Escape to Beckenham by June Fraser (Cull)

Escape to Beckenham

In 1951, there were two of us at Medway College of Art, Anne Rooke and me, but after two years studying at Medway we felt that we were getting nowhere.

Fortunately, Anne’s father was a headmaster on the Isle of Sheppey and looked up the best art schools in the South East which turned out to be Chelsea and Beckenham. We both applied to Beckenham and I also applied to Chelsea where I was accepted. Anne was accepted at Beckenham before I went for my interview.

Much to my dismay, my father who was rather formidable, insisted on coming to the interview with me (he’d never taken that much interest in my progress before). So we both sat in Mr Cole’s office – Daddy extolling my drawing ability and I not knowing where to look. I was quite sure that my father was going to spoil my chances. Years later, Kass told me the whole story…

Beckenham School of Art was a Kent County Council Art school, like Medway, and it was frowned upon to ‘steal’ pupils from other KCC schools. Mr Cole had already agreed to take Anne Rooke but decided that it was too risky to accept someone else from Kent. Then Kass told me that it was due to Mr Cole’s fear/respect? for my Dad at the interview that I got in as well. So I was Quite wrong about my Dad; he’d done me a good turn after all!

Kass ‘s was an exceptional talent. Not only for his ability as an artist but because he could assess anyone, whatever their talents or background, and nurture the essential person in them to draw out of them what was their special talent. I found the mix of Kass (Picasso -like) and Werner (Bauhaus)
electrifying. Peter taught me so much about modern architecture, industrial design, how to appreciate a chair and lots else that I went on to write by thesis at RCA on the role of the industrial designer in the 20thC. They all thought I was mad!

Kass was notoriously fierce and given to making sarcastic remarks to students in their first year. His unforgettable one to me was “Don’t just DRAW a tree, FEEL a tree!” At the time I didn’t know what he meant – but I’ve never forgotten it.

I remember Tom Freeth chatting me up one day in the corridor at break time. He had heard that I was a member of the Bach Choir and thought that I would be knowledgeable about Monteverdi (his passion) as well as Bach. He soon got fed up when he realised I did not recognise half the stuff he reeled off!

Kass thought Eric Thomas and I would be good for each other so when he realised that both Eric and I were going to Italy independently in summer 1954 he suggested that we met up. And so we did and had a greet week traveling from Florence to San Gimmignano and onto the Palio (horse race) at Sienna before going our separate ways. I remember being very impressed with Eric who studied everything in much more depth than I did and wrote notes about it all; he taught me a lot about observation.

Later – after Assisi, Arrezzo, Rome etc – I went on to Milan where the Triennial was being held and met Peter Werner on the British stand where he was helping Robin Day and Earnest Race put together a British stand on a shoestring. It was the first time that I met Robin and Lucienne Day who later became lifelong friends.

It could be said that those four people, Kass, Peter and Robin and Lucienne had an enormous influence on my life; they were role models and mentors for all the success that came afterwards.

June Fraser (Cull)
Beckenham School of Art 1952-54