Category Archives: Wedgwood Institute

Castor and Pollux – Symbols of Brotherhood and Unity

Gemini is the sign of the zodiac from 21 May to 21 June and depicts the mythical twins Castor and Pollux, the names of the brightest stars in the Gemini constellation. Twin sons of Zeus and Leda, they appeared in both Greek and Roman mythology and were worshipped as gods who helped shipwrecked sailors.

This association is linked to the natural phenomenon called St. Elmo’s fire which occurs during certain stormy weather conditions. It appears as a glow on the top of tall pointed objects, such as the masts of ships, and is often accompanied by a cracking noise. When stars appeared on the heads of Castor and Pollux during the Voyage of the Argonauts, the twins became known as the protectors of sailors. From that time, sailors believed that St. Elmo’s fire was actually Castor and Pollux coming to protect them during a storm.

The Romans also considered Castor and Pollux the gods who watched over horses and their riders. There is a lot more to read up on these two but to summarise – they stand as symbols of brotherhood and the bond that unites two people even after death.

When I completed these paintings, I wanted to add something celestial so I added tiny dots of pure gold, starry highlights above the genuine earth and mineral pigments.

These roundels can be found on the Wedgwood Institute, Burslem (below). It was funded entirely by public subscription from 1859 onward and built with the intention of making art, science and literature available to all. At the time, the estimated cost was ยฃ4,000 and the six year construction period began in 1863 with an official opening by Earl de Grey in 1869 as a library and school of art.

The facade is spectacular for all the sculpture, symbolism and stories woven in. Looking at the band of sculpted panels – these depict the working stages of pottery manufacture. They are elevated above the window arches.

Above these are the months depict the turning of the year and the continuous cycles of life. High at the top are the astrological signs of the celestial heavens which crown the arches with jewel-like mosaics.

This style of architecture is known as ‘Venetian Gothic’ and was made popular by the Victorian art critic John Ruskin. I have a book ‘John Ruskin Artist and Observer’ which gives an overview of the scale of artistic skill, passion and observation he had for life – put it on your birthday wish list – it will fire you up to sketch and draw!

Coming back to these drawings/paintings all completed using hand made paint with natural earth and mineral pigments. Here are May and June, the months which span Gemini. May ‘depicts a young woman growing mature as the plants are maturing in the ground’.

Let’s not think too far ahead but already June is ‘depicting an older man shearing a sheep’

All the original artworks for the months and zodiac signs are now available to buy from Barewall Gallery Burslem. When you buy through Barewall, you also support the livelihood of the Burslem community so more people benefit. After all, I am only painting what another artist has created a century before me!

Card sets are also available to buy in my Etsy shop. Can’t find what you need – don’t hesitate to get in touch!

As ever, thanks for your time reading!

Ronnie ๐Ÿ™‚

The Months Tick by

Sometimes titles for blog posts just pop into my head. This was one of them. It was something that Dad would say – that things ‘ticked by’.

Here we are in a new year, and already into the last week of January 2021. Looking at these terracotta panels created back around 1865 – the months and the years have indeed ticked by.

Having taken so long to bring this body of work to completion, it does make me think about how each moment that passes is never repeated quite the same. Something in context has always changed.

Here the woman is holding the infant New Year in her arms as he learns to stand on his own feet, ready to run headlong into the year. It’s a fleeting moment especially when you see how he fast he grows into February later in this post.

Looking at these images on top of the Wedgwood Institute, the months and the zodiac signs are neatly paired up in alcoves. Back when I was planning my work out, I gave some thought to drawing each alcove in turn, but decided the repetition was too much for me!

Then I thought I could draw a single alcove template and scan the months and zodiac signs on to the template. However, that involved a lot of learning on Photoshop and at that point I glazed over and decided against the idea!

A mock up of the template of February/Pisces

The other thing that I couldn’t resolve was that the start of the months and zodiacs overlapped and that if I drew them together, there would always be someone looking at them saying I’m born in February but I’m not a Pisces!

It was a useful process though as it helped me decide to draw them all individually and here we are on with February.

When I signed them, I thought I had finished… so I put them away for what turned out to be a year. However, when I next saw them I immediately wanted to add more depth by setting them in a frame of rich red earth colours to hold them in place.

So January ticks by into February, the young year is now out there hard at work tilling the earth. Here’s a look ahead into March where he is planting the ground.

All the original paintings are available to buy from Barewall Gallery in Burslem and there are several full sets of signed cards available in my Etsy shop.

You can also see the full set of artwork on my website. If you see anything that is not yet for sale online – please drop me a line ronniecruwys@drawingthestreet.co.uk Things are selling a bit faster than I anticipated! ๐Ÿ™‚

Here are the rest of the months – when they were all lined up ready for mounting and sending off to Barewall Gallery in Burslem.

This has been a fab project – so pleased to have brought it to completion and returned it back home to Burslem before being shipped far and wide.

Thanks for reading and happy Burns Night!

Ronnie ๐Ÿ™‚

I’ve Started so I’ll Finish

Looking up at the Wedgwood Institute, Burslem

Have you ever looked up at a building and marvelled at the creativity that has gone into it? Have you thought about the artists and makers and the hours of planning and co-ordination spent to pull something like the Wedgwood Institute together? This building must have been a labour of love for so many.

‘November’ high up on the Wedgwood Institute, Burslem

Whilst I was living in Staffordshire, I wanted to draw every last detail of this building simply to acknowledge it was there. I began with the main entrance which you can see in full here.

Detail of ‘Wedgwood Institute Door’, showing the stone carving, brick and tilework

I had great plans to draw so much more of this building but life had other plans for me. Just as I had got the next phase of artwork underway, we got news of the move to Scotland and so things went on hold.

Sign of Pisces

However, I had already begun drawing the months of the year and the zodiac symbols in the arches above and so at some point I knew I would finish them – I don’t like leaving a body of work unfinished. Besides, I had begun work on some beautiful heavy watercolour paper (Saunders Waterford 640gsm Not) which is a thick as carboard with a rippling texture and a wonderful surface to paint/draw on.

I pencilled in the outline using a compass to contain the astrological symbols.

I had taken photographs of the existing zodiac signs but some were under cover and some had areas of mosaic missing. I looked up old record photos and in places where details were hazy, I used creative licence and painted them to compliment the rest of the images.

The mosaic symbols were made in bright blues, greens and whites against a deep red background. I used ground up mineral pigments of azurite, malachite and the red and yellow ochre earth pigments that I use to paint icons to capture the life, depth and movement of these rich symbols.

Malachite being broken down to small chunks using a pestle and mortar.
Malachite being ground to a fine pigment
Pisces – the fish

This was as far as I got with the zodiac symbols before I began to pack up to move north. I had made some progress into painting the images of the months – about three or four of them… but enough to have me hooked to want to complete, come what may.

Now, almost four years since I made the first sketches of these images, I’m so happy that I can say I have completed this part and will be sharing what I’ve done to complete them over the next few blog posts.

Thanks for reading!

Ronnie ๐Ÿ™‚

An iconic kind of door

 

drawing of wedgwood institute
Detail above entrance to the Wedgwood Institute

There’s many a fine building in Bonny Burslem but none with an entrance quite like the one into the Wedgwood Institute.

I recently finished the Wedgwood drawing which I began a few months ago. I picked up the pencil for this one having been influenced some time ago by a poster I bought of the entrance to the Natural History Museum, London, by Alfred Waterhouse.

poster of Natural History Museum
Entrance to the Natural History Museum

I bought and framed this poster when I was an architecure student and it’s now on the wall of our son’s flat, an architectural student, thirty+ years later! I still love the drawing and this is what made me choose to spend some time on the Wedgwood entrance with its intricate tile and terracotta details.

red and yellow ochres for brickwork and terracotta
Terracotta details in the wall of the Wedgood Institute

Terracotta tiles and masonry details next to wedgwood institute
Coat of arms on the side of the Wedgwood Institute

I’ve used traditional pigments with gum arabic on some very heavy (600 gsm) hot pressed watercolour paper. I really like the combination of the warm French and English Ochres, against the bright green malachite and azurite. I’m also hooked on using the pigment called ‘Caput Mortuum‘ – it seems to end up on quite a few of my icons!

It has been a treat to pause and spend time on a small part of a street but it only makes me want to zoom in further and pick up on the terracotta work. This is quite a rich subject which I may explore in future having been sidetacked by some of the tiles in Newcastle under Lyme.

tile details
Collage of terracotta tiles from a building in Newcastle-under-Lyme

drawing of wedgwood door
The final drawing of the Wedgwood Institute door

For more info and to order or stock prints from a small limited edition run, please have a look at my website or email me at RonnieCruwys@drawingthestreet.co.uk

Thanks for reading.

Ronnie

From Congo to Burslem

Wedgwood Institute Cruwys
Some of the intricate work above the entrance to the Wedgwood Institute, Burslem

Hello again! It’s been a while since I wrote but I’m into the last few months preparation for my final show for the icon diploma I’ve been working towards the last three years. All 12 icon students will have their work on show at the Prince’s Drawing School in Shoreditch, in 18-21 October.

There’s still plenty of drawing going on alongside and I thought you might be interested to see some work in progress pics of an elaborate doorway in Burslem, the main entrance to the extraordinarily beautiful Wedgwood Institute, here in Staffordshire.

Pencil drawing on watercolour paper with ochre wash
First light washes of English and French ochres

Quoting from its website, the Wedgwood Institute is a ‘Mid-19th century site with important artistic detail, built by public funds for adult education’. It has been included on the English Heritage list of Buildings at Risk and in 2010 named as one of the top 10 most endangered Victorian buildings. However, its future is looking much more secure now that the Prince’s Regeneration Trust and the Burslem Regeneration Company have made a commitment to its long term restoration.

Back to the drawing. One of the things we’ve learnt on the icon course is how to make our own colour from minerals. I couldn’t resist using the minerals which I’d ground up for icons on this drawing as I’d bought the raw minerals from the Burslem Lapidary Shop, just around the corner from the Wedgwood Institute.

This is a fairly big drawing, approximately A1 size on a very smooth, heavy (500gsm) watercolour paper. I sized the paper with a light wash ofย  English Ochre pigment and gum arabic, then used French Ochre Havanna to build up the brick colour. I’ve gone for a softer drawing in pencil as I’m hoping to portray the intricate workmanship without it looking too heavy.

pencil drawing and ochre wash of the Wedgwood Institute
Using a mix of ochres for the brick and stonework.

There are tiles laid in a basket weave patterns, in terracotta, buff and a bright green which immediately made me think of using the ‘Burslem malachite’ with a little azurite, even though it’s actually mined in the Congo!

pencil drawing of the entrance to the Wedgwood Institute
Green, terracotta and buff tiles above the Wedgwood Institute, Burslem

Hope to post more as the rest progresses.

Thanks for reading!

Ronnie