Thomas Baron Pitfield (1903-1999): a visual autobiography

Archives Hub feature for July 2015

Monstrous Monster drawing, 1979
TP1.12 Pen-and-wash drawing of the Monstrous Monster, the Duophonia, and landscapes, 1979

This month’s archive one true love is the Thomas Baron Pitfield Collection at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Pitfield was, to name a handful of epithets, a composer, teacher, poet, artist, engineer, furniture maker, calligrapher and engraver.

He studied and later taught at the Royal Manchester College of Music (RMCM). He is a well-loved composer. However, it is the rest of his creative life that I wish to draw attention to here in this feature. In particular, his sketchbooks.

A bit of context

Pitfield was born 5 April 1903 to a strict Church of England family in Bolton. His parents had him late in life and according to his memoirs he was an unwanted and unplanned for child.

Pitfield was not born into an environment of plentiful inspiration and artistic encouragement. His creative nature was exactly that: his nature. Nurture was not a feature. In his autobiographies he mentions that he was given no means to entertain himself as a child save for his own resourcefulness which he believed fostered innovation in his early years.

Painted minstrel, 1933
TP1.10 Painted minstrel, 1933

By age two he was notably good at drawing and in school his ability to learn music almost instantaneously by ear was remarked upon. Much, he assures us, to the unimpressed pillars of his parents who intended for him to be a joiner like his father. He strove on however, collecting scraps from his father’s workshop and working them into toys and other objects.

At age 14 he was pulled from school and enrolled in an apprenticeship in the millwrights’ department of a local engineering firm, which he despised. It took time away from his creative and musical endeavours which he sneakily developed when everyone else was asleep. He also abhorred the idea that the machines he was helping to maintain could one day severely harm or even kill someone, as the near misses he witnessed assured him could happen.

The artist

“The artist [it is said] should be able to find his inspiration in the objects and life about him. I could never wax poetic about the gasometers and industrial plant.” (Pitfield, A Song After Supper, 1990 p84). And so he haunted the Bolton moors at the weekends bringing sketchbooks with him. “The countryside is the backdrop of most of my creative thoughts.” (ibid 12)

Tree drawing, 1981
TP1.15 Pen-and-wash drawing of a contorted tree, Dunham Park, 1981

Here we witness the birth of his sketchbook obsession. By the end of his life he had filled over 6,000 pages of thoughts, ideas, paintings, music, teachings, prose, poetry and designs. The calls them “a visual autobiography… so that they have become an outline of my life’s activities.”(ibid, p95)

Calligraphy, 1960
TP1.16 Calligraphy swirls, 1960

In his books we see everything that influenced his life for over seven decades. From the many pen-and-wash sketches of churches, woodlands, creatures and characters, to the incredible astuteness of his calligraphy and furniture designs. This stream of creative consciousness follows him through his short time as a student at the RMCM after quitting engineering at 21; working as a teacher of woodwork for the unemployed from 23; his fruitful composition career; his fondly remembered time returning as a teacher to the RMCM and beyond.

Philosophy and themes

Pitfield was a complex mould breaker. He remarks that early on he “began to see that an almost rabid conformity in those about me was no assurance of their sanity.” (Pitfield, No Song, No Supper, 1986, p24) In his life, themes of self-efficiency and great personal motivation permeate, whether it be stepping away from the religious upbringing, becoming vegetarian at a young age, his pacifism or his love of John Ruskin and William Morris.

Dunbleton Church sketch, 1968
TP1.1 Dunbleton Church sketch with Aaron Copeland quote, 1968

Nevertheless Christian iconography is very apparent in his notebooks and sits alongside furniture designs and the wild nature scenes which uproot the carefully penned calligraphy and drafts for lino prints, prose and poetry. The finished artworks crop up elsewhere in the archive but it is in the sketchbooks, the first manifestation for many of his creative outputs, where we find an absolute wonderland of inspiration.

Thanks for reading. If you would like to know more about his wonderful creations then do get in touch: archives@rncm.ac.uk.

Heather Roberts
College Archivist
Royal Northern College of Music

 

Related:

The Thomas Pitfield collections on the Archives Hub: http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1179-tp.

Browse the collections of the Royal Northern College of Music on the Archives Hub.

Artworks copyright: The Pitfield Trust.

HubbuB: October 2011

Europeana and APENet

Europeana LogoI have just come back from the Europeana Tech conference, a 2 day event on various aspects of Europeana’s work and on related topics to do with data. The big theme was ‘open, open, open’, as well, of course, as the benefits of a European portal for cultural heritage.  I was interested to hear about Europeana’s Linked Data output, but my understanding is that at present, we cannot effectively link to their data, because they don’t provide URIs  for concepts. In other words, identifiers for names such as http://data.archiveshub.ac.uk/doc/agent/gb97/georgebernardshaw, so that we can say, for example, that our ‘George Bernard Shaw’ is the same as ‘George Bernard Shaw’ represented on Europeana.

I am starting to think about the Hub being part of APENet and Europeana. APENet is the archival aggregator for Europe. I have been in touch with them about the possibility of contributing our data, and if the Hub was to contribute, we could probably start from next year. Europeana only provide metadata for digital content, so we could only supply descriptions where the user can link to the digital content, but this may well be worth doing, as a means to promote the collections of any Hub contributors who do link to digital materials.

If you are a contributor, or potential contributor, we would like to know what you think…. we have a quick question for you at http://polldaddy.com/poll/5565396/. It simply asks if you think its a good idea to be part of these European initiatives. We’d love to get your views, and you only have to leave your name and a comment if you want to.

Flickr: an easy way to provide images online

You will be aware that contributors can now add images to descriptions and links to digital content of all kinds. The idea is that the digital content then forms an integral whole with the metadata, and it is also interoperable with other systems.

I’ve just seen an announcement by the University of Northampton, who have recently added materials to Flickr . I know that many contributors struggle to get server space to put their digital content online, so this is one possible option, and of course it does reach a huge number of people this way. There may be risks associated with the persistence of the URIs for the images, but then that is the case wherever you put them.

On the Hub we now have a number of images and links to content, for example: http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1089ukc-joh, http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1089ukc-bigwood, http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1089ukc-wea, http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb141boda?page=7#boda.03.03.02.

Ideally, contributors would supply digital content at item level, so the metadata is directly about the image/digital content, but it is fine to provide it at any level that is appropriate.  The EAD Editor makes adding links easy (http://archiveshub.ac.uk/dao/). If you aren’t sure what to do, please do email us.

Preferred Citation

We never had the field for the preferred citation in our old template for the creation of EAD, and it has not been in the EAD Editor up till now. We were prompted to think about this after seeing the results of a survey on the use of EAD fields presented at the Society of American Archivists conference. Around 80% of archive institutions do use it. We think it’s important to advise people how to cite the archive, so we are planning to provide this in the Editor and may be able to carry out global edits to add this to contributors’ data.

List of Contributors

Our list of contributors within the main search page has now been revised, and we hope it looks substantially more sensible, and that it is better for researchers. This process really reminded us how hard it is to come up with one order for institutions that works for everyone!  We are currently working on a regional search, something that will act as an alternative way to limit searching. We hope to introduce this next year.

And finally…A very engaging Linked Data interface

This interface demonstration by Tim Sherratt shows how something driven by Linked Data can really be very effective. It also uses some of the Archives Hub vocabulary from our own Linked Data work, which is a nice indication of how people have taken notice of what we have been doing. There is a great blog post about it by Pete Johnston, Storytelling, archives and Linked Data. I agree with Pete that this sort of work is so exciting, and really shows the potential of the Linked Data Web for enabling individual and collective storytelling…something we, as archivists, really must be a part of.

HubbuB

Diary of the Archives Hub, June 2011

Design Council Archive poster
Desing Council Archive: Festival of Britain poster

This is the first of our monthly diary entries, where we share news, ideas and thoughts about the Archives Hub and the wider world. This diary is aimed primarily at archives that contribute to the Hub, or are thinking about contributing, but we hope that it provides useful information for others about the sorts of developments going on at the Hub and how we are working to promote archives to researchers.

Hub Contributors’ Forum

At the Hub we are always looking to maintain an active and constructive relationship with our contributors. Our Contributors’ Forum provides one way to do this. It is informal, friendly, and just meets once or twice a year to give us a chance to talk directly to archivists. We think that archivists also value the opportunity to meet other contributors and think about issues around data discovery.

We have a Contributors’ Forum on 7th July at the University of Manchester and if any contributors out there would like to come we’d love to see you. It is a chance to think about where the Hub is going and to have input into what you think we should be doing, where our priorities should lie and how to make the service effective for users. Just in case you all jump in at once, we do have a limit on numbers….but please do get in touch if you are interested.

The session will be from 10.30 to 1.00 at the University of Manchester with lunch provided. It will be with some members of the Hub Steering Committee, so a chance for all to mix and mingle and get to know each other. And for you to talk to Steering Committee members directly.

Please email Lisa if you would like to attend: lisa.jeskins@manchester.ac.uk.

Contributor Audio Tutorials

Our audio tutorial is aimed at contributors who need some help with creating descriptions for the Hub. It takes you through the use of our EAD Editor, step-by-step. It is also useful in a general sense for creating archival descriptions, as it follows the principles of ISAD(G). The tutorial can be found at http://archiveshub.ac.uk/tutorials/. It is just a simple audio tutorial, split into convenient short modules, covering basic collection-level descriptions through to multi-level and indexing. Any feedback greatly appreciated – if you want any changes or more units added, just let us know.

Archives Hub Feature: 100 Objects

We are very pleased with our monthly features, founded by Paddy, now ably run by Lisa. They are a chance to show the wealth of archive collections and provide all contributors the opportunity to showcase their holdings.  They do quite well on Google searches as well!

Our monthly feature for June comes from Bradford Special Collections, one of our stalwart contributors, highlighting their current online exhibition: 100 Objects.  Some lovely images, including my favourite, ‘Is this man an anarchist?’ (No!! he’s just trying to look after his family): http://archiveshub.ac.uk/features/100objects/Nationalunionofrailwaymenposter.html

Relevance Ranking

Relevance ranking is a tricky beast, as our developer, John, will attest. How to rank the results of a search in a way that users see as meaningful? Especially with archive descriptions, which range from a short description of a 100 box archive to a 10 page description of a 2 box archive!

John has recently worked on the algorithm used for relevance ranking so that results now look more as most users would expect. For example, if you searched for ‘Sir John Franklin’ before, the ‘Sir John Franklin archive’ would not come up near the top of the results. It now appears 1st in results rather than way down the list, as it was previously. Result.

Images

Since last year we have provided the ability to add images to Hub descriptions. The images have to be stored elsewhere, but we will embed them into descriptions at any level (e.g. you can have an image to represent a whole collection, or an image at each item level description).

We’ve recently got some great images from the Design Council Archive: http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb1837des-dca – take a look at the Festival of Britain entries, which have ‘digital objects’ linked at item level, enabling researchers to get a great idea of what this splendid archive holds.

Any contributors wishing to add images, or simple links to digital content, can easily do so through using the EAD Editor: http://archiveshub.ac.uk/images/ You can also add links to documents and audio files. Let us know if you would like more information on this.

Linking to descriptions

Linking to Hub descriptions from elsewhere has become simpler, thanks to our use of ‘cool URIs’. See http://archiveshub.ac.uk/linkingtodescriptions/. You simply need to use the basic URI for the Hub, with the /data/ directory, e.g. http://archiveshub.ac.uk/data/gb029ms207.

Out and About

It would take up too much space to tell you about all of our wanderings, but recently Jane spent a very productive week in Prague at the European Libraries Automation Group (ELAG), a very friendly bunch of people, a good mix of librarians and developers, and a very useful conference centering on Linked Data.

Bethan is at the CILIP new professionals information day today, busy twittering about networking and sharing knowledge.

Lisa is organising our contributors’ workshops for this year (feels like our summer season of workshops) and has already run one in Manchester. More to follow in Glasgow, London and Cardiff. This is our first workshop in Wales, so please take advantage of this opportunity if you are in Wales or south west England. More information at http://archiveshub.ac.uk/contributortraining/

Joy is very busy with the exciting initiative, UKDiscovery. This is about promoting an open data agenda for archives, museums and libraries – something that we know you are all interested in. Take a look at the new website: http://discovery.ac.uk/.

With best wishes,
The Hub Team