Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry contributes to new book on Bardfield Artists – from the same village as Perry

PUBLISHED: 09:30 12 February 2017

Grayson Perry with Janet Dyson as Janet signs books. Photos: Celia Bartlett Photography

Grayson Perry with Janet Dyson as Janet signs books. Photos: Celia Bartlett Photography

Copyright © 2017 Celia Bartlett Photography. All rights reserved

Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry has contributed to a new book on the Bardfield Artists – one of whom, Edward Bawden, lived in Saffron Walden towards the end of his life.

The crowds of guests, supporters and visitors at the book launch at Braintree Museum. The crowds of guests, supporters and visitors at the book launch at Braintree Museum.

A building in Abbey Lane has been named after Bawden, while the national collection of the Bardfield Artists’ work is in the town’s Fry Art Gallery.

As a teenager, Grayson lived in Great Bardfield and used to deliver newspapers around the village.

When he went round on a Saturday to collect the cash, one household used to invite him in for coffee and he remains friends with that family to this day.

So when Janet Dyson launched her book on the Bardfield Artists on Monday evening (February 6) it was Grayson who drove her to the celebration at Braintree Museum.

Grayson Perry also signs the books for guests at Janet Dyson's book launch Grayson Perry also signs the books for guests at Janet Dyson's book launch

Remembering the time before their paperboy became famous, Janet said: “The children used to call out: ‘Grayson’s here!’ and we’d all sit around the kitchen table for a chat.”

Grayson was a grammar school boy in those days before going on to study art at Braintree College.

Speaking at the launch. Grayson, now 56, said: “These Saturday mornings were an oasis of civilisation and culture, I think they (the Dysons) were the only subscribers to The Guardian. We delivered papers to 2,000 houses and the pile of Daily Telegraphs and East Anglian Daily Times were up to my knees but I could carry The Guardians in two fingers.”

He said running a newsagents (it was his stepfather’s business) meant you met everyone in the village and Great Bardfield, where he lived from the ages of 16 to 19 was the first community he connected with.

A Dunmow art teacher (centre) with his wife, Dot, left and one of his students Elsie Bouffler, right. A Dunmow art teacher (centre) with his wife, Dot, left and one of his students Elsie Bouffler, right.

“I was born in Chelmsford. Essex is a schizophrenic county, different on each side of the A12. There is the TOWIE end and there’s here which is all fluffy and lovely and civilised and middle class.

“The people who get most out of art are the people who make it. If you want to be supercharged by it, then do it. Writing a book is a lot harder than making pots. You can’t write a book with Radio 4 on in the background, a book is a real achievement. It’s hard work, it’s the cultural coal face.

“So here’s to Bardfield, to art and to Janet!”

The author, Janet, co-owner of the Between the Lines bookshop in Great Bardfield which has published the book, has written not just about the artists who lived in the village from the 1930s to the late 1950s, but the reactions of their neighbours.

The book's editor Jenny Rooney The book's editor Jenny Rooney

The artists moved into houses with no main drains, gas or electricity. The homes had been left empty when the former tenants were rehoused in brand new council houses leaving cheap accommodation within commuting distance of London.

After this discovery by the first two artists on a bike ride into Essex, an enclave was formed.

In the 1950s, the houses were opened up to public view so people could see the artists’ work in their homes – a forerunner of today’s open studios.

Janet, an academic who has lived in the village for 40 years, said: “The book is about the precious heritage of Great Bardfield. It’s a collection of stories, what it was like to live in Great Bardfield at the time, what it was like for villagers to have the artists in their midst.”

Grayson Perry introducing the book and talking about art. Grayson Perry introducing the book and talking about art. "Books are the coalface. They are hard work."

Janet said one source was the diary of artist Tizah Garwood, wife of artist Eric Ravilious.

“These were gossipy and scandalous accounts of everyday life. They were about crazy characters, love affairs and village events. They captured village life at the end of the Second World War and into the brave new world of the second half of the 20th Century.”

The book began as a pamphlet for Great Bardfield Historical Society of which Janet is chairman and all profits will go to the society. This is the first publication by Between the Lines Press. It was produced by the three women who opened shop, edited and designed by Jenny Rooney and proof-read by Carolynne Ruffle.

Janet said: “We have other books in the pipeline including a book of short stories by local authors. Our plan is to produce beautiful books.”

Artists of Great Bardfield – Great Bardfield Shows Beautiful Things by Janet Dyson, Between the Lines Press, £12.99 from Between the Lines, Braintree Museum and The Fry Art Gallery in Saffron Walden.

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