While respected as a theatre designer during her lifetime, my godmother Audrey Cruddas was a talented artist whose work deserves to be remembered.
Audrey Cruddas (1912–1979) was an English costume and scene designer, painter and potter. Born in Johannesburg she moved to England with her parents when she was an infant. After leaving school she studied art at St. John's Wood School of Art, the Royal Academy Schools, and Bram Shaw School of Drawing and Painting. During the war she worked as a 'land girl' in the Women's Land Army. At the end of the conflict she began to design costumes for the theatre and was talent spotted by the dancer and actor Sir Robert Helpmann. Mentored by theatrical director Michael Benthall and Robert Helpmann, Cruddas soon became one of the leading modern theatre designers of the post-war period.
Detail of costume design by Audrey Cruddas
Her first commission was designing costumes for The White Devil at the Duchess Theatre, London (1947). Other early career highlights were for John Burrell’s 1947 Old Vic production of The Taming of the Shrew and Verdi’s, Aida at Convent Garden (1948). Noteworthy later productions included Benthall’s Old Vic productions of Julius Caesar (1955), Cymbeline (1957), and Hamlet (1958), and Peter Potter’s Edinburgh Festival production of The Wallace (1960).
Cover of the first edition showing the artist's
costume design for the character of Anthony
played by Sir Laurence Olvier
In 1952 Cruddas illustrated a Folio Society edition of William Shakespeare’s, The Tragedy of Anthony & Cleopatra and the book was republished again in 1963. The forward of this book was written by her friend Sir Laurence Olivier. Although best known for her theatre work Cruddas was an accomplished artist in several different media – painting, drawing and ceramics.
Costume design by Audrey Cruddas
In the early 1950s she moved to the Essex village of Great Bardfield with her partner Mary Cheseldine. At Bardfield she became involved with the dynamic art community which included, among others: John Aldridge, Edward Bawden, George Chapman, Stanley Clifford-Smith, Joan Glass, Walter Hoyle, Sheila Robinson, Michael Rothenstein and Marianne Straub.
|untitled still life (1970), mixed media on paper by Audrey Cruddas|
Cruddas lived in Walton House, Great Bardfield (next door to Edward Bawden’s Brick House) during most of the 1950s and she was an important member of the art community that lived in the Essex village. She exhibited at all the Bardfield shows from 1954-1959. Both Cruddas and Cheseldine were close friends of the Clifford-Smith family as well as many of the village artists. In the 1960s Cruddas moved to Botesdale, Suffolk, where she set up the Bank House Studio.
Her work is in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum (London) and the Fry Art Gallery (Saffron Walden). Some of her work was included in the Women of Bardfield exhibition held at the Fry Art Gallery in 2010.
Ceramic dish by Audrey Cruddas c.1970s (Fry Art Gallery)
© Silas Clifford-Smith 2012
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