March 22nd, 2015
The Old Laundry in Somerset. This is the house that Prue Piper and her husband Edward found in the 1960s. Built from the local oolite limestone, it was once the laundry for a large country house. a place where not only washing but also drying was accomplished in a high-ceilinged space inside with three long windows, or out on the windy slope it stands above. Food is growing now where linen sheets once flapped and tugged at their pegs. Prue Piper and her sculptor son Henry, his wife Janine who is also a ceramicist and their young children all live and work here. They are self-sufficient in sheep, wind-power and fruit and vegetables.
This is a corner of Prue’s ceramics studio.
Prue’s late husband Edward Piper was born in 1938, the eldest son of the artist John Piper (one of the greatest neo-Romantic painters of the C20th) and his wife the critic and librettist Myfanwy Piper. He and Prudence MacKillop were married in 1961 soon after he graduated from the Slade School of Art, and just as she was embarking on her Ph.D as a Biochemist. They bought this house for £4050 at the end of a long search for a place with land that they could afford, cashing in some shares given to Edward by his aunt ; Edward died at home here in 1990. The living and work spaces here have evolved gradually to suit all their changing needs. Now it is a combination of the simple, practical and very beautiful. This is the kitchen and dining room, the principle downstairs space.
The dresser is stacked with a mixture of the French crockery and the ceramics that Prue has been making here for thirty years.Above is a continuous frieze of female nudes painted on rice paper by Edward and a photograph of a medieval gargoyle.
Prue with her Mermaid jug.
Corner of the kitchen-and-living room, note the two-tier ceramic snow drop ‘theatre’ by Prue on the table.
Kitchen-cum-living room, rear wall with paintings by Edward Piper and a ceramic mask by Prue.
Edward Piper made his name as a painter and a photographer. As well as the highly distinctive and idiosyncratic black and white landscape and architectural images taken for the Shell County Guides he made hundreds of paintings and photographs of the female nude, of which more later.
Garden-gargolyle, Henry’s squirrel-proof bird feeder behind..
A C17th carved wooden figure of a bare-breasted woman from Stokesay Castle gatehouse and a pair of ‘Normans’ around the stone font in the church at Armitage in Staffordshire, both by Edward Piper, photographed for the still unsurpassed Shell County Guides that he worked on with his father John Piper, and that Piper had begun with John Betjeman.
Sources for Prue Piper’s meticulous sketches towards ideas for new ceramic forms.The Beano is lurking somewhere at the bottom of the pile.
2009 Green Man birthday card painted for his mother Prue by her elder son the artist Luke Piper, and redolent of John Piper’s Foliate Heads prints and tapestries that also referenced the ‘Green Men’ found in the architecture of medieval church buildings.
Prue’s studio in the bleachingly bright January sun, contrived from two small stores for the coal that fueled the Victorian laundry here once, and that were first used as the Piper children’s bedrooms.
A turquoise-glazed Madeline Toby Jug amongst other pieces on an upper shelf. Being highly practical, with a doctorate in Biochemistry, Prue learned to pot at classes in Frome and then taught herself the rest. Equipped with the (now defunct) kiln from John Piper’s Fawley Bottom studio, she invented Staffordshire-style figurines of the Celtic deity Cernunnos and these Green Man plates and jugs, impressing haloes of oak leaves into their wet clay which are burnt off in the first firing.
A Green Man plate just seen on a lower shelf, prices from £75.00.
Adam and Eve, a pair of Green Man jugs and a ‘Bearded King’ jug. Prices from £75 to £150/200 for her most elaborate pieces.
An army of ceramic frogs ( available to buy individually from Prue).
Studio shelf, more gargoyle photographs, a Pig and Acorn lidded jug or creamer (prices at £75), and another ceramic mask. Some of her patterns come from Owen Jones’s Victorian Grammar of Ornament, some are smothered in a livery of cross-hatched and dotted pattern raised in multi-coloured slip, bright as the boiled sweets in a confectioner’s shop.
Henry Piper’s ‘Daffodil’ outdoor light blooms in the hedge. Before the Old Laundry was was built here, this site was a kennel yard for the Earl of Cork and Orrery’s staghounds.
A wind mobile and garden sculpture by Henry Piper, temporarily flattened by winter gales. I hope to show you a picture of it upright again soon, in a future piece about his work.
Looking at Henry Piper’s wind mobile and Moon sculpture. in the field by the lake which they dug out decades earlier.
In 2000 Prue published a book of her late husband’s experimental art photography, Nudes by Edward Piper, in a limited edition of only 1000 copies, price £19.95. (My copy is numbered 378, and there are still a few available for sale : contact Prue Piper : email@example.com ) Prue was his favourite model, others were ‘friends of ours, or local girls who liked to show off.’
Edward and Prue in the 1970s
Prue exhibits with Messums. Her ceramics are unshackled by rules of taste or design, free to be as funny, archaic or kitsch as she wants them to be.
With many thanks to Prue and Henry Piper. Contact details for Prue Piper : firstname.lastname@example.org . Her cermaics range in price from £60 to £200, please contact her if you are interested in individual pieces shown here. All images copyright Prue Piper and/or bibleofbritishtaste. Full and accurate links and references to this site and authorship/copyright must be supplied when excerpts are used.