council England. She has forthcoming projects with POOL, Johannesburg, South Africa; The Landmark Trust, Wales, UK; and MIMA, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art, part of Teesside University, Middlesbrough, UK. A Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellow, she has been awarded the inaugural Jerwood New Work Fund and the Dover Prize 2021.

Laura Wilson, Old Salt, 2021. Silk screen print. Co-commissioned by Mansions of the future and The Collection Museum, Lincoln. Photo: Reece Shaw.

Laura Wilson, Old Salt, 2021. Installation detail. Co-commissioned by Mansions of the future and The Collection Museum, Lincoln. Photo: Reece Shaw.

Laura Wilson, You Would Almost Expect to Find it Warm, 2018. Co-commissioned by Franck Bordese and Block Universe for The British Museum. Photo: Manuela Barczewski

Laura Wilson, Fold and Stretch, 2017. Commissioned by Site Gallery. Photo: Jules Lister.

All images courtesy of The Artist.



Through a range of approaches to learning and teaching, the Introduction to Conservation unit runs alongside the Historic Crafts, Conservation Science and Art Histories units and focuses on introducing students to the fundamentals of conservation ethics and philosophy, principles and professional standards. Students gain the tools to engage in meaningful discussion about the future management of cultural heritage and preventive conservation.

Through the course of this unit, students will get an insight into the profession of conservation: whether working in a museum or as a private consultant, and the range of international conservation bodies, further training programmes, internships, conferences, and professional accreditation opportunities provided.

This Introduction to Conservation workshop was led by paper conservation tutor, Judith Gowland.


The final module for our first year students in Book & Paper Conservation was ending like a firework of colours and shapes in the studios!

In a series of workshops, led by Books Conservation Tutor, Abigail Bainbridge, students were taught traditional marbling techniques from Europe and Japan, having previously made their own tools to achieve their beautiful patterns.


Some of the beautiful outcomes from the workshop – each student had access to the same six tubes of gouache, resulting in a wide variety of designs.

Art theorist and video and performance artist, Dr Oriana Fox, is an Art Histories Tutor on the MA in Art & Material Histories, as well as a range of other courses at the Art School. Oriana teaches art history from a particularly contemporary perspective and encourages students to think about artworks from the past as well as the present through the lens of the very latest theoretical, cultural and political ideas.

Dr Oriana Fox’s new podcast ‘Multiple Os’ is a spin-off from her performance series ‘The O Show’, which is a recognisable yet innovative take on the talk show genre. Like ‘The O Show’, ‘Multiple Os’ features interviews with artists and other experts who have no difficulty ‘spilling the beans’ about their lives and opinions, especially when they defy norms and conventions. The topics explored include shyness, gender, sexuality, race, belonging and success, integrating therapeutic, artistic and political perspectives.

Episodes released to date include:

Nervous Laughter with Hamja Ahsan, artist and author of Shy Radicals
Art makes life more interesting than art with artist Joshua Sofaer
Do-It-Yourself Revolution with Charlotte Cooper, artist, psychotherapist and fat activist
50 Tinder Dates with Indrani Ashe, artist and unconventional woman
Type-casting yourself with artist Harold Offeh
Hyper-femme superhero alter ego with Lois Weaver, performance artist and professor

Interviewees on forthcoming episodes include:

Sociologist and coach Jo Van Every; Stand-up comic Jaye McBride; artist and diversity advocate Ope Lori; philosopher and author Nina Power; novelist and performance artist Season Butler; writer and cultural critic Juliet Jacques

Oriana’s ‘Multiple Os’ podcast is widely available in the places you usually find your podcasts.

The MA in Art & Material Histories Interim show this year featured student research that spanned a broad range of materials and their contexts.

Sabine Pinon Amoore and Oscar Wilson’s work had much in common in that they share a passion for raw colour.

Sabine Pinon Amoore presented two major works that explored the origins and use of 88 pigments throughout Art History. Ranging from the earliest earthy ochres right up to the most recent industrially produced colours, Sabine’s beautiful display drew from her recent work in Cornelissen’s archive, and combined her own microscopy imagery with pigment powders, modelled molecular structures and beautifully written texts that narrated how, why, when and where specific pigments appear in the history of art. If you want to know anything about pigments in the history of art, Sabine is rapidly becoming one of the UK’s leading experts.

Oscar Wilson’s work introduced us to new and exciting ways we might look at and think about glass and how it functions within the urban environment. Juxtaposing the formal elements of architectural design with expressive mark-making and roughly treated surfaces, Oscar draws us into a world of opacity and reflection in which glass’ status as a symbol of material power is simultaneously asserted and undermined.

Roberta De Caro and Francesca Souza’s work brought us into contact with the materials of the domestic sphere, but in very different ways.

Roberta De Caro’s recent research has been focussed on the impact of domestic violence and how working with materials with our hands can help heal the wounds of trauma. Her project ‘From the Fragment to the Whole’ engaged members of a community of women who have suffered domestic abuse. In one-to-one practical workshops De Caro guided the participants through how to reassemble broken shards of glass into beautiful singular translucent plates that appear as whole but still bear the scars of their shattered pasts. This brilliant project brings together craft, therapy and theory and enables people who might not be able to easily access art and therapy to reflect on their pasts and continue the process of self and shared healing.

Francesca Souza has been researching everything there is to know about the dust in our homes – where it comes from; what it consists of; where is ends up, and the role it plays in the history of art. Reminding us that the vast majority of domestic dust is a left-over of what we once were (dead skin cells, nails, hair etc), Francesca’s research sought to expand the category of dust to include the cast-off objects of cultural history – that which appears in the dark recesses of the museum or in the unopened drawers of the forgotten archive.

Annabelle Moedlinger presented an expanded thesis on the ontology of the seashell. Combining moving image, photography, found objects, written text, sculpture and drawing, Annabelle’s fascinating installation spins us through the spirals of a speculative materialism bringing us into contact with crustaceous life, deep histories, socio-material politics, contemporary visual cultures, the digital and dance.

Matilda Sample has had an intellectual preoccupation with human blood for a while now. Underpinned by a background writing about Aids and Art, Matilda’s recent research explores menstrual blood and the stigmas associated with it. Framed by Feminist art of the 60s and 70s and working across a range of media including textiles, pvc, canvas and the written word, Sample coaxes us in closer to confront our prejudice around this noticeably un-spoken about human-material.

Maddie Hills has been exploring the process of pulping within an exciting and highly original project that looks to termites and termite architectures as a means to think about our relationship to paper and cardboard consumption. Combining strange towering sculptures with collaged found and authored spoken word, sounds and music, Hills builds a swarm of associations that draw connections between certain narratives of late capitalism and insectile behaviour and culture.

The end of year MA Show is planned for October 2021, and we very much look forward to seeing you there! Sign up to receive an invitation.

The Chair of Students is an elected role at the Art School, open to a graduating or continuing student. Working closely with Student Reps and Art School staff and Trustees, the holder of the role plays a key part in ensuring the Art School is the best it can be for all our students. Those elected to the post sit on the Board of Trustees and as artist residents are given a studio space and access to our specialist facilities.

Usually held for a term of one year, current incumbents, Ema Mano Epps and Jyoti Bharwani, were asked to extend their term to help the Art School effectively prioritise students’ needs throughout the pandemic. As they approach the end of their tenure, we asked them to tell us about their experience and pass on advice to the next Chair of Students.

Q. You are both the Art School’s current Co-Chairs of Students, Artist Residents and sit on the Board of Trustees; the primary elected spokespeople for our student body. What motivated you to stand for election to the role?

A. This art school is one of a kind! It has a charity status, unlike all other institutions it is small and caters for the individual, ensuring growth. We both quickly understood the gravitas of its sustainability was dependent on communication, connecting the students all the way through to the Trustees.

We shared an equally positive experience as students in the art school, both of us were keen to make sure we transpire this experience to others, and live a legacy that lasts for generations to come.

Q. The role is usually fulfilled by one person. Why did you decide to take on the role in a joint capacity?

A. Two heads are better than one when it comes to problem solving and multitasking. The role was very new at the Art School and still in process of defining this is why we made a decision to take on the role in a shared capacity. This decision also meant that in supporting the school community we could simultaneously support each-other and balance our art practices and families. We applied with a joint application, you can imagine how extremely glad we are …having just gone through 3 pandemic lockdowns!

Q. What are the main responsibilities of the role?

A. Feedback, communication and ideas between the Art School, trustees and students. We haven’t counted the meetings we had to attend to make this a success:)

Q. You have held the position of Co-Chair of Students during the coronavirus pandemic – some may say one of the most challenging periods in living memory.  How has the pandemic, and the restrictions imposed to control the spread of the virus, affected your experience of the role?

A. Solitude and anxiety was the experience we all went through individually, being part of a community where you help also meant that you simultaneously are helped. We had to adjust to digital and organised catch ups, no casual bumping into. We made ourselves available  to each-other, to the staff and the Trustees. We made calls to check on peers, messaged, emailed, shared playlists, sincerity of hardship, wellbeing wobbles and meditative walks…

Q. In line with the Government’s Covid-19 restrictions, the Art School’s facilities were closed during the national Lockdowns. How did the Art School adapt course delivery to ensure students continued to receive a high-quality education?

A. The school was remarkable, it listened and in turn rallied around revising modules from each course that can be implemented online, sending and delivering parcels to students homes for hands on carving, conservation – practical workshops carried on. Lectures and tutorials carried on. There was a mammoth effort made by all involved, with no allowance for loss of quality of teaching and support.

Q. When lockdown restrictions were eased, the Art School was committed to re-opening its studios and facilities to allow students to resume hands-on practice. What measures did teaching and facilities staff put in place to ensure the health and safety of students and staff? 

A. The Art School manifested their commitment to get the students on site before any other art institution, their actions acknowledged how tactile all courses and learning is. It was done so with maximum effort to introduce an efficient and well throughout health and safety contingency plan. They knew what it meant to get us back into the workshops and studios and did so without taking risks, before any other art school even discussed reopening. Masks, testing, one way routes, workshop time slots, limitation to numbers in a single space…we all had a quiz to pass and updates to keep up with. Clear and simple communication, open question and answer zoom sessions ensured there’s no second guessing to minimise anxiety in the age of uncertainty.

Q. How did students react, was this a robust and proactive response to the pandemic?

A. Due to the transparency and openness of the process, everyone felt part of the decision making and was able to make a shift between taking it personally and as a collective experience. We were pleased to see students supporting each other through various zoom socials, with quiz nights, yoga and even studio visits from bedrooms! Students were mature and patient with the efforts due to the transparency and communication of the school. Questions and requests were addressed with care, precision and honesty.

Q. The pandemic has had an enormous impact on the mental health of students across the country. How did the Art School make efforts to prioritise student wellbeing?

A. The Art School Pastoral care provided one to one zoom sessions and an investment in a well researched ‘Talk Campus’ app meant all students could connect with peers and professionals. The goal achieved was to provide mental health support 24/7.

Q. In your opinion, what is the most significant change the Art School has made in response to student feedback whilst you’ve been in the role?

A. Wellbeing investment, forming of diversity and equality group, revising curriculum – and proactive changes to the west centric art history. Extended summer term for practical studio use with technical support availability throughout, across workshops. Physical exhibitions instead of digital online presence alone. The Art School also made showcases for each graduating year.

Q. Which of your achievements as Co-Chair of Students are you most proud of and why?

A. We feel humbled for being able to be part of the Art School beyond our MA graduations. To have been there for students, staff and each other at such an incredibly vulnerable and monumental time of change has enriched us in every way. We can’t wholly express how impressive the students, Principal, Heads of Department and trustees have been in working together and supporting each other throughout the hardships.

Q. What are the two most important skills you’ve developed through doing this role?

A. Being objective whilst empathetic. There’s so many different perspectives to problem solving, and it comes down to compromise and understanding from all parties.

Q. Tell us about the work you’ve made in your Art School studio during the residency. Which of the Art School’s specialist facilities have had most impact on your work?

A. During our residency we have gone between home-makeshift studios and the Art School. We have engaged in a series of works which encompass the sincerity of the times and experiences we’ve lived through and continue to do so. For both of us the process of making in the print room, glass, foundry and wood workshops merged with the homecooked pigment recipes, foraged and recycled materials.

We both have sculptural practices informed by materiality and the resonance of each has led to an ongoing collaboration with each-other. Exploring the fluidity between nature, human and the universe means Jyoti’s ‘Cosmos in my luggage’ has merged with Ema’s ‘We are the Universe’.

Q. What piece of advice would you like to pass on to the future Chairs of Students?

A. You are part of a team, so don’t feel like you need to be in full control. Circumstances and opinions can vary and change as we navigate through the current climate, don’t forget you are not super-human.

Q. What are your future plans when your term as Co-Chair of Students has ended?

A. We will be continuing to  develop as a collaborative Artist duo, alongside our individual practices. Sharing the role has redefined new pathways to explore. Sequences of this new body of work ‘Honouring Sensibilities’, 2021 is featured in the images, others will be featured at the Art School in October. Stay tuned to find out about upcoming residencies and exhibitions!

‘Honouring Sensibilities’, 2021 – Variety of environment and scale allows us to witness the commonality of human experience and observe its resonance in the process of material behaviour.

You can see more of Ema and Jyoti’s work in the online 2020 MA Fine Art Graduate Showcase.

We are thrilled to announce that final year BA Fine Art student, Augusta Lardy, is one of the eight winners of the 2021 Freelands Painting Prize!  The Prize celebrates outstanding painting practice at undergraduate level and the eight winners were chosen following an open call to every higher education art department in the UK inviting them to propose a student working with painting for consideration. Congratulations Augusta!

The Freelands Painting Prize was launched in 2020, and the Art School’s Anna Woodward (BA Fine Art, 2020) was was one of the eight successful students selected to win the inaugural prize – we’re extremely proud of both Augusta and Anna.

The eight winners will participate in an exhibition at the Freelands Foundation gallery this Autumn and the exhibition will be accompanied by a publication featuring an essay by Jennifer Higgie.

Gabor, souvenir d’un songe

Describing her winning work, Augusta said: “On the long hours of a warm and confined summer day, in the chest of drawers, I discovered a drawing from a dream I had made about ten years ago. The meaning of this dream was long forgotten, and all that remained were compositional elements creating a powerful image. Gabor, souvenir d’un songe is a dreamscape that transcribes a drawing which lost its primary meaning, only to find a new essence in the act of painting. Ultimately, this painting is a playground for colour and translucency in oil paint, and inquires on how memory and dreams evolve as they accompany us through time.

You can see more of Augusta’s work on her Instagram account @augustalardy and you can experience them in person at the 2021 Degree Show, planned to be held in August this year at the Art School. Sign up to our mailing list to receive an invite.


Augusta at work in her Art School studio. Photo credit Nathan Davis

Clifford Owens’ work revolves around the fact that black people have been hugely underrepresented within the history of performance art. The MA Art & Material Histories invited Clifford to talk about his practice and how his work seeks to rewrite that history.

Clifford Owens is a trans-disciplinary visual artist working through photographs, performance art, works on paper, videos, installations, and texts. His work forges connections between the legacies of artists from the African diaspora and his own creative practice. For key projects, Owens has invited African American artists, and in turn British artists, to provide scores that he (re)performs within a gallery context. In this way, his work is akin to, but also significantly departs from curation in its collecting and presentation of past work via a live-embodied and documented experience.

One of the topic areas we have been scrutinising on the course is how the materiality of the exhibition space interacts with the exhibited work and to what effect. We’ve been looking at the ideas and ideologies behind the ‘white cube’ of the gallery, discussing institutional critique which considers the social and political context of the museum and gallery, examining the use of online exhibitions, how archival material is used in exhibitions and recent curatorial trends that have taken human interactions and their context, as the medium of exhibition.

Owen’s work has helped shape our thinking and enabled us to rethink ways in which the materials of exhibition can disguise as well as reveal the ideologies of the institution and the broader historical-political contexts that support it.

Owen’s art has appeared in many solo and group exhibitions, both in the US and internationally. His solo museum exhibitions include ‘Anthology’ at MoMA PS1, New York; ‘Better the Rebel You Know’ at Home in Manchester; and ‘Perspectives 173: Clifford Owens’ at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

All images courtesy of Clifford Owens.

This week, the MA Art & Material Histories course was lucky enough to host a talk by the electroacoustic musician and composer Erik Nyström. Nyström’s output includes live computer music, fixed-media acousmatic composition and sound installations.

Nyström’s recent piece ‘Intra-action’ takes its title from the new materialist Baradian concept that proposes that agency is not an inherent property of an individual, but a dynamism of forces in which all designated ‘things’ are constantly exchanging and diffracting, influencing and working inseparably. (Barad, 2007, p. 141)

Writing algorithms and employing artificial intelligences, Nyström’s complex compositions produce intricate textures that build into electroacoustic ecosystems that intra-act with the physical world. He describes his work as synthetic and acousmatic, where code-born sounds disturb and become distributed throughout actual space and experience.

Much of the new materialist and post-humanist thinking guiding Nyström’s work also directs the research outcomes of the MA Art & Material Histories course, and it was fascinating to discuss with Erik how acoustic and material aesthetics might converge and differ.

The Art & Material Histories course is multidisciplinary by nature, and a number of the MA Art & Material Histories students this year are exploring sound in different ways; Erik Nyström’s brilliant lecture will certainly help to shape their work and thinking.

Many thanks to Erik for an inspiring and educational introduction to your work and its theoretical territories.

Some of Nystrom’s recent international appearances include Ars Electronica Festival 2019 (Linz, Austria), NEXT Festival 2019 (Bratislava, Slovakia), Influx 2019 (Brussels, Belgium), BEAST FEaST 2019 (Birmingham, UK). During 2019 he participated in CECIA (Collaborative Electroacoustic Composition with Intelligent Agents), a collaborative AI-driven composition project hosted by ZKM (Karlsruhe, Germany). His music has been released by the Canadian label empreintes DIGITALes, and he has published articles in Organised Sound and EContact! and presented research at conferences such as International Computer Music Conference, New Instruments for Musical Expression and Beyond Humanism Conference. He is a Lecturer in Music at City, University of London.

Watch Nyström perform his work Intra-action here and listen to other examples of Nystrom’s work here.

See the 2014 collaboration between Erik Nystrom and the MA Art & Material Histories course leader Tom Groves here.


Over a series of hands-on workshops, some delivered online during Lockdown and more recently in the Art School’s Conservation studios, first year students on our BA (Hons) Conservation: Stone Wood & Decorative Surfaces course, have been learning the historic craft skills of gilding and verre églomisé.

Led by our expert Gilding Tutor, Rian Kanduth, students have been practising the complex processes involved in this popular decorative technique, learning the materials, tools and formulas used by makers throughout history.

Students were taught both water gilding and oil gilding techniques, as well as verre églomisé. Water gilding involves the use of gesso and bole to adhere the gold leaf to the surface of the object, whereas adhesive oil primers are used in the oil gilding process. Verre églomisé is the practice of etching onto gilt glass. These traditional processes have been used to augment frames, furniture, decorative objects and buildings for thousands of years and understanding the historic techniques and materials used is imperative for our future conservators.

First year Books & Paper students have recently completed a five-day box making workshop led by Books Conservation Tutor, Bridget Mitchell. 

Over the course of the five days, students learnt how to make different types of protective enclosures, or boxes, to support the conservation and preservation of historic manuscripts and books.

Students first learnt how to measure a book using a variety of equipment and techniques. This enabled them to go on and learn how to make a two piece, four-flap folder. This preservation enclosure forms the basic pattern for further, more complex enclosure designs.

During the workshop, students completed: a phase box with buttons and ties for the protection and constraint of volumes with parchment textblocks and covers; a pamphlet case, for the support of thin volumes that are required to be kept on the bookshelf individually; and a book shoe, an enclosure designed to prevent “textblock drag” in volumes stored upright on shelves in historic libraries.

The last three days of the week were spent learning to make a double wall construction, cloth covered, drop-spine box for the long-term protection of rare books and manuscripts – a complex box that provides the highest level of protection and support for historic volumes.

Bill Chalmers @bill_chalmers has just completed the first two modules on the Foundation Diploma during which students explore and test a range of disciplines and are supported to work towards specialising in their chosen direction. We asked him about the influences, ideas and process of his recent work.

What have you been working on recently?

Two of the most recent projects I’ve been working on are called ‘Misfits’ and ‘Tea Party’. They are going to be part of a series of three pieces of work that are based on childhood fantasies.

Tell us more about the ideas you explore in these pieces

I think that as a child you have an unfiltered outlook on life, which is particularly relevant to gender. It’s interesting how early we have the standards of gender imposed on us. It begins with colours (pink for a girl and blue for a boy) and then often propagated throughout our childhood by the toys we are given.

As I look back on my childhood, I seem to remember not feeling confined by gender restrictions. I would dance when I wanted to, to the music I wanted, wearing what I wanted. But when the teenage years hit, it was easier to conform in order to fit in with others.

In these pieces of work, I wanted to transport back to my childhood and claim a bit of that seven-year-old attitude. Each piece is based on something I used to do or play with as a child. And so, they each involve an element of participation from the audience because I want the people who look at it and interact with it to also have that reintroduction to childhood games but in a very different context.

What inspired your work ‘Misfits’?

‘Misfits’ is based on a card game, which has also taken the form of a book or more recently a digital game, in which you have a selection of characters each split up into hats, heads, torsos, legs. The aim of the game is to combine cards to create different characters. I was thinking about how some children would like to put all the cards together with their same character’s cards, while others would create mutant horrors, and I thought this might be quite an interesting experiment to run with an adult audience.

My version of the game is just shy of life-sized because I wanted the audience to feel like they are creating a real person when they are mixing the panels around – so when the panels are aligned the painting almost starts to breath.

What is the significance of the three characters you’ve focused on?

The three characters in my work represent the ideals of masculinity and femininity that I was surrounded by when I was young. I have represented a ‘power suit’, the armour of the ‘default man’ (as Grayson Perry would describe it). This is one of my father’s suits, the uniform he would put on for a corporate day out. To me as a child, this was both the representation of what a man should be but also where I thought I was inevitably going to end up.

On the other side is one of my mother’s dresses. To me this dress represented an aspect of women’s clothing that was ever out of reach, the area of the Venn diagram that doesn’t overlap. Although I didn’t necessarily wish I could wear  one, because they seem so impractical, dresses were just so much more fun and beautiful than anything I was allowed to wear.

And then finally, in the other option is where I find myself sitting most comfortably in the world of clothes.

I debated a lot over the decision to have just one head in the painting. I decided to go with one head rather than three so that I was showing one person who had three options and to also encourage the audience to swap the panels around. So ultimately this is a Bill-centred version of Misfits.

How did the game format of the piece affect the material process?

To make the Misfits game work, the seven canvases all needed to be quite specific sizes in relation to each other and I eventually had to get custom stretchers to make the canvases, which took about a month to arrive. But this splitting up of the canvases does make the painting easier to make in such a small space and easier to carry around as well.

I also added handles to each of the canvases (other than the head) so the audience would know intuitively that they were able to move the canvases without being told what to do. I’m interested to see how the audience interacts with the piece when it’s exhibited.

Can you describe the painting process you used on this piece?

I wanted the style of painting of the fabric clothes and the skin to be different, similar to a John Singer Sargent painting. I decided to paint the flesh tones in a number of glazes working up from a green underpainting. I chose this process because I wanted the figure in the painting to be reminiscent of renaissance figure painting which used the same technique. This was the first time I had attempted this process and it came with its challenges. Each glaze takes a day to dry so I had to have a routine of doing one glaze each morning and then moving on to different areas of the painting. However, I think this process actually sped up my painting process because each mark I was making wasn’t removing the one that was underneath but adding to it.

For the fabrics, which I wanted to have a more modern flattened feel, I painted them almost entirely in acrylic and only added a few blending finishing touches right at the end in oil. I find the quick drying nature of acrylic frustrating when trying to achieve smooth blends. So I approached acrylic like a relief woodblock print. I started by painting the entire area in the darkest tone of the darkest shadow and then gradually made the area I was painting smaller as I lightened the tone and increased the vibrancy of the colour. So the way I was painting was sort of like doing a relief woodblock print up with about 20 different layers. I admit this isn’t the most economical way of painting, but it worked for me and meant I was always able to have a template to work from for my next layer of paint.


Tell us about your second piece titled ‘Tea Party’

‘Tea Party’ is the second in the childhood fantasies project and is also a response to how I have been taking lockdown. I made this about three months into the current lockdown when I found myself really missing a night out and so I thought about what I would have done when I was a younger to remedy the situation. As a child I would have played pretend so I thought I would have a tea party but instead of a tea set I would use a fake set of alcoholic drinks.

I originally didn’t intend on making the tea set models myself, but it turns out you cannot buy children’s toys in the shape of alcoholic drinks, so I made the set from pieces of firewood using a laith. When I was younger, my Dad taught me how to use various woodworking tools and the laith was the one that I was drawn to the most. It only took one broken model for me to remember the best way to do it. After sanding the models, I finished them with the same oil that I use to thin my paint.

What were your main influences in this piece?

The outcome of this project was a film of me having a tea party with some teddies. I took inspiration from the 1972 living sculpture ‘Gordon’s Makes Us Drunk’ by Gilbert & George, which is an almost surreal film about the behaviour expected of us in social situations. I also wanted to use Van Gogh’s ‘The Potato Eaters’ as the reference point for the set that I made for this scene.

Foundation Tutor Gareth Brookes recommended some films to watch as research which helped with the style choices, but other than that I wanted to try and make this without any knowledge of how to make a film. I think there is a lot of value in naïve art making, as I have no fear of failure, and that is what I was trying to exploit when making this film.

I am really pleased with the general sense of insanity that comes across in this piece. I think the combination of the repetitive music and deadpan delivery gives anyone who watches the same sense of desperation I felt when filming it. I suppose this film blurs the lines between documentary and fiction. Like the whole of this series of work, it is meant to address a fairly serious experience but in a tongue-in-cheek way. It is meant to be slightly absurd but also scarily real, after all this was easily my best night out during the lockdown.

Will this work influence the direction of your practice?

Making this film has opened up a new direction for my art to go in and made me think about my choice of media more clearly. The final project in this series of three is going to be a sculptural interactive painting that links to both of these two projects. This will be my final project on the Foundation Diploma and should take the whole of this summer term.


Photos courtesy of Bill Chalmers @bill_chalmers

Tutor, Joel Hopkinson, has been supporting first year students on our BA (Hons) Conservation: Stone, Wood & Decorative Surfaces course, to learn the conventions and develop the skills involved in technical drawing.

The iterative process of drawing is the visual language of design, the realisation of mental drafting, outlining the intended constructive manifestation of ideas. Technical drawing constitutes the clear use of a vocabulary to communicate intention and ideas with legible precision.

This module aims to equip students with a fundamental conversancy with and grasp of, the rudiments and conventions of the field. Through the course of the module, students will develop ideas and learn how to convey them by producing a set of technical drawings made to depict an object of their choosing.

When they have completed their final drawings at the end of the module, they’ll discuss and evaluate their work as a group, taking out learning points as a conclusion to the course.


One of the modules studied by first year students on our BA (Hons) Conservation: Books & Paper course, looks at developing observational drawing skills and understanding the historic drawing processes involved in making medieval illuminated manuscripts, essential knowledge for the conservator’s tool kit.

Throughout the module, students were introduced to a range of drawing techniques by tutor Sarah Davis. The first seven sessions were held online with the students being led through the fundamentals of observational drawing. Starting with measuring techniques and moving on to light, shade and shadow.

As well as enhancing their observational skills they were able to really get a feel for the materials at work when an artist is drawing, which is invaluable for their work as conservators.

With the easing of restrictions, we were able to hold some of the sessions at the Art School. By this point we were focusing on manuscript drawing and the tools and techniques the Medieval miniaturist would have used to create an image.

From preparing Vellum for use, to creating underdrawings and inking over, the students were able to peel back layers of history to better understand the complicated process involved.




In this joinery workshop, part of the Historic Crafts module, first year students on the BA (Hons) Conservation: Stone, Wood & Decorative Surfaces course investigated four joints which have been widely used by joiners and cabinet makers for centuries. The mortice and tenon being probably the oldest and most widely used, followed by dovetails, bridle joint and mitred half lap.

Tutor Peter Bennett took the students through some chisel sharpening techniques and demonstrated basic sawing techniques. The students then went on to produce a frame from softwood with each of these different  joints at each corner.

Understanding these historic craft skills will be crucial to the future conservators when treating wooden frames and many types of furniture.

The Fine Art Professional Practice Programme sets out to prepare students for life after art school through a range of study visits, seminars and artist talks by art-world professionals, as well as competitions and off-site exhibitions.  As part of the programme, we invited a selection of artists to talk to our BA and MA Fine Art students about their work, insights into their professional experiences, and current directions.

For students, the artist talks are a fundamental part of making the apparent impossibility of being a working artist a reality. They expose them to the hard work and dedication it takes to make it happen but also to the knowledge that there are myriad definitions of the word ‘artist’ and that it is certainly possible to find a place for your work out there. The more practical and vocational components of the talks,  in which artists reveal what they need to do to supplement their art practice, are such a necessary conversation which you wouldn’t hear in the more glamorous context of a podcast or gallery talk.

The first artist talk of the Spring Term was delivered by MA Fine Art alumnus, Hugo Wilson, who detailed his recent work for his solo show, ‘Havoc’, at Parafin. Hugo has exhibited in solo shows internationally and his work is included in private and public collections around the world. His multi-disciplinary practice includes painting, sculpture, ceramics and printmaking.

‘Havoc’ features large-scale, charcoal on paper works, as well as bronzes and sculptural pieces in glazed terracotta. His work juxtaposes motifs from art history with contemporary cultural images, and explores how belief systems are defined in culture over time.

Following Hugo’s illuminating talk, we were delighted to welcome BA Fine Art alumni Rose Schmits, Thomas Elliott and Tuesday Riddell, who each described their journey since graduating from the Art School and what they are currently doing.

Rose Schmits’ (BA Fine Art 2019) practice is inspired by the traditional delftware from the city of Delft, Netherlands, where she was born, and explores transgender identity. For Rose, the process of making ceramic artworks reflects the trans experience of the mutability of the body.


As well as a practising artist, Rose is a kiln technician at Studio Pottery London, and is currently the Kiln Girl on the Channel 4 TV show, The Great Pottery Throw Down.

Graduating from BA Fine Art in 2015, Thomas Elliott’s mainly figurative practice is currently centred around the world of sci-fi and fantasy, and he’s the in-house illustrator for Games Workshop. Thomas specialised in painting during his degree and says that one of the main skills he learnt on the course was the ability to recognise where his interests lay and then continue to explore and challenge his practice.

Following graduation, Tuesday Riddell (BA Fine Art 2015), was awarded the Painters-Stainers Decorative Surfaces Fellowship at the Art School, where she had the opportunity to explore a variety of decorative techniques and crafts, including japanning, a form of lacquering used in Europe since the 17th century, which has become the main focus of her practice.  Through her luscious and intriguing artworks, Tuesday explores our attitudes to nature and artifice, contrasting beauty with decay.

Tuesday has exhibited internationally with Messums, in addition to group and solo shows around the UK.

In the third of our artist talks, Flora Yukhnovich (MA Fine Art 2018) described the development of her practice through the MA course, and her journey since graduation. Flora’s paintings adopt the language of Rococo, seen through a filter of contemporary cultural references.  She describes her work as hovering somewhere between figuration and abstraction, leaving the viewer to read the work as they will, resulting in a myriad interpretations of meaning.

After graduating from our MA Fine Art course, Flora was awarded the Artists Collecting Society, City & Guilds of London Art School Studio Award which supported a studio and mentorship for a year. This was followed by a residency at Palazzo Monti in Italy with @thegreatwomenartists, and she has since been represented by Parafin and the Victoria Miro Gallery, with a string of solo shows.

On 22 February, Bloomberg New Contemporaries Chair, Sacha Craddock, and Séamus McCormack, Programme Curator, gave a passionate talk about the renowned competition which showcases the work of recent art school graduates from around the UK. They took students on a behind-the-scenes tour of the history of the competition, the selection process, and their responses to Lockdown.

Students also heard from artist Karen David who discussed her research, multi-disciplinary studio practice, curation and writing, touching on invented communes, science fiction, mythologies and academic communities.

Karen David, ‘This Is Not Happening, Luminous Lemon (Highest Intellect) TF22901’, I litre tin of wall paint, glow in the dark stars, carborundum, crystal, Edition of 50, 2018

And just this week, we’ve been lucky enough to welcome back Jessie Makinson, Art School Artist in Residence 2017, during her show at François Ghebaly, LA.  Jessie’s practice focuses on multi-figure paintings of women referencing the representation of women in art history and celebrity pop culture. During her talk she described her studio practice and expanded on the themes and inspiration for her complicated and ambitious paintings.

Upcoming artist talks in the Professional Practice Programme include Lucy Williams, who works with mixed media bas-reliefs that depict deserted scenes of Modernist architecture, and Paolo Arao, US-based artist whose geometric sewn paintings and textile constructions disrupt perceived symmetries and challenge the viewer’s expectations about the presentation of queerness.

Fine Art Tutor, Reece Jones, who oversees this part of the Professional Practice Programme, explained the importance of giving students a platform from which to be exposed to a selection of professional artists, each with their own unique practice and experience: “I think the most nourishing and intense input an artist can receive is through listening to another artist talk with passion and depth about their practice. Even when the artist in question is making things with which a particular student doesn’t directly identify, the importance of hearing different voices on a wide variety of challenges and interests is second to nothing. It’s genuinely empowering to see individual practitioners land their ideas and inspiring to see how they go about it.”

Students and tutors alike have been incredibly impressed with the generous insights the artists and art professionals have shared with us throughout the Professional Practice Programme and we’re immensely grateful for their time and support. We’re very much looking forward to talking to Lucy and Paolo over the coming weeks, and learning from their fantastic work.

Reece Jones again: “We are very lucky that the guest artists this term (alumni and visitors alike) have each brought real honesty and insight to their presentations. We’ve seen gleefully geeky deep dives into what inspires people and heard about moments of success and moments of frustration. The question and answer sessions afterwards have proven really illuminating too. It’s fascinating what conversations can open up when someone spends the time describing what motivates them. I’m always so impressed and thankful that busy artists (all of whom are in the midst of working on huge projects) deliver informed, candid and passionate talks and seem to really enjoy the interaction with the Art School cohort.”

The Art & Materials Histories course was delighted to welcome Dorothy Cross yesterday, for an intimate look at her work and discussion about its material and conceptual contexts.

For the last 30 years, Dorothy has been a driving force in shaping the identity of Irish visual art and her work is regularly shown internationally.

Dorothy’s fascination and love of rare materials and their multi-layered meanings is clearly evident in her incredible range of work and how she describes it. From gilded shark skins to pearled finger bones to precision carved Carrera marble, Dorothy’s work criss-crosses the contested territories of the interior and exterior sublime.

Dorothy’s generosity and kindness shone a much-appreciated ray of light into our week. Inspiring, educational and hugely entertaining, we thank her for her fabulous lecture and look forward to welcoming her back to the Art School very soon.

Images courtesy of Dorothy Cross.

What do Indian Yellow, Bohemian Terre Verte and Dragon’s Blood all have in common? Although they sound like they could be ingredients used by one of J K Rowling’s characters, they are in fact all historic pigments recently uncovered by MA Art & Material Histories student Sabine Pinon, in the expansive archive of L.Cornelissen & Son, the celebrated art materials emporium on Great Russell Street near The British Museum. As part of her research on the MA in Art & Material Histories, Sabine has been assisting with an audit of the shop’s archives, which has been accumulating in their storage facility for over 100 years.

Sabine Pinon is passionate about art materials, and in particular pigment, having spent a large part of her working life surrounded by them in the art supply centres she owns in Australia. What started out as inquisitiveness about the materials she was selling to her customers, developed into years of research into art’s materials, their origins and their use.

Sabine’s fascinating blog documenting her research, In Bed with Mona Lisa, is an ever expanding “resource centre” about the materials and tools used by artists today. From charcoal to oil sticks, from gouache to acrylic and vinyl paints, and from coloured pencils to brushes, Sabine has explored it.  As well as spending a lot of time reading about materials, her research has taken her around the world visiting and interviewing artisan manufacturers, shedding light on the often traditional production processes involved.

A large portion of her research concerns pigment and she has written extensively on the subject. In fact, she is in the process of writing a comprehensive book based on her research ‘Hues in Tubes and How They Made a Name for Themselves’. Her work examines the different types of pigment (organic or inorganic, historic or modern), their sources, their use, their history and their future. Part of her research on the MA in Art & Material Histories involves analysing the structure and shape of pigment particles under the microscope and exploring how the tiniest of changes in the shape of the particle affects the hue that we see. With the support of Dr Tracey Chaplin, Conservation Tutor at the Art School and expert in microscopy and technical examination, Sabine is recording and charting the precise molecular shape of up to 100 historic pigments.

Sabine started working with Cornelissen after contacting Lucy Mayes, founder of London Pigment, as part of her Masters research. An artist and pigment-maker, Lucy also works at Cornelissen and invited Sabine to assist in an exploration of the dusty archive which holds some fascinating historical pieces. Whilst cataloguing the archive’s contents, Sabine unearthed pigments she hadn’t come across before – some rare and valuable:  two balls of Indian Yellow, a pigment supposedly made from the urine of cows or yaks force-fed mango leaves, that hasn’t been produced since 1904; Frankfurt Black, made from roasted wood, vine, or vegetable matter; French Vermillion, originally made from the powdered mineral cinnabar.

And it’s not just jars of pigment Sabine is uncovering. Cornelissen sources, processes and packs more than 100 pigments, as well as other art materials, from all over the world, and Sabine came across a copy of a letter that gives a fascinating insight into how they source Isinglass, a fish-based glue used since medieval times with pigment and gold leaf. The letter, sent to a caviar farm in Kyzylbalyk, Kazakhastan, asked if they may be able to provide the gelatine from the inner membrane of the Sturgeon’s air bladder in order to make this specialist adhesive.

Describing the MA in Art & Material Histories and how the course is challenging her research practice, Sabine said:  “I love we have input from so many angles and get to discuss and think about our materials in so many different contexts: historical, philosophical, curatorial, personal, with practising artists, and of course, with hands-on elements. This is an incredibly nourishing experience opening new vistas onto even sometimes well-known fields… exciting!”

Sabine is planning to return to the audit of Cornelissen’s archive after the current Lockdown restrictions are lifted, resume microscopy research into the particles of historic pigments and interview pigment specialists including Onya MaCausland and Keith Edwards. She will also be working towards a presentation of her research at the Art School Show.


In response to the lockdown measures in place since Christmas, the Foundation teaching team have developed ways to support students online during the Developing Specialist Practice module of the Diploma. Online tutorials, one-to-ones and group discussions are taking place and students are progressing their individual work with their tutors. In addition, students have been given a series of one-day Lockdown Projects, specifically designed around the current restricted circumstances, to challenge and inspire students. Space Invader was the first Lockdown Project to be completed.

The Space Invader Lockdown Project is designed to introduce a range of possibilities in the making and purposes of drawing, exploring drawing as a process, and looking and thinking about what drawing can be. The project encourages students to consider ways of thinking about the abdication of control and how this process relates to drawing, and it gives them experience with various unconventional tools and procedures used for making drawings. The project also promotes independent learning and problem-solving within the context of specialist practice.

The project brief was to examine space as a subject to map, in particular the space they currently live in. They were asked to respond to the space by mapping and exploring the architecture and objects in it, and thinking about how they use the space, how they move around it and its sounds.

The Lockdown Projects are divided into two sections, with preparatory work carried out in the morning and the main task completed by the end of the afternoon. For the Space Invader project, morning tasks included drawing a floor plan, drawing your heart beat and drawing the sounds that can be heard from where they are sitting. The main task was to produce a small installation mapping their space and interpreting their environment, using simple materials and equipment such as pencils, marker pens, adhesive tape and string.

Inspiration is provided by studying the work of a long list of artists including Katie Holland Lewis, John Cage, Gabriel Orozco, Pierre Bismuth, who have all developed their own responses to mapping spaces.

As well as working towards the final outcome, students are asked to document their studio work development including ideas, plans, influences, processes and techniques.

The students’ responses to the brief include models, painting, installation, video, drawing and sculpture. Here is a selection of their work.





  1. Abstract Painting Map of Room, Isabella Abbott
  2. Installation, Ava Silvey
  3. Sounds of Bin Men, Bird Calls and Cars, Malaya Loney
  4. Heat Map of my Room, Gabrielle Zemsky
  5. Mapping Out Light POV My Chair, Sophia Kenna
  6. Model of Map of Study, Katherine Tomiak
  7. Everything I Touched in a Day of Quarantine Mapped, Maddie Halil
  8. Caterpillar Map, Zoe Irons
  9. Trainer Deconstructed, Jack Bell

‘Journey of the Magi to Bethlehem’ by Benozzo Grozzoli, modelled by Historic Carving 2nd year students Morgan Edwards, Ewan Craig, Roya Bahram, Imogen Long, Emma Sheridan and Steffan Lomax.

During the Spring Term, students in the second year of both the stone and wood BA Historic Carving courses, have been working on a collaborative transcription relief project based on ‘Journey of the Magi to Bethlehem’ by Benozzo Grozzoli and ‘Peasant Wedding’ by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

A particularly ambitious project, each student was given one section of the paintings to transcribe into relief in clay. The measurements and proportions of each section had to be completely exact so they could sit together to form the full image – quite a feat considering the students were all working from home and studying online due to Lockdown #3.

‘Peasant Wedding’ by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, modelled by Historic Carving 2nd year students Arielle Francis, Daniel Ponde and Emma Sheridan.

The fact that the students had to transcribe the complex pieces into relief form from a two-dimensional image, rather than a pre-existing relief, made the brief all the more challenging. As well as transcribing the paintings, students were asked to thoroughly research the period and style of the works.

Section of Bruegel’s painting next to Daniel Ponde’s transcription

Supported by Sculpture, Modelling and Casting Tutor, Kim Amis, students had 12 days to model their relief in clay. The process includes carefully making an appropriate wood and wire structure, adding the clay base, transferring the image onto the clay using a pro needle to outline the main shapes, and then developing and modelling the image, planning and sculpting the appropriate depth levels.

Emma Sheridan’s section of ‘Peasant Wedding’ in development

As the project concluded, photographs of each section were positioned together to form a transcription of both the full paintings, with rather impressive results!

Modelling in clay is a key part of the historic processes of carving a relief in either stone or wood – a technique that was used by ancient civilisations and is still prevalent today.

Detail from Daniel Ponde’s relief


We last reported on the activities of students in the first year of BA (Hons) Historic Carving: Woodcarving & Gilding before the Christmas break. Due to Lockdown #3 that started after Christmas, the Art School’s facilities have been closed and students have been studying online from home through one-to-ones, tutorials, workshops and lectures.

During the first two weeks of Spring Term, first year Historic Carving students, specialising in both stone carving and woodcarving, focused on developing their drawing skills, and in particular learning how to accurately draw the head by transcribing historic drawings and portrait busts. They were supported on this project by Drawing Studio Manager Diane Magee and Stone Carving Tutor Tom Merrett. We’ve been following the progress of student Paul Flanagan who has been recording his work on his Instagram account @paulflanaganartist. To see previous posts about Paul’s work, click here.

The students’ first task is to carefully set up their home studios with their drawing boards and the copy of the historic drawing they are following, positioned at the correct height and angle to ensure the head can be drawn with complete accuracy. The historic drawings they are copying are by Tintoretto, the Renaissance painter, and the students choose two drawings that depict the head at different angles.


Firstly they make preparatory drawings to get a feel for the images they are going to study. This stage of the drawing process helps students observe their subject in detail, gaining an understanding of the axis and orientation of the head, the major planes, proportions and gesture.  Paul completes one of his preparatory drawings and starts the next transcription, which poses new challenges.

This drawing is trickier. Paul comments that “the axis, angle, direction and weight of the head is very difficult to capture.” 

The next part of the project is to make a transcription of a portrait bust. For this exercise, the students are using single portrait busts that are on display at the V&A. During normal times, students on our Historic Carving courses would be using the Art School’s impressive collection of plaster casts of famous sculpture and carving for this sort of transcription work in their studios. Our precious cast collection has been a crucial resource for students for many years and we are always striving to increase it. In recent years, our collection was boosted with casts acquired from the British Museum, which has ensured that new material has been available for our students to use. These two disgruntled chaps are recent additions to our collection.

Again, the students make preparatory drawings of the portrait bust, examining the bust from different angles to build a complete understanding of this 3D sculpture.

Once they’ve chosen an angle to concentrate on, the students start their sustained drawings. They have to consider the scale of their drawings, the position of the drawing on the paper, the alignment of the features to the axes of the head. They gradually build their drawings through observation and constructive drawing methods, making adjustments as they go.

Paul’s drawing isn’t quite complete but it’s a great transcription of the bust at quite a challenging angle.

The next project the Woodcarving students are working on is lettering – we’ll report on their progress on that piece soon…


Photos courtesy of Paul Flanagan



Whilst the Art School’s facilities are closed due to coronavirus restrictions, we are delivering high quality teaching online, through workshops, 1-to-1s, tutorials and lectures. In a recent set of online Leather and Parchment workshops, part of the Historic Craft module of our BA (Hons) Conservation: Books & Paper, students learnt and carried out the process of making leather and parchment from fish skins.

Studying from home, the students each prepared their fish skins with the support of Book Conservation Tutor Abigail Bainbridge, who demonstrated each of the processes – de-fleshing the skin, de-scaling and de-greasing it, and preparing a tannin solution which is added to during the week.

Abigail recommended using salmon or rainbow trout skins, but the students could experiment with skins from different fish if they wish. To prepare the skins the only tools the students needed were a blunt knife and a chopping board, so easy to find at home. Black or green tea is used to make the tannin, starting off with 3 tea bags and adding more each day to increase the amount of tannin in the water.

De-scaling the fish skin

Massaging the fish skin in soapy water to remove the grease

Once the fish skin had the flesh, scales and grease removed, the students soaked them in the tannin solution. After a day or two, the tannin will soak into the skin and at this point, more tea bags are added. The way to check if more tea bags need to be added is to taste the skin and tea mixture! If it no longer has an astringent taste that tea usually has, it needs more tea bags.

Fish skin after a few days in the tannin solution

Abigail demonstrated how to make parchment by stretching and pinning the treated fish skin on a board and allowing it to dry.

As well as making the fish skin leather and parchment, the students learnt about historic methods to make the material using mammalian skin and looked at their working properties, and how to identify species.

In the second Leather and Parchment workshop, the students massaged coconut or olive oil into their fish skins that have been steeping in the tannin solution during the week, in order to turn it into a flexible, workable leather that can be used to bind books.

To test the leather’s strength, Abigail demonstrated measuring the skin’s shrinkage temperature in a flask of heated water.

Measuring the shrinkage temperature of the skins

Jesse Meyer, a tanner based in the United States, joined the online session and gave the students a tour of his tannery where he works with mammalian hide including goat, cow and sheep from sustainable farms, and described the largely traditional tanning process he undertakes.

Stretching a skin at the Pergamena Tannery

Fish skin leather made by student Tanya Alfille

This week, the MA in Art & Material Histories Course invited Professor Roger Kneebone, the Art School’s first Honorary Fellow, to give a lecture to students from across the whole Art School about the ideas in his new book Expert – Understanding the Path to Mastery, published by Penguin, 2019.

Roger directs the Engagement and Simulation Science course at Imperial College London where he leads a multidisciplinary research team whose aim is to advance human health through medical simulation, collaborating closely with clinicians, scientists, patients, the public and a range of experts in different fields.

For the last 20 years, Roger has been researching what it means to be an expert, not only within medicine and surgery, but any given field. Roger has worked with taxidermists, tailors, puppeteers, racing drivers, artists, magicians, and also several of the Art School’s staff, Master Stone Carvers Paul Jakeman and Nina Bilbey, and Fine Art alumnus Harrison Pearce to develop a fascinating line of enquiry around the mastery of craft and the journey through apprenticeship towards become expert.

Expert taxidermist, Derek Frampton – one of the Experts studied by Professor Kneebone


A workshop bringing experts from different disciplines together, including the Art School’s Senior Stone Carving Tutor Nina Bilbey (R)

In his talk Roger shared his thoughts about further developing his relationship with the Art School:

“I very much hope that I will be able to spend more time in the Art School soon because whenever I come to see what’s going on, I’m astonished by the extraordinary level of not only skill, but of thoughtfulness, creativity and wisdom. The Art School is a shining beacon where everybody understands the critical importance of everything I’ve been talking about today”.

‘Stones and bones’ – the Art School’s Stone Carving Tutor Paul Jakeman (L) compares notes with Orthopaedic  Surgeon, Malik Rasi (R)

We are incredibly grateful to Roger for his brilliant lecture, and we are very much looking forward to welcoming him back into the school when the buildings re-open. His talk was rich and informative, highly entertaining and hugely inspiring and set in motion a series of discussions that will continue long into the academic year.


On Monday 18 January, Tom Groves, the Art School’s Head of Art Histories and Course Leader of the MA Art & Material Histories, adjudicated a London and South East Regional Heat of the ARTiculation Prize 2021.

ARTiculation is a national public speaking competition which promotes and supports young people to view, think and speak about art, and this year is taking place online for the first time. During the regional heat, hosted by Dulwich Picture Gallery, five pupils from different schools in the region, gave 10-minute presentations on a work of art, architecture or an artefact of their choice.

Following each presentation, Tom was required to ask one question to each student about their interest and, after giving positive critical feedback about each speaker, he announced which two students would go forward to the London Final. At the London Final, one student will be selected to attend the Grand Final, due to take place at the National Gallery on 18 March.

Tom commented: “It was an absolute pleasure to adjudicate one of the ARTiculation regional heats this year. Every one of the presentations I saw was academically outstanding, but they were also nuanced, sensitive and thoughtful in the ways they approached their artworks and found meaning within them. It was also extremely encouraging to see such young people engaging so seriously with art and its socio-political contexts. The ARTiculation Prize platforms and celebrates the very best of our young academic talent.”

ARTiculation is the Roche Court Educational Trust’s internationally acclaimed initiative which champions pupils, aged 16 – 19, regardless of background and experience, enabling them to develop their confidence and ability to express their opinions, thoughts and reactions to the visual world.


Students studying the MA in Art & Material Histories spend around 50% of their time in the studio and workshops, experimenting with materials and creating works that explore their potential for meaning making.

The other 50% of their time is spent researching, in lectures, seminars, tutorials and writing essays and presentations. For these elements of the course our academic tutors provide expert advice and lots of support to ensure all our students meet and often exceed their expectations.

But we are also lucky enough to have the ongoing support of the Royal Literary Fund fellowship scheme, and this year we are delighted to be working with acclaimed and widely published non-fiction writer and poet Kathryn Maris.

Kathryn’s role at the Art School is to work one-to-one with all our students, using her skills and expertise in language and communication to enable them to develop their writing skills. This year Kathryn has worked closely with a number of students on the MA in Art & Material Histories helping them to discover their literary voice and enhance the quality and creative impact of their writing.

Just one term into her fellowship, Kathryn has said how welcome she feels at the Art School and how everyone she has met has been so kind and friendly.

“I have taught across age groups, including universities, for 27 years, but I have rarely felt such an affinity with students. I find their essays fascinating and really care about the subject matter because I have a profound interest in visual art. But there is also something about the culture at City & Guilds of London Art School which I respond to. The students I’ve met have spark, creativity and intelligence, and I have enjoyed working with them all.”


Photo credit: Conor Greenan.

One of the obvious USPs of the MA in Art & Material Histories is the outstanding quality and unparalleled quantity of its teaching. From the start of the course in September, right through to the summer break, students are taught by experienced, engaging academics and artists who explore a wide range of historical and contemporary approaches to thinking about art’s use of materials and our relationship with the material world.

For many students, one of the most exciting elements of the course is taught by Dr Rebecca Sykes who leads a series of all-day lectures and seminars under the title ‘Contemporary Matters’. Through the discussion and analysis of key artworks, Rebecca’s sessions explore how interrogating art’s materials can disrupt the accepted narratives of the history of art and put art in dialogue with other practices and disciples.

Full-time MA student Matilda Sample comments on Rebecca’s sessions: “Learning about materials through the Contemporary Matters lectures was a great start to the course. We discussed the digital and concrete, wax and hair, a variety of materials that brought with them a multiplicity of meanings. It introduced us to the prominence of individual materials within modern and contemporary art, encouraging us to critically engage with materials politically, socially, historically, and culturally, all starting with the question ‘what material is this piece made from?’. Becky’s one-to-one tutorials gave me the confidence to position my own research within the broad spectrum of interpretations and approaches that material histories can include.”

Rebecca Sykes recently completed her doctoral thesis on the artist Andrea Fraser at Birkbeck College. Her research is concerned with the aesthetic and ethico-political registers of institutional critique (with a special emphasis on art discourse); she has a developing research interest in ‘post-critical’ writing methodologies, was winner of the Art & Culture Art Criticism Prize Volume VIII and her writing has appeared in The Burlington Magazine, Photomonitor, and The Arts Desk. Between 2015 and 2017, she was General Editor of Dandelion Journal.


Photograph taken October 2019

The first term of the MA in Art & Material Histories course asks students to investigate the range of contexts that inform our understanding of art’s materials. Lectures and seminars introduce examples of how we might think about materials through an art historical, socio-political, or philosophical lens, whilst one-to-one tutorials and independent research enables our students to critically reflect on their own relationship to particular materials and how the global events of this year have forced us to rethink how we live our lives.

This week, our full time students gave their first assessed presentation, each speaking for 10 minutes on a material or material process of their choice.

Annabelle taught us all about RUST and invited us to consider how we might consider ourselves as corroding and corrosive material things.

Sabine focussed on OCHRE and through the literary device of a love letter, let us into the colourful vicissitudes of her attachments to raw pigments.

Maddie demonstrated how CARDBOARD has become THE material of our age; no longer the ugly twin of paper, cardboard today embodying both the promise and fallout of consumer culture.

Through a particularly powerful performative presentation, Oscar spoke about the illusionary qualities of GLASS; asking us to look AT glass rather than just through it, he reflected on how glass’ apparent transparency lends it to both the creation of beautiful things but also the abuses of State power.

Matilda cut through our preconceived ideas about spilt human blood and the extent to which we ‘naturally’ associate it with danger. Engaging with the work of Julia Kristeva, Elizabeth Grosz and Jean-Luc Nancy, Matilda showed us how the most foreign of foreigners and strangest of strangers might just be pulsing through our veins.

Fascinating, critically underpinned and immensely creative, the students’ presentations marked the end of a hugely successful first term and revealed just how much they have already learnt.

Annabelle Mödlinger joined the course this year after completing a BA (Hons) in Fine Art at Wimbledon UAL.

Her current practice can be described as an investigation into the actual and metaphorical slippages between material processes and lived experience. She asks if it might be possible to think of ourselves as ‘things’ subject to the material processes common to all living and non-living entities.

Recently her research has been focussed around the theme of corrosion and considers if it is possible to think about the corrosion of the self as a kind of ‘rust’, and if so whether our psychic defences can be likened to the destructive yet beautiful patina we find on metal surfaces?

Speaking about the Art & Material Histories MA Annabelle says that “the course has given her time to really think about the things she is interested in as well as creating a platform from which to articulate those things.” She describes her research as a kind of ‘digging’, and the work she does in the studio as a genuine ‘exploration’ of new territory.

Look out for more of Annabelle’s work in the Art & Material Histories MA interim show later in 2021.

New to the Art & Material Histories teaching team this year is Jaimini Patel. Jaimini is an artist and academic whose work explores the agency of matter through a “negotiation of boundaries, systems and performative actions”.

In a recent talk at the Art School, Jaimini introduced us to the kinds of questions that guide her work; ‘How does the time that it takes for bees to make beeswax correlate to the time it takes for a candle to burn? How is the size and shape of a pistachio determined by the range of circumstances that enable its shell to grow and thus how does it represent a measurement of different conceptions of time, which hover outside our comprehension?’.

As well as lecturing, Jaimini spends time talking with our MA A&MH students about their work and ideas. Full-time MA student Maddie Rose Hills tells us that her “tutorial with Jaimini was so, so interesting! She helped me think about presenting my work in a completely new way, working with the characteristics of the exhibition space itself. She also shared great artist recommendations who became a big part of my research.”

For more information about Jaimini’s work see

Roberta De Caro is in her second year as a part time MA Art & Material Histories student. Her current project focuses on parsley, not as an ordinary garnish, but as the little known, but widely practiced abortifacient that produces a tragically high mortality rate.

Revisiting the historical cultural significance of parsley and its symbolic status today as a symbol of abortion rights, Roberta’s timely research focuses on trauma by considering the embodiment of personal and cultural histories in a material and its processes.

Tracing the roots of transgenerational trauma in her own family, Roberta’s research project entitled ‘System Failure’ reveals some of the darker material narratives of our everyday lives.

The Art & Material Histories course was delighted to host Melanie Jackson this week. Melanie spoke about her incredible work, co-authored with Esther Leslie, ‘Deeper in the Pyramid’, a work that sets the standard for the kind of expansive contextual material analyses our students engage in.

We were also incredibly excited to hear about Mel’s recent work, ‘Spekyng Rybawdy’ which is presented at @mattsgallerylondon for a limited time and a book, commissioned by @procreateproject and supported by @aceagrams.


Her wild, animated drawings of carved and cast ‘medieval obscenities’ known as the ‘bawdy badges’, are as radically transgressive today as they were in the time they were made. As well as speaking about the aims and materials within the work, Melanie also gave us an invaluable insight into her conceptual processes describing the accumulation of ideas as akin to the rolling of a giant snow ball.

A huge thank you to Melanie Jackson for her time, generosity and incredibly inspiring talk.


The Foundation Diploma Art & Design is a diagnostic year of experimentation during which students are encouraged to test different materials and processes to find a creative discipline they want to explore further in Higher Education and in their practice. 2020/21 Foundation student Lorelei Bere, has recently completed a piece called ‘Reclaimed Wood’, which is a great example of experimentation, reflection and creative problem solving to find a workable and effective solution.

Most techniques and tools involved in completing this complex project were completely new to Lorelei, and she was supported at every step by the Art School’s specialist workshops and the Technicians that manage them: Foundation Technician, Emma Simpson; Wood Workshop Technician, David MacDiarmid; Glass Workshop Technician, Anne Petters.

Lorelei recorded the making process of ‘Reclaimed Wood’ through a series of photographs, and has kindly given us permission to share them in this blog, describing how she transformed a discarded, rotten sash window into a beautiful artwork. See more of Lorelei’s work: @loreleibere


‘Reclaimed Wood’ explores our love and appreciation of trees and their materials. The piece comprises an original Georgian sash window, found on the street, which Lorelei refurbished and fitted with new glass panes that she etched and sandblasted with three images of a worm’s eye view of trees.

Lorelei says, “‘Reclaimed Wood’ is an ode to trees in which I considered both our dependency on them for all we need – shelter, food and oxygen – as well as the fact that they will always outlast us and have seen it all. It also points to the fact that our appreciation for nature has ironically grown since we have all been forced to sit inside for almost a year and observe it through our windows.”

Lorelei’s work was inspired by walking through her local parks and woodland during Lockdown where she captured the beauty of the trees in a series of photography. When she found the discarded wood-framed window, it seemed the ideal medium for her piece. “I have really appreciated the time to stop and appreciate nature even more so than usual, and have recognised that to be a commonly held feeling. I also knew I wanted to make the most of the Art School’s workshops – especially the glass workshop, which I had been excited by when I went on a tour of the facilities – and so when I found an old Georgian sash window on the street, the two thoughts married together quite naturally.”


Having found the discarded Georgian window frame, Lorelei printed her tree photographs onto acetate and experimented with different compositions to find the effect she wanted to achieve.

Once she had decided which images to use, her next task was to carefully remove the glass panes so she could etch the images onto them. During this delicate process the glass became compromised and replacement glass needed to be cut to size – so the original panes had to be taken out to make way for the new.

When the glass was fully and safely removed, Lorelei was supported in sanding the wooden frames using a large electric sander and then a small Dremel sander for the detail work.

The next challenge arose when the new glass panels Lorelei had cut were too small for the frames. With the support of the David MacDiarmid in the Wood Workshop, she decided to reduce the size of the frame so it would house the panels securely.

To engrave her tree images into the new glass panels, Lorelei sandblasted the back of the panels, creating the effect of depth in the trunks of the trees. Using a Dremel mini drill with a pointed tip, she etched into the front of the glass to make the detail in the leaves.


Once the main panels were etched, Lorelei created glass borders for them. She cut the glass to size and sandblasted alternating pieces so they were frosted. To attach the borders to the central panes of glass, she attached copper tape to the edges on both sides of the panes, and soldered them together. Finally she polished the copper with tiny clumps of wire wool.

Because of the deteriorated state of the Georgian frame, Lorelei had to fix the rotten wood to make it sturdy enough to hold the new panes, and she wanted to achieve this without adding any synthetic materials. She explained, “I wanted the rot to be part of the aesthetic, symbolising the natural, aging elements of the piece, so I didn’t fill it up with two-part filler or putty and instead had to very carefully fit the panes of glass using just the wood, a couple of nails and a framing tool!”

And ‘Reclaimed Wood’ was finished! The ephemeral beauty of the etched glass contrasts with the natural, eroded state of the original wooden frames, both elements reflecting the artist’s appreciation of the significance and importance of trees – the materials they give us, their majestic aesthetic and their centrality in the natural world.

Commenting on the steep learning curve she followed whilst making this piece, Lorelei noted, ” …there are certainly elements from this project that I have rolled into my current one, such as the focus on light. I have also learnt so much about using myriad tools and techniques that I will definitely take with me throughout my future art career!”

Photos courtesy of Lorelei Bere @Loreleibere

It’s the last two weeks of term at the Art School and this is the final instalment for a while, of our student woodcarver’s diary, as we report on the progress of Woodcarving & Gilding student, Paul Flanagan @paulflanaganartist.

You can read our earlier posts on the Historic Carving Blog.

Weeks 10 & 11

The Modelling and Casting Unit with tutor Kim Amis continues as the students work on their bas relief models. Paul adds the finishing touches to his model. The next steps are allowing the clay relief carving to dry and then fire it in the kiln.



The second half of the week sees the students revisit their gothic leaf carving with tutor Tom Ball on the Woodcarving Unit of the course. The students started carving a gothic leaf motif earlier in the term and then moved on to an introduction to lettering. So it’s been a few weeks since they worked on these pieces.

In his Instagram post, Paul says, “Working on the bottom round ‘bulb’ part. There is actually quite a lot of detail, it’s just hard to see as it’s so shallow. Still a lot of cleaning up to do but I’m not far off.


As well as working on their carving projects, the students have their end of term review with their tutors to evaluate their progress during the first term on the course, and set development targets. Paul’s chuffed that he got a mince pie during his review – let’s hope this is a good sign!

As the Autumn Term closes on the first year of the BA (Hons) Historic Carving: Woodcarving & Gilding, it’s incredible to see the skills the students have already developed in this short time. The breadth of knowledge and techniques they’ve been introduced to is just the start of their journey to become highly-skilled carvers.

We hope everyone in the Historic Carving Department enjoys their well-earned break and look forward to seeing what challenges lay ahead for the student carvers in 2021.

Photos courtesy of Paul Flanagan.

Welcome to weeks 8 & 9 of our student woodcarver’s diary as we chart the progress of student, Paul Flanagan @paulflanaganartist . You can catch up on Paul’s previous carving activities here:  week 1weeks 2 & 3, weeks 4 & 5  and weeks 6 & 7.

Here’s our student woodcarver’s diary for weeks 8 & 9 of the BA course.

Week 8

In our last blog, we followed Paul’s endeavours as he was introduced to bas relief modelling in clay as part of the Modelling and Casting Unit led by Sculpture, Modeling & Casting Tutor Kim Amis.

Paul chose to model a medieval image of a wolf and goat, and over a two week period made fantastic progress. Over the next two weeks, he revisists his model and adds the finer details, adding texture to the animals coats here.


The next two days of the week are devoted to lettering which is one of the key skills for carvers, used on monuments, plaques and memorials. This is the carvers’ first introduction to the practice of lettering and there is a lot to cover.

In this Unit, led by Lettering Tutor Mark Frith, the students have to examine and and learn the construction of the letters, focusing on their proportions and the similarities within groups of shapes as well as the origins of letters. They’ll then need to build the carving skills to accurately and consistently carve the letterforms in wood.

They start today with the Roman Alphabet. After drawing the letters from memory, they use a cast from the V&A Museum as a template to reproduce the lettering on paper.



After the two day workshop, Paul says “Quite surprising how much of lettering is done free hand. I thought I’d be using compasses and rulers for every line.”  The letter “O” is particularly difficult to master but he has a good first attempt! Paul’s now really looking forward to getting his chisels out and carving the letterforms in wood.

Week 9

Just over half way through his Modelling and Casting Unit now, Paul’s determined to complete his low relief model this week.

To add further detail to the model, Paul uses the pinprick method to transfer the shapes of the image onto the clay. Et Voila! His model is now sporting a pair of stylised trees and a decorative border. It’s still not quite finished but it’s nearly there!

Another two-day lettering workshop follows the modelling and casting sessions and after finishing drawing the letterforms on paper, the students move on to drawing actual words, which requires meticulous attention to spacing and consistency.

On his Instagram post, Paul says, “The word ‘exhibition’ has a tricky part: that is the negative space between ‘iti’ . The ‘T’ shape leaves a lot of space either side of the stem and coupled with very thin ‘I’ shapes makes a tough time of getting the word to look balanced. You can see 2 examples, the 2nd looking a lot better than the first.
They are a bit hard to see as I had to draw/ sketch them very lightly.”


And that brings us to the end of this blog post. In the next post, the woodcarving students will finish their clay models and revisit the oak leaf carving they started a couple of weeks ago.


Photos courtesy of Paul Flanagan

Applying Renaissance Wax on the Eagles and Prey Monument

Anna Ng graduated from our BA (Hons) Conservation: Stone, Wood & Decorative Surfaces in 2019. Following her studies she moved to New York and is currently working as an early career conservator.

Earlier this year, Anna secured a paid, full-time summer internship position on the Monuments Conservation Technician Program with Central Park Conservancy (CPC), with grants from The Charles Evans Hughes Memorial Foundation.

CPC is a private, not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the maintenance and preservation of Central Park, NYC. Conservation technicians are involved in the annual programme of examination, documentation, preservation and conservation of the bronze and stone sculpture in the park, and additional special projects.

During the internship, Anna worked as part of a team to treat many of the monuments in the park, developing a wide range of practical skills and techniques.

In Anna’s own words, here are some of the programme highlights.


After the graffiti removal treatment, to improve the stark and slightly over-cleaned appearance, the lettering on the base of the monument was reinstated with Lithco Black by hand painting with a fine sable hair brush. 

Applying Lithochrome Black on the lettering that has been weathered and powered washed away on the Columbus Circle Monument



The Lombard Lamp at Grand Army Plaza had a failed coating and a section of missing ornamentation. Initially, the surface was prepared for painting with a pressure washer equipped with a spinner tip as well as scuffed with light abrasives including bronze wool and bronze brushes. Repainting consisted of one coat of primer and two coats of paint in mid-gloss black applied with a spray gun. Originally decorating the Lombard Bridge in Hamburg, Germany, the replica lamp at Grand Army Plaza was painted black in a concerted effort of continuity with its historic predecessors. The Sherwin Williams DTM Wash Primer was left to cure for a day and each coat of Sherwin Williams Semi-Gloss Black acrylic paint was allowed half a day. A mould was taken off the east-facing relief and ornamentation, using Rebound 25, in order to be replicated and installed in place of the missing sections on the west side of the lamp. Afterwards, sealing of the joint below the lamp took place using Dow Corning 795 building sealant (grey).

Steam pressure washing the surface of the Lombard Lamp

Preparing the surface with masking tape for silicone application on the medallion

Removal of the test material from the mould


The Untermyer Fountain features a bronze cast of Walter Schott’s Three Dancing Maidens, completed in Germany prior to 1910. The sculpture depicts three young women, holding hands in a circle and sits on a limestone base. The hot wax coating on the bronze figures have endured weathering and wear from being exposed to the elements. First, the figures and base were pressure washed and cleaned with a mild solution of Vulpex. Then it was dried thoroughly with clean cotton rags. Once the surfaces were clean, clear of debris, and dry, a blowtorch was applied onto the surface and immediately followed by an application of wax that is then spread and punched into the surface evenly, paying close attention to the nooks and folds of the drapery on the figures. The wax was allowed to cool and settle overnight before we followed up with a thorough buffing with clean cotton rags the following day.

Applying blow torch to heat surface to a temperature of 93C (200F) for the application of a proprietary colour matched hot wax

Buffing the Untermyer Fountain figures after a power washing and an application of hot wax


The graffiti along the base of the fountain was removed through a thick application of Rock Miracle Paint & Varnish Remover with a chip brush then agitated thoroughly to lift the settling spray paint from the surface of the sandstone. The Rock Miracle was allowed to dwell for 30 minutes before a steam pressure wash. The treatment was successful in removing the graffiti.

Application of Rock Miracle

Steam pressure washing of surface to aid in thorough removal of Rock Miracle and spray paint



The fibreglass hippos have inherent flaws in their fabrication which manifested in cracks, chips, and voids that allow moisture to seep into the internal structure. A 2-part PC-7 epoxy in a colour-matched grey was mixed then applied with spatulas then was smoothed and feathered to blend in the surrounding surface to arrest deterioration.

Application of colour matched epoxy onto the surface of hippos





Historic paintings adorning the walls of St James the Great church, dating from different periods between the 14th and the 18th centuries

Third year Conservation student, Louise Davison, took part in an internship over the summer, to consolidate, stabilise and clean the unique paintings on the walls of the church of St James the Great in Gloucestershire.

St James the Great is a grade I listed church renowned for its wall paintings, including a depiction of the Life of St James the Great cycle, which is considered to be the best-preserved of its kind in England. The paintings, consisting of six different schemes, date from different periods ranging from the 14th century to the 18th century, and were uncovered in the 1950s.

Depiction of the Life of St James the Great cycle

The conservation programme was organised by a collaborative team, including the local church council, the Gloucester Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) and conservation company The Perry Lithgow Partnership.  It was important for the team that the programme created training opportunities for a conservation student and an emerging conservator, and Project Partner, ICON, were supportive of these aims. Louise was “extremely excited” when she found out about the internship through ICON.

Section of the South wall that Louise treated

Louise worked on a section of the South wall on the east side of the church, focusing on the Romanesque window splay. She started by removing fragments of lime washes on the original paint and plaster to produce a cohesive and readable appearance. She was able to remove fragments of lime washes on the only remaining piece of 16th century text in the church.

Louise carrying out conservation treatment 

Following the removal of what remained of layers of lime wash, Louise turned her attention to removing the crude repairs across the wall and in the window sill. This revealed an area of early 14th century decorative scheme on the window ledge, which was a great and unexpected discovery.

Louise conducted cleaning tests on the window, exposing the vibrancy of the coloured decoration lost under years of grime and dirt. With guidance from members of the conservation team, she also carried out grouting, consolidation and fills using specialist techniques and materials.

Commenting on the internship, Louise said: “The project was everything I hoped for and more. It benefited my hand skills, confidence and deepened my love for wall paintings. I have been inspired to work on projects in the future that involve wall paintings, and to complete a masters.”

Louise features in this short film about the conservations programme.


As part of the Historic Craft module, first year students on our BA (Hons) Conservation: Books & Paper course have been developing bookbinding skills during a series of workshops with tutor Shaun Thompson, Conservation and Collection Care manager from Cambridge university library.

The focus of the workshops is Romanesque bookbinding, and students have been learning Romanesque sewing techniques. Romanesque bookbinding involves sewing several different parts of the book, including the text-block, primary Tab end-band, the chemise, the edging strip and the secondary decorative end-band.

With the support of their tutor, the students are creating their own model Romanesque binding, which will enable them to understand how the sewn elements combine and interact and will give them invaluable insights into the craftsmanship, materials and techniques used in their production which essential knowledge for book conservators.

As well as developing historic bookbinding skills, the students are also learning about the historic context of bookbinding and are considering Romanesque bookbindings in significant collections in the UK and abroad.

We were delighted to find out recently that a short film made by Foundation alumna Jess Chowdhury, was shortlisted for the Cinemagic Young Filmmaker 2020 Awards!

Jess’s short film, Early Grief Special, is a stop-motion animation about grief, set in a greasy-spoon cafe, and follows the experiences of a new customer who orders the “special”. Describing the film, Jess says the Grief Express Cafe “is the only place in London where people are allowed to grieve. Even though the service is super quick (maybe too quick?), this is without a doubt the worst greasy spoon ever!”

Jess meticulously sculpted all the models and puppets used in the short film, creating the sets and the characters, as well as storyboarding and animating the film. She says, “Coming up with a story about grief was very difficult. The storyboard and characters were constantly changing throughout the process. I started building the set at uni and then completed the project at home during lockdown. It was tough but I was just grateful to be able to continue working on it.

Art School Foundation Tutor, Emma Montague, describes Jess as one of the “most hardworking and humble students she has worked with“.  Emma said,  “it’s so wonderful to see Jess receive recognition for her exquisite craftsmanship, clever wit and creativity“.

During the one-year Foundation Diploma at the Art School, Jess specialised in 3D Fine Art, enabling her to interrogate and test sculpture and model-making processes and techniques.

Commenting on her time on the Foundation Diploma, Jess says, “I started out by making caricatures of political figures. I enjoyed sculpting people and turning them into funny cartoon-like characters, a bit inspired by Spitting Image. The materials I like to work with are polymer clay, cardboard, scraps and found objects. I’m inspired by cartoons and films that I find comforting. I enjoy making work that is satirical and/or nostalgic. Cartoons and puppets led me to animation and wanting my sculptures to come to life.”

Jess went on to describe her final project on the Foundation Diploma. “My final project was a short stop-motion film ‘Long Time No See’ which combined model-making, puppet-making and stop-motion animation. These were skills that I wanted to play around with. I found the process very challenging as I had never made a stop-motion film like this before, with handmade sets, puppets and props.” She continued, “I loved doing my Foundation at City & Guilds of London Art School, it gave me the space and support to explore both my passions of sculpture and animation in depth.”

After completing the Foundation Diploma, Jess went on to Wimbledon College of Art to study BA (Hons) Production Arts for Screen, graduating in the summer with the production of ‘Early Grief Special’. During her degree course she focused on sculpting, model-making and puppet-making, explaining, “The things I learnt during my Foundation year definitely helped me to figure out that model-making and stop-motion were the skills that I wanted to develop.”

Here is some of the other work she made on her BA course.

We’d like to congratulate Jess on her success and look forward to seeing her future work! You can follow Jess’s work on Instagram @jesschowdhury_

Students on our BA (Hons) Historic Carving: Woodcarving & Gilding have been working hard over the last few weeks as the course continues through the first term. We’re following the progress of woodcarving student Paul Flanagan @paulflanaganartist as his carving and gilding skills develop over the year. Here’s our student woodcarver’s diary for weeks 4 & 5 of the BA course.

Week 4

Following on from the first three weeks of the course, the initial two days of the week centre around woodcarving and this week the students are continuing to develop the acanthus leaf carving they started last week. With the support of Woodcarving Tutor Tom Ball, the students carefully refine their carving and the acanthus leaf shape becomes more clearly defined.

By the end of the two-day session, Paul’s acanthus leaf carving is in great shape, starting to accurately reflect the form of the plaster model he is copying. Amazing work Paul!


The second half of the week focuses on developing the carvers’ drawing skills with our Drawing Studio Manager and Tutor Diane Magee. The first drawing lesson encourages the students to think about form and structure rather than a finished drawing. So Paul’s brief is to draw the structure of a leaf, using a black Conte crayon, without including the leaf’s outer edge or cells.

This drawing workshop is followed by a series of first thoughts and sketches of dried leaves and then peppers. First thoughts and sketches are quickly-drawn small images of an object using swift turns of the wrist to create soft strokes that can be altered and refined as you go.


Week 5

The next two days are the final sessions allocated to the acanthus leaf carving, although the students will have the opportunity to go back to their acanthus carving at a later date if they want to. So the next two days are spent carving ever finer details into the acanthus leaf, using smaller gouges, and finishing the shaping.

At the end of the two days, the acanthus carvings look really impressive (see Paul’s carving below). Paul says, “I am mostly happy with the piece but I did make a few mistakes; like the smaller leaf on the head is far too small but as this is my first carving I think I’ve done pretty well.” So do we Paul, so do we!!

In the drawing classes this week, the students choose a plaster moulding of historic, architectural ornament to draw. After some deliberation Paul chooses this ornament that includes the acanthus motif.

After drawing his first thoughts and sketches, Paul starts to make a larger-scale, sustained drawing of the design.

The students will develop their drawings over four days, so we’ll bring you an update soon!

In our next diary instalment, the student carvers will be introduced to modelling in clay and casting – we can’t wait!


Photos courtesy of Paul Flanagan

Two weeks ago we published a blog post following the progress of first year Woodcarving & Gilding student Paul Flanagan as he started on his BA course.

We’re delighted that Paul has settled into the course really well and is making great progress. He has been keeping a detailed course diary on his Instagram account @paulflanaganartist,  which he has kindly allowed us to share with you.

So setting off where we ended last time (at the end of week 1), here are the highlights from weeks 2 & 3 of the first year on BA (Hons) Historic Carving: Woodcarving & Gilding!

Week 2

The week started with the Woodcarving module and this week, the students were introduced to chip carving. After testing out their tools by carving basic shapes, the students graduated onto carving a geometric flower and a geometric pyramid pattern.



Continuing with chip carving, students drew a geometric pattern and after marking out the lines on a practise board, used a fishtail gouge to scoop up to the lines.

After this practice run, it was time to carve into lime wood – great work!

Following a tool sharpening session using a Japanese water stone, the Basic Joinery module continued from last week with a focus on dove-tail joints. This involves precision measuring and cutting, and works out well in the end!


Week 3

A new week – a new woodcarving project, and today, the students started to carve an acanthus leaf. The acanthus leaf is one of the oldest and most used motifs in architectural carving. Students started by making a scale drawing of the motif from a mold and transferring it onto a piece of wood. Using a V tool, they roughed out the basic outline and then removed the outside waste wood with a gouge, leaving the basic shape.

Getting closer to the edge of the drawing takes time and a steady hand, especially in those tight, curved areas. The students use a flat chisel for best results. Then they start to model the acanthus leaf, developing the depth and shape in more detail.

During the next two days, the Drawing module gets underway with the Art School’s superb Drawing Studio Manager and Tutor, Diane Magee. As a key part of the carving process, developing accurate drawing skills is absolutely crucial to the success of the woodcarvers – but don’t worry, they’re in good hands!

Their first drawing exercise is designed to encourage the students to think in different ways and focus on the shapes and perspectives they can see. Instead of using a pencil, they used a twig and ink to make the lines!

The next subject in the drawing class posed more challenges – in Paul’s case the subject was a horse’s head.

The exercise teaches the students to make an initial diagnosis of the subject they are drawing so they know what challenges the piece will bring. Paul says “The exercise was a challenge but I think I learned a lot, mostly that horses are really hard to draw!”

The next two weeks will see the students developing their acanthus leaf carvings and more drawing workshops. Follow Paul’s activities in weeks 4 & 5 here.

Photos courtesy of Paul Flanagan

Postgraduate student Jessica Mantoan, has carried out a conservation treatment on the Art School’s Georgian doors as part of her MA Conservation and has been presenting the work she has done to fellow conservation students in their ‘social bubbles’.

As part of the treatment, she carried out scientific research to look at improving the durability of the mortar used around the doors and tested whether using a barium hydroxide additive in the mortar will increase the durability.

Her laboratory test results were extremely positive showing that mortars made using a small proportion of barium hydroxide are more resistant to acid rain decay and nucleation of sodium sulphate salts due to air pollution.

Following these encouraging results, Jessica tested the new barium hydroxide mortar outside the lab environment by applying it in situ in the Georgian doorcase where it is exposed to road traffic pollution from the busy main road where the Art School is located.

Although the initial results are positive, using a barium hydroxide additive in the mortar has never been tested before, so to get a thorough understanding of the durability of this mortar, a longer-term study is required. Jessica is recommending that future Conservation students draft conservation reports year after year to analyse how the barium hydroxide mortar of the doorcase deteriorates.


A couple of weeks ago, we posted a blog about the conservation project that MA student Johannes Wagenknecht is currently working on – The Alcibiades Dog, a cast concrete sculpture loaned from Chatsworth House. This week, Johannes is starting to compile his condition report of the large piece which will include meticulous detail about the overall condition of the sculpture, an examination of areas of deterioration or loss, the state of previous repairs and highlight any areas of risk or concern.  The report may include annotated photographs, diagrams and graphs.

Lime Modeling Tutor, Sarah Healey-Dilkes, and our second year Stone, Wood & Decorative Surfaces students took the opportunity to observe the state of the complex composition and repairs of the object since its production about 200 years ago.





All the tutors in the Historic Carving Department are delighted to welcome our student carvers back into the studios after the summer break – with a special welcome to all the new students and first years on our BA and postgraduate courses!

Of course, things are a little different this year. Throughout the Art School, extensive measures have been put in place to protect students and staff from Covid-19 and our seminars and lectures have gone online. Everyone, in all parts of the Art School, has to wear a protective face covering, we are all frequently sanitising our hands and ensuring we keep distanced from each other.

Despite the changes, we are really enjoying being back and are excited to be teaching and studying again.

So, how did the first week go? Paul Flanagan, a first year student on our Woodcarving & Gilding BA course, has been keeping a record of his progress on his Instagram account @paulflanaganartist, and we’ve borrowed his photos to share on the Historic Carving blog (thanks Paul!).

Day 1

First year students arrived at their own dedicated work stations in the newly refurbished Woodcarving Studio. This is probably the only time they’ll see the studio looking so neat and empty!

Day 2

It doesn’t take long for Paul’s work station to gather a carver’s tools and equipment! Today the students learnt how to sharpen their chisels – a fundamentally important skill. They used a fine Japanese stone and strop to get a mirror finish and coat the bevel of the gouge with Sharpie pen so they can check for any low spots when they put it over the stone.


Day 3

Students started their basic joinery training and amongst other tools, learnt how to  use an impressive Japanese saw.

Day 4

Basic joinery continued and the students learnt different joinery techniques.

Day 5

Today the first-year carvers had an online Art Histories lecture. Art Histories programmes are integral to all the courses at the Art School and give students a comprehensive understanding of historical and contemporary critical theories. On the Historic Carving courses, students learn a detailed and materials-based approach to Art History, The History of British Architecture, The History of Style, and The History of Carving Techniques.

So that’s the first week on the Woodcarving & Gilding course completed! In week 2 the students study chipcarving, learning about the different types of cut that each tool makes in the wood, and how the shape and size of the chisel dictates the pattern. Read about their progress here.

MA Conservation student, Johannes Wagenknecht, who is specialising in stone conservation, has chosen to treat the cast concrete of The Alcibiades Dog from Chatsworth House during his one-year course.

This garden statue by Austin and Seeley (1828 – c.1877) made of coade stone or cast concrete, arrived at the Art School today in pieces. Weighing a total of about 450kg, the statue was carefully and expertly taken into the stone yard by Clare French, Historic Carving Technician.

The object was unloaded at the main gate and transported on a forklift truck by Johannes and Clare, with the assistance of two others, to a gazebo set up in the stone yard.  Clare French is very familiar with the fork lift, which can lift up to 500kg, as it is regularly used to unload and move stone blocks for the Historic Carving Department.

Now it is ready for the conservation treatment to begin… watch this space!




It’s official our new BA (Hons) Conservation: Books & Paper course has launched and our new first-year students on the course have joined us at the Art School.

On day 1 last week, the students spent time being inducted into the Print Room so that they can begin learning about etching from our expert staff. The students learnt about the traditional intaglio processes and made their own etches.

The Print Room at City & Guilds of London Art School was established in the late 19th century. Today, it offers a facility for printmaking open to every student in the School.

Professor Norman Ackroyd CBE RA ARCA was instrumental in re-establishing the Print & Engraving Room as a thriving centre for teaching and practice after being invited in 1995 to consider its potential for the future.

We focus on the teaching of traditional intaglio processes – including hard and soft ground, sugar lift, aquatint and colour etching. Teaching is delivered by practising artists working with etching.  By teaching the full range of methods, we provide an historical context of the intaglio process and offer the same experience in terms of techniques, problems and solutions as that employed by Rembrandt, Goya and Picasso.

Our aim is to provide a practical understanding of how etchings of the past were made to inform the study of how they are best conserved for the future.


As part of the Historic Craft unit of the course, first year students studying on the BA (Hons) Conservation: Stone, Wood & Decorative Surfaces have been doing some fantastic work with our modelling and sculpture tutor, Kim Amis. During this bas relief workshop, the students transcribed a two-dimensional image into relief form using clay. The group had to agree the depth of the relief that they all worked to.

When finished, the clay relief will be prepared for kiln firing and the fired clay can then be gilded.

The aim of our Historic Craft units are to give students an insight into the processes and materials used by the original makers of the cultural objects they may be treating. Having a thorough understanding of how an object was made is essential to effective conservation treatment planning.



First year students on our BA (Hons) Conservation: Stone, Wood & Decorative Surfaces took part in a gilding workshop with Gilding Tutor Rian Kanduth, an expert in oil and water gilding.

During the workshop, students were introduced to the materials, tools and formulas of oil gilding and verre eglomise and took part in practical exercises to further understand the techniques.


In one of our covid-secure conservation labs, and wearing their protective face coverings, students on the BA (Hons) Conservation: Stone Wood & Decorative Surfaces course have been taking part in a workshop to learn the historic craft skills of japanning with specialist tutor Alex Schouvaloff.

The purpose of this japanning exercise is to gain experience of working with paint and varnish, both traditional and modern, to understand the specific decorative techniques of both japanning and oriental lacquer. Skills learnt here not only help students understand the associated conservation and restoration principles but will also provide and hone many transferable skills.

Students learn the similarities and differences between Oriental lacquer (Urushi) and European simulations (japanning) and the fundamental principles of the lacquering process and its development in Europe since the 17th century. They also learn how to apply paint and varnish layers in an appropriate manner, gain a thorough understanding of historic and modern materials and their conservation and restoration context, explore styles and iconography of japanned and lacquered surfaces and document photographically at each stage which they will then annotate and produce a written process log.


During the summer break, two conservation students going into their final year, Louise Davison and Cody Cochrane, undertook a conservation project with the Duchy of Lancaster, the private estate of the British sovereign. The restoration work took place at Lancaster Place, an imposing Art Deco building overlooking the River Thames, which has been the administrative headquarters of the Duchy of Lancaster since 1932.

The conservation brief was to repair and restore the stone-carved crest above the main entrance of the building. The crest had become weathered and faded, with some loss of the stone substrate. Its south facing orientation along the River Thames meant the gilding and paint had suffered significant deterioration since it was last restored in 1999.

The crest of the Duchy of Lancaster prior to conservation

Louise and Cody carefully cleaned the surface of the crest, dating from the building’s origin in the 1930s, removing loose dirt and dust. They filled areas where the losses had occurred and protected the crest’s surface with an outdoor stone primer. Once the surface was fully prepared, the students gilded areas of the design that had originally been gilded, with the expert advice and support from our Gilding Tutor Rian Kanduth, who spent some time at the site.  Two layers of paint were then applied to the rest of the crest, reproducing the original colour scheme.

Commenting on the finished project, Duchy Head of Project Management Graeme Chalk said: “Both students did an amazing job and worked extremely hard to renovate, repaint and re-gild the existing plaque which had weathered quite badly over a period of 20 years. Thanks to their technical skills and enthusiasm for the task the crest is now fully restored and looks as good as new!” He also commended Louise and Cody for their “courteous and professional” conduct and their “incredibly high standard of work“.

We look forward to collaborating with the Duchy of Lancaster on future conservation projects.

The crest primed and ready to receive gold leaf


Cody applying gold leaf over a coat of gilding size


The gilding stage completed


Louise beginning the first coat of paint


First coat of paint being applied


Louise retouching the second coat


Crest fully restored to its former glory


A closer look at some of the detail


Further detail


Viv Lawes is an art Historian who specialises in the study of carved and craft objects from the European tradition and East Asian contexts. In this short film recorded on Zoom during Lockdown, Viv speaks about the content of her taught sessions on our undergraduate Historic Carving and Conservation courses, and discusses the different methodologies she employs. One of the key features of Viv’s sessions is the teaching of the specific vocabularies around art design objects. For a conservator or carver, using precise descriptive terms enables an accurate assessment of an object’s status; her course teaches these terms and helps students to use them fluently.

Viv is particularly interested in ‘making heard’ the ideas and attitudes of students from different cultural, craft-based and professional backgrounds. In her seminars she encourages discussion and debate and critically evaluates the Western tradition from a range of different perspectives.

Dr Oriana Fox is an art theorist and practising artist, and teaches Art Histories on a range of courses across the Art School. Here, Oriana speaks about the different Art Histories modules she teaches on the BA (Hons) Fine Art course. As you will hear, Oriana teaches art history from a particularly contemporary perspective and encourages students to think about artworks from the past as well as the present through the lens of the very latest theoretical, cultural and political ideas.

Feminist theory, Queer theory, Crip theory and disability politics, post colonial subjectivities, Black and BAME discourses, intersectionality are introduced, unpacked and presented from an entirely global perspective.

In this Zoom conversation with Head of Art Histories, Tom Groves, during Lockdown, Oriana also tells us about some of the more creative and experimental teaching and learning strategies she uses in her sessions. Through discussion and debate; from quiet individual study to analytic speed dating; Oriana’s sessions have something for everyone.

During the coronavirus lockdown, the Art School’s facilities have been closed and our courses delivered remotely. Our Historic Carving students have continued practising from home; some working from existing workshops, others setting up make-shift studios where they can. Our carving tutors have also been delivering our wood and stone carving courses from their home studios.

We were lucky enough to have a virtual visit to the Norfolk workshop of Nina Bilbey, our Senior Stone Carving Tutor, who showed us around her amazing studio and introduced us to her collection of tools and the work she is currently making.

Enjoy the tour!

As well as getting a glimpse into Nina’s lockdown world, we were also treated to lockdown studio visits from some of our alumni, Fellows and students. You can watch all these films, and more, on our YouTube channel.

Visit our Historic Carving web pages to find out more about our undergraduate and postgraduate architectural stone carving courses, or get in touch on

Matthew Rowe and Materiality & Meaning: Critical thinking and the use of philosophical ideas on the MA in Art & Material Histories.

During the Coronavirus Lockdown in the UK, Head of Art Histories, Tom Groves, met with philosopher and critical thinker Matthew Rowe on Zoom to discuss the kinds of ideas he explores with students on the MA in Art & Material Histories. He also provides some really useful advice about how we can use philosophy as a kind of tool kit to dig down under the surface of everyday thinking to reveal how our understanding of the material world is shaped by the histories of thought.

If you are thinking of applying to the Art & Material Histories MA or would like to know a bit more about how we use philosophical ideas on the course, watch this.

Andy Bannister teaches across the Art Histories and Fine Art Departments. He is an artist, researcher and musician whose current work explores the impact of developments in science and technology on culture and society during the Cold War era.  Andy is a lead tutor delivering lectures and supervising MA students as they write their MA Fine Art Critical Model Dissertation.

Here in a Zoom discussion carried out at the height of the coronavirus UK Lockdown, Andy explains what the Critical Model Dissertation is and how it enables students to explore the complex web of threads that link their studio work to its various contexts. Andy also reflects on the dynamic relationship between writing and making and how students are supported to navigate this.

If you are thinking of enrolling on the MA in Fine Art, or if you already have and want to know more about what the Dissertation involves, you will find this short video really useful.

The Art Histories Department at the Art School delivers a wide range of learning activities to all students across the Art School. One of the principles of the Department is that the finest understanding of art and art history emerges out of an up-close, first-hand experience of its objects of study. Whether it is a complex theoretical text, or layered painted canvas, or intricately carved altarpiece, we believe that the close encounter produces the most valuable knowledge.

Michael Paraskos delivers a series of lectures entitled The History of British Architecture. During his session, students studying Conservation and Stone and Wood Carving, journey with him through the ages and around London’s wealth of historical buildings.

In this short Zoom chat with Michael, carried out in June this year, he reminds us that only so much of what we know about historical buildings emerges out of speculative thinking. Only by experiencing architecture in person can we meaningfully reflect on how a building worked as a living space at the time of its creation as well as today.

During the coronavirus pandemic our awareness of the material world has become heightened. Certain objects and surfaces that we never gave a second thought to (door handles, shopping trollies, park-benches etc), became charged with a frightening potential for harm. Our hands too became vehicles of contagion, and what, who, how and why we touch became entangled with the discourses of politics as well as health.

Laura White is an artist and material thinker whose research explores our relationship with the material world. Here in a Zoom interview, carried out at the height of the Lockdown in the UK, Laura reflects on some of the many aspects of her teaching on the MA in Art & Material Histories at the Art School.

If you are thinking of applying to the MA in Art & Material Histories, this short video will provide you with an insight into the this aspect of the course.


It’s not every day that early career carvers have the opportunity to design a magnificent wooden frame to house a Dutch Old Master, and then after expertly carving and gilding it, know that their work will hang in pride of place with the revered painting for perpetuity. But this is exactly what MA student Borys Burrough has been able to achieve during his postgraduate Carving course at the Art School.

Through the Art School’s strong industry links and professional networks, our Historic Carving students gain access to a variety of high profile live projects and commissions, invaluable in developing professional practice. Borys is currently completing a commission he successfully won through the Art School, to research, design, carve and gild wooden frames for two Dutch Old Master paintings for a private collector in America. The first painting to be reframed is ‘Saskia Holding a Carnation‘ thought to be by Rembrandt, formerly on display at the Rembrandthuis Museum in Amsterdam, and the second is ‘Cobbler in his Workshop‘ by Pieter Gerritsz van Roestraeten.

The briefs for both frames specified their design should be based on the 17th century Dutch Auricular style. In the brief for the ‘Saskia’ frame, the owner asked that the design reference the 17th century etching ‘Modelli Artificiosi‘, as well as silver objects from the Van Vianen family. In addition, he wanted the frame’s unique design to also reflect the grotesque style as well as the vanitas and memento mori tradition.

The 17th century etching ‘Modelli Artificiosi’ referenced in Borys’ frame design, and Borys’ drawing

After thoroughly researching the design references detailed in the brief and meticulously drawing and developing the frame’s design scheme, Borys transcribed the drawing to a full size clay model of the frame, set on a wire mesh backing. Using the clay model as a design guide, he has precisely carved the ornate frame in pine, a soft wood ideal for detailed carving.

The new frame design set around ‘Saskia Holding a Carnation’ and the clay model

The four main lengths of the frame were roughly carved in Borys’ Art School studio, and along with the clay model, were moved to Borys’ home studio during Lockdown, where he continued work on the piece. The carving is now completed and Borys has water gilded the frame with gold, burnishing it to give a brilliant lustre.

The magnificent ‘Saskia’ frame, almost finished

Meanwhile, Borys continues work on the frame for the ‘Cobbler in his Workshop’, which will be completed later this month. The design for this smaller frame is a rescaled version of the border design from the etching of silver smith Johannes Lutma’s design for a Ewer.

Johannes Lutma’s design for a Ewer etching and Borys’ drawing

After discussing the best material to carve the frame in, Borys and his client agreed to use American walnut, a dark walnut hardwood with an even grain and beautiful figuring. Frames carved in American walnut work well with or without gilding but Borys will oil gild certain details of the frame, a historic technique used in the 17th century for both frames and furniture.

Borys carving the frame for ‘Cobbler in his Workshop’

The beautiful ‘Cobbler in his Workshop’ frame before gilding

Both finished frames will be exhibited in the Degree Show, planned to take place at the Art School in August 2021. Sign up to our mailing list to receive an invite.

Commenting on the frame commission, Borys said: ‘Having had 10 years’ experience working in the antique frame trade, restoring, gilding and now carving frames, this really is a dream commission only made possible by studying at the Art School. This commission exemplifies the great access to live projects that the course can provide. The experience I have gained from this project will no doubt be invaluable in my career progression as a woodcarver.

Borys specialised in frame design and carving during his BA (Hons) Historic Carving: Woodcarving & Gilding, which he completed in 2018. For his final year project, he designed, carved and gilded a frame, again based on the 17th century Auricular style, for a rediscovered Van Dyck portrait of Olivia Boteler Porter, in the possession of the Bowes Museum, near Durham – another example of a live commission arranged through the Art School.

The frame for the Van Dyck portrait, now hung in the Bowes Museum, Durham

Borys’ outstanding design, carving and gilding skills, combined with his deep knowledge and passion for historic frames, have led to a pair of exquisitely carved, bespoke wooden frames that will surround two highly-regarded Dutch Old Masters for many years to come. We are extremely proud of Borys’ achievements and can’t wait to see the finished frames exhibited at the Degree Show in the summer.


Boris Johnson by Imogen Long

Historic Carving students have been working from make-shift workshops at home during lockdown, supported by their tutors through online tutorials, demonstrations, discussions and one-to-ones.  We recently posted a blog about the acanthus bracket carving project that our first year woodcarving & gilding students have been working on.

First year students on our BA (Hons) Historic Carving: Architectural Stone course have also been busy at the kitchen table-come-workbench, making their first life-size portrait head models in clay, guided by our fabulous Sculpture, Modelling & Casting Tutor, Kim Amis.

Students had been timetabled to work with a life model every day in the studio, where their observational skills would be combined with anatomical study and an accurate system of measuring using callipers. Then came lockdown.

In lieu of working from a life model, students have instead been focusing their attention on a series of familiar faces: five female leaders (Cressida Dick, Arlene Foster, Caroline Lucas, Gina Miller, Nicola Sturgeon) and five male cabinet ministers (Michael Gove, Matt Hancock, Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Rishi Sunak). All ten are high profile and  visually accessible through media every day during the pandemic.

Caroline Lucas and Michael Gove by Callum Antonelli

The challenge began with a ball of clay approximately the size of a large orange, suitable for modelling safely at home in the smallest of spaces. Each student modelled ten portrait maquettes at speed. Every morning at 9.30, tutor and students met in Zoomland to share the results, debate and move on to the next character.

Dominic Raab, Arlene Foster, Caroline Lucas and Boris Johnson by Emma Sheridan

Students carried out visual research on their subjects, looking out for particularities in their profiles and facial characteristics and making preparatory sketches. They also studied portraiture and modelling styles and techniques used by artists such as Honoré Daumier, Auguste Rodin, Giacomo Manzù, Ernst Barlach, Camille Claudel, Käthe Kollwitz, Jacob Epstein, Suzie Zamit, and Germaine Richier.

As ideas progressed and developed, proposals were explored for public sculpture and architectural interventions as a way of presenting all ten figures together as an artwork.

This blog was first published on the Art School’s Material Matters website.




One of the projects currently being undertaken by students in the first year of BA (Hons) Historic Carving: Woodcarving & Gilding is to carve an acanthus leaf design onto a wooden bracket.  Tutor Peter Thuring is supporting students throughout this module with tutorials, demonstrations, one-to-ones and a variety of online learning aids. We thought we’d give you a peek into our virtual woodcarving studio and show you what our students are learning.

All the students have received a plaster cast of an 18th century bracket design and two pre-band sawn lime wood blanks, which Peter posted to their homes. Before they start carving their lime wood bracket, Peter is guiding them step-by-step through the preliminary stages: thorough research and drawing; carving a clay model; using a plaster cast design guide.

Research and drawings

The acanthus motif has been used as architectural ornament throughout history and as such, there are many variations on the design. However, through comprehensive research and analysis, consistent features can be identified such as a strongly defined centre vein with lateral veins tapering down to the bottom of the central vein and the division of the leaf edges into three or five parts.   The acanthus design drawing is built up from a basic, symmetrical grid structure, with layers of detail precisely measured and added to the grid to form the final drawing of this ornate design.

Clay model

Two blocks of clay, exactly the same size as the lime wood blanks, are prepared by the students and left to dry to “leather hard”. Using their drawings as a detailed guide, they measure out sections and the main volumes in the design, mark them in the clay, and then cut them into the clay with chisels. Taking each section at a time, they gradually and meticulously mark out the full detail of the designs into the clay and, selecting the appropriate chisels, cut into the clay to create a model that will form an exact carving guide for the acanthus bracket.

As well as producing an exact model of the bracket design to be carved, this process helps the student carvers understand how the motif design fits together, the relative proportions of each detail and the carving techniques required to create this intricate design.

Plaster cast model

As the students don’t currently have access to the Art School’s specialist facilities, their Tutor, Peter Thuring, created the plaster casts for this project from an 18th century model, and sent it to the students along with the lime wood blanks. From the plaster cast, the students can carefully draw the acanthus design onto the wood blank. Different methods are used to achieve this including detailed and accurate measuring and tracing.

Now the final part of the process can begin – carving into the wood blank…


Since the Art School’s workshops and studios have been closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak and national lockdown, tutors on all our courses have been continuing tutorials, seminars and one-to-ones from isolation at home and students have been working in their make-shift home studios.

Content and teaching methods have been adapted and taught online through the Art School’s online learning environment, Moodle, and other online platforms. Even here in the Historic Carving Department our students are able to continue developing their carving skills from home.

A new project set for first-year students on our BA (Hons) Historic Carving: Woodcarving & Gilding course supports them to carve an Acanthus leaf motif on a bracket. Tutor, Peter Thuring, posted a full briefing paper for the project on Moodle and sent a plaster cast of an 18th century bracket design and two pre-band sawn lime wood blanks by mail to each student’s home.

There are various stages to the Acanthus project. Students have been asked to conduct their own thorough research into Acanthus leaf design as used throughout history as architectural ornament, and create drawings based on their research.

Although there are many different variations in Acanthus motif design in different historical periods, there are also many consistent features. This illustration, taken from a 19th century source shows how the design can be built up from first principles.

Following their research and drawing practise, they need to prepare two blocks of clay and allow them to dry to “leather hard”. These will be used to practise cutting the Acanthus leaf shape and form a clay model on which to base the final carving.

At each stage, from research and drawing to cutting the clay models and finally carving the wood blanks, students will review and discuss their progress with Peter, who will provide feedback and demonstrations to guide them through the process. As well as their  hands-on “workshop” practice, students need to keep a carving process log which documents their work in progress and includes their completed models. Along with a self-evaluation form, this will be submitted for assessment at the end of the project in May.

For a more detailed description of the processes our student carvers are undertaking, read our blog ‘Preparing to carve lime wood acanthus brackets’.

As well as the more structured guidance provided in the project briefing paper, Peter has made some helpful suggestions for completing this carving project at home. He uses hand-drawn diagrams to explain how to secure the carving onto the kitchen table in lieu of a workbench.

Screw the carving onto a small board.

Clamp it onto the kitchen table.

Steady rickety table legs by tying a bag of sand, bricks or gravel with a rope to the table, increasing the load if the table still moves.

The first-year woodcarving students are just starting this new module and work is progressing well so far. Here’s student Tom Buchanan working on the project on his kitchen table workbench.


Two second-year BA (Hons) Conservation students are set to take part in a new conservation project at ‘Gerry’s Pompeii’, the London home of artist Gerald Dalton. The project, due to take place when lockdown measures allow,  follows a successful campaign led by Dalton’s friends and family to secure funding to preserve the site specific collection of works left in his home after he passed away in August 2019, and open it to the public as a house museum.

Part of the extensive collection at Gerry’s Pompeii

Gerald Dalton was a prolific artist who made sculptures, models and other works mainly focusing around his interest in British history. Inside his flat, the body of work includes models of buildings in a variety of materials (wood, plastic, paper, metals, textiles) and found objects; small scale, mass produced sculptures that Dalton painted and modified; and framed works, mainly on paper, that he augmented and changed.  Painted concrete sculptures stand in the garden and along the towpath of the Grand Union Canal. These are sited along a wall decorated with tiles, pieces of mirror, found objects and other materials.

Monitoring the visible light falling on a framed print with an environmental monitor 

Second-year Conservation students, led by Art School Tutor and stone conservation expert, Jennifer Dinsmore, recently conducted a thorough conservation assessment of the site. The detailed assessment included material identification and observations to help understand conservation risks such as fading and chemical breakdown caused by exposure to light, or mould growth due to high moisture levels. It also involved monitoring the relative humidity, visible light and ultraviolet light at the site using specialist monitoring equipment. Visual assessments were made about the condition of some of the objects, the garden and of the building interiors, and risks from increased visitor access were considered. The group identified a priority list of treatments to minimise further damage to the site and objects, and noted the need for an ongoing maintenance plan for the building and the collection.

Conservation students, Cody Cochrane and Louise Davison, will join the team at the site to take part in a range of collection care measures and carry out environmental monitoring.  Louise explains the conservation challenges that lie ahead and what she hopes to learn from the assignment:

As a conservator the vast amount of modern materials used in the domestic setting creates an exciting opportunity. There are challenges to the project which involve establishing a system of cataloguing, stabilising the collection and assessing a priority rating within the collection. This, however, requires establishing the materials before treatment, through examination, monitoring and observations. As an emerging Object Conservator, the opportunity to be part of a community project that has been fiercely campaigned for, is fantastic. The project has scope to allow me to grow, learn and put into practice the knowledge and skills that have been taught at the Art School.” 

It is hoped that Art School Conservation students can have further involvement with the site in the following academic year. Tutor Jennifer Dinsmore describes the valuable learning experiences students would gain from working on Gerry’s Pompeii:

the conservation challenges presented by this unique collection would provide significant experience in dealing with modern materials, mixed media and understanding how to provide meaningful access to the site. Initially this could include students continuing with the monitoring programme and carrying out detailed condition assessments of the objects and could involve students on the existing Stone, Wood and Decorative Surfaces pathway as well as our new Books and Paper pathway.”

Photo credit: Guy Smallman

Winner of the Art School’s Student Initiated Project Prize 2019, Art & Material Histories postgraduate student, Roberta De Caro, has organised a series of workshops for survivors of domestic abuse in which she will explore how the material qualities of glass can be used to reconstruct, repair and heal the fragmented self.

Held in the Coin Street Neighbourhood Centre, Lambeth, participants will manipulate shards of coloured glass to create new fused glass objects that will not only reflect and refract the light, but also their own histories and experiences.

The workshops are the meeting point of different aspects of Roberta’s practice and the Art & Material Histories course: an engagement with materials and materiality; their cultural associations; a close attention to their socio-political concerns; an interrogation of the human condition through the material world.

Roberta explains: “In this series of workshops, I am particularly interested in observing the different emotions that glass-making might elicit and how these can relate to the experience of surviving domestic abuse. These emotions can range from fear of manipulating a fragile but sharp material, to a sense of achievement in creating new objects from fragments. The whole process can be a powerful cathartic experience”.

From the Fragment to the Whole Glass Workshops will be held on 16, 23 and 30 March 2020 in the Coin Street Neighbourhood Centre, Lambeth. For more information about the workshops, or if you are interested in assisting, please contact

To find out more about the MA in Art & Material Histories, watch the course video and book onto an open day. For further help, please email us at


Concluding a series of six workshops with artist and materials researcher Laura White, our Art & Material Histories students have been exploring the co-dependent relationship between materials and the human body. Through a series of exercises that inhibited as well as expanded their bodies’ capabilities, students reflected on varied material experiences and what they can teach us about the ways we might privilege specific embodied encounters.

The workshop began by asking students to pick up a familiar object without the use of their hands and lift it from the floor to the table. Students discovered that by working together, new forms of behaviour and understanding were exposed. Next, they were invited to construct an object/sculpture/device that impeded their bodies’ normal capacity. Cardboard, plaster, duct tape, and more, were wound and wrapped around material things and then latched to the body in novel and unexpected ways, producing a multitude of artwork/research tools that could be used to re-evaluate our physical interactions with the material and art world.

This final workshop concluded a series of material-based research activities that have challenged not only our relationship to the material world, but the very methodologies by which we carryout art historical research itself. Art is made of materials; pixels, paint and stone, clay, meat and foam, and in order to fully understand them we need to develop new forms of material knowledge.

All images courtesy of Laura White.

Ornamental Woodcarving alumna (2015), Clunie Fretton, has recently completed the restoration of the Master’s Chair of the Joiners & Ceilers Company. Here she describes the complex project and explains how she approached the in-depth research, design and carving required to replace the missing elements of the intricate design, whilst minimising any indications that the chair had been restored.

“The restoration of the Master’s Chair of the Joiners & Ceilers Company posed an exciting challenge (Figure 1). The chair, on long-term loan to the Victoria & Albert Museum, was made in 1754 by Edward Newman, a Past Master and talented cabinetmaker and carver, and gifted to the Company. It possesses carving and design of a distinctive flair and aptitude, and marries very elegantly the two concerns of the Joiners & Ceilers, who as a livery are responsible for both joinery and carving, the latter at times conflated with panellers under the archaic word “ceiler”.

The chair, constructed from mahogany, has survived in remarkably good condition with very few significant losses from the ornately carved and pierced back despite its many years of service. However, the apex of the chair-back had seen more substantial losses, most notably the loss of a whole finial on the right hand side of the chair, and a number of heraldic elements from the coat of arms figured in full relief in the middle, and it was agreed that these missing elements detracted enough from the silhouette and impact of the chair to warrant their replacement.

Figure 1. The chair after restoration (Photography by Clunie Fretton)

It was particularly important during the restoration to reduce the ambiguity of any replacements. This was more easily achieved in the case of the missing leaf tips, as the acanthus style of ornament has a predictable design, in addition to there being a surplus of reference material in the carved chair-back itself. The task was made easier by the hints left in the way the carving had been undercut, as the decisions of the original carver left clues as to how the missing carving would have continued up from the breaks if one were to follow the curves to their conclusions. The missing finial, of course, could be copied directly from its mirror on the opposite side of the chair, barring a missing leaf tip at the top.

The replacement of the heraldic elements posed a greater challenge and was the area in which there was the greatest lack of reference material. The content of the missing heraldry is defined very clearly in the blazon – a written description of the coat of arms that leaves no uncertainty as to the devices that are featured – but the execution of the missing elements was more problematic. However, research yielded a copy of Edward Hatton’s  New View of London, published in 1708, in the British Library, and his comprehensive survey of London very handily included descriptions of the Halls and Arms of every Livery Company and, luckily, engravings of many of their coats of arms. Though published just under fifty years before the chair was made, this proved the closest reference image that could be obtained of the coat of arms at that time, and the most contemporary blazon:

“Crest is a Demy-Savage proper holding a Spear Or. Supporters 2 Cupids of the last, the dexter holding a Woman crowned with a Castle, the sinister a Square.”

This thankfully cleared the sometimes muddied record of what the dexter supporter was holding, which had in some references been more akin to a figure of Christ, and clarified her as wearing a mural coronet. The crest, a “Savage”, was shown in the reference image holding a tilting spear, which had in later incarnations developed into a regular spear. The savage motif has also been debated over the years: he is not a true Wild Man of the Woods, as these are usually depicted as extremely hairy, but is more likely to have Silvanus, the Roman God of the Woods, as his inspiration. Silvanus is commonly depicted with a crown of leaves, just as the Joiners & Ceilers’ Crest is, and makes a more understandable choice for a livery company devoted to working timber.

There were in total eleven missing pieces, comprising the arms from the supporters, an arm and head from the crest, the finial, and numerous leaf tips. Work began by modelling in a hard modelling wax, in order to create a removable reference for the new pieces being made and to fine-tune how best the new pieces ought to sit in relation to the old. Small blanks were then cut from Honduran mahogany, with the grain of the wood running in the same direction as on the original.

Carving began on pieces fixed to a piece of board with a hide-glue paper joint, allowing the carving to be held in place and the majority of the waste material removed with reference to the wax models before they were detached from the back board. With some excess material left, the carvings were then offered up to their positions, and the lengthy process of carving away their points of contact began. As it was not possible to remove any original material in order to “make good” the breaks, the new pieces had to be carved to marry up with the oftentimes jagged and uneven breaks.  It was particularly important at this stage to have excess material left, as it allowed the matching of contact points to be made exact before the rest of the carving was completed, in order that on pieces such as the sinister supporter’s arm, the square would sit vertically and at the correct angle. At this stage the small size and awkward shape of the carving demanded that it no longer be fixed or clamped, but held in one hand and carved with the other.

Figure 2. Savage crest with left arm, spear and head restored (Photography by Clunie Fretton)

The carving of the head (Figure 2) proved the greatest challenge due to the paucity of contemporary references. Inspiration was taken from the two supporters, which though carved with great facility also retained something of the uncanny in the proportions and shape of their faces. The broad foreheads and closely clustered features are typical of infants, but some of their unusual look was transposed into the head of the savage to create continuity with the existing carving style.

The finial, by contrast, could be worked more freely (Figure 4). After taking measurements the design was reversed, and carved largely by eye, so as to introduce the natural differences in appearance that occurred across the rest of the chair when the design was originally mirrored.



Figure 3. Restoration in progress. Spring clamp and Kemco platform in use on the sinister supporter (Photography by Clunie Fretton)

With the carving complete, the pieces were glued in place with hide glue bulked with coconut shell powder and microballoons. The clamping of the small and irregularly sized pieces was tricky, and the best solution proved to be using Kemco Impression Compound pressed onto the new carvings in order to create a platform for the spring clamps (Figure 3).

The chair had been French polished after (and over) the breaks, which was removed where it would interfere with the adhesion of the glue. The carvings were then colour-matched to the original using garnet shellac, a very close colour match, adjusted with a minute quantity of lamp black pigment. The additions were then rubbed back to be consistent with the wear on the original, and a small quantity of hard black wax used to smooth the joins where extensive wear of the breaks had rounded their edges. Renaissance Wax provided the top-surface in order to knock back any areas too deep to dull the sheen from the shellac by sanding.”

Figure 4. Comparison of finials: original on the left, restoration on the right (Photography by Clunie Fretton)


I’m grateful to the Worshipful Company of Joiners & Ceilers, Leela Meinertas, Nick Humphrey, and all the members of Furniture Conservation for their support during this project.

This blog is adapted from a version first published in the V&A’s Conservation Journal.

Each second-year student was given an object from Kensal Green Cemetery to examine and conserve during the Autumn and Spring Terms. The objects are all memorial plaques that are stored in the crypt of the Anglican Chapel at the cemetery.

They have been cleaning the objects to remove dust, soot (carbon) deposits, sulphation and other soiling. Consolidating friable areas of stone and carry out any necessary repairs, including fillings. They are also designing and constructing a wooden handling tray that the object can be stored in, to provide protection from handling and damage. In approaching the cleaning of these objects, the aim is to achieve a cohesive clean while also ensuring that the inscription remains as legible as possible because this is central to the significance of the object. On the photographs below you can see the students painting within the lettering with Gamblin colours.


Rian’s gilding module introduces oil gilding, water gilding, verre eglomise, pastiglia (raised gesso), sgraffito (egg tempera scored to reveal underneath layer of burnished gold leaf on a gesso ground), Verre églomisé (reverse glass gilding), textures in gesso, all essential skills in Conservation. To learn these gilding techniques, our first year students are using the moulds of fruit or vegetables that they have created in previous woodcarving, joinery modules and limewood boards. The course provide the opportunity to make a test panel with an array of colours, both traditional and bespoke from a variety of bole suppliers. It is also a chance to learn about colours used during particular periods in decorative art history and the countries that favoured them.



The Art & Material Histories students are getting their hands dirty again – this week they are up to their elbows in wet clay at Rochester Square Ceramic Studios in Camden, re-thinking the recently re-popularized but ancient craft of ceramics. Starting from a position of ‘not knowing’ and led by artist and researcher Laura White, the group are exploring without boundaries the rich potential of this earthly material.

Using different processes and clays – throwing, hand building, extruding and casting, using buff, porcelain and terracotta clay, the students are deconstructing the assumptions and ideologies around its craft by challenging not only the material’s behaviour but also their own!

Throughout 2020 and 2021, as part of its Material Matters programme, the Art School is engaging in a multidisciplinary research project investigating Clay through a broad range of artistic, historical and material contexts. For more information about our Material Matters programme and how you could participate in the MA in Art & Material Histories, contact us at

All photographs courtesy of Laura White.


We are well into the delivery of the first year of our brand new MA in Art & Materials Histories course here at the Art School. It’s not only the subject itself which is new, as it draws from contemporary critical thinking and material-based artistic practices, but also the way we are teaching it. We are working with the idea that in order to appropriately engage with new ways of material thinking, we also need to engage in new ways of learning, and the course is proving to be exemplary in this respect.

This week, our students took part in a day-long workshop with artist and researcher Laura White and materials expert, Senior Lecturer in Design at Goldsmiths College and joint founder of UCL’s Institute of Making, Martin Conreen. Blobs of silly Putty, blocks of metal foam, jars of impossibly light Aerogels and Mummy Black pigment and much, much more were handled, played with and critically evaluated in relation to future technologies and artistic practices.

Photo credit: Laura White

Last week, students took part in N16’s Meat & Delicatessen’s organic Poultry and Sausage workshop. Lead by expert butcher Paul Grout we learnt the craft of dissecting and tying a chicken and de-boning meat for the stuffing of Cumberland sausages. Reflecting on the sustainability of the meat industry and the increasing popularity of its alternatives, students worked side-by side with their teaching staff to experience hands-on the pleasures (and for our 2 veggie student’s, challenges) of organic meat preparation.

Photo credit: Laura White
Photo credit: Laura White
Photo credit: Laura White

Next week, our students will be out and about in London’s museums and galleries in order to discover and reflect on artworks material value, shifting status depending on their material context and the constructed narratives around them.

All in all, the course is shaping up to be one of the most innovative and progressive MA’s in contemporary Art History.

As part of the annual Venice trip in November 2019, the group of second year Conservation students visited the 16th Century Canton ​Synagogue at the heart of the world’s first ghetto with Art School Conservation Tutor, Jennifer Dinsmore, who gave the students fascinating insights into this impressive building with complex conservation challenges.

The Canton Synagogue was founded in 1532 and completely restored in late baroque period. The Jewish Museum of Venice, situated next to it, is a little but very rich museum founded in 1953 by the Jewish Community of Venice.

The precious objects shown to the public, which include important examples of goldsmith and textile manufacture made between the 16th and the 19th centuries, are a lively witnessing of the Jewish tradition.  Furthermore, the museum offers a wide selection of ancient books and manuscripts and some objects used in the most important moments of the cycle of civil and religious life.


Whilst we were visiting the Synagogue, we were lucky to watch the live Conservation of the terrazzo floor, a composite material using various stones such as marble, quartz, granite set in mortar, at the 16th-century Schola Grande Tedesca.



Miyuki Kajwara (current MA Conservation student) and Jonida Mecani (2019 BA Conservation alumna) have recently spent two months on San Giorgio Maggiore, a small island off Venice, after being selected to take part in a two-month, fully-funded internship at the Abbey of San Giorgio Maggiore. This initiative is supported by Venice in Peril, a fund dedicated to conserving Venice’s architectural heritage and treasures.

Miyuki and Jonida have been living and eating with the small community of Benedictine monks at the Abbey, whilst carrying out a conservation project to clean a series of stone sculptures around the inner walls of one of the entrances in Palladio’s Church. This has been a fantastic opportunity to work at a world-famous site with complex conservation requirements.

During our annual Venice trip in November 2019, we visited the two interns who introduced us to the work they have been carrying out and also showed us the wooden choir that was the focus of the previous year’s Venice in Peril interns, alumni Catherine Grey and Olivia McIlvenny. Their brief was to monitor the evolution of the corrosive insect infestation in the wooden carvings and present a detailed conservation report to officials at the Church with recommendations on how to conserve the ornate work.



The Gothic Cathedrals of the Isle-de-France

This is the third year that we have run a medieval study trip for first year carvers and conservators. This year the generous grant from the Stuart Heath Charitable Settlement allowed us to extend our range geographically into France, and increase the length of the trip from 3 to 4 days. This allowed us to make a tour of most of the major Cathedrals of the Isle-de-France, which encircle Paris with convenient travel  distances between.

The primary aim of this trip is to allow students to contextualise what is being learnt in Art Histories study, as well as their practical studies in the workshops and studios. The opportunity to physically experience the great Cathedrals on site, rather than through photographs, allows a much deeper understanding of the interrelationship of the architecture, sculpture and glass painting. Also it is possible to easily follow the chronological development of the Gothic style in its various phases and forms. The Early, High and Late Gothic  periods are  all perfectly exemplified in this closely related group of buildings that were at the epicentre of the development of medieval art through the 12th-15th centuries.

Given their age and the vicissitudes of time and history, these buildings also provide the perfect opportunity for staff and students to explore issues around the restoration and conservation of ancient monuments. Reims Cathedral, for instance, given its location on the front line in WWI, was tragically shelled leading to a disastrous fire and the collapse of some parts of the building, necessitating a major restoration programme. At the time this shocking event had an impact across Europe, much like that created by the recent destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas and Palmyra by ISIS forces. More recently Chartres Cathedral has undergone a radical and controversial clean internally which has led to heated debate in heritage circles. There is no better place to discuss the issues arising from events like these than in the buildings themselves, where the effects of damage, decay, restoration and conservation can be seen directly.

Apart from the academic benefits, the social opportunities of such trips are also very significant, allowing conservation and carving students to get to know one another better, as well as staff. Given the generous sponsorship, we were also able to offer discounted place to students from other years, as well as to staff, and in the end a total of 37 students and staff participated in the trip.


We set off on the Friday with a long coach journey that delivered us to the start of our itinerary at Laon Cathedral. Dramatically silhouetted on a hill that dominates the surrounding countryside, the west front was washed by the late afternoon sunshine when we arrived.  Memorably, after the coach took a wrong turn, we were given a police  escort to the set-down point. Laon is a little visited masterpiece of early Gothic design, so the perfect place to start the visit, as its powerfully modelled façade and richly sculpted portals were highly original, famous throughout late 12th century Europe, and very influential in the later development of portal sculpture. Following installation in our hotel, the evening was spent eating in the varied restaurants of the old medieval town.


Saturday found us at Reims, sadly out of sequence chronologically in our list of Cathedrals, but the influence of the Laon experiments on the facade of Reims is very apparent. Reims was the coronation church of French royalty, and a centre of carving, particularly notable for its figure sculpture as well as its naturalistic foliage carving. In England, exquisite examples of this style are found at Southwell and York Minster, so close to the Reims spirit that the English carvers must have visited and studied it. Some of the third years who participated in the trip were able to remember seeing the Southwell carvings on our first medieval study trip, which took us up the east side of the country to Lincoln ,York and Durham.

We had two Frenchmen on the trip, one a student, the other a tutor, Ghislain Puget, who knew the  building well having worked on its restoration.


By Sunday we had reached Chartres, where we had an extended stay, given the importance of the building in the history of Gothic architecture. Although it was the first great monument of the High Gothic style, its West Front carvings pre-date the rest of the building by some 50 years and are themselves the best and most perfectly preserved example of early Gothic sculpture. Despite the bitterly cold weather, the group enjoyed a thorough exposition of the sculptures by Michael Paraskos, our Art History Tutor.


Next on the itinerary was Beauvais  which is famed for the tallest vault ever built in the Gothic period. Unfortunately, in their ambition, the builders overreached themselves and the vaults collapsed soon after construction. Undaunted, they were rebuilt, and remarkably, despite not completing the nave, a tower and spire of even more spectacular height was added later. It too collapsed, so Beauvais remains a heroic fragment, still beset by problems of stability as evidenced by the ugly wooden bracing to be seen inside the church. This was the coldest day of the trip, with snow whipping round our ears as we studied  the building. The buttresses supporting the vault of the choir are so tall and spindly that the whole structure needed to be made more rigid with the introduction of tie bars at a high level. In ornamental terms, the building is very interesting, as  renaissance forms start to appear amongst the gothic foliage of the north transept portals.


By Monday lunchtime the road was leading us back north-west to Calais, via Amiens Cathedral, roughly contemporary with Reims but fortunately less damaged in WWI. Consequently, the choir furnishings remain intact and feature some beautifully preserved late Gothic polychrome carvings facing the aisles, whilst the wooden choir stalls are extraordinary, featuring much virtuoso late Gothic carving. We managed to obtain special permission to enter the choir to sketch and photograph these closely, much to the delight of the woodcarvers. One sharp eyed student identified a small WWI memorial cut by Eric Gill, the lettering of which really stood out against the indifferent French lettercutting of the period.


Although focus of the trip was on the study of medieval art and architecture, we also managed a couple of other visits en route. The first was to the Palace of Fontainebleau, the next largest royal palace to Versailles, famed for the Galerie Francois I, with its Early Renaissance carved panelling, and its figurative stucco decorations by Rosso and Primaticcio, who were amongst the first to bring Renaissance forms to Northern Europe from Italy.

Finally, we concluded with a stop at the WWI Memorial at Thiepval, in the form of a monumental arch designed by Lutyens and poignantly inscribed with the names of over 70,000 servicemen who died in the surrounding fields but have no known graves. It seemed right to stop here in this centenary year of the end of the Great War.

Given the generous funding available to support it, this was the most ambitious and successful medieval study trip to date. First years were heavily subsidised,  and smaller subsidies were made available to other students as well as tutors. The increased numbers attracted by the bargain prices meant that costs per person could be  kept really low (£135 for first years and £200 for others).

Next year we may repeat this model of coach travel to nearby European centres, but are also considering the possibility of travelling further afield by budget airline and running a single location trip.

‘Intimacy’ is something we have been thinking about in the Art Histories recently; the intimacy of love and a love for art’s objects, and the intimacy we forge with certain ideas. Of course, making engenders a particular kind of closeness with the materials we use; the hand and eye’s special knowledge of material qualities and ‘the shape of things’ is what most art making depends on. But there is also an unquestionable intimacy in the love we have for art made by others. We often love and sometimes fall in love with the objects of art – and it is through our fidelity to that love that we discover something new about those objects, but also something new about ourselves. Research, when it is done well, is arguably an expression of love, which goes some way to explain why the madness of spending all weekend in bed with a book of theory or flying half way round the world just to see an exhibition, visit an archive or hear an artist talk, can feel so right. Writing about art is also an intimate affair, and good art writing can read like a love letter to the art objects of our desire.

I met with Tess Charnley at the Art School soon after she had got back from New York. We sat in the school’s café, and over coffee and cake, spoke about love and intimacy and the gut-felt longing one can have for art’s many things. Tess told me about Wojnarowicz and his death and the complex relationship she has with him. After our meeting Tess wrote the following brilliant and beautiful text and kindly suggested that we publish it here for others to read. For me, When I Put My Hands On Your Body embodies so much of what good art writing can be – it is intimate and honest and longing for something that ultimately can’t be found.

Tom Groves



When I Put My Hands On Your Body

 It was a March day in New York last year, wild with snow. Having spent two days schlepping from closed museum to closed museum, drawing time in cafes and bars, I was jet-lagged and uneasy. I had travelled from London to be in his archive, to follow an interest that I couldn’t seem to satiate at home, and everything was shut. It seemed fitting, considering his fascination with the elements, that this should be what stood between us. But on that Thursday morning, the snow was greying on the pavement as the city began to thaw.

Archives are strange places. They are imbued with so much time; the sense of time that comes with preservation, the time of a life, the time consumed by research. It’s a lot of pressure. Almost like going to meet someone with whom you have been talking online for weeks; you’ve forged a mediated intimacy and now it’s time for the real thing. You can’t know how much a person really turns you on until you sit with them, calculating how many centimetres you would have to move for your skin to be on theirs.

My fascination with David Wojnarowicz began in November 2017, when I first encountered one of his photographs in a small seminar room. The image was of Peter Hujar, his friend, mentor, and few times lover, shot moments after his death from AIDS. The photograph reeked of death and I felt an immediate kinship with Wojnarowicz. It made me dizzy. I hadn’t realised that death looks the same worn by most. The image led me stumbling from the room, propelled backwards again. For weeks, the photograph bounced around my consciousness, the face of its subject interchangeable.

The more I learnt about him, the more my interest grew. He was a writer, a painter, an activist. He died of AIDS. Also, he was sexy; in his descriptions of cruising the Hudson River piers, in the fury of his writing, in the cigarette dangling from his lips and the drawl of his voice. I thought about him incessantly and wrote about him sporadically. I still do.

His archive at Fales is extensive. It includes phone logs, letters, photography, video and reams of journals which he kept predominately in blue linen books with black spines, worn from hundreds of hands like mine. These journals were digitised in 2013 and so I have already scrutinised them from a distance, trying to work him out. But now I am here with dozens laid out before me, my skin reddening despite the snow outside. My ears are hot and I’m aware of a bead of sweat making its way down my arm. It’s a feeling I’ve never had without a man sitting across from me.

Often writing without punctuation, there is an urgency to Wojnarowicz’s words; onomatopoeia for his activism. But the journals are also eccentric and eclectic. Full of drawings; receipts; an old menu from a Chinese takeaway. And here is the magic of the archive. Touching his pages, seeing the way his pen has dented the paper, pulling out the menus, the receipts… Turning over a letter from Peter Hujar’s doctor with his AIDS diagnosis that Wojnarowicz has illustrated with a drawing of two men kissing, to see that his pen has bled through to the other side – the lasting image an intimate embrace.

The main thing I am here to see is the Magic Box. Found under his bed after his death, the Magic Box, an old wooden fruit box with ‘Magic Box’ written on masking tape on its exterior, houses fifty eight objects. According to his biographer, Cynthia Carr, no one knew of the box’s existence while he was alive and it is only once alluded to in his journals. The objects themselves seem disparate, ranging from rosaries and crucifixes to toy insects and miniature globes; dried flowers and photographs to a Buddha sculpture and a skull, but they are the roots of the cosmic symbology that crops up in Wojnarowicz’s work again and again. The snake in Junk Diptych; the maps that appear throughout his work; the ants in The Ant Series, to name a few.

Taking the lid off the box, the musty smell hits my nostrils and I envisage him performing the same action. When was the last time? And what did he retrieve, or deposit? How did he touch these things? Did he sift his fingers through, pulling out a necklace or a toy, or did he close his palms around each object individually, dividing his attention between them. And why? To collect and store these things, to weave them into his work, into his language. They must be significant. And what came first, the objects or the work? The box defines enigma.

I wonder if there’s any of his skin left on the objects, or if its all been rubbed away through years of handling. Fales provide white cotton gloves but don’t insist that they are worn apart from in handling photographs. I am acutely aware that this is the closest I’ll ever come to touching him. My skin on his skin, the object as the medium between us. One by one I lay the ephemera out on a piece of grey foam. They don’t all fit but that’s the fun of it. I can play around as I imagine he used to. Grouping different objects, arranging and re-arranging them, choosing a key player and the supporting roles. My favourite is the cobalt blue skull, the chalkiness of its surface not evident in photographs. Months later, I remember how I was struck by the intensity of its pigment. A similar vividity that sings out from Wojnarowicz’s paintings, blues and reds.

I leave the archive feeling empty in some way, familiar grief inching into my periphery. I want to tell him how I feel, how his work and his words have transformed me but there is a finality in a person’s archive – in seeing once and for all that all is left of a person’s trace is paper and things, flat screens with flickering images, crackling audio recordings that surely can’t come close to the real thing. Even if all of this is housed in one place they only produce a hum of the person, that you’ll chase for hours and never quite locate.

Tess Charnley 2019

Tess Charnley is an independent writer and curator based in London. She has recently curated a group exhibition, Experiment | Control at Blyth Gallery.’ Instagram – @tesscharnley


The Art Histories Department is delighted to announce the inaugural awarding of the CGLAS Art Monthly Prize for Critical Writing.

The prize is unique within the UK and judged by Chris McCormack Associate Editor and Production Manager of the highly influential journal Art Monthly who this year selected three outstanding theses from the BA (Fine Art) third year and one overall winner.

Chris commented on the ‘depth of research’ and ‘freshness of voice’ in the theses he read and remarked on their incredibly high level of critical thinking.

Nell Nicholas’ Exploring the Significance of Site in Michael Rakowitz’s “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist”, and Cora Sehgal-Cuthbert’s  The Space Beneath: The Unintended Consequences of the Underpass, in Tallow by Joseph Beuys, This is England by Shane Meadows and Affect Bridge Age Regression by Mark Leckey were selected as the the runners-up, and Megan Elliot’s On Being Human:How is the body represented in Cécile B Evans’ What the Heart Wants was the 2018 overall winner.



Tom Groves, Head of the Art Histories Department has invited artist Corey Bartle-Sanderson to produce a series of photographic works inspired by the creative environment of the art school. Corey spent several days in the school closely observing the objects and materials in our wood and stone workshops, fine art studios, and conservation labs. In keeping with his own fascination with the juxtapositions between traditional materials and the aesthetics and values of today’s consumer culture, Bartle-Sanderson’s highly sensitive response unearths the ways in which certain histories, ideologies, agencies and affects play themselves out through the material environment of the school.


In a brilliant lecture about her creative practice and research platform Tenderfoot, Artist and writer Laura White introduces our Fine Art students to a range of strategies to rethink and reimagine the stuff of our material world.

Laura’s work revolves around a ‘negotiation with the world of STUFF’, and seeks to examine our interactions with materials and objects and ask critical questions about their ‘value, profile, association, meaning and behavior’.  Laura is fascinated with the ways Things act as both material stuff and anthropological signifiers, that are capable of revealing the human condition – vulnerabilities and capabilities, value systems affected by consumerism and material status, and objects/human dependencies.

During the workshop, our students asked all manner of questions including ‘how might sound enable us to describe what a hole feels like‘, ‘why a thin film of plastic, frustrates the hands’ desire to touch and be touched‘ and ‘what does the internet weigh? ‘. In a discussion around one of the workshop activities, Fine Art Student Amelie Peace described watching her blindfolded classmate Rose Shuckburgh work out what she was holding as an ‘almost sensuous experience’.

At CGLAS the essential properties of all things, whether they are paper-thin, hard as nails, soft to the touch, sticky, slimy or digitalized, fascinate us. Laura’s lecture and workshop gave us an inspired insight into how such research preoccupations can be made manifest in material things.

On 10th December, from 6-9pm CGLAS Art Histories lecturer Oriana Fox will present The O Show  at Block 336.

Be part of a live audience and join Oriana, a professional artist and doctor of philosophy who hosts the kind of chat show you’ve always wanted to see.The O Show provides fresh inspiration and straight talk from the mouths of artists, psychologists and activists who, like mainstream TV chat show guests, have little to no difficulty ‘spilling the beans’, even when their lives and opinions defy expectations and convention.


Oil on canvas, 100x250cm

John Moores Painting Prize UK & China Prize Winners Show is an exhibition of paintings by Martin Greenland, winner of the John Moores Painting Prize in 2006, Nicholas Middleton, twice winner of the John Moore’s Visitors Choice Prize 2006 and 2010, showing alongside Xueqing Zhong, JMPP China winner 2018, Duan Xiaogang and Huo Xumin, JMPP China prizewinners 2018. Part of the Liverpool Independents Biennial 2018.

Corke Gallery, 296-298 Aigburth Road, Liverpool, L17 9PW

Private view: Friday 12 October, 6pm – 8.30pm
The exhibition runs until Friday 30 November 2018 and is open 10am – 2pm from Thursday to Saturday.

Jeanne Callanan, who recently received her MA (Distinction) in Conservation, travelled to Paris earlier in September, to give a paper at the LACONA XII conference.


The LACONA conference (Lasers in the Conservation of Artworks) is a series of congresses begun in 1995 which are devoted to the application of lasers for cleaning artworks,  the use of lasers as analytical tools and achieving a better understanding of the impact of lasers.

Jeanne’s paper, “Lasers and Ivory: An Analysis and Case Study”, presented the results of her conservation treatment of a nineteenth century Chinese ivory lidded basket and of her research on the effects of the Nd:YAG Q-switched (1064 nm) and Er:YAG (2940 nm) laser systems on ivory.


The conference was an excellent opportunity for Jeanne to showcase her work and to meet other conservators from Europe and America who are using lasers in their practices. It was also a chance to showcase the important work being undertaken at the Art School on an international stage.

Commenting on her experience at the conference, Jeanne says, “When I was asked to present a paper at LACONA XII I was thrilled to be part of such an influential event, attended by conservation professionals from around the world. My research findings were very well received by the conference attendees, and I had the opportunity to network with many conservators and scientists in the heritage sector.”

Jeanne was our very first MA Conservation student, and came to the Art School with an impressive academic and professional portfolio. She already has an MA (Distinction) in History of Art and Archaeology from SOAS, University of London  and has worked for Sotheby’s New York as a Specialist in the Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art Department, the National Gallery and the V&A Museum.

The research Jeanne undertook for her MA Conservation focused on comparing the effects of different laser systems for cleaning ivory. She used Time of Flight Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (ToF-SIMS) in the Materials Science Department, Imperial College, to analyse changes to the surface chemistry of the ivory after irradiation and Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) as a complementary analytical technique.

The Art School acquired the state-of-the-art Nd:YAG Q-switched (1064 nm) laser in 2008, and is the only UK conservation teaching institution enabling students to investigate important new cleaning techniques using this technology.

The exquisite, Chinese, nineteenth century ivory basket used in Jeanne’s research project is from the Portland Collection, and is just one of the historical objects loaned to our Conservation Department for conservation projects. We have built up an impressive list of collaborators, both public institutions and private collectors, who regularly loan objects on this basis. Many collaborators also offer internships, work placements and live commissions, which provide essential professional experience for our students.

We’re very proud of Jeanne’s impressive achievements and will follow her career with interest as she continues to excel in the heritage sector.

Akira Inman recently graduated from our Diploma in Architectural Stone Carving course in June 2017. He has started working on a conservation project at Stavanger Domkirke in Norway, and here he writes about his experience of this fascinating programme. His account has also been printed in Forum, the journal of the Letter Exchange.

“I am very fortunate to be the first permanent stone carver on-site in a long-term conservation project on the 900-year-old cathedral, Stavanger Domkirke in the coastal city of Stavanger, Norway. Scheduled to be completed by 2025, it is commissioned by the Municipality of Stavanger with the Archeological Museum of Stavanger (University of Stavanger), my employers, who were awarded with the contract. The museum’s role is to restore and conserve all of the stone elements, both the exterior envelope and the building interior.

Cathedral of Stavanger, Norway. Own photography. {{cc-by-sa-2.5}}

Stavanger Cathedral, dated from 1125, is a Romanesque structure but was rebuilt and ‘modernised’ with a Gothic choir in the 1300’s after a fire in 1272. At the time of construction, Stavanger was a very small community with no history of erecting large stone structures: it is thought that the presiding bishop imported stonemasons from his hometown of Winchester. Perhaps through me they are following the tradition of hiring out some of the stonework to a non-Norwegian.

My background is in creative new-builds and heritage stone masonry, dry stone walling, and plaster conservation. Most recently I completed a three-year stone carving diploma program at City & Guilds of London Art School. While at C&G I was awarded the Idun Ravndal work/travel grant to Norway. This is how I met the Norwegian carving community and was introduced to two of their more well-known stone cathedrals; Nidaros Domkirke in Trondheim and Stavanger Domkirke. Both are undergoing significant restoration.

My responsibilities include carving stone mouldings and gothic ornamental carvings that have been included in the scope of the repair works. We are currently working on the East elevation of the building where most of the work involves correcting the previous restorations (1867, 1920, and 1984). As is often the case with ancient buildings that have evolved since their original construction, Stavanger Domkirke is a palimpsest of past architectural styles and conservation interventions: the cathedral displays a variety of techniques and approaches to conservation and the decorative arts. These past interventions, using modern materials such as ferrous dowels, cement and synthetic resins, are the direct causes of damage. Additionally the prosperous 19th century fish canning industry’s smoke from the smoking of the fish added to the air pollution, along with sea mist and the weather.

The cathedral is predominantly built with Gneiss, granite and greenschist but the east elevation, decorations, doorjambs and quoins are carved from soapstone (called kleberstein) which is quarried locally in Norway. The stone I am working with is the kleberstein: it is a dense, low porosity metamorphic with a high talc content making it soft and easily workable, at least when there are no inclusions of dolomite interfering with my chisel. It is also very resistant to heat – a valuable trait utilized from ancient times as cooking vessels and used for trade throughout the Viking and Medieval periods. Although there were many quarries available in the past, a significant proportion of them are now protected heritage sites; currently only one of them, Målselv, (also protected), supplies
carving-grade kleberstein to both Nidaros and our cathedral. Fortunately it possesses a large quantity of stone that has already been extracted and Nidaros’ workshop, being a larger operation than ours, can process the stones for us. With similar interests, conservation ethics and principles to Nidaros Domkirke we have been able to share knowledge and expertise along with our most basic natural resource.

Our approach to this project is not only to physically restore the domkirken but to encourage and preserve the traditional crafts and techniques required for authenticity in the process. In the case of Stavanger, all stone carving is by hand and we are using only lime-based mortars for our construction. In the past, considerable efforts were made on construction work for log houses and stave churches, through the Riksantikvaren (Directorate of Cultural History in Norway) Middle Ages Program and later through the Stavkirke (Stavechurch) program. For these decades-long initiatives, carpenters and joiners were trained in medieval craftsmanship and material understanding. A similar effort has not until now been seen for traditional masonry and stonework.

At Stavanger Domkirke, there is great care taken in the documentation of all aspects of this project and fortunately we have the capacity to save and store all the stones being replaced. It is too often the case that when a building is restored most of the stone elements removed are destroyed in the process, usually for budgetary or logistical constraints or both. In our case, the size of the cathedral and therefore the quantity of disturbed materials allows for a reasonably-sized safe space for storage for the benefit of future interests and investigations into our own historical moment in time, heritage and craftsmanship. Another unique aspect of this project is the use of the archaeological museum’s scientific resources to test materials in order to explore traditional techniques. Specifically,
the kleberstein used extensively in our cathedral is little known outside Norway and rarely used for carved ornament or masonry building. It is therefore something of a renewed field of study.


I work in a small and diverse team made up of fixer masons, conservators and researchers, all from different backgrounds, education and countries: four of whom are graduates of C&G. The size of the team facilitates a healthy sharing of knowledge. I am nowhere near fluent in speaking and reading Norwegian yet, but I look forward to learning more in order to delve into their literature and research surrounding Stavanger Domkirke and Norway’s heritage history.”



Our 3rd year students are working hard to finish their Conservation projects before the degree show in June 2018. Colour matching, gilding, reconstructing missing parts, removing old paint, gluing, laser cleaning, filling, reinforcing, cutting brass or using the Shimbari box… our Conservation studios are buzzing with skills and creativity.

Laser cleaning on ivory movie


Co-Edited by Art Histories Tutor and Lecturer Jon Shaw, Fiction As Method published by Sternberg Press 2018 is a brilliant illustration of the fact that ‘Fictions, by definition, are works that present us with unreal stories and situations. And yet, these fictions – novels- sings, pictures, theories and so on – are themselves actual things in the world. They are processes, performances, and objects. They portray unrealities, but they themselves are real. The essays in this volume, from a wide variety of points of view, all consider the reality of avowed fictions; their powers and effects, both for good and ill’ (Steven Shaviro, DeRoy Professor of English, Wayne State University)

Fiction As Method is available in all good bookshops and of course for loan in the City and Guilds of London Art School Library.

Early November is always eagerly anticipated by second year carvers and conservators ; the annual study trip to Venice is one of the highlights of the course. We get to stay on the beautiful island of San Giorgio Maggiore, just across the lagoon from St Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace. San Giorgio is the home of the Cini Foundation, an educational and cultural institute located within the old Benedictine monastery there, and the site of our accommodation.

The island of San Giorgio Maggiore, seen from St.Mark’s Square, and home of the Cini Institute, where we stay

The trip is an intensive 5 days of visits to the churches and monuments of the city, prefaced by an hour of lectures each morning, and accompanied by tutors who lead guided walking tours around the main sites, as well as seeking out the lesser known cultural gems that are off the tourist trail. It’s the perfect location for our purposes, with a wealth of stone and wood carving of all periods to see, as well as a myriad of conservation problems, given the extraordinary location of the city.

A group shot below the famous Colleen Statue by Verocchio

Every year there are new things to discover. As well as the Venice Biennale of contemporary art, this year there was also the huge Damien Hirst exhibition, itself featuring many highly crafted pieces in all kinds of precious materials. However you value Hirst’s work, the quality of the craftsmanship and the technical brilliance of many of the pieces was striking. Another highlight of the trip was a transport strike on the day we were due to leave. This necessitated a return to the airport by water taxi, rather than the public bus we normally take through the mainland suburbs – a really memorable way to leave the city!

Art Histories tutor Sue Jenkins discussing the Carpaccio paintings in the Scuola San Giorgio

Woodcarving Tutor Peter Thuring discovering something new in San Pietro Martire on the island of Murano

Some bling dredged up by Damien Hirst from the wreck of the Unbelievable


Art Histories tutor Dr Rachel Warriner has curated the show Vox Materia with new work by Alice Maher as part of curatorial partnership Pluck Projects. The exhibition draws on ideas examined in the Fine Art undergraduate Art Histories lectures Bodies in Context and Representations and CGLAS MA course in Critical Aesthetics that Rachel contributes to, looking at themes of the representation of women, the abstract representation of the bodily and the ways in which these connect to contemporary gender politics. Launching at the Source Arts Centre on the 29th March, 2018 the show includes new work from this important feminist artist and key figure for Irish art. It will move in September 2018 to the Crawford Art Galley, Cork and is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue of the work produced by the Source Arts Centre to which Rachel has co-written an essay with art historian and critic Sarah Kelleher.

For more information see Pluck Projects’ blog at and Alice Maher’s website

Kim Amis teaches Modeling in relief to the Conservation students in Year 1.

The purpose of this modelling exercise is to gain an experience of transcribing a two-dimensional image into relief form. The depth of the relief will be decided by the peer group. The casting process learned in the first term should be sufficient to enable students to produce a plaster positive cast in self-directed time. Students have been supplied with an image from the pictorial archive of Historic Ornament


Alex Owen graduated from our BA (Hons) Conservation Studies course in 2014. Here he tells us about his inspirational journey from Conservation Studies undergrad to Wooden Objects Conservator at the British Museum…

On my first day at City & Guilds I can remember feeling a little lost and incredibly curious. On campus you are always very aware that most of what City & Guilds does is teach the creative arts. I just remember wanting to spend time in historic stone and wood carving, in the wood shop, and the sculpture and fine art studios. Conservation felt like a complication – a behemoth of unknowns keeping me from exploring the labyrinthine site and getting to know all its inhabitants and learning about what they did.

From the outset I wanted to focus on Wood and Furniture conservation and was particularly interested in developing craft skills. However I soon developed a fascination with science spurred on by the practical way it is taught and applied at City & Guilds. I also paid full attention to anything the tutors would impart, from Pigments to History of Art, the Lime Cycle to the use of gels for cleaning. This gregarious approach to the diverse curriculum at City & Guilds has held me in good stead as it has allowed me to, for example, work as a stone conservator for Taylor Pearce between contracts at the Victoria and Albert museum’s Furniture Conservation Department.

19th Century export lacquer tea caddy

In fact since graduating I’ve had to be very versatile. Among other roles I’ve worked as a stone conservator in private practice and as a furniture conservator in a museum environment as mentioned above, I’ve worked as a preventive conservator seconded to Westminster Abbey, and as a frames and gilded furniture conservator at a small private studio. I’ve taken on private conservation, gilding, and restoration work. I also busied myself with being on the committee, and ultimately chairing, the Icon Furniture and Wooden Object Group.

Oil gilding in the Sovereign's Robing Room at the Palace of Westminster.

I am certain that this plurality of post-graduate experience played a large part in my being offered a permanent position as Wooden Objects Conservator at the British Museum, a dream job for me. However, I think the biggest single reason for my success was a placement at the V&A during my studies, facilitated by one of my tutors. The opportunity to work in a museum environment allowed me to prove myself in that immediate context. Then when temporary contracts came up at the V&A, I was a known and proven entity. Having then secured that experience, when applying for the position at the British Museum I was able to demonstrate an ability to deliver results at a large national museum.

Carrying out veneer replacements on a long case clock

Now I am beginning my career at the British Museum. I have been made section lead for Japanese and Korean objects with a focus on lacquer, and for large archaeological wooden objects. I also have responsibility for the Organics section’s machine tools and woodworking room. But what I really love about working here is the diversity of challenging objects we get to work on – my first object was a Haitian Voodoo drum!



Frame and Furniture Conservation projects with Tutor Gerry Alabone

Historic Crafts: Gilding & Japanning



BA (Hons) Conservation

MA Conservation



  1. Consolidating a C19th export lacquer tea caddy for my 3rd year practical project at City & Guilds
  2. Oil gilding in the Sovereign’s Robing Room at the Palace of Westminster.
  3. © The Trustees of the British Museum. Shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) licence. Carrying out veneer replacements on a long case clock.

There is lots of exciting new work being produced in Part 2 of the Foundation Diploma in Art and Design.


Part 2 of the course is called “Development and Progression” and you can see that the students are certainly exploring a range of approaches and learning about new materials and processes. They are also being kept very busy building portfolios that will secure places on courses next year.


Vasari Digital Animation Series: Joey Holder and Candida Powell-Williams

Friday 2 February 6:30 – 9:00

In collaboration with the Vasari Research Centre for Art and Technology

Artists Joey Holder and Candida Powell-Williams both use animation to explore the relationship between digital and biological forms. Holder’s work considers the structures and hierarchies of the technological and natural worlds, and how these systems are constantly abstracted. Powell-Williams’ practice merges sculptural installations, performance and GIFs, using them to address the construction of identity through objects and memory.

Following screenings of work by both artists, Holder and Powell-Williams will discuss hybrids, molluscs, fantasy and the interplay between the digital and the corporeal in their work.

Joey Holder is a London based artist who received her BA from Kingston University (2001) and her MFA from Goldsmiths (2010). Her artistic practice and research spans video and multimedia installations both online and offline. Her work raises philosophical questions of our universe and things yet unknown, regarding the future of science, medicine, biology and human-machine interactions. Working with scientific and technical experts she makes immersive, multi-media installations that explore the limits of the human and how we experience non-human, natural and technological forms. Mixing elements of biology, nanotechnology and natural history against computer programme interfaces, screen savers and measuring devices, she suggests the impermanence and inter-changeability of these apparently contrasting and oppositional worlds: ‘everything is a mutant and a hybrid’. Connecting forms which have emerged through our human taste, culture and industrial processes she investigates complex systems that dissolve notions of the ‘natural’ and the ‘artificial’. GM products, virtual biology and aquatic creatures are incorporated into an extended web; challenging our perception of evolution, adaptation and change. By contrasting so-called ‘organic’ and ‘man-made’ substances and surfaces through a series of abstractions, she creates a world of manifold layers, none more unified or natural than the next. These hybridities may suggest a particular function or natural form but remain elusive through their odd displacement.


solo/duo exhibitions include ‘SELACHIMORPHA’, Photographers Gallery, London (2017), ‘Ophiux’, Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge (2016), ‘TETRAGRAMMATON’, LD50, London (duo w/ John Russell) (2016), ‘Lament of Ur’, Karst, Plymouth (duo w/ Viktor Timofeev) (2015);

‘BioStat.’, Project Native Informant, London (2015) and ‘HYDROZOAN’, The Royal Standard, Liverpool (2014). Recent group exhibitions include ‘HYDROZOAN’ at the 7th Moscow International Biennale Of Contemporary Art, Russia (2017), ‘WALLPAPERS’ at New Forms

Festival, Canada (2017), ‘Designing Desire’ at FACT, Liverpool, UK (2017), ‘Alien Matter’, Transmediale, Berlin (2017), The Noise of Being, Sonic Acts, Amsterdam (2017), ‘Winter is Coming’, Georg Kargl, Vienna (2016), ‘The Uncanny Valley’, Wysing Arts Centre,

Cambridge (2015); BODY HOLES, New Scenario, online exhibition at the 9th Berlin Biennale, Berlin, Germany (2016), ‘Sunscreen’, online and at Venice Biennale (2015); ‘A Plague of Diagrams’, ICA, London, UK (2015), ‘#WEC- Whole Earth Catalyst’, The Composing

Rooms, Berlin, Germany (2015); ‘h y p e r s a l o n’, Art Basel Miami, USA (2014); ‘Vestige: The Future is Here’, Design Museum, London (2013) and ‘Multinatural Histories’, Harvard Museum of Natural History, Massachusetts, USA (2013).

Candida Powell-Williams lives and works in London. She graduated from the RCA, London in 2011. Selected exhibitions include: ‘Boredom and its Acid Touch’, Frieze Live (2017); ‘Tongue Town’, Museum of Modern Art, São Paulo; ‘Cache’, Art Night, London (2017); and ‘Coade’s Elixir’, Hayward Gallery, London (2014). In 2013 Powell-Williams was awarded the Sainsbury Scholarship at BSR, Rome. She is currently artist in residence the Warburg Institute London.

Elizabeth Johnson is an Art Histories lecturer at City and Guilds Art School and is an Associate Research Fellow in the Vasari Centre for Art and Technology, Birkbeck 


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