For the last few days we have had the pleasure of spending time with Richard and Mary La Trobe-Bateman at their beautiful home in Somerset.
I was here last 16 years ago on my first trip to the UK, when Richard kindly responded positively to my request to come and stay and work with him for a while. I was travelling to Japan and the UK studying traditional crafts and their post World War 2 trajectories in these two radically different but strangely akin ‘island cultures’. Both islands played pivotal roles in the war despite their limited sizes, populations and resources. Both countries were decimated by the war and lost almost a whole cadre of young men who would otherwise (probably) carried on living craft traditions. Both cultures were fundamentally changed by the war and took radically new cultural trajectories following the war. I was curious how the crafts had endured and been changed through this process.
Richard was a great person to spend time with and to bounce many of my ideas off. He is an arch modernist and helped me understand and appreciate the key tenets of modernism. He also helped me see the various value systems and concepts imbedded in modes of making.
He studied under David Pye at the Royal College of Art – the key analyst of the ‘nature of workmanship’. And many of Pye’s perspectives are now made manifest in Richard’s mature work. Richard made the prescient move in the early 70’s to escape London and acquire a little chunk of rural England while it was affordable and so ensure a professional lifetime of minimal overheads and almost unlimited workspace. David Nash (next post) followed the same trajectory into Wales as did Richard’s contemporary at RCA, the master steambent furniture designer, David Colwell.
When I visited Richard last time we worked together on one of his signature footbridges and he introduced me to the ‘unregulated’ rigor of making furniture from hand split ash billets with the wonderfully simple but nuanced system of froe and brake and drawnife/spokeshave and shaving horse. I won’t go into detail about this here but you can get a greater understanding through John (now Jennie) Alexander’s wonderful (but I think out of print?) book ‘Make a Chair from a Tree’. This time I worked briefly with Richard on a proposal model for a river footbridge for the nearby town of Frome.
What a pleasure to work again in a studio that was a familiar workplace 16 years ago!