Beardsley, book, Celtic, Dulac, engraving, etching, fairy, graphics, horsecars, illustration, James Stephens, Leeds, leprechaun, London, Slade, Thomas Blakeley MacKenzie, trams, University of Leeds, watercolour
A week ago I received yet another missive from my little Isabella. I was anxious to hear from her as she seems never to fully recover from this ‘headcold’ of hers. A mother never stops worrying and these girls seem to wear next to nothing when walking around in London at night having no money for the underground fare. Constant worry. Anyway, back to her letter. She told me that one of her friends Thomas Mackenzie, who is originally from Bradford, has been working on a book of an Irish writer for a while. Isabella knows Thomas fairly well because he goes to the Slade himself and, well, he’s from around our neck of woods, isn’t he. He’s finishing next year, but he’s already a prolific book illustrator. Before getting the scholarship at the Slade he studied at the Bradford College of Art. He’s flittering between styles and media like a butterfly, as if he hasn’t quite found ‘his voice’ yet, but perhaps this is what makes his work more interesting. Sometimes he’s unashamedly Beardsley-esque, sometimes more like Dulac. His etchings and engravings are obviously superb and there is clearly a great future ahead of him, and yet he aspires to be a ‘serious painter’ and considers graphics as little more than the handmaiden of the be all and end all: painting… I hope he will not spend his life chasing rainbows. Graphics are such wonderful manifestation of artistic talents. And just think about it: if I save and save and save I can afford a lovely gift book that I look through over and over and display on my parlour table for callers to peruse. But chances are I’d never get to see a ‘serious’ painting hanging in some rich Londoner’s boudoir or an art dealer’s window somewhere on the continent. But I digress…
The book is now out, it’s James Stephens’s “The Crock of Gold”. I borrowed it from the Skiptons’ governess, Miss Milford. We have cinemas, trams and typewriters, but the rich still need to have ladies’ companions, don’t they. After poor Stanley’s death I considered signing up with Mrs Honner’s Agency myself but I’m glad I didn’t in the end! Ah I digress again… Back to the book! I have to admit I’m not a big reader, but I love illustrated books so much! I think I’m more a visual person than those who enjoy reading through dense texts and never look at pretty pictures. This also explains why I like the film theatre so much. It’s by James Stephens, the same fellow who wrote the Charwoman’s Daughter that Irene my friend from Estates is always raving about. I haven’t read that one yet, because I always take Irene’s recommendations with a pinch of salt, but I will now wait until the library in town purchases it! So this MacKenzie illustrated the book, and I must say those ethereal illustrations captured my imagination. I think I would like the book even without illustrations, but MacKenzie brings the storie alive! I hope to see more art from this young Yorkshireman. I must away now. I have to read some more in my lunchbreak!
The next show at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, ‘Illustrators between the Wars’ will feature some unique artwork by MacKenzie and his contemporaries. Keep an eye on our website: the exhibition opens early September!
Thomas Blakeley MacKenzie unfortunately spent his life trying, but never really attaining reputation. Born in 1887, in Bradford, he was a promising illustrator. He studied at the Bradford College of Art where he was a close friend of young J. B. Priestly. He continued his education at the Slade in London. Upon completion of his studies in 1913, he was immediately offered a commission by the publisher James Nisbet to do watercolour illustration for an edition of Arthur and his Knights. Later, among other works, he illustrated Arthur Ransome’s Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp (1919) and Walter Pater’s Marius the Epicurean. He also contributed etchings and engravings to periodicals, like The Sketch. He left for France in 1929 but returned shortly afterward at the onset of the Great Depression. He spent the rest of his life doing topographical etchings of Oxford and making inexpensive jewellery. He died in 1944 in Cornwall following a long illness.
The British Library catalogues MacKenzie as two separate artists: T. B. and Thomas MacKenzie and his work is rarely mentioned in major art reference books.
Biography and artwork:
Diana L. Johnson, Fantastic Illustration and Design in Britain 1850-1930: Catalogue for exhibition, March 29-May 13 1979 at Musuem of Art, Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, RI: Rhode Island School of Design, 1979), p. 73.
Brigid Peppin and Lucy Micklethwait, Dictionary of British Book Illustrators: The Twentieth Century (London, John Murray: 1983), p. 191.
You don’t have to find the nearest lady companion to have a peek at expensive books. Preview the Crock of Gold or even download it to your Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/The-Crock-Gold-James-Stephens/dp/1404344748#reader_1404344748
Enjoy the artwork online at http://comicsbookstories.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/thomas-mackenzie-crock-of-gold-by-james.html
And finally a little Loiner treat: Lavender mentions Leeds trams. Some wonderful work is done on Leeds trams, which you can follow in fascinating blogs like
This picture shows a car ascending Woodhouse Lane towards where the University is now. Young Lavender is probably somewhere in the picture, pity it’s too blurred.