Berkhamsted School Art Commission and The Great War
Christina Storey | 27 March 2017

How would you explain the exhibition in the Chapel right now?

The exhibition in the Chapel contains work from Mrs Ferguson, Jonty Mellman, Ellie Skelton, James Cassels and Hope Roalfe in addition to photographs from the school archive. The main contribution, created and donated by Jonty Mellmann, hangs above the pews; ‘Home At Last.’it reads. Amongst the main exhibition one can observe edited photos and artefacts, for example a 1950’s edition of The Times. All the aforementioned works are responses to the underlying theme: Remembering the Great War.



What is the Berkhamsted Art Commission?

Essentially the art commission is where a year 12 student gets a £300 bursary to oversee a month’s worth of studio space to create a piece of their choice for the school. It allows the student to explore a medium of choice and maintain personal studio space as if practicing as a professional artist. The bursary also covers necessary materials and supplies the artist needs.



How does the Art Commission work?

Each year Mrs Ferguson and the head of sixth form sit and discuss the theme for the commission, and this year it seemed the obvious choice to identify and create responses in remembrance of The Great War. Any volunteers wishing to take part in the commission create proposals; 500 words describing their plan including required materials, content and visual compositional ideas. This year the applicants were incredibly hard to choose; Jonty Mellman won overall however a commission of £100 was given to each of the other three artists, offering them the chance to create their own artwork to be displayed alongside Jonty’s and Mrs Ferguson’s in the exhibition. This was an incredibly generous offer, which delighted everyone involved.



Jonty, what inspired your own work in regards to this exhibition?

Most of the responses to World War I see are generally focused on the negative aspects of the war such as horror, death and the trenches. Although I didn’t want to ignore that I sought to focus on the positive aspects, so I looked at the celebrations and from there decided on making a celebration flag with textiles. From that I looked at the process of how these flags were made; generally they were homemade and handmade. As I like doing that in the first place I decided to hand-dye and hand stitch parts of the flag and make it all myself as if it were made by the community or someone for their son coming home. The applique and the crest are inspired by post cards and welcome home letters. Ultimately, instead of focusing on the negative aspects of war, linked to death, I concentrated my efforts on victory and to celebrate the people who fought for us.



Mrs Ferguson, what inspired your work for the exhibition?

Having learnt a great deal about the war when I was at school it stayed with me and I’ve always been interested in history; I’m an art historian in my training. I’ve always wanted to go to Belgium and France to see the sights myself and I was very kindly invited to join the battlefields trip by Mr Savill. This trip was an extraordinary experience. I managed to drag my husband along and so we went round with the staff and pupils absorbing, what is an extraordinary environment. In regards to the light on the trip, we were very lucky; it hardly rained at all so the sun was shining, putting everything into stark relief, creating some wonderful images produced by my husband, a photography graduate. These specific photos inspired my own work; everything in the white frames is based on the photographs that Mr Ferguson took.



We would like to thank Mrs Ferguson and Jonty Mellman for the time they took to answer a few questions. The exhibition really is fantastic so we would encourage you to go to Castle Chapel and see it. The exhibition is open until Armistice Sunday.

James Routledge 2016