Obituary: David Pye

Click to follow
The Independent Online
I WAS one of David Pye's first students at the Royal College of Art in 1949 in the newly formed School of Wood, Metals and Plastics, writes Ron Carter (further to the obituary by Abigail Frost and Richard La Trobe-Bateman, 6 January). The professor was Dick Russell, and they made a marvellous combination - Dick silent and hypnotic, David articulate and unreserved.

I'd never known a teacher who spoke so well and explained things so thoroughly. He could describe in detail why a Maudsely lathe was marvellous, and you immediately understood. His passion for materials had a profound effect on us. He could tell any wood, just by smelling it.

On one occasion we had to make a full-size technical drawing of a Windsor chair. He asked for a degree of study, scrutiny and measurement that amazed me. Even though I'd been trained at art school, I didn't realise that anyone could look at a thing so closely and accurately.

At first we found David, with his patrician background, a bit of a fierce presence. But when he saw that a student was interested, he became incredibly attentive. I felt his strong desire to impart information when I visited his home and he took me through his workshops. Even after dinner, he cleared a space on the table and showed me the proper way to sharpen a chisel.

He cared deeply about how things were made. I remember him explaining how to make and use folding wedges, as the right solution to a construction problem, when a less scrupulous designer would just whang in a 6in nail. But he was not wedded to the traditional, and fully appreciated the quality of modern objects. He turned out students who were anything but craftspeople: many have become barons of industry.

When I worked with him as a fellow tutor at the RCA, I saw that he never gave up on the task of drawing out each student's abilities. The last thing he wanted was six graduates with the same philosophy. He always encouraged what was individual and original.

His influence will live on in three books, in which he slices through all the hocus-pocus about art, craft and design. If he had a fault it was that his intellectual facility sometimes took him too far ahead of his students. He wasn't an easy man, but the more you got to know him, the better he