Last Friday I was part of an august group of Art Workers (http://www.artworkersguild.org) who went to The Coniston Institute, home of Grizedale Arts (http://www.grizedale.org) in the Lake District for the weekend, to begin, what will hopefully become, a fruitful and ongoing artistic cross-fertilisation and collaboration. Our hosts, Grizedale Arts asked us to think about our various disciplines and how they might contribute to the programme of events currently offered by the organisation, and taster workshops in, stone-carving, screen-printing, lace-making, slipware and painting were offered as ways of sounding out present and possible future interest, (http://artworkersguild.tumblr.com/)
I was the self-designated poet/writer of the group and on the last day my absorption in matters Ruskin – he founded the Institute’s previous incarnation and his values still inform the ethos of the place, plus his museum is just next door – burst forth in the shape of a poem, the Ruskin Rap in fact. Hope you enjoy it……
The Ruskin Rap
What a rum chap was that.
A very clever stick and don’t he know it,
Clap, clap, clap,
Slap, slap, slap?
It turns out,
Apart from some of the great and the good,
Who thought he was dope, sick and bare-good,
He wasn’t that popular, with most of the ordinary folk.
Even so –
It’s true to say,
He did bring serious skills to them-there-hills,
With his ergonomic pens and giant quills,
And penchant for wool, fossils, copper and lace
As he educated the populace,
Popping word and material shapes,
While leaving in his wake,
Traces of his ruminating face
All over the place
Behind an imposing beard
Which grew over the years to look
More like the fleece of the sheep
That walked on the hills and ended up in his lace.
– Truth is, we’ve got his housekeeper to thank for that,
Cos, fed up with her bossy boss and his high-handed ways
She sold his image for 30 bob
Looking to flog
Tobacco, liquour or soap on a rope.
Which was definitely, not dope.
Just heard too, from the dudes who now run
The place he founded,
When he delivered his erudite words
And busted his critical moves
The effect, intentionally or not,
Was likely absurd,
Especially when he turned up dressed
Like an anti-Darwinist bird
And went, flap, flap
Flap, flap, flap.
Don’ think anyone that time went
Clap, clap, clap.
So, he was eccentric
But hey, wot’s the rub, guv?
There’s a long line of geniuses
For us not to get too vexed about that –
And by the way, more hot news just out
He wasn’t the perv recent history’s made out
Just a nerd who stopped digging his wife
More loved up with ideas, than the
Fleshy side of life.
But back to the rap chaps,
More than a hundred years since
Old JR popped to the dark side of the lake
To what of his legacy,
Does Grizedale that thought him a bore
And bore him for a while still roll, rattle and shake?
A banging, well-curated museum for a start,
Dedicated to our man, and
Filled with the tools of his trade
And evidence ample of the difference he made
Through his words on politics, architecture and art
And the passionate principles underpinning his thought
Even more relevant today –
About not giving unbridled Capitalism
Sway, about protecting nature and being commercially
Kind, about practicing fairness, a life of the mind,
About imparting skills so a community can share
Companionship through industry;
A sense of care, for self, the other
The big and the small
To respect one another,
For we is bruvs, innit?
God’s creatures, one and all.
And alongside that,
An institute still doing its best to
Remain old school, for body, soul and brain
True to the Ruskinian paradigm –
You get me?
Of benevolent artistic, utilitarian exchange,
Only now keeping it real on a well-global scale – Fresh!
From Coniston to China
One. Loved Up. Solid. Chain. Def!
And we, the AWG brethren
Who, all the way from London
Did go, to find out wha’ssup,
With our Cumbrian bros
And their ho’s
And to lend ‘em an artisanal hand,
Are now so feeling it –
Cos, like Ruskin’s blood Morris,
Our main man, once said,
Forget everything else y’all
And listen to me good,
The most important thing you need
To get into your head
Is this –
Art. Is. Unity.
And we and they is doin’ it, doin’ it, doin’ it.
Stephanie Gerra. Written at the Coniston Institute 8th June 2014.