R.J.Washington trained for eight years (seven as a painter) in the academic ways of the 1930’s at the Goldsmiths School of Art and the Royal College of Art, I was, in company with other students of that era, torn between the Bauhaus and William Morris, having the Cubists and Surrealists around to further upset us. At first, I belonged to the group which believed in the idyllic life of Three Acres and a Cow – self supporting and self sufficient.
However, I had a Father (one of the best line engravers of the 30’s) who was an Art School Principal and who laid it down most firmly that when, and not before, I had obtained all the paper qualifications available then I could go and starve where and how I pleased. Hence my eventually becoming an ARCA; ATD; FSAE.
In those days we tended to obey our elders and did not try to pull down the establishment … it took a second world war to shake us from our clear demarcation lines.
One day when I was in my Teacher training year at the Royal College of Art, involved in studying crafts with pottery as my main subject, I was at home browsing through a corner cabinet in the dining room and came across two revolting little acid blue cast clay “Vases” (the term in those days was a derogatory one). On asking my Mother about their origin and why they were retained, they turned out to be Father’s — I was delighted and felt that here, at last, was a medium through which I might speak without being shouted down.
This was particularly consoling because I had already become totally involved in ceramics and its pain and pleasure. My post graduate year was spent in the Pottery Departments of the Royal College of Art, (daytime) and of the Central School of Art and Crafts (evening) during which time Staite Murray and Miss Billington were my tutors. I saw very little of the former and as much as possible of the latter.
Staite Murray taught us none of the technical side of pottery, in fact, the only two “tuition periods” of any kind which I ever had from him consisted of one, as we passed in a doorway to the throwing room, when he told me that “we can see the whole universe in a flower” and the other, when I was invited – into his room to discuss a glaze of mine in which he was interested – this, of course, meant giving him the recipe.
Miss Billington was his exact opposite. We were very lucky in London, at that time, to have these two teachers. One who (I shall never know how) gave us a grasp of a new idea i.e. that pottery could live as an art form, and the other through a series of classroom lectures offered the technical knowhow required for bringing this about. These lectures I have repeated to scores of students over a period of nearly 40 years in an attempt to repay my debt to her.
During the 1930’s in the craft ceramic world, when the Leach type potter was in the ascendant and the production of functional ware was dominant, a small group of potters headed by Murray at the R.C.A. was trying to prove that there was no difference between the students in the Painting School and those in the Pottery School — Murray fostered this in us and tried to stick to showing his work in Fine Art galleries or in joint exhibitions with Fine Artists — he gave us belief in our validity as ceramic artists. This was a philosophy I found easy to subscribe to because my A.R.C.A. was taken in the Painting School.
Encouragement also came from a few sales to Collectors and Museums, for example the Victoria and Albert Museum bought two in 1938.
1939 found me teaching at the Derby School of Art with the Denby Stoneware Co, just down the road and a pipe works with a sympathetic owner not far away who introduced me to salt glazing — life was set to become very interesting indeed. Hitler decided otherwise.