Curator’s Choice – The Last Beverley Pipemaker by Frederick William Elwell, c.1900

Posted: 23rd December 2020

Humber Museums Partnership - Curator’s Choice – The Last Beverley Pipemaker by Frederick William Elwell, c.1900

This painting is on display in Wilberforce House Museum in the craftsmanship gallery near my office and for many years I took little notice of it until I was inspecting the clocks nearby. The more I looked the more I marvelled at the craftsmanship that the pipe maker must have had in order to create these clay pipes. He can be seen at his work bench moulding dozens of long pipes with the finished pipes in the foreground of the painting in batches of twelve. The wooden mechanism on the right-hand side of the painting was called a ‘gin-press’ and was a mould clamp that shaped the clay pipes in a uniformed style. The man is positioned slightly off-centre in the artwork as the artist wanted the viewer to focus on the skills involved in making pipes and not the features of the man himself.

Elwell titled the artwork, The Last Pipe Maker in Beverley to convey to the audience that this was a snap shot in time when these craft skills would be lost forever making it a poignant scene for the viewer. Despite knowing that the craft of pipe-making was coming to an end, the artist shows a man quietly getting on with his job without any awkwardness or sentimentality. Elwell had the ability to paint everyday life with an acute observant eye and a respect for the workers he depicted.

The pipe maker can be identified as John Goforth Junior who had a workshop in the George & Dragon Passage now named as Monk’s Walk. Records indicate that his workshop operated until 1910.

Elwell captured real people in authentic settings, whether it was a workshop, restaurant or bar he portrayed their working life with a quiet dignity and respect that went beyond mere written description. To the modern audience the artist brings alive the lost local trades of Beverley and East Yorkshire.

Written by assistant curator Vanessa Salter

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