The mix of European sculpture such as a George and the dragon sculpture and a European bust, alongside a young Bahamian apprentice, busy glazing a plate, piqued my interest.
Kersting’s hand-written note on the back of the photograph reads Nassau, Bahamas and Chelsea Pottery.
To put the Kersting photograph into context, the late 1950s and early 1960s saw Nassau as the playground of the rich and famous, who arrived to sample the social scene – the sun, the wild parties and one of the most important and prestigious motor racing events on the race calendar! At the same time, more American and European money began flowing through Nassau, and there was a market for fine pottery, especially among foreign tourists and the affluent ex-pat community in Nassau.
Obviously, Chelsea Pottery was the first line of enquiry. In fact, Chelsea was the brainchild of David Rawnsley, a highly gifted and innovative man who had trained as an architect and engineer but who had also worked as a very successful art director in the British Film Industry. For those of us old enough to have watched the following in the 1960s with our grandparents or parents – One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942) and In Which We Serve (1942). His film innovations were widely ridiculed by the Rank film crews. Despite this, David Rawnsley developed independent frame storyboarding and back projection, both radical improvements to the filmmaking process.
At the end of the war, Rawnsley had already set up an ‘atelier libre’ in Paris, followed by another in London 1952, where painters and sculptors could work alongside each other exploring the use of clay and sharing ideas and experiences, for a daily charge. Yet, he decided to leave Chelsea London and set up a pottery along similar lines, in Nassau in the Bahamas.
A newspaper article – Chelsea Pottery of London comes to the Bahamas 1958, published January 11th, 1958, in the Miami Times describes this branch of his famous London pottery house headed by David Rawnsley and assisted by two European ceramic artists. Two Bahamians, George Huyler and Kendal Hanna, were permanently employed.
Instead of pursuing the Chelsea pottery line of enquiry, I wondered about the young man in the photograph… was he one of the apprentices or full-time employees George or Kendal?
Trawling through online articles and photographs of the Chelsea pottery in Nassau, two images showed a young man identified as Maxwell Taylor, who became a much admired and respected Bahamian artist. I contacted Max Taylor and he kindly confirmed that it was him in the Anthony Kersting photograph.
So how did this young Bahamian who trained as a ceramicist in the Chelsea Pottery eventually become one of the greatest Bahamian artists, renown as a painter, sculptor and printmaker?
In an interview conducted by Anita Malhotra for Artsmania in November 2014, Maxwell Taylor revealed that it was working for Chelsea Pottery that really got him started in art.
Along with Brent Malone and Kendal Hanna, Maxwell became one of the ﬁrst apprentices of the Chelsea Pottery in Nassau. He always had a strong desire to draw and paint and admitted that David Rawnsley was instrumental in instructing and encouraging him. After the pottery closed, he later moved to New York and studied at the Art Students League of New York. Maxwell left New York after 20 years and travelled to South Carolina and Europe.
Over the past 40 years, Maxell Taylor has dealt with issues which reflect his own life experiences, such as Bahamian women as single mothers, immigration, political satire and political commentary, the Middle Passage and Slavery – celebration and misery.
Maxwell Taylor, the young man who against all odds worked to become an artist, became a teacher, a highly accomplished craftsperson and is now renowned for his ceramics, paintings, and printmaking.
He certainly had an interesting life from his time as an apprentice in Chelsea Pottery, when Anthony Kersting photographed him, to his well-earned status as one of the greatest – possibly the first – Bahamian artist.