Our trip to England and the Lake District was magical and I have many stories to tell. But that will take some time as I get over my jet lag and try to return to life back at home. So one of the things that we did at the English Lake District Retreat was visit and learn about the different buildings that were significant to Charlotte Mason. Guest presenters would share about buildings on campus such as the Beehive and Scale How. Much to my delight, I was asked to share about the Millet building. I have written about this building and its secrets before and here was a chance to dig a little deeper into the story.
Imagine yourself entering this smallish slate building set in the center of the campus. You notice that it is unused and littered with evidence of construction (in fact, it appears little has changed since I visited it 4 years ago). But despite that, your attention is drawn to these out-of-place sketches on the walls. Why are they there? Who put them there? Here is the story!
The Millet House
In 1901, the popular painter Fred Yates (1854-1919) visited Scale How to paint the iconic portrait of Charlotte Mason which now hangs in the Armitt Museum. After the third and final sitting, he was invited to give a lecture on the French artist, Jean François Millet. The lecture space was located in a new building on campus with bright, whitewashed walls and a large workroom to be used for the students’ handicraft lessons. Fortunately for us, the impromptu invitation left him with no picture reproductions or lantern slides to share with the students. He looked at the walls as a ready canvas and said, “What a lovely surface. Charcoal will easily rub off.” (Cholmondeley, 1960, p. 85)
Then Mr. Yates proceeded to sketch twelve reproductions of Millet paintings, apparently without most of the students present. One student recalls the pleasant discovery of the sketches in this letter to the editor of The Parents’ Review:
On Sunday afternoon we went to the new room, where Mr. Yates awaited us. To our delight and astonishment we found the walls adorned with several large charcoal reproductions from the works of Jean François Millet. Mr. Yates had been at work on these drawings for some time before we came back. He pointed out some of the peculiar beauties of the work, and promised us a lecture on Millet further on in the week. (Student, 1901, p. 899)
This sounds like the sort of thing Mr. Yates would spring on the students. He would later be described as “the most delightful of play-fellows, always taking part in our small festivities.” (Editor, 1919, p. 310) He did indeed speak on Millet later in the week as that lecture can be found in the June, 1905 L’Umile Pianta titled “Lecture on Millet”. The Yates family eventually moved to Ambleside and the daughter, Mary, became a student at the House of Education.
Thankfully, Miss Mason had the drawings fixed so that the future students could enjoy them. Nine sketches have survived the past hundred years despite wall papering over them and other construction projects. Can you recognize The Sower? The Washerwomen? Feeding the Young? Do the other subjects of farm workers at rest, a shepherd, a figure tending a cow, or women sewing remind you of other Millet masterpieces?
The life-giving study of a great artist’s work (picture study) was crucial to Miss Mason’s philosophy. She said:
We recognise that the power of appreciating art and of producing to some extent an interpretation of what one sees is as universal as intelligence, imagination, nay, speech, the power of producing words. But there must be knowledge and, in the first place, not the technical knowledge of how to produce, but some reverent knowledge of what has been produced. (Mason, 1989, p. 214)
Fred Yates was a living example of this thought of Mason’s. His appreciation and interpretation of Millet’s works, built on a “reverent knowledge” reaches across the centuries to us today.
Cholmondeley, E (1960). The story of charlotte mason. London: Parents’ National Educational Union.
Discover the Millet Drawings. Retrieved from https://www.cumbria.ac.uk/alumni/memory-lane/charlotte-mason-college/discover-the-millet-drawings/
Hall, E M (1905). Lecture on millet. In L’Umile Pianta, June 1905.
Mason, C. (1989). A philosophy of education. Quarryville: Charlotte Mason Research & Supply.
Student, (1901). The “p.r.” letter bag. In The Parents’ Review, volume 12 (p. 898). London: Parents’ National Education Union.