Monday, October 06, 2014

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2014 - S for Joseph Edward Southall

Joseph Southall self-portrait 1925
Joseph Southall was born in Nottingham on 23 August 1861, the only child of Joseph Sturge Southall and Eliza Maria Baker. His father was a chemist and grocer but he died when Joseph was just one year old and his mother brought Joseph back to her Birmingham family home. Joseph was educated in Quaker schools at Ackworth, Birmingham and Scarborough. He showed artistic talent from a young age and from the age of thirteen was taught watercolour painting by Edwin Moore who is said to have remarked, 'Ah, here is a boy with an eye.'

In 1878 Joseph left school and was articled to a firm of Birmingham architects, Martin and Chamberlain. He continued to take drawing and painting classes and when he came of age in 1882 he abandoned his formal training in order to practice carving and painting to fit himself to be what he regarded as a true architect. He kept himself through inheritances from his father and an uncle and went to live in a house in Edgbaston belonging to another uncle where he remained for the rest of his life.
The artist's mother 1902

In 1883 Joseph spent eight weeks in Italy with his mother and a cousin, a turning point in his artistic life. He became an ardent admirer of the Italian primitive style and resolved to study and practice the art of painting in tempera. In 1884 Joseph's architectural drawings were shown by his uncle, George Baker, to Ruskin, who admired them and commissioned Joseph to design a museum for his Guild of St George. However in 1886 this project fell through and Joseph felt that his chance to become the architect he wanted to be had vanished.

Anna Elizabeth Baker 1897
Joseph continued to draw, paint and struggle with the tempera technique. He studied at Birmingham School of Art and exhibited with the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists (RBSA). In 1893 he was greatly cheered when his work was praised by another artist from Birmingham, Edward Burne-Jones. Joseph's work became gradually better known and he was able to sell enough to support himself. With other like-minded artists he formed the Birmingham Group of Artist-Craftsmen and in 1901 was one of the founders, along with Holman Hunt and Walter Crane, of the national Society of Painters in Tempera.

The Blue Sea with frame by Anna

In 1903 Joseph married Anna Elizabeth Baker who was two years older than he was. The couple had been attached since their youth but, as they were first cousins, had deliberately delayed their marriage, making a conscious decision not to have children. Anna shared Joseph's artisitic interests and made elaborate frames for his pictures. Each year the couple would go to Italy or France and also to Southwold in Suffolk or Fowey in Cornwall, where they visited galleries, sketched and painted. Joseph's reputation grew in Britain and in 1910 he also held a very successful one-man show in Paris.

From Fables and Illustrations 1918

Joseph and Anna both remained Quakers and supported their local meeting in Edgbaston. Joseph was often critical and did not suffer fools gladly. His demeanour has been described as 'frosty but kindly'. During the First World War Joseph was active as a pacifist both in Quaker circles and with the Independent Labour Party. He painted much less and turned instead to illustration and political cartoons pointing out the evils of war. He accepted a commission from the Birmingham Corporation to paint a mural 'Corporation Street March 1914' but he gave it a subtly anti-war message, showing the prosperity which the city had enjoyed before the conflict.

Corporation Street March 1914, now in Birmingham Art Gallery

Joseph and Anna in Southwold 1911
As he grew older Joseph received more public recognition and executed several more murals in buildings in Birmingham, but in 1937 he became very ill and underwent major surgery. He never fully recovered and although he continued to paint until his death he did not go abroad again. He died in November 1944 at the age of eighty-three.

The Botanists 1928
Joseph's work has been characterised as 'static' and his preoccupation
was with materials and technique. However he painted some fine portraits, many of Quakers, and Picasso was much taken by his painting of water. He was true to his vision and to his roots and his work can still be seen in the city he lived in all his life. The critic William Rothenstein wrote, 'I have a great respect for Southall, both as an artist and a sterling character, one of the few considerable artists who has remained in his native city.'

The Food Queue, now in Oldham Galllery

Monday, September 22, 2014

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2014 - R for Richard Reynolds

Richard Reynolds
Richard Reynolds was born in Bristol in 1735, the only son of Richard, an ironmaster, and Jane. He was educated at a Quaker school in Pickwick, Wiltshire between the ages of 5 and 14 and then returned to Bristol where he was apprenticed to William Fry, a grocer.

At the end of his apprenticeship in 1756 one of his father's friends, Thomas Goldney, sent Richard on a business trip to Shropshire to visit the ironworks of Abraham Darby II at Coalbrookdale. This visit changed the course of Richard's life as it was here that he met and fell in love with Hannah, Abraham Darby's eldest daughter. They were married in 1757 and Richard took over the running of the iron and coal works at Ketley and Horsehay, living at Ketley Bank a few miles from Coalbrookdale. He prospered in the business, becoming a partner, and the couple had two children, William and Hannah Mary, but their happiness was cut short when Hannah died of measles in 1762 when she was only 27.

Bank House, Ketley

Richard and his children moved into Dale House in the centre of Coalbrookdale where there were plenty of Darby family and other Quakers to look after them. After eighteen months as a widower Richard was married in 1763 to Rebecca Gulson, one of his late wife's closest friends, and went on to have three more sons with her, Michael, Richard and Joseph. Also in 1763 Abraham Darby died and Richard took charge of the whole Coalbrookdale company during the minority of his brothers-in-law. In 1768 when Abraham Darby was 18 Richard turned the business over to him and returned to Ketley but had to take charge  for a while again in 1789 when Abraham died of scarlet fever.

Dale house, Coalbrookdale
Richard Reynolds proved an energetic and innovative manager who much improved the profits of the company and grew very rich himself. During the first half of the eighteenth century scarcely any iron was manufactured in England, as the woods had been cut down and various attempts to use coal had failed. It was under Richard Reynold's supervision that the problem was overcome and coal was used, not only to smelt iron ore, but to turn the cast metal into iron that could be used. He assisted two of his workmen to take out a patent for this process which produced enormous profits for the Works. He extended the business considerably, manufacturing cylinders for the early steam engines and being the first to use cast-iron for colliery tram rails.

Coalbrookdale at night
Working conditions in Coalbrookdale were hard, dirty and noisy, but Richard Reynolds did his best to improve conditions for his workforce and their families providing decent accomodation for them. When he purchased the nearby estate of Madeley he laid out extensive walks through the woods on Lincoln Hill commanding beautiful views expressly for the use of the workmen and their families. Richard himself was passionately fond of the beauties of nature and took every opportunity he could to appreciate them. He did not feel that this in any way clashed with his Quaker faith. As he wrote to a friend 'I think it not only lawful but expedient to cultivate a disposition to be pleased with the beauties of nature, by frequent indulgences for that purpose. The mind, by being continually applied to the consideration of ways and means to gain money, contracts an indifferency if not an insensibility to the profusion of beauties which the benevolent Creator has impressed upon every part of the material creation.'

William Reynolds
Richard remained active in business and in time his sons joined him there. William in particular was as inventive and innovative as his father had been and the business continued to grow. As their children married and set up their own households in the area Richard and Rebecca moved back to Dale House and were joined by various companions. The most long-lasting of these was Priscilla Hannah Gurney who although brought up a Friend became a Plain Quaker through the influence of the Reynolds and the Darbys and looked on them as her family, calling Richard her 'parental Friend'.

However in 1803 Rebecca Reynolds died and later in the same year so did Richard's son William. Richard felt that after more than 40 years in Coalbrookdale it was time to move on. He signed his shares in the business over to his remaining sons and moved back to his home town of Bristol. At the age of nearly 70 he was determined to spend the rest of his days acting as 'his own executor'. He strongly disapproved of making charitable bequests by will but believed that it was his duty to do all the good he could during his life. In modern terms his donations totalled millions of pounds. He did not limit his donations to Quakers but gave large sums to many different bodies and individuals although always as anonymously as he could, working through agents. Inevitably in time his munificence became known but he refused all thanks, directing gratitude to God, the giver of all good.

In the late summer of 1816 Richard Reynolds travelled to Cheltenham Spa to take the waters for his health and died there in September aged 80. He was buried at the Quaker burial ground in Rosemary Street in Bristol followed to the grave by people of all classes and persuasions and by many of the poor of Bristol to whom he had been so generous.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2014 - Q for Questions

Questions are at the heart of how Quakers have always expressed their faith, but these are not questions asking for certain answers or for certainty at all. Rather they are part of an ongoing process of questioning, both individual and corporate, as we strive to listen to the continuing revelation of the truth for ourselves and for our times.

In the early days of the Quaker movement in Britain, Yearly Meeting asked for oral replies from local representatives to a series of factual questions about how many ministers had died and how many friends had died in prison since the last meeting. Slightly more subjective was the question about 'How the Truth has prospered amongst them since the last Yearly Meeting and how friends are in Peace and Unity?' Over the years more questions were asked and replies were written rather than spoken. From 1723 onwards the word 'question' was replaced by 'query' perhaps reflecting the broader nature of the enquiries being made.

During the 18th century the queries were used as a means of attempting to standardize the behaviour of Friends and of naming and shaming practices that were disapproved of, such as paying for the local militia, drunkeness, buying ornate furniture and wearing fashionable clothes. When the queries were revised in 1791 a few short 'general advices' were added to them and these were expanded and revised continually until the present day. 'Advices and Queries' were two separate lists until the 1994 edition of Britain Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice (the Red Book) when they were combined and organised by theme.

The value of the queries for self-examination had been commended by Yearly Meeting in 1787 and as time went on the emphasis shifted from a corporate towards an individual practice, although from 1931 there has been a requirement for Advices and Queries to be read in meetings for worship. The value of Advices and Queries as a tool for outreach has also been recognised and they have been published seperately and often given to enquirers as a distillation of Quaker belief and practice.

But in recent years it seems to me that we have become less comfortable with questions - either asking or answering them. When a new badge was produced a couple of years ago saying "I am a Quaker - ask me why" many Friends were acutely uncomfortable about it.  and would not wear it. They did not want to be asked questions about their faith (as opposed to general questions about Quaker beliefs and practices) and felt that they were doing enough if they 'let their lives speak'. There has also been  some disapproval of the Yearly Meeting theme 'What does it mean to be a Quaker today' as being too introspective and self-indulgent.

However if questions are uncomfortable perhaps that is all the more reason why we should ask them, and attempt to find answers for them. For example, Craig Barnett has urged British Friends to engage in a lively open-ended discussion about their differences which must include some questioning.

The answers to the questions Friends have asked over the centuries have changed, as have the questions themselves. We are not looking for the one right answer or to formulate a dogma to which all Friends will be required to sign up. Questions help us to 'know one another in the things that are eternal' and that can never be a bad thing.