Camberwell staff bring the past back to life with WW1 memorial remake
When Simon Burbidge was a student at Camberwell College of Arts in 1985 he had no idea that a photograph he took in one of the original Victorian buildings would be crucial to the recreation of a lost World War 1 memorial 33 years later.
As planning got underway for 2018’s David Jones’ exhibition A Mythic Understanding, staff at Camberwell College of Arts were asked to submit ideas around the centenary of the 1918 Armistice and the end of the Great War.
One of these staff members was Simon Burbidge, who is currently a Teaching and Learning Technician in Printmaking, but in 1985 was a BA Painting student at Camberwell taking photos of the buildings.
“My father and uncle were in Burma during the Second World War, Dad eventually becoming president of the local British Legion. So I grew up with an intimate understanding of the significance of remembrance. I was working on a project about icons and iconography at the time.”
Within those photos was a shot of a tiled memorial, commemorating the staff and students who fought and fell during the First World War, a memorial that in the 90s had been lost during a series of moves and restructures on campus.
So, as Simon explains “we did some initial research regarding the names on the memorial and to its initial construction and discovered it was designed and constructed in-house. It seemed like it would be a good idea to maybe reinstall it or research replacement. So, we approached several colleagues within Camberwell regarding the memorials' reinstatement and Tas Martin, Teaching and Learning Technician in Ceramics and Mike Hurley, Senior Lecturer 3D Design, took on the task of reconstructing it.”
With support from graphic design lecturer Jake Hopwood, recreating the crest visible at the top of the memorial, Tas worked on the ceramic base and plaster architrave as Mike Hurley focused on the lettering.
These tasks were not without their challenges. Firstly, there was the issue of the damaged name on the original meaning one of the alumni was not identifiable. After doing some light detective work in the college records, their mystery man was discovered to be one C.E. Hind, who lived up the road in Tooting whilst at Camberwell.
Then there was the memorial itself - both its size and the materials needed to replicate the original as closely as possible proved to be a challenge for the team, who worked tirelessly in their free time to bring the project to life. Having access to Simon’s original photo and creating a copy that was enlarged to a 1:1 ratio proved invaluable.
“Using Simon's photograph as a guide I drew the letters on to the tiles using gold lustre glaze for "TO THE GLORIOUS MEMORY..." and black onglaze for the names. I had never used either medium before and on the shiny surface of the tiles it proved challenging as it didn't behave as I hoped.” - Mike Hurley.
With his colleague Tas on hand for moral support, a supply of biscuits and an inspirational soundtrack, the memorial was completed earlier this year. “It was a nice thing to do, it was the right thing to do and I’m pleased we were able to do it. We have the luxury of choice now, and things were very different for the staff and students at Camberwell then” explained Tas, who has gone on to use an image of the memorial at the end of his talks to MA Designer Maker students.
For Mike, the project made him feel more connected to his former colleagues and alumni as they retraced the steps of the original makers: “We went through all the tiny design problems that the original makers must have gone through, look at "FORBES SEMPHILL RA" for example, the position of the F, how much agonising went into that I wonder?”
The memorial now sits in the exact location of the original, in what is now known as C-Block. And as well as a permanent reminder of those who fought for the freedom today’s students, the memorial is a symbol of a wider commitment by the college to celebrate the local area and its communities.
The David Jones exhibition may have come down in December, but the legacy of Jones and his less fortunate peers will live on in the halls of Camberwell for 100 years and beyond.
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