The house and studio where “neglected genius”, Arthur (Arty) Mackenzie, lived and worked for 40 years has recently been sold by his family. The Old Anchor Brewery is a distinctive landmark at the southern approach into town, and is one of the most prestigious properties to have come onto the market in Oundle in a number of years. Its asking price was £1.2 million. Mackenzie moved to the former brewery in the 1950s, and taught at Oundle School for 20 years. The property had remained in the family from his death in 1994 at the age of 84.
Mackenzie was known to the art world by the name he adopted in the 1970s for his professional identity, George Kennethson. During his 50 year long career he produced more than 400 works. His studio at the old brewery was described as a Chinese tomb. A writer in The Independent said: “I was struck, as others have been, by the atmosphere of the old brewery in which he had his studio. Even then it was packed with work, so that entering it has been described as ‘like going into a Chinese tomb.’"
His art has been described as “Modernist Primitivism”, and he has been highly praised for his skill and precision when working with stone. His work was shown throughout his career in small solo exhibitions in provincial galleries and museums, but he never received the wider recognition that it was felt he deserved. He was fortunate to have found an exhibiting home with the New Art Centre, which mounted exhibitions of his work in London and Wiltshire.
Kennethson once wrote in a letter to an art collector: “I am reaching the absolute edge of despair at being quite unable to show my work anywhere, let alone sell it.”
However, I have been told that Kennethson never tried to be recognised because of the love he had for his own work, and his reluctance to part with it. Art dealer, Ivor Braka told me: “He was not a man given to self promotion and I do think he would have been more widely known if he had gone to the right gallery early on.” The majority of his collection is still intact, looked after by his family. He is unique in that only a few sculptors have almost all their work in one collection.
Because of the local connection, some Oundle residents purchased his work during his lifetime, and two bas relief pieces owned by Oundle School are to be found in the Cloisters and on the façade of SciTec.
An early patron was the owner of Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, Jim Ede, who bought two abstract sculptures in alabaster, now displayed alongside the work of other modernist sculptors, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Brancusi.
Kennethson first came to Oundle in 1954 following the advice of his friend and neighbour John Betjeman, who had told him about the job as art master at the school. Betjeman was also responsible for securing the School Chapel’s stained glass window commission for John Piper in the 1950s.
As an art teacher at Oundle School, Kennethson was described as a “quiet, warm man”. A former student and close friend said: “He was a gentle, supportive man, but he was never too demonstrative.”