Some of you may recognise the name Kipling – and no, I’m not talking about exceedingly good cakes. Most of us are familiar with Rudyard Kipling, the writer who brought us The Jungle Book. But we’re not so familiar with his father, John Lockwood, who was an extraordinary man himself.
An artist, sculptor, illustrator, teacher and curator, Lockwood Kipling was an influential figure in the Arts & Crafts movement. Starting off as a model maker in Staffordshire, Kipling went on to become an architectural sculptor at the V&A, where the first exhibition exploring his life and work has just opened up. His terracotta panels can in fact still be seen on the exterior of the museum.
Most of his life, however, was spent in British India where he taught, curated and campaigned for the preservation of Indian crafts which were on the decline due to urban expansion and industrialisation. Over several years, Kipling toured India, documenting the work of local craftsmen as he went. Kipling’s cultural preservation project now provides us with a unique record of 19th century Indian customs.
Some of the art on display includes work that Kipling himself selected for the museum whilst he was on his travels. You can also find painted studies of local buildings by the students that he taught, and plaster casts of detailed carved doors and screens that he created for both the Lahore museum as well as the V&A.
Sketches drawn by Kipling show us the local craftsmen at work, revealing their creative processes and traditional practises. This was one of my favourite parts of the exhibition. Kipling had a knack for capturing the artists at work in their creative spaces. A series of these drawings are available to view at the V&A.
We also get a look-in at the illustrations he created for his son Rudyard’s stories, including The Jungle Book. In his illustration work, Kipling developed a new approach by creating low-relief sculptures that were photographed and printed in books. This was a modern take on the traditional drawn illustrations.
Some of the objects at the exhibition are on display for the first time in over a century. Kipling’s passion for creativity and craft is evident throughout, wherever you look. If it weren’t for him, a lot of these intricate artefacts would not have been preserved, both physically or in practise.
Visit the V&A to view this beautiful collection of Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London (14 Jan – 2 April 2017, admission free).
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