Saturday, 21 January 2012

Remembering Julia Carter Preston

Julia was quite simply an amazing woman in all senses. Although in her early eighties, when I came to photograph her, she was still a great beauty, with very smooth skin and sparkling eyes. Maybe because her hands had spent a lifetime dipped in clay, they were exquisite, long and tapering.  I sure she could have made a fortune modelling them.

Her pottery pieces are wondrously detailed. She gained technique and inspiration from her famous father Edward Carter Preston, former head sculptor at Liverpool Anglicon Cathedral.  But ultimately Julia's style was completely her own and the collector would know a Julia Carter Preston anywhere. A major retrospective of her work at The Walker in 1999 saw a frenzy of people literally fighting over the plates. Like all her exhibitions, it was a sell-out. My husband bought the last piece, or so he said, a small bowl with lid, as a present for me. Once in a while when we have a disagreement we argue over its ownership.

In February 2008 I arrived at their Canning Street house in the centre of Liverpool, in an area now known as The Georgian Quarter, but then it was simply Toxteth. An air of regal elegance trailed Julia, as well as her devoted husband Mike. I could not help but imagine the many flamboyant dinner parties they are reputed to have given and wished I could have attended one of them. The atmospheric Georgian house was stuffed to the gills with antiques and ceramics that glimmered on this particularly sunny day. Mike served tea in the first floor sitting room and the cat Percy peed on my circular reflector. This caused much hilarity, and even if the incident was tinged with shades of embarrassment, it served to break the ice.

Julia was “potty” about animals, but cats in particular and she sat in a chair by the window stroking Percy with her lovely hands and laughing when he tried to lick her face and play with her flaming red hair. Hers was the last photo I took for “People in Liverpool” and I felt it was not complete without her. In the four years that have passed since, both Mike and Julia have also passed away.  It is symbolic of their mutual devotion that before Mike died he planned every detail of Julia’s funeral. She had sadly declined with dementia, quite rapidly after I took this portrait in fact, and he wanted to ensure her safe deliverance into the next world.

The house in Canning Street has been donated to Hope University to create a bursary for the arts, The Carter Preston Foundation.  Julia’s memory will always live on.