Friday February 8th 2019 marked the bicentenary of the birth of artistic polymath and social reformer John Ruskin. There was a wonderful church service held at St. Andrews Church Coniston involving local schools who have been working with Ruskin’s ideas. There was music, readings from his letters and the Ruskin School logbook detailing Ruskin’s visits to the children in the 1880’s. Hymns in praise of the natural world would have pleased him too.
Following the service flowers were placed on his grave in the churchyard and then everyone decamped to the Coniston Institute for a party to celebrate the day. There were tea and scones from the Terrace Coffee House and Restaurant at Brantwood.
There were also two birthday cakes, one from the Ruskin School, which celebrated Ruskin’s favourite colour, blue, and was decorated with an oak leaf design in homage to his love for the natural world and his connection to the arts and crafts movement of William Morris. The second cake, brought by Ruskin Friends from Brantwood, was presented by Blackwell Arts and Crafts House, was made by their pastry chef, and featured a re-creation of a painting of Coniston by Ruskin. The food was followed by an affirmation of the way Ruskin’s ideas regarding social reform are still central to the way the community in Coniston functions today. A good time was had by all.
I have always been inspired by Ruskin’s ideas and artistic vision, whose philosophy of “seeing clearly” is at the heart of my work as an artist. I am running a Study Break at Higham Hall College near Cockermouth from July 12th – 16th 2019, entitled “Painting Ruskin’s Dreams of Coniston”, which aims to connect aspiring artists to the excitement and beauty of the Natural World through the agency of “clear sight”. It is open to all, regardless of artistic experience.