Messums Wiltshire Welcomes John Makepeace OBE

Messums Wiltshire Welcomes John Makepeace OBE

A chord that emanates from Guild Anderson’s work has to be the peaceful location of the workshop on the Fonthill Estate in Wiltshire. Visitors to the area can’t fail to be touched by this land of stately oak trees, green fields and wooded hills. Aside, naturally, from the notable skill and creativity of our cabinet makers, the small town of Tisbury is also drawing attention – a surprising but veritable pin on the map – as the start of the art trail of rural Britain. Perfecting a stay at the wonderful Beckford Arms nearby or dining at Pythouse and Royal Oak in Swallowcliffe, aesthetic sensibilities were truly fulfilled with the opening of art & design centre, Messums Wiltshire, in 2016.

The Gallery’s mission is to celebrate creative endeavour, investigating for example, why one thing is described as “art” and another as “craft”. As part of the diverse programme of events planned, this summer Messums welcomed master furniture designer, John Makepeace.

Launching his new book about Parnham, the Tudor mansion where he established one of the most important centres for the creation of furniture in this country, John Makepeace’s talk at Messums spoke about how the spirit of John Ruskin “uniting the head, the heart and the hand, remains for him the most important element in creativity and drove his ambition for the College at Parnham.

‘At 18 I left school but didn’t go to University,’ John said. ‘I was a cack-handed woodworker except that I had seen woodwork when I was aged 11 and that had stayed with me. People said I would never make anything out of myself as a woodworker and so I took a long distance course learning how to teach craft and took holidays in Scandanavia and America,’ he said.’ In 1957 Britain was still a pretty grey country but there I could ring up virtually any furniture maker and went to see them as I travelled throughout the country.’

John Makepeace’s breakthrough came when he made a glass-topped table and took it as a prototype to Heals who ordered first six of them, and then, sixty. But it all got too overwhelming said Makepeace, ‘they started having to be made in Yugoslavia and we started selling them in their thousands.’

In  September 1977 he established  a course at Parnham for people who were practical as well as creative, binding together making, design and business; subjects that were, at that time, taught by different institutions. ‘I realised that the graduates from the Royal College of Art knew nothing about business or making; they were being trapped in a single cause,’ he said.

‘When people do something in depth and well it sets a pattern for life but it is so hard for young people to find places to work to the best standards nowadays.’

He added: ‘If we want entrepreneurs, they need a proper education that brings out all their talents rather than a single strand. In the 21st century there is the scope to use digital design, creating craft is about newness as much as traditions.’

‘Regardless of technology, things made by hand touch our souls and express our cares and our passions’ he concluded.


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