Summer Holidays 2022
As the summer holidays are now in full swing, I’d like to introduce you to some new work by the absolute Queen of the holiday picture diary, Rena Gardiner.
Rena’s diaries have never been out of private ownership and to our knowledge, never been shared publicly. Now, The Baguette Press have been given permission to publish a lithographically printed version of three of these diaries and we thought we’d share a sneak preview and some background information on Rena, with you on this hot August afternoon.
Born in 1929, Rena was brought up in Epsom where she attended the local Grammar School for Girls. Here, she developed her skills in the visual arts, followed by some time at Kingston School of Art, where she commuted by bicycle. Subsequently, she studied book illustration along with print making processes as part of her National Diploma, and fell in love with lithographic printing.
Lithography was the cool kid of printing. It was colourful, versatile and creatively flexible due to the free-hand drawing methods used for the printing plates. She had learnt how to look after machinery from her engineer father and found a complete affinity with the printing press and her artistic form.
After her diploma, Rena trained as a teacher to provide her with stability and independence. Her first post was at Lemington College for Girls in 1951 – where she became a well respected art teacher. She discovered a shared love of history with fellow teacher Barbara Currie and a lithographic proofing press at the local art college, which culminated in her first book authored by Currie and illustrated by Gardiner, about Royal Lemington Spa.
In 1954, Rena moved jobs and geography, joining Bournemouth School for Girls and moving to a house with a garage in Wareham, Dorset. There, she set up her very own ‘Workshop Press’, utilising printing facilities at the local art college in Bournemouth.
Rena fell in love with the landscape and history of Dorset. She spent her free time travelling around discovering new places, sketching and printing – using zinc plates and a mangle to produce lithographic prints at her home. Eventually, she bought a litho press of her own and aluminium plates allowing her to print at a small but commercial scale. And with that, she was off! Printing was her passion and it became consuming. Soon after this, Rena moved to a larger house in Tarrant Monkton near Blandford Forum in Dorset, and, unable to continue to balance the competing pressures of teaching and printmaking, gave up her teaching position and embarked on a full time career as a sole printmaker. Wow!
She lived and worked from her new home for the rest of her life, most often by herself, with her friends occasionally helping out on big projects where they could. Her first commission for the National Trust for Portrait of Lacock was published in 1971 and many other projects followed, with a focus on place and history.
She travelled all over the country as she carried out her research and abroad on her vacations, sketching as she went. It was a hugely challenging way of life – mentally, physically and creatively demanding. But Rena created a successful and fruitful business for herself. She had astonishing ability, resilience and single mindedness, and a natural talent for highlighting interesting details.
Rena travelled throughout her life, always with drawing equipment to hand. She liked gouache in particular. She kept a sketchpad to capture her travels and adventures. We have a good friend and illustrator who is our modern day exponent of drawing-as-you-go, artist and illustrator Tony Kerins. He has produced his own book on exactly that subject – Walking and Drawing, which is (in case you are looking) the perfect present for any aspiring picture diarist.
I think Rena’s work is joyous, and her lithographic printing genuinely fabulous. You can find her books out there – prices reflecting scarcity, but they are each little original bits of loveliness, and are guaranteed to make you smile.
In the early 1960s when Rena was still teaching art, at Bournemouth School for Girls, she and some of her colleagues went on their summer holidays together. You can almost sense the excitement within the diaries, of school breaking up and Rena and co. immediately setting off on their own adventures. They travelled around Europe driving, camping, and exploring. Rena in the back seat of the car soaking up all the impressions of what was new and different in the cultures and scenery they encountered. She sketched prolifically and these diaries were created as a gift for one of her colleagues as a beautiful reminder of their adventures.
In 1960 Rena travelled to the Netherlands and the holiday diary beautifully records the local vernacular of the Dutch architecture. They started off in Amsterdam before heading off to Haarlem, Leiden, The Hague and Delft among other places. As well as the expected interest in the canals, beautiful buildings and windmills, Rena has also captured some less expected details in her travel diary. Lines of colourful washing, a model village, a crowded cheese market and a pipe organ all feature. The colours are delightful, the night time scenes are lovely and the level of detail is fantastic – so there is always something new to see. A feature of all of the diaries. This one is formed from loose individual pages which are stored in a decorated cover.
In 1961 Italy is the main focus of the holiday. The Holiday diary is smaller, but with more pages and vignettes of sights they see. Through Luxembourg and towards Italy they travel, watching Carmen in Verona, and seeing the Mosaics at Ravenna. The Amalfi Coast and Portofino where people swim, to Pompeii and then to Rome. St. Peters, the Colosseum, the Borghese gardens, the catacombs, all recorded in Rena’s fabulous style. Then on to Nice and Avignon, before heading back to Bournemouth with a wonderful Bournemouth Tapestry. An epic adventure!
In 1962 they continue their adventures travelling through France, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Italy, Switzerland, and back to France again before ending up back in Bournemouth on the 7th September, ready for the start of a new school year. They wind along rivers, and through mountainous landscapes, and border patrols, encountering thieving squirrels and stormy conditions. As in all of these diaries, they are difficult to describe in great detail, as the pictures do the talking. They capture the spirit of being part of Europe, of the joy of discovery and adventure, and the humour of shared memories.
We love them so much, we’re publishing them. Visit The Baguette Press page to see how you can own a copy of these wonderful books.