Out of the blue, I got a letter from David Kampfner, informing me that my Grandfather Arthur Ponsonby had built a steamship, of all things, and named her rather sweetly SS Robin. On September 20th 1890, 20 sailors from Liverpool set out on her maiden voyage under Arthur’s ownership to the South of France.
For the next decade, Robin plied her trade between Britain and Ireland – with side trips to French ports – hauling grain, coal, iron ore, china clay and railway steel. In 1900, Blanco Hermanos of Oviedo, Spain bought the ship and, her work transferred to the north-west coast of Spain, working out of Bilbao. Ownership changed again in 1913, whereby she shifted to Santander. She ran coal from Gijon to Santander, and played her part in the First World War supplying iron slabs for the French Government, escorted by two destroyers to protect her from U-boats. She continued in original condition until 1966, when she had her first major refit. But it seemed that time had caught up with the coaster when, in 1974, she was finally sent to the breakers.
The director of Britain’s Maritime Trust heard of the ship’s plight and, rushing to Bilbao, inspected the craft and decided she was worth preserving. On May 24, 1974, the sole survivor of the once-mighty British steam coaster fleet was saved for the nation. SS Robin has recently undergone a £1.9 million conservation plan to keep the world’s last remaining steam coaster intact and is due to open soon as a tourist attraction. SS Robin will be temporarily moored in London’s Royal Docks a mile from her original construction dock. Although the London we know will be alien to her after 110 years of progress, it’s reassuring to know that the past is being preserved. Who could have predicted that my grandfathers boat built in an era when Britannia ruled the waves has survived against the odds, he for one would be amused. The Duke of Edinburgh is an honorary member of the SS Robin Trustees.
She sails up the Thames to her new mooring on Wednesday July 13th 2011, further information on her past and future can be found here.
This weekend sees the opening of the annual Hackwood Art Festival in the grounds of Huish House at Old Basing in Hampshire. The festival promotes contemporary artists and at the same time raises money for charity. I was asked if I would loan a collection of my interior watercolours from past and present projects, as I believe I am almost the last designer who initially visualises an interior with paint and not pixels. One of my closet friends Bryan Ferry very kindly wrote the introduction to the exhibition for the catalogue. Bryan, a keen collector of early 20th century British artists, has a discerning eye for a painting and over the years has formed a superb art collection.
I am very impressed by the quality of the work that is displayed in the show, particularly Jo Burton and her witty interpretation of interiors through paint mixed with gold lustre and the collages of Darrell Pockett, who used to be a senior designer at the BBC. I would recommend a visit, with temperatures set to soar this weekend escape the hoards and the heat and head to Hackwood.
Tim Knox, Director of the Sir John Soane’s Museum, asked a group of designers, artists and photographers to contribute a piece of art for a wonderful fundraising idea. ‘Inspired by Soane’ is currently on display at the Soane Museum with a secret ballot taking place on October 7th (tomorrow). The art will be sold at £200 a piece, in a special secret ballot.
Buyers have the opportunity to take home a souvenir and also support the Museum’s major project, ‘Opening up the Soane’, particularly for the new exhibition gallery. Just think, you could own a piece by Damien Hirst, Daniel Libeskind, Vivienne Westwood or me!
(And just to whet your appetite I’ve included a sliver from my ink drawing here. You’ll have to attend the ballot to view the full thing!)
With 260 painted elephants festooning the parks, squares and streets central London, it was the biggest and most beautiful outdoor art event the city has ever seen.
The elephants were on the streets of London from May to June 2011, attracting an estimated audience of 25 million, and benefitting 17 conservation charities in the UK. The Elephant Parade auctions raised over £4 million!
Did you see Nicky’s elephant out on parade in the city?
Elephant Parade 2010 is a large scale outdoor art exhibition of baby elephant sculptures, displayed in all the major cities around the world. This innovative fundraising and awareness campaign to highlight the urgent crisis faced by the Asian elephant was created by Elephant Family – one of Nicky’s favourite charities. Each elephant is a unique piece of art painted by renowed artists and designers and supported by a variety of organisations – and of course Nicky has been asked to create one as well!
Nicky’s elephant stands in the most prestigious of locations at the V&A museum. The elephant, aptly titled ‘Less is Morvi’ is sponsored by Princess Uma of Morvi.
Nicky was immediately inspired by the surreal idea of 200 white plaster elephants parading through London. Playing on this dreamlike initiative he used the shape of the elephant to develop an interior tableaux in 2 dimensional line, much in the way he would conceptualize an interior scheme. While it might seem an unlikely pairing, he found the shapes created by the silhouette lent themselves readily to certain architectural forms!