Unmaking the Modern: The Last of Their Kind
‘… the artist. Ugh!’
From the mid-1930s onwards, Anderson’s prints were devoted almost exclusively to the day-to-day activities of craftsmen in their workshops and farm labourers in the field. What all his subjects have in common is that they carry out traditional and increasingly outmoded tasks requiring the use of their hands.
Anderson aligned himself with those manual workers, as in Clamping Spuds (1942), below. ‘I loathe the word artist’, he once declared. He much preferred
‘. . . the old assignments, stone-carver, painter, engraver, illuminator, cabinet maker, hurdle-maker, farrier and smith, etc.: for such terms are free from snobbery. Giotto, Masaccio, and the others made pictures; Donatello carved figures with art—which, per dictionary and common usage, used to mean skill. In this enlightened age Picasso, Matisse, Braque and the rest become that rarefied essence, the artist. Ugh!’
Almost all of Anderson’s subjects are male. Few of them are young. Anderson himself was middle-aged when he began to produce this series of prints in 1933. As he grew older, he could identify even more closely with the wizened, weather-beaten individuals whose life’s work he respectfully and diligently documented with his own hands.
The Last of Their Kind
Many of Anderson’s prints document occupations that were fast rendered obsolete. The craftsmen he captured were the last of their kind. For Chiltern Wood Turners(1945), Anderson visited a temporary workshop of the Dean brothers in Buckinghamshire. They were the last of the bodgers to work in the ancient beech woods of the Chilterns.
For Purbeck Quarrymen (1936), Anderson returned to a set of drawings he had made during a 1932 trip to Dorset. There, he visited a family-run quarry. The stone workers of Purbeck came to represent an endangered species in a modern world. Instead of lamenting the end of a tradition, however, Anderson demonstrates his subjects to be as essential to life in modern Britain as the solid kerbstones they continued to produce.
The Lace Maker (1940), below, is the only print Anderson devoted to a craft performed by a woman. Anderson had nothing to say on the dramatic increase of women in traditionally male occupations during wartime. Instead, he memorialised a long endangered craft that has always been considered woman’s work. Here, as elsewhere, he comments on cultural and spiritual loss rather than socio-economic change.
The Stone Breaker (1940)
There is plenty of small print in Anderson’s engravings. In this engraving, an edition of The Christian Times is spread out like a blanket on which the weary stonebreaker rests. The fictional newspaper carries the headline “Power, Politics and Sentimentality Breed Greed and National Idolatry Hence War.”
To read those lines, we must change the angle from which we are accustomed to approach two-dimensional art. This encourages a reassessment of the subject. Only by adopting the stonebreaker’s point of view does the artist’s design become clear.
The inscription is borrowed from a nineteenth-century poem in which the subjects of a willow pattern are smashed to smithereens. The stonebreaker is not just tired. He is a broken man. His life’s work has been perverted by war service. Without offending careless viewers who are drawn in by the apparent pathos, Anderson rewards those among us who engage more closely with his work. He made every line count.
‘Old Father Time’, of Wiltshire (1944)
Anderson identified the subject as ‘that dear old fellow’ in A Shepherd’s Life (1910) by the naturalist William Henry Hudson. It is an account of rural life in the South Wiltshire Downs. Hudson tells of a ‘wonderful old man’ who refused to ‘sleep at home.’ Instead, he lay down at the edge of the fields to started work ‘quite three hours before the world woke up to its daily toil.’
As Anderson recalled, ‘Old Father Time’ was ‘so obsessed with the joy of using a scythe that he rode round the villages on his white donkey, imploring farmers to let him mow the hay’.
The image of an old man clinging to a purposeful life served as an inspiration to Anderson, who was then in his sixtieth year. Within the next decade, worsening neuritis in his right hand and arm put an end to Anderson’s engraving career.
Making the Gate (1949)
The craftsmen in Anderson’s engravings are real people. Anderson took an interest in their lives. The smithy of Rupert Timms had first been his subject in 1934. During the Second World War, Timms supplied horseshoes to the military. Adjustment to peacetime proved difficult as demand dwindled.
Anderson encouraged Timms to diversify as an ornamental blacksmith. Working to a design by Anderson, Timms entered and won a Royal Show competition. Anderson displays the winning design on the top right (see detail), showing Timms at work on the gate.
An increase in horse shows in the 1950s allowed Timms’ to return to the farrier trade. This is signalled by a heel cropper below the point of the anvil. A boy from Anderson’s village is placed at the entrance to suggest new life for the old smithy.
The lines from the poem “Tubal Cain” by Charles MacKay (1814 – 1889) echo Timms’ restored dignity. Like the blacksmith in MacKay’s take on the biblical figure, Timms turned from aiding war to creating things of beauty.
All works featured here are reproduced and discussed in the book Stanley Anderson RA. Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné by Robert Meyrick and Harry Heuser (Royal Academy, London, 2015).