Obituary: Arnold Machin

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The Independent Culture
ARNOLD MACHIN was known around the world for his work as the sculptor and designer of the effigy of the Queen which appeared on every coin minted in Britain between 1964 and 1985. He also designed the portrait of the Queen which has appeared on all British definitive postage stamps since 1967, making it one of the most reproduced and best known portraits and instantly recognisable designs of the 20th century.

Machin enjoyed a many-faceted career which began in the pottery industry as a figure painter on china at Mintons, Stoke-on-Trent. He was born in 1911 in Trent Vale to a family of potters, educated locally, and seemed destined to remain a pottery painter until the slump in the pottery industry in North Staffordshire in 1929-30 led him to try his luck at the Crown Derby Porcelain Works.

While at Derby, Machin studied part-time at the Derby School of Art and in 1934 become a full-time student. Three years later he was awarded a scholarship to the Royal College of Art where his main course of study was sculpture, working mainly in terracotta under Professor Richard Garbe.

In 1940, Machin won a Silver Medal and a Travelling Scholarship for Sculpture from the Royal College, but since it was wartime he was unable to take advantage of it. However, in the same year Machin's terracotta Mother and Child was accepted for the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition, and he began what was to be an important association with Josiah Wedgwood & Sons.

Throughout their history Wedgwood has been a generous patron of the arts and artists and Machin was given every encouragement. He was provided with a studio on the new Barlaston estate and extensive facilities for firing his models as well as mixing special bodies for him to use. Machin for his part, produced models for reproduction in Queen's ware (a cream- coloured earthenware) which must be considered among the most important of the 20th century.

During his association with Wedgwood's which continued throughout the 1940s, Machin created more than 20 figures, and a variety of other models, including animals, a chess set and designs for jasper ware. Outstanding are his two bulls, Ferdinand and Taurus, which show strength of form and humour; my own favourites are those pieces inspired by traditional Staffordshire flatbacks or chimney figures such as Country Lovers and the Bridal Group which express his genuine understanding of Staffordshire pottery.

Alongside his work for Wedgwood's, Machin pursued relentlessly the art of terracottas, working largely from imagination. He was a romantic by temperament and like the baroque sculptors he exploited to the full the decorative value of fluttering draperies and jewelled ornaments. On his rare excursions into direct carving, working in harder materials, his models were conceived in relation to the shape of the material and include simplified forms such as the planewood Pig owned by a member of the Wedgwood family.

Some of his subjects may be remote from modern life but they are seldom unconvincing or unreal. Although for the early part of his career Machin did not care much for portraiture, he had a flair for capturing the essentials of character and executed some remarkable busts and portrait medallions - among his best known being the bust of Sir Ralph Wedgwood Bt.

Machin's use of materials varied according to the nature of his subject, and he even used saggar-marl - a coarse-textured and uncompromising clay - for the more dramatic subjects such as the Dead Christ. Sometimes he enriched his surfaces with incised lines or applied washes of slip, making his work essentially ceramic in character.

With increasing experimentation and technical mastery Machin built larger pieces, culminating in Spring, a life-size full-length figure which was exhibited in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1947, the year he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy. The figure was purchased by the Chantry Bequest for the Tate Gallery which had previously purchased two important terracottas by him, John the Baptist and the Annunciation. Machin become a full Academician in 1956 and was appointed OBE in 1965.

It was Machin's passion for form and his ability to communicate his love of the material that made him an influential teacher. He taught at the Stoke-on-Trent schools of art in the 1940s, where he had been a pupil of the modeller Eric Owen before moving to Derby, and from 1951 to 1958 at the Royal College of Art. Then, following in the footsteps of John Flaxman RA, who had produced models for Wedgwood in his youth, Machin became Master of Sculpture at the Royal Academy School, a position he held until 1967.

During this period he received his prestigious commissions for coinage and stamp designs and he went on to design the commemorative crown coins for the Royal Silver Wedding in 1972 and Silver Jubilee in 1977. Throughout this time Machin continued to work with ceramics on a freelance basis, undertaking several commissions which included portraits of the Royal Family for Wedgwood, and for Royal Worcester. In 1968 he modelled a set of four allegorical hard-paste porcelain figures of the Four Seasons for Worcester.

Arnold Machin was a quiet man with strong beliefs. He made local headline news in 1956 when he chained himself to a gas lamp in Stoke, which was destined to be replaced by a concrete electric post, declaring that this stand was part of a growing campaign against the spread of "Subtopia" (modernism) being led against Sir Hugh Casson. He was also prominent among the Academicians who protested against the Sensation exhibition in 1997, which included a portrait of the murderer Myra Hindley made with children's handprints.

Almost 20 years ago I interviewed him in his Staffordshire garden. Garden design became one of his major hobbies and with his wife, the flower painter Patricia Newton, he created an enchanting garden with roses, loggias and grottos, waterfalls and fountains interspersed with ornaments and sculpture.

Arnold Machin, sculptor: born Trent Vale, Staffordshire 30 September 1911; ARA 1947, RA 1956; Master of Sculpture, Royal Academy School 1958- 67; OBE 1965; married 1949 Patricia Newton (one son); died 9 March 1999.