A Renaissance man’s time to shine

In a hidden gem of a gallery on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, visitors can take a colorful tour through not only Victorian England and India — but also the history of an underappreciated figure of that period.

“John Lockwood Kipling: Arts & Crafts in the Punjab and London,” which continues through Jan. 7 in the Bard Graduate Center Gallery, is a sweeping look at the designer, architectural sculptor, curator, educator, illustrator and journalist whose pivotal work in the Arts and Crafts revival in 19th-century British India has, until now, been greatly overlooked.

Lockwood Kipling (1837-1911) may not have the name recognition of his son, the writer and poet Rudyard of “Jungle Book” fame, but he was, as Bard exhibition materials describe him, “a Renaissance man of the Arts and Crafts movement.”

Kipling was born in Yorkshire and began his career as a designer and architectural sculptor. Upon visiting the The Great Exhibition of 1851 at the Crystal Palace in London, Kipling began a lifelong fascination with India and its craftsmanship traditions.

The exhibition follows him through his training and eventual arrival in India in 1865, his work there as a teacher and champion of local skills and traditions and his return to England where his later efforts included illustrations for Rudyard’s books.

The exhibition is a trove of nearly 300 objects that include ceramics and drawings, jewelry, furniture, decorative objects and more, all housed within evocative gallery spaces filled with architectural details, video elements and mood-creating music.

It’s the result of a three-year international research project, curated by Susan Weber, director, Bard Graduate Center, and Julius Bryant, Keeper of Word & Image, Victoria and Albert Museum. 

It was, Weber says, “a giant treasure hunt that took us all over the world.”

Organized by Bard Graduate Center and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the exhibition debuted at the V+A, where it ran earlier this year.

On a recent morning, both Weber and Bryant led a press tour through the expansive exhibition, their knowledge adding a wonderful depth. They would, over the course of an interesting morning, share stories ranging from Lockwood Kipling’s earliest influences (“What you get here is the romance of India,” Bryant said of the very pieces Lockwood Kipling would have seen at that pivotal 1851 Great Exhibition) to the progress of his training (“He is interested in the world beyond the potteries,” Weber added).

In lighter moments, Bryant would share a few details of Lockwood Kipling’s courtship of Alice MacDonald, a writer and poet whom he met at Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire and would go on to marry.

Together, Weber later added, they shared a life that took them far, with decades spent in their beloved India.

“The Kiplings loved Bombay. They called it ‘that great blazing city,’” she said.

The exhibition, which fills three floors of galleries, offers countless entry points for those of varied interests.

As Weber said at the start of the tour, “We hope that we do him justice in this first retrospective of his work and career.”

The catalog accompanying the exhibition is edited by Bryant and Weber and published with Yale University Press, billed as the first book to explore the full spectrum of Lockwood Kipling’s achievements.

Clearly, Lockwood Kipling’s time in the spotlight has arrived.

For more, visit bgc.bard.edu/gallery/.

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