I went to the Coniston Institute and wrote a Ruskin Rap

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, clap, clap,


Slap, slap,

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.

You dig?


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

To anyone

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,

That sometimes

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, clap, clap.


So, he was eccentric

But hey, wot’s the rub, guv?

There’s a long line of geniuses

Similarly complex

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.

‘Nuff said.


Stephanie Gerra. Written at the Coniston Institute 8th June 2014.






About stephaniegerra

I am a poet, novelist, salon hostess and enterprising organiser of: spoken word and music events; writers' workshops; literary supper parties and bespoke consultations for budding writers. View all posts by stephaniegerra

2 responses to “I went to the Coniston Institute and wrote a Ruskin Rap

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