Monday, 31 December 2012
Kenneth Broad: the artist & the gardener
I could have called the last post 'The modern printmaker's tale' because Claude Flight is only one of a long list of Londoners, starting with Geoffrey Chaucer, who have tried to record the way of life of their fellow Londoners. From Daniel Defoe to Charles Dickens, they have almost all been individualists and the architect-printmaker Kenneth Broad may be less well-known, but he was certainly no exception.
The early twenties were a time of considerable change for Broad. He had already made a couple of shakey colour woodcuts when he and his wife and children moved to a large house in Croyden in 1923. About the same time he set up a practice in Bloomsbury with fellow architect Owen Little and in 1925 there was a one-man exhibition of watercolours and accomplished colour woodcuts at the Macrae Gallery in Fulham. This included what has become his best-known print, The coach.
I suppose I had always wondered why it was he had built a colour woodcut round what looks like a toy coach, but it wasn't till his grandson, David, sent me the necessary details that I began to find out why. Broad not only liked to construct things, he also liked to collect them, and it turns out that the painted wooden coach was one that he owned, and must have picked up on one of his forays round the London junk shops.
The print has a companion piece called The Lady and the Gardener and some time after the exhibition at the Macrae, Broad set out on a more ambitious project he called The 'As You Like It' table garden. Unusual, if not eccentric, the idea had been to makes interchangeable sets of garden items like hedges and pergolas that could be used in varying combinations something like a child's model railway. He had various friends apparently who could help with production on a piecework basis. (I assume two of these were his cousins by marriage, the flower-fairy artist, Mary Cicely Barker, and her sister, Dorothy, who lived further along the Waldrons - Dorothy ran a kindergarten at the back of the house, which David's father attended).
In many ways it was an idea of the times. Some of the great fojunding figures of the artsd and crafts movements, including William Morris himself, had been architects, but the As You Like It set was probably a unique attempt to make gardens and garden architecture into popular models. Now, I don't want to digress too far, but it's worth saying how the formal sunken gardens, which is what Broad made, came about.
One of the forebears must be the Moorish gardens of Spain and Morocco. In turn, they have their own origins in the Atlas and anti-Atlas Mountains south of Marrakech, and now and then you can still find country gardens there of almond and pomegranate growing on lawns of chamomile. (If they sound special, they are). These kinds of formal sunken garden were specially popular with British architects in the twenties. There are nice examples at Market Harborough and on the foreshore at Skegness, and the Nottingham architect, Thomas Howitt, designed one for his own house on Leahurst Road, West Bridgford, where he substituted dwarf apples trees for orange, olive and pomegranate. (The one you see below is at the Badia Palace in Marrakech. The ponds are raised, in fact, not sunken, as part of the engineering to make the fountains work.)
How well-informed the architects of the twenties were, is hard to say, but I've already said in a previous post, 'The information act', that this was one of the feature's of Broad's own character. Unfortunately, he may have been both informed and ingenious, but he was not much of a business man and, despite a design based on The Coach being featured on the cover of the 1928 Christmas issue of Homes and gardens magazine, and the table garden being sold by Harrods, with an attendant news reel, the project came to nothing, and the only survival anyone knows of is the booklet featured here and published by Broad from his home. He eventually left that house for Lane House at Rotherfield, where he had several acres of garden. Whether he grew almonds and pomegranates or not history doesn't say.