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I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on janpatience@me.com (All work © Jan Patience)

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Wyse Man of Scottish Art

This Design Archives feature was written for a recent edition of Homes & Interiors Scotland magazine. I love writing and researching these pieces with a historical bent because you learn so much. I heard about HT Wyse from Ken Cargill, who is Chair of the board of Hospitalfield House in Arbroath.

Ken had heard art historians, Elizabeth Cumming and Heather Jack give a talk entitled the Talented Mr Wyse at Hospitalfield, along with HT Wyse's grandson, Ewen Wannop.

He was clearly enthused by what he saw and heard and once I started to look into it, I realised that Henry Wyse is one of Scotland's unsung art heroes.

An early pic of HT Wyse (pic courtesy of Ewen Wannop)

The Talented Mr Wyse...
In 1903, George Bernard Shaw had one of his characters in his play, Man and Superman, utter the words, ‘Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.’ Shaw had obviously never met HT Wyse, who at that time was busy setting the creative heather on fire in the north east town of Arbroath.

During his long life, from 1870 to 1950, Glasgow-born Wyse, was possessed of an almost superman-like compulsion to teach and create in equal measure.

Not only did he develop radical new methods of teaching art in Scotland, his furniture design, and later his ceramics, made at the Holyrood Pottery from 1917 to 1927, broke new ground.

The rehabilitation of the reputation of HT Wyse has been a long time coming, according to art historian Heather Jack, who is now working with fellow art historian Elizabeth Cumming and HT Wyse’s family on raising awareness of his work. 

According to Jack, she had been aware of Wyse’s work with the Holyrood Pottery, but until fairly recently knew very little about the man himself. 

She explains: “One day, I put his name into a search engine and found a website which his grandson, Ewen Wannop, had put together. It was a revelation as it was filled with a wealth of information, from his unfinished autobiography, to scrapbooks and hand-written (and decorated) journals and photographs of him and his work. It was an incredible find and since then I have got to know Ewen well, as well as the work of his grandfather, who died when he was just 12 years old.”

HT Wyse was born in Springburn, Glasgow in 1870, one of nine children born to a banker, also called Henry Wyse, whom he describes in his unfinished autobiography as ‘not adventurous but steady, honest and upright’. Aged nine, he moved with his family to Dundee and at the age of 14 left school to take up an apprenticeship as a clerk in a shipping firm. 

Commerce did not appeal and three years later, he became a pupil teacher in the art department of Dundee High School.
He soon moved to the Morgan Academy where he was inspired by the teaching of one David S Murray. ‘He was full of idea and experiment,’ Wyse recalled in his memoir, ‘The air of the art room seemed to be alive with ideas.’ This early experience under an inspiring teacher remained with Wyse throughout his life. 

Still hungry to learn, in 1891, Wyse left Dundee for Coatbridge to work as art master at Coatbridge Technical School. While living there, he travelled into Glasgow School of Art (GSA) three times a week to complete his art master training. GSA was a lively place in the 1890s, particularly in the field of decorative arts, an area in which its inspiring headmaster, Fra Newberry was particularly interested. 

At the art college, he met lifelong friend, James McLaurin, also an art teacher, whose brother Robert was a chemist. Robert MacLaurin went on to help ceramicist, Hugh (Ugolin) Allan, with the chemistry of glazes, which resulted in quite a unique body of work in the short life of the Allander Pottery (1904-08).  Allan's example helped to inspire Wyse's later venture with the Holyrood Pottery. 

In 1895, Wyse headed to a new job at the New High School in Arbroath. “I spent ten very happy years there,” he writes in his memoir, “experimenting with new and more progressive methods of art teaching. By this time I had definitely decided that the current practice of copying from the flat, which was the principal subject in the drawing syllabus, had no educational value for the pupils.”

Arbroath represented a turning point in Wyse’s life. Not only did he marry his wife, Isabella, and start a family during that period, he also expanded on his teaching and his personal design work. 

This included setting up a technical department which mirrored Newberry’s arrangement at GSA, establishing design classes and encouraging the study of nature and quality craftsmanship. He also published several journals for art teachers which became standard texts for art education in Scotland and established the Scottish Art Teachers Association in 1903. 

Henry Wyse didn’t just talk the talk. In 1897, he went into partnership with a local firm of cabinet makers, William Middleton, and with them produced a range of Simple Furniture.

Many of these elegant, perfectly-crafted pieces of furniture are now in private hands. Recently, one of his large pieces was acquired by the Glasgow Museums collection. Not only did Wyse design the furniture, he also had a hand in decorating the finished item, an idea way ahead of its time. Many of these pieces have gesso panels which have been hand painted by Wyse.

At this time, he also had a hand in the creation of the Scottish Guild of Handicfaft’s showroom on Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, which showed work by acclaimed artists such as Phoebe Traquair and the MacDonald sisters, Frances and Margaret. His GSA friend Robert McLaurin was a key mover in this collective venture.

The two men also worked on the Arcadian Gallery on St Vincent Street, Glasgow, which opened its doors in 1907. Part gallery, part vegetarian restaurant, Wyse designed the interior and much of the fixtures and fittings.

By then, Wyse had moved with his family to Edinburgh to take up a job at George Watson’s Ladies College which paid him more money and allowed him to spend more time on personal projects, including several painting trips abroad.

He was 44 when war was declared in 1914 and so was exempted from military service on the grounds of age. This meant he could continue to develop his career and also an interest in ceramics. In the art rooms of George Watson’s, he experimented with making art pottery and as a result, started the Holyrood Pottery at Bristo Street, Edinburgh in 1917. It moved to bigger premises in 1918 and ran until 1927 under the name Wyse and Isles. Examples of Holyrood pottery were exhibited throughout the country and many of the products were sold in the major department stores of the day in London and Edinburgh.

The pottery closed in 1927, even thought it was in full production at the time. According to Heather Jack, this was down to HT Wyse’s refusal to compromise on standards.

“There was a depression at the time and in order to survive, the pottery had to lower its standards,” she says. “This did not suit HT Wyse’s approach.”

By then a lecturer at Moray House College of Education, Wyse moved from one personal project to the next until his death at the age of 81 in 1950.

“He continued to paint and travel,” says Heather Jack. “He was a great inventor and in 1933 applied for a patent for marbled papers. As late as 1947, he was working away, producing a set of cards of famous Scots for the Enterprise 
Scotland exhibition in Edinburgh. That was just the kind of guy he was – always moving on to the next thing.”

Undoubtedly a pioneer, HT Wyse influenced generations of teachers and artists through his lifetime, but it has taken 60 years for his genius to be appreciated. Plans are now being made for an exhibition highlighting his contribution to the design map of Scotland. About time too, as he might have said...

About Hospitalfield
Dedicated to the arts, Hospitalfield in Arbroath has cast a spell on artists, musicians and writers for over 100 years. Individual international residencies and groups relish its character, quiet ambience, tranquil country gardens and particularly generous studio space. Hospitalfield’s unique independence – some may even say charming eccentricity – gives it a distinctive niche in the art world where it has inspired a range of prominent Scottish painters including Joan Eardley, Peter Howson and Will McLean.

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