“Colour Is Only Beautiful When It Means Something” Robert Henri 1865-1929
By: Crick Smith
04 Oct 2017 - 12:18:01
We often identify ourselves with certain colours, and the same applies to buildings and regions of a country. Start talking about paint colours with Ian and Michael and they will respond with tales of past projects where the result of their detailed research was not always what the client expected. Michael recalls clients commenting “you can’t possibly be correct” or “that’s not what we wanted you to find”. Ian adds laughing “they are of course the rare examples. Our clients always find that our results transform their understanding of their project and what they may have seen as a difficulty is soon the unique identity of their site. Of course, controversy is just another term for discussion” Ian smiles.
I am of course referring to “Crick-Smith”, Ian and Michael, architectural paint researchers and conservators of historic decoration of long-standing. Known widely within the heritage sector in the UK and overseas, they have contributed to the research, understanding and re-presentation of over 500 historic buildings, sites, vessels, vehicles, bridges... you name it, if it’s old and painted they have probably researched it! Their investigations of heritage icons such as HMS Victory, St Pancras Midland Grand Hotel and Kenwood House in Hampstead, have often made the headlines
Working together since early 1993, their careers in conservation and heritage stretch back to early 1980s. Michael has a background in Romano-British archaeology, having participated in digs through Keele University in the west of England. Ian’s training began as an apprentice sculpture and stone conservator within a small private company in partnership with the Orton Trust in Northamptonshire. The two met in 1992 as mature students on the conservation and restoration degree course in Lincoln.
Michael explains “we soon realised that we shared the same passions for historic buildings and structures. The heritage we can actually inhabit rather than just hold. How our ancestors saw it and how through detailed research we can bring that alive for people today”.
Their first opportunity to explore this began at Wollaton Hall, Nottingham; A fine Elizabethan country house, built for the Willoughby family by the mason Robert Smythson. By the end of the day investigating, taking samples, revealing areas, the pair were hooked!
In 1994 this led on to a placement researching the historic paint schemes at Sewerby Hall, East Yorkshire as part of their final year as students. Unknown to them, Mike Corfield, Chief Scientist and Head of Conservation at English Heritage, was their external assessor. As part of his role, Mike managed the Architectural Paint Research Unit at English Heritage. His assessment of their work was to set the course for the rest of their careers. “Little did we know what was being planned” says Ian, “our careers were pretty much being set out before us. It just proves that following your passion can define your path”.
Dr Jonathan Foyle describes Crick-Smith as “great fun to work with, both personable and approachable in their approach to conservation. Understanding historic sites is more than a mere vocation for them; they’re clearly compelled to seek out evidence for the places our ancestors once knew, and they don’t stop looking!”
Immediately after graduation English Heritage offered the pair a six-month internship each, where they honed their research skills, historical knowledge and client liaison. By the end of that period “Crick Smith” as they came to be known were approached by other clients such as National Trust, local authorities, churches and private owners, and then by Jonathan Foyle Curator of Historic Buildings Hampton Court and Kew. It was at Kew that Michael’s archaeological and methodological mind came to the fore, researching the whole site internally and externally. Cross-referencing and comparing the evidence of each to tell the complete decorative history of the building. But not only that, his archaeological approach revealed the development of the site, its alterations, extensions, uses and status.
Michael says “I see paint layers like soil layers, each have their features, their types and their inclusions. Instead of coins and artefacts we find dateable pigments, heavy dirt layers on long-exposed surfaces.”
This is where Michael’s enthusiasm for his work is clearly a vocation, “Our main research tool is architectural paint research, paint analysis and in the past called paint scrapes; although it is far more than analysing paint. By taking numerous samples from historic painted surfaces, analysing the layers in each and relating that to archival evidence, we are able to identify the history of that historic space. We can identify dates for alterations, repairs, remodelling, periods of neglect or disaster. This builds a complete picture, used by our clients to inform decisions on the most suitable treatments and periods to preserve or recreate. This is when the colour means something”
The passion for their work took their careers forward for eleven years until 2006, when Crick-Smith assumed posts as Senior Research Fellows at the University of Lincoln; in the very department where their joint careers first began.
With the University, they began a joint venture that ran until the summer of 2017. As far as Crick-Smith and their clients were concerned, it was always business as usual and with the support of the University the careers and profile of the Crick-Smiths grew. They even returned to Sewerby Hall to complete research begun 20 years earlier.
They hosted the 4th International Architectural Paint Research Conference in Lincoln in 2010, and went on to secure the curatorship of the English Heritage Paint Research Archive.
Even more high-profile projects came in. As Ian explains “one part of client liaison that I really do enjoy the most is seeking out opportunities, keeping myself up to date with future potential projects that I know we will both have a passion for. HMS Victory being an example of that, where I contacted the National Museum of the Royal Navy at Portsmouth direct with a research proposal.”
Another example of Ian’s proactive approach is the Glasgow School of Art after its tragic fire of 2014. With a tangible intensity Ian goes on to say “I knew that even though the fire took out virtually all of the Library, Mackintosh’s celebrated interior within the building, that evidence was there, that it would have survived and we could use it. If I could secure that project, our combined skills would resurrect what had been lost. So again, as soon as I heard that Page\Park Architects of Glasgow had secured the tender, I contacted them”.
The results of that direct approach are best explained by Malcolm Mitchell architect of Page\Park,
“(Crick-Smiths...) input over the last 15 months to our restoration of the fire damaged Glasgow School of Art, Mackintosh Building has been invaluable.
Their thorough forensic approach to paint sampling and analysis impressed us. Their undoubted expertise in this field and creative thinking lead to a fuller understanding of the type and sequencing of decorative finishes. They confidently identified the peculiar paint finishes that were used throughout the Mackintosh Building and as they were able to draw comparisons with other Mackintosh Buildings this added credibility to their outcomes. They were easy to collaborate with and every meeting was a pleasure and an education.”
From 1st August 2017 Ian and Michael returned to private practice as Crick-Smith Ltd, their original status from 1995. Their client base continues to grow and with it an incredible portfolio of projects, both great and small: from churches to cathedral, palaces to cottages and many of our best known and loved heritage sites. The future of Crick-Smith can only be described as being as colourful as their past!
Again, I turn to the words of Robert Henri, “Do whatever you do intensely”. That is certainly true of the Crick-Smiths.
43 Hawton Road
Tel 01636677173 Mob 07770728763