All posts by bethanygoodman

May Day celebrations

by Bethany Goodman

Happy May Day to those who celebrate, and well done if you’re still awake from May-eve yesterday.

May Day has a rich history in Oxford, with Magdalen College Choir playing a particularly large part in the day’s proceedings if you’re dedicated enough to make it into town for the 6am start.

Celebrations have happened across the country for centuries, with standard festivities including the anointing of a May Queen, maypole dancing and Morris dancing.

The artist Tom Phillips had an abiding interest in photographic postcards, collecting around 50,000 of them from junk shops and flea markets and painstakingly categorising and sorting them by theme. This rich collection is now in the Bodleian (catalogue online soon) and one box, ‘Patriotic & Fete: May Queen’, presents a view of the enduring nostalgia of May Day. It especially captures the role of children in the celebrations, from a particularly young Queen (where is her Regent!), to a proud note highlighting the dedication of a group of children to their contribution in the festivities.

Figure 1 The May Queen (MS. 19966/73)

Figure 2 Maypole dancing (MS. 19966/73)

 

New catalogue: the archive of Richard Shirley Smith

by Bethany Goodman

The archive of the artist Richard Shirley Smith is now catalogued and available to readers at the Weston Library.

Figure 1 Photograph of Richard Shirley Smith (MS. 21920 photogr. 44)

Richard Shirley Smith began his artistic career studying at the Slade School of Fine Art, before moving to Rome for a few years, a period reflected in a large portion of his following work. In 1963 he became a lecturer at the St. Albans School of Art, before taking up a position as Head of the Art Department at Marlborough College in 1966. Although he continued creating artwork throughout this time, it was during the 1970s when his work began to gather momentum.

From the late 1970s into the 2000s, Shirley Smith’s murals were a fixture in London’s interior design scene and featured in a number of magazines, including Vogue. Today, we are fortunate to have three such murals on display in the Weston Library, which we welcome readers to view next time they visit.

Not to be confined to bricks-and-mortar, Shirley Smith also established his work in the publishing world. His intricate wood engravings graced the cover and filled the pages of numerous special edition publications, including those produced by The Folio Society. Additionally, he was commissioned to create bookplate designs for several society figures, each showcasing the individual personality of the client, including several appearances of family pets. His contributions to a florilegium for Highgrove House, designed in conjunction with Charles III, then Prince Charles, can be considered a highlight.

Figure 2 Pulcinella Engine Driver (Second Version) ©Richard Shirley Smith, sourced from richardshirleysmith.co.uk

It is with his paintings and collages, however, that we see Shirley Smith’s own artistic preferences come to the fore. Included amongst these works are several paintings depicting groups of mischievous Pulcinella, my personal favourites, alongside thoughtfully constructed still life scenes and fabulous surrealist designs, many of which were displayed during a comprehensive exhibition at the Ashmolean in 1985.

The archive contains a small number of personal papers and materials relating to various publications and exhibitions. However, the strength of the collection lies in its representation of the diverse breadth of Shirley Smith’s work, with an extensive series containing original artwork in the form of: sketchbooks, prints, photographs, planning works and over 150 printing blocks, including both linocuts and woodblocks. This material presents a comprehensive overview of Richard Shirley Smith’s oeuvre, providing a wonderful snapshot into the work and life of an influential modern British artist.

Figure 3 Woodblock for A Point of Departure (1967) (JL 1072/9)