Feature Mondays – The End of An Era

Friday 6 July 2018

June 2014 at Buckinghamshire New University saw the end of a raft of craft and design courses as the university authorities decided enough was enough and the cost versus the benefit of having these courses running was too much to bear. Apart from a couple of FDA and MA courses in furniture design and restoration and conservation respectively, this 'seat of learning', which has served the furniture and other industries since 1893, will finally break its important link with tradition and leave the UK with precious few of these learning resources outside the private sector.

Thankfully the end of degree show was as buoyant as ever and students showed that the precious skills they have learnt are not wasted and creativity and craft have gone hand-in-hand to the last, thanks to supportive and knowledgeable tutors and the excellent workshop and research facilities.

Fine Craft – Furniture Design BA

This exhibition contained some surprises as well as the more predictable items of furniture. The emphasis was on light woods, frequently ash (Fraxinus excelsior), some beech (Fagus spp.) and then dark timber as a contrast on some pieces, as well as mixed media, which is now prevalent in modern design.

Joe Thomas' hall table was a development from his earlier interest in this sort of 'side' furniture, which is slim and uncomplicated with an unusual structural leg element. The 3D printed chair with its nylon printed components works really well with a modern interpretation of a woven seat.

Josh Hall's wavy floorstanding shelves are not only mind-bendingly attractive but still functional too. The 'Loki' is described as escapist furniture that takes you into another world. Yours truly tried it out and once cocooned inside, you do become relaxingly detached from the hubbub outside.

Mead Furniture came up with a series of wall-mounted cupboard boxes, which allows you to see the interesting impressed object detail in the patinated metal doors, which is held closed with a special clip. Will Philips created a visually arresting side table with strikingly coloured grain. He also made a range of matching wall clocks, which followed a similar theme. This piece also won him a Makita sponsored 'Award for Excellence'.

Contemporary Furniture Design BA

One design which really caught my eye was an unusual group of stacking stools, made by David Kelly. Note the stools on the floor behind David and the way in which the asymmetrical design makes it possible to stack a whole series of stools. The red heat shrunk tips give a sort of croquet mallet look to the design.

Restoration, Conservation and Decorative Arts BA

Amanda Cheshire, like all the Restoration and Conservation students, had both a minor and major project to complete. Shown is her fully restored grandfather clock, which was quite a mess before she started. Unfortunately the clock dial had been repainted from roman numerals but Amanda felt it was better not to disturb the paintwork.

At this point, I must declare an interest: Amber Bailey is 'a chip off this old block' having become a skilled marquetarian. Here we see the centrepiece major project – a copy of an Italian made panel for the Great Exhibition of 1855 in Paris, which is now in the V&A Museum.

Anne Newbold displayed her major piece, a gilded chair, which proved to be particularly troublesome to get the correct degree of patination. She also restored two demi lune tables and a boulle writing slope.

Dorothy 'Dolly' Rayner carefully restored a gilded Bishop's chair from a local church to its former glory. She also displayed a buttoned settee with flap down ends.

Now on to 'Uncle' Jeffrey Day and his troublesome tambour top writing desk. Jeffrey eventually persuaded the tambour sections to stick to the fabric backing – the path of true restoration doesn't run easily it seems. Jeffrey took on the role of looking after the whole student group throughout their many travails.

Thomas Mullins was able to make a copy of this famous Isokon 'Long Chair' by Marcel Breuer. Thanks to course leader Paul Tear MBE, making copies of original works has been allowed on the course as this enables students to understand an go through the processes that made originals possible.