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Art and artists

Dorset has been the home and workplace for many artists over the centuries. Dorset History Centre houses internationally significant archive collections of Poole Pottery and the sculptors Elisabeth Frink and Mary Spencer Watson.

Typical artistic archives include:

  • Photographic material, moving image and sound recordings
  • Ephemera – e.g. posters, catalogues
  • Studio and working papers
  • Personal papers – e.g. diaries, correspondence

Some artistic collections are in the process of being listed. Our collections can be searched using our online catalogue.

Elisabeth Frink

Dame Elisabeth Frink is internationally acclaimed as one of Britain’s leading 20th century figurative sculptors. Her work was distinguished by the major humanist themes that preoccupied her: conflict, fear, vulnerability, compassion and our relationship with the animal world. Frink spent the latter part of her life, and created some of her most memorable works here in Dorset.

The extensive collection of material deposited by the Frink Estate at DHC includes photographs, film, interviews, studio, exhibition and business ephemera (reference D-FRK). This provides a rich source of information for researchers on Elisabeth Frink and her life as well as inspiration for students and contemporary artists. It also helps to demonstrate the importance of place, specifically Dorset in her work. 

Thanks to an award from The Henry Moore Foundation, as well as generous donations through the Dorset Archives Trust, a project to catalogue and repackage the collection began in October 2019.

Mary Spencer Watson

Mary Spencer Watson, the daughter of painter George Spencer Watson RA and Hilda, a dancer and mime artist, grew up, lived and worked as a sculptor at Dunshay Manor in Purbeck. She studied clay modelling at the Royal Academy Schools, wood and stone carving at Central Schools with John Skeaping and then in France with Ossip Zadkine where he introduced her to cubist ideas and forms. Her work was resolutely modern but also influenced by the strength of the medieval Romanesque stone carvers.

In 2007 Mary Spencer Watson's archive was deposited with DHC (reference D-MSW). The photographs, ephemera and studio materials tell the story of Spencer Watson’s career as a sculptor working in Purbeck, and also provides information on the lives and work of Hilda and George Spencer Watson and their circle of friends.

Poole Pottery

Poole Pottery origins go back to Jesse Carter’s architectural and tileworks of 1895. During the early part of the twentieth century various artists and designers became involved with the Pottery as new and alternative wares were brought into production.

In 2003 Poole Pottery went into administration. The company’s archives later appeared at auction in London (2004) and Dorchester (2008). The greater part of this important material, including the early records of the company were purchased through the joint efforts of Poole Museum and Dorset History Centre and the generous assistance of a group of supporters.

The collection is held at Dorset History Centre and has been fully catalogued thanks to a 2009 grant from the National Cataloguing Grants Scheme (reference D-PPY). The archive not only provides unrivalled insight into the workings of a key Dorset business, but also contains the artistic creations of generations of designers.

Other examples

  • John Makepeace, furniture designer (reference D-MKP)
  • Rena Gardiner, artist and print maker (reference D-GDR)
  • Graham Herbert, photographer (reference D-HBT)
  • Ann Jellicoe, pioneer of community plays (reference: D-2717)

Help us archive the arts

Dorset History Centre is keen to preserve more collections of significant artists and cultural figures to ensure that they become part of the county’s permanent historical record. This includes visual artists and photographers, designers, theatre and dance practitioners and musicians as well as the organisations that support them – for example arts centres, development agencies and professional bodies.

Our Archiving the Arts introduction for potential depositors details what we are looking for and how to deposit your artistic collections at Dorset History Centre. Please note that as an archives and local studies service, we do not seek to collect sculpture or works of art and our work is complementary to that of museums and galleries.

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