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When the Bauhaus came to Sussex
By Chris Bennett
BBC Sussex

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
To the uneducated eye, the 1930s film 'Lobsters' might seem to be no more more than, well, a film about lobsters.

But the short is one of the first aquatic films ever made - and the man who made it was Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, a leading figure in the Bauhaus movement.

The Burtenshaw family, who have fished the waters off Littlehampton, West Sussex since the 1700s, were featured.

Peter Burtenshaw was in the film; you can see him as a tiny boy.

Peter Burtenshaw
Peter Burtenshaw

Now he's in his seventies. He can't actually remember the first day when one of the world's most influential art figures came a' calling.

But he is sure that the whole thing must have begun because his family made their pots from the riverside willows.

"We used to get our willow from Bury; the banks of the Arun, up there. He must have walked down from his house, saw my father and his brother..snipping off the willows ..got to know them - and all of a sudden this project came about,"

Peter Burtenshawe and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Peter Burtenshaw and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

The film shows the Burtenshaw fishermen mending their bots, baiting them and taking to the seas to drop the pots and collect their catch.

"There was no typical day, because every day was different. Sometimes you got caught out and you had to run for shelter...generally it was hard," said Peter Burtenshaw.

To him, seeing the film with its familiar faces is an 'unreal' experience and it seems that the show has also touched others across the town.

Littlehampton Museum staff have used the film as a way of attracting more local memories of life in the town during the period.

Stephanie Bolt, who is the lead artist on the project, says that has "opened a Pandora's Box,".

"What we are finding is that the work that is still going on in the boatyards and on the west bank of the river is still very alive, there are extraordinary people doing extraordinary things.'

"I think Laszlo Moholy-Nagy would have happy to see that very much part of the town still," she said.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
The project has sparked memories and generated art of its own

Local people have brought in their own memories of Littlehampton's fishing industry and they are displayed on the walls of a dedicated 'Lobsters' gallery.

László Moholy-Nagy was one of the key figures in the Bauhaus, an early 20th century school of art, architecture and design.

Bauhaus teaching combined crafts and the fine arts and has had a major influence on modern architecture and design.

Moholy-Nagy later went on to Chicago and founded the New Bauhaus school.

And what would impression has the show left on Peter Burtenshaw, the film's little boy, seventy years on?

"I think it has made me realise how important local industry is. Every day tasks become mundane until it's not there anymore. In this way they are being remembered," he said.

History of the World: Sussex
18 Jan 10 |  History


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