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Artist of an Icon: The Memoirs of Arnold Machin

Artist of an Icon
The Memoirs of Arnold Machin

238 x 164mm, 224pp, inc 48pp col ill
ISBN: 978-1-872914-25-1 £24.00

Arnold Machin is renowned for the British postage stamp portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, which has been reproduced 180 million times, considerably more than any other image in history. “When I look back… I am amazed by it all!” Machin reflects on his childhood memories and the apprenticeship at Minton at the age of 14. He recalls the atmosphere of the factory’s smouldering ovens and ‘clay-end’, as well as the exquisite technique of the china painter’s art. Art classes led to a scholarship to the Royal College of Art. Returning to the Potteries and by now teaching art, Machin began to work for Wedgwood.
   This was interrupted when he was imprisoned as a conscientious objector. After the war, he went to London to be ceramics tutor at the RCA. Elected RA in 1956 he became became Master of Sculpture in the Royal Academy Schools. In 1963, the government wanted a new coinage and he was chosen to model the head of HRH Queen Elizabeth. Subsequently he modelled the relief portrait of the Queen for British postage stamps. “I saw my task as creating both a likeness of the Queen and an image of monarchy… It looks so fine and so dignified without a frame or lettering, is it really necessary to include them?” This is the account of a significant 20th century artist who opposed modernism.
   It’s also the story of the icon itself, ‘the Machin’, described in a supplementary essay by Douglas Muir, Curator of the Post Office’s Philatelic Heritage Service.

“The most familiar piece of 20th century British sculpture is, without doubt, the beautifully chiselled head of the Queen on the postage stamps. The bas-relief on the stamps is so right that we take it for granted, as if it had come about automatically. Such are the artistic good manners of the artist that we do not even notice “the style” in which the stamps are made. They are truly classical works of art. Had the Romans used postage stamps, they would undoubtedly have wanted ones which resembled our own ­ austere, authoritative, perfect”.
A. N. Wilson, Daily Telegraph


Rights: 2002 © Machin Archive / Frontier Publishing

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