Notes from the Rycotewood Summer Show 2017: With Special Thanks to Jonathon Solly

Earlier this week, the workshop at Rycotewood Furniture Centre (Oxford) was transformed into a fresh, white space for its annual show, which displays students’ work; from City and Guilds level, to foundation degree and BA honours; all in furniture design and making. On show was a variety of aesthetic tables from first year degree students, this year, all to a particularly high standard; a catwalk of chairs all representative of their second year makers; and multiple eye catching promotional posters for this year’s graduates dotted between each of their pieces.

As with every summer show, the available space to house the students’ creations was somewhat tested, meaning it felt as though the exhibition was fit to burst! Not only did it feel as though the quantity was a step up this year, but the quality and diversity of ideas demonstrated by students this year also seemed to push the expectations of annual visitors.

On Monday evening, the 19th June, Rycotewood held its private view for this year’s show, and following tradition, the tutors and management took the opportunity to acknowledge the hard work and achievements of the students by presenting awards. I am particularly proud to write that despite the college having a ratio of male to female students of approximately 5:1, the girls did themselves proud by collecting between them, five of the sixteen awards available.

Best newcomer went to Daisy Brunsdon (who has previously been featured on This Girl Makes: with her anthropomorphic table with storage features, crafted to a high level, demonstrated by her dovetail and mitre joints. The piece successfully combines traditional processes and an appreciation of the material in an adorable and attractive form.

Margarita de Forteza collected the Jane Muir Award for the most imaginative use of materials, which her hallway storage piece combining porceilin, leather and timber was definitely deserving of. As well as this, her work was also jointly commended for the Hellen Best in Show Prize.

The Roger Bannister Prize is awarded to a student participating in the evening class in woodcarving, and this year it went to Linda Dales for her wave inspired sculpture. And I am pleased to say that I was awarded the Laurie Turner Award for outstanding achievements in design studies.

And although these successes are individual to the students who were awarded them, it is important to acknowledge that the collective success of the students at Rycotewood is the result of the commitment demonstrated by the staff. Their passion for their subject area is consistent with their desire to support the development of future designer-makers. And within the current political climate, institutions, such as Rycotewood, along with their values and quality of teaching, are at threat. Cuts and reforms to education systems jeopardize creative industries, and it is the dedication of the tutors that help maintain the quality of work, which in turn encourages new applicants. It really is difficult to find the words to express the level of gratitude that they deserve.

A particular success for Rycotewood this year was the welcoming of Dr Lynn Jones to their fold. With years of experience teaching at post-graduate level and the knowledge and contacts she is able to offer to students, she is an enviable member to have on any team. As well as this she offers a slight equilibrium to the gender balance amongst the teachers, which is invaluable when seeking advice or reassurance on being a female in the world of furniture.

However, it is not possible to speak about Lynn without mentioning her other half, Jonathon Solly. Apologies, as it is at this point that this article may be at risk of sounding like an obituary, however to learn that Jon is leaving Rycotewood this summer, really is a bereavement. Listening to his speech at the end of year show brought to light how important the tutors are in shaping our experiences throughout education. It is hard to imagine how the new first years will manage their making projects in September now that there is a Solly-shaped hole in the workshop. Who will greet us everyday with a cheery “morning morning”? Who will be that extra pair of hands that we were all born without when we are struggling with our glue ups? Who will police the whereabouts of the shared tools in the workshop? Who will keep the peace between the students and other technicians? And how will we ever be able to ensure a constant flow of ‘good’ music once Jon and his iPhone have gone!?

It seems impossible to think of a jolly workshop without Mr Solly, but having been fortunate enough to have had his mentoring and encouragement for the past two years, I feel it is a duty of all those students continuing at Rycotewood next year, to give the same level of support that we were shown by Jon, to those students who will be starting their journeys into furniture come September. Particularly, as I think back to our first project as newcomers, and remembering how I was not even aware of how to work the extraction hoovers, let alone the intimidating range of power tools; Jon was the technician who came to my aid, and passed no judgment on my abilities or confidence, only to reassure me that “we all make mistakes”.

Any girl hoping to pursue a future in furniture making or woodwork would benefit tenfold from a technician like Jon Solly.

To see more of the Rycotewood Show 2017, watch Matt Estlea’s film here:



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