Debbie Laing interviews Susan Breck about Edwards Carter Prestons Intimate retrospective in The Cornerstone

The Edward Carter Preston Exhibition ‘First Hand’ opened on the 15th June 2012 at the Cornerstone Gallery, Creative Campus in Shaw Street Liverpool and runs through till the 31st August. Preston who initially lived in Walton, Liverpool was born in 1865, lived through six monarchs and two world wars and was commissioned as a medallist for The Royal Mint and by the Anglican Cathedral as a sculptor. The exhibition is the brainchild of Susan Beck (Carter Preston Archivist) and Jason Jones Gallery Manager and curator. Preston’s lifetime contribution to Liverpool’s art history has been well documented, his sculpture
easy to identify at the Cathedral both externally and internally. This is the first time the scopes of his talents have been on display for public consumption. I talked to Susan Beck about her personal involvement with the Preston family and her passion for Preston’s artwork spanning 60 years.

Hi Susan, how did the Edward Carter Preston exhibition come about?

Julia Carter Preston, Edwards’s youngest daughter already had connections with Liverpool Hope University, she was herself an accomplished ceramicist, her husband Michael Pugh Thomas who has also sadly died donated (with Julia’s wishes) the estate to the Liverpool Hope University, the processing of the estate has allowed the university and the family to set up the ECP Foundation and a selection of his works has been released for the exhibition. The exhibition is a really good opportunity introducing him to a wider audience.

How did the opening preview go?

It went very well, it was exiting to see friends and family and representatives from the Bluecoat and the Anglican Cathedral. The exhibition got a very positive response

Which of his works stood out?

Visitors were exited to see the large canvasses; a lot of people knew about his sculptures but surprised to see his magnificent portraits on the upper level of the gallery. His personal sculptures at ground level also caused a lot of attention, as did his 1930’s work, maquettes and design imagery on display, these pieces are particularly fascinating; anyone who has seen his sculpture at the Anglican will recognize his distinctive carvings and creativity.

How much did your involvement with tying up the ECP estate and the time spent with his family help you to get closer to the artwork?

There is really nothing like first hand information is there? I was lucky to know both Julia before she died in January of this year and Michael, her husband. Michael helped me in the archiving process, he was eager for me to know as much as I could about the work that covered their house in Canning Place in the Georgian quarter.

Being able to see where the work was placed in the house was a privilege I feel personally connected to the art, I could see how the objects fit within their lives and was able to place it within the context of the family’s history.

How did you and the Gallery manager and curator Jason Jones decide on the selection and interpretation of work for the exhibition?

Our aim was to select a selection of his best work, a small taste from the large diverse collection available to us. Very few people know the Edward Carter Preston name or as a working artist who produced so much in his creative journey as a medallist, painter and sculptor, to show the depth and breadth of his work

What were the main messages you wanted to get across?

We wanted to show his personal works, he was committed to his family, and the sketches of his children are delightful. In his early stages he produced woodcarvings and plychrome figures designed as therapy for rehabilitating WW1 soldiers. This helped anchor him and makes a connection with the public, we also wanted to get across his skill and craftsmanship connected with his medal designs the Distinguished Flying Cross and Next of Kin medals symbolising his personal convictions to the war effort. The exhibition had to have an intimate feel.

As a Liverpool artist, born and bred in Liverpool how did the history and breadth of his work remain secret for so long?

It’s a mystery to me I have no simple answer! Maybe it is because he stayed in Liverpool I’m sad to say, however, he remained known locally throughout his career. Through reading the correspondence between him and those who commissioned his work, craftsmen were not lorded in the same way in the early part of the 20c. We see things differently now, he should be known to a wider audience.

Lastly, what can the public expect to gain from this exhibition?

Liverpool Hope University as custodians for the collection are very honoured to be given this work from Julia and Michael and wish to share it with the public, the exhibition is called ‘First Hand’ because the work he produced was all done with a passion, the sketch books in the exhibition demonstrating the rigour of his workmanship and art processes, an intimate portrayal of a man who is the fabric of Liverpool’s art history.

When’s your next exhibition event?

In September, it’s a London based artist Michael Broughton, he has exhibited widely and has residency awards from Tate Britain and the Prado in Madrid.

Thanks for your time Susan

This interview took place at the Creative Campus, Liverpool Hope University between Debbie Laing (MA Art History and Curating student) and Susan Beck (Carter Preston archivist).