Pilsbury, Joan (1 of 5) National Life Stories Collection: Crafts' Lives

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  • Subjects

    Book arts

  • Recording date

    2012-11-01, 2012-11-02

  • Interviewees

    Pilsbury, Joan (speaker, female)

  • Interviewers

    Cornford, Frances (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: Joan Pilsbury (JP) born in 1926 in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. Comments on not liking name Joan; preferring second name Margaret but getting into trouble for calling herself Margaret. Memories of maternal grandmother; grandmother having large house in Thundridge. Not knowing other grandparents. JP’s parents separating when she was 6 and JP sent to boarding school. JP a naughty child at school. JP eventually enjoying school. Mother living in nearby village during the war and JP becoming a day girl. Memories of hearing dogfights. [04:46] Paternal grandfather a painter and great grandfather Wilmot Pilsbury, quite a well known painter; paternal grandfather called Harry Pilsbury. JP’s father musical and studious. Mother’s family called Beazley, supposedly descended from Count Simon Vorontsov, Russian ambassador to Britain; JP having researched family tree. [12:36] Maternal grandmother formidable but JP fond of her; grandmother dying in 1932; comments on mother’s siblings. Mother called Katherine (KP); remarks on mother’s upbringing. Grandfather having an English school in Spain; mother’s brother Alexander a civil engineer and contributing to Oxford Dictionary; rest of men in the family not up to much. JP related to WH Auden by marriage. KP born 1895 and educated near Basingstoke and in Lake District. Grandmother working in a factory as grandfather was not there. Christmases with grandmother. JP disliking Christmas. [21:51] KP working in estate property management for Church Commissioners; KP collecting rents in the East End; KP driving ambulance in First World War, KP’s attitude to religion. KP interested in painting and played piano, liked sewing. KP an overwhelming character so JP retreated from her; KP’s appearance. How KP met JP’s father; JP’s father as seven years younger than KP; couple as unsuited; account of Nora, the maid. JP getting St Vitus’s dance and KP taking her to a psychiatrist. [28:54] Father called Ronald Clifford Pilsbury (RP) and an electrical engineer concerned with Battersea Power Station; RP studying and gaining degree from home; RP very musical and gifted pianist; JP regretting not knowing father better. Parents marrying in June 1925; KP horrified at being pregnant but pleased when baby arrived. JP’s early memories of picking marigolds; JP looked after by Nora the maid; Nora an illegitimate child of gentry. JP living in Putney. Childhood house rather dark with small garden’ JP keeping a museum collection in the shed. JP living through books including Grimm‘s Fairy Tales; moving to Thundridge in war to grandmother’s house; JP doing lots of drawing and painting on whatever paper could find. Reading and drawing to shut out world. [37:25] Description of house in Putney. Reaction of parents to JP’s art. RP as giving JP his father’s painting equipment. Memories of parents splitting up; JP in own world. JP learning about her childhood from Nora; JP always keeping in touch with Nora. Remarks on being sent to a psychiatrist and having St Vitus dance; condition developing after Nora left because RP kissed her. [47:25] JP sent away to school age 10; sent to Parents National Education Union (PNEU) schools in Putney then Burgess Hill; JP causing trouble at school; JP longing to spend time playing piano. JP enjoying literature; JP thinking art classes beneath her; loving Latin’ learning astronomy; JP liking games including lacrosse and tennis. KP’s work for Church Commissioners; mother liking to make things snug. JP having friends called Maureen. [56:05] KP having admirer called Dr Paul who took her and JP out; JP witnessing car accident; KP playing bridge. Going to Thundridge for holidays. KP not having money and shopping carefully. KP’s attitude to remarriage. KP interested in amateur dramatics. JP still careful with money. [01:01:17] JP crying solidly when sent to boarding school for half a term; JP feeling abandoned. JP scared of her mother. JP getting fond of school in Burgess Hill; JP realising there on a bursary and mortified. Remarks on classmates. JP enjoying school once became a day girl. Comments on boarding; shutting self up in lavatory, reading poetry and eating bamboo shoots; talking to maids. JP spending spare time painting and drawing; spending time painting fairies. Using pencil and watercolour. [01:11:03] JP passing School Certificate with equivalent of Distinction. Art teaching mediocre; lodging with art teacher at one point who tried to interest JP in Augustus John. JP admiring Arthur Rackham; JP aiming to study book illustration; JP making books from a child. JP fascinated by writing and starting to copy Gothic script from Christmas cards. JP going straight to Central instead of doing foundation course because of the war. [01:16:56] Remarks on Second World War; KP spending a lot of time finding food; KP not working while at Burgess Hill. KP renting rooms, then a house and taking in lodgers. [01:20:34] JP making friends with a teacher who introduced her to poetry; JP wanting to play piano but KP making her wait; JP idolising music mistress. Self portrait at age 18, dreamy but fixed on art school. Applying to Central because it was a school of arts and crafts; schoolfriend’s father the painter Knighton-Hammond as probably recommending it. JP not having heard of Edward Johnston at that time. JP applying to Central to do book illustration; Central drawing up timetable including lifedrawing, printing, anatomy and illustration. JP taught by John Farleigh; JP interested in wood engraving. [01:28:32] Anecdote about first day at Central; JP living at Thundridge and returning to Putney after war; KP keeping house for uncles and aunts; Aunt Molly as backward. London at end of the war. Central School building at Southampton Row. [01:33:04] JP coming to calligraphy by accident; JP mixing up typography with calligraphy and walking into a calligraphy class. JP instantly taken with calligraphy; calligraphy taught by copying examplars; later meeting Irene Wellington and unlearning what had learnt. Mervin Oliver (MO) JP’s first teacher; copying his hand but not understanding what doing; MO not understanding form and history of letters; writing in MO’s stylised sharpened italic. Finding out about history of calligraphy on own. Some teaching of design and layout. Comments on MO as a teacher; lack of room for creativity. JP spending a day a week on calligraphy. Remarks on other classes; John Farleigh an inspiring teacher; not progressing in life drawing; other tutors including Bernard Mininsky, Jimmy Grant, Maurice Kesselman and briefly John Minton. [01:43:19] Comments on other students; friends at Central. JP not having a social life; JP not interested in dances and very shy; playing piano and painting in spare time. Clothes worn; KP making dresses for JP; JP not interested in clothes apart from interest in New Look. JP not going away on holiday but asked to go to Cornwall with friend Pat’s family; learning to bodysurf. [01:49:50] Comments on Christmas; visiting friend Pat for Christmas, Remarks on paying for art school; JP getting Queens scholarship worth £50 at end of four years; everybody sure that Mary Woods would win scholarship but principal William Johnston interested in calligraphy and selected JP; scholarship allowing JP to stay on for another year.

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