First Steps with Ruskin
On Saturday 7th October we were delighted to welcome 20 people to the inaugural First Steps with Ruskin day at Uncllys farm at Ruskin Land in Bewdley. We came together as a community of individuals interested in learning about Ruskin and set out on the journey to discover who John Ruskin was by exploring questions together: Why was he a celebrity in the Victorian period? Why is there is a Ruskin Land in Bewdley? Why is someone who was born 200 years ago still seen as a significant cultural influence?
We were welcomed to the Ruskin Studio at Uncllys by our host, John Iles (a Guild Director). Clive Wilmer (Master of the Guild and a Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge) introduced Ruskin by concentrating on his work in the 1840’s through 1860’s. Touching on Ruskin’s writings in Modern Painters, Seven Lamps of Architecture and Unto This Last , it was a fascinating and thought provoking session.
A welcome break from the classroom followed with a walk through Ruskin Land, guided by John Iles. This was an opportunity to view the work being undertaken by the Wyre Community Land Trust to bring the Guild woodland back into sustainable management for the long term. We saw St Georges Farmhouse and the Wyre Woodyard, where timber is starting to be processed by the WCLT to produce useful and beautiful items.
After lunch Dominika Wielgopolan (a PhD student at Manchester Metropolitan University writing about Ruskin Land) shared her research into the history of Ruskin in Bewdley and the early settlers who tried to work the land according to Ruskin’s teaching. Filled with historical anecdotes, her talk resonated with the locals, some of whom live in the houses she talked about.
Rachel Dickinson (Director for Education of the Guild and Principal Lecturer at Man Met Uni) illustrated Ruskin’s relevance today both in a lighthearted sense through commercial items that get linked to Ruskin’s name and, more seriously, the wider sphere of influence he has had on organisations such as the National Trust. She ended by sharing her own path to Ruskin and challenged others to answer the question ‘who is your Ruskin?’.
To close the afternoon, Jenny Robbins (a Director of both the Guild and the Wyre Community Land Trust) with input from Tim Selman (Managing Director of WCLT) outlined the Ruskin in Wyre Heritage Lottery programme of events that launched this summer and invites people to share in the unfolding story of Ruskin Land through Arts and Crafts over the next two years. As the day closed, Clive Wilmer promised to send a recommended reading list to the attendees and indicated that we will hold a follow up session next year.
The feedback from those who attended, many of whom were new faces at Ruskin Land, was overwhelmingly positive. It was a valuable addition to the growing community of interest in the place.