A model for publishers? Jim Ede and Kettle’s Yard
Regular readers of this blog will know that I believe that the publishing industry is prone to spending too long in its own village, observing and talking to itself. I think it could do with getting out more and scanning broader horizons.
In a previous post I wrote about one of my creative heroes – Harry Beck. Though an electrician and a cartographer, Beck could, I suggested, serve as a model for textbook authors. Here I want to pay tribute to another creative hero and consider briefly how he too can be used as a model within publishing.
The hero I refer to here is Jim Ede, founder of Kettle’s Yard. Kettle’s Yard is a house – previously a group of cottages – in Cambridge. From 1958-1973 it was the home of Jim and Helen Ede. During that time, they donated the house and its contents to the University of Cambridge.
The house was not just a home. It was also a – well, here it is difficult to know which word to choose. ‘Gallery’? Yes, sort of, but not exactly. ‘Museum?’ Ditto. The house remains furnished – in the Edes’ sparse, somewhat spartan manner – as a home, but a home that happens to contain many works of art – especially works by such painters and sculptors as Ben and Winifred Nicholson, David Jones, Alfred Wallis, and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska.
Yet, just as ‘gallery’ and ‘museum’ won’t quite do, so ‘art’ is not quite right. The house contains many objects that in other contexts would be referred to, unproblematically, as art: but here the juxtaposition of such works with crafted objects (such as pieces of furniture) and found objects (such as pebbles, arranged in patterns) deconstructs the distinctions between art, craft, and design.
I’m very sympathetic to this was of experiencing art – as something to be lived with, as part of a continuum, rather than as something to be distanced and then gawped at. And Kettle’s Yard’s location has always seemed to me particularly fitting. Cambridge has its moments of classical grandeur – King’s Chapel, Trinity’s Wren library, etc. – and these provide its best-known images. But aesthetically the place has always seemed to me that at least as suited to provincial, even folky, art. So while we have the choir of King’s College, we also have the folk festival. We have the Fitzwilliam Museum, but also, each summer, a series of weekends in which local artists open their studios to the public. The latter is rich in crafts, such as lettering, jewellery, and ceramics. And amongst the local publishing scene there is not only Cambridge University Press – large, renowned, and somewhat pompous – but also a lively undergrowth of small presses and publishing services companies.
Kettle’s Yard – situated in a part of the city centre that reminds one that, until recently, much of the centre of Cambridge felt rather like a small East Anglian town – acts as a liaison centre that somehow brings the various cultural currents together and makes some sort of sense of them.
What has Jim Ede and his legacy to do with publishing? Nothing, directly. Yet somewhere – I forget where – I read that Ede had commented on the number of people who had said that they wished their own homes were like Kettle’s Yard – and that he had wondered why more people didn’t go back and create their own Kettle’s Yards. Well, now that we are establishing a publishing imprint, that challenge keeps resounding in my mind. To build a ‘Kettle’s Yard’ of a list – that is an inspiring idea!
To some extent, the inspiration offered by Kettle’s Yard remains at a very general level – a reminder to seek to build something lasting, for example, and also a reminder of the importance of quality throughout. More precisely, the design briefs that I have recently been writing, specifying a desire for spaciousness in text and cover design, in part reflect the Kettle’s Yard aesthetic – though perhaps that is a matter of personal taste than anything fundamental.
What is fundamental is a reminder of where creativity resides and how it enhances the material it works with. What Kettle’s Yard makes evident – in a way that somewhere like the National Gallery does not do anything like so well – is that creativity is not merely something embodied in works of art: it is also the result of such processes as acquisition, curatorship, positioning, juxtaposition, and the facilitation of access – each of which has more or less direct analogues in the business of publishing.