Reynolds Stone illustrations on show at Aldeburgh

Ian CollinsA love of the world is writ large in small gems left to us by artist-designer Reynolds Stone – and now on show in Aldeburgh as part of a centenary celebration.Ian Collins

If you've just tracked down your passport, for a spring break abroad, you will have seen again the work of Reynolds Stone - whose art and design have seeped into our history and imagination.

He created the coat of arms for HMSO, still to be found on official documents including the British passport, and much more besides.

His elegant designs ranged from postage stamps to the �5 and �10 notes in use until decimalisation, logos for The Times newspaper, and a mass of romantic imagery in books.

This year marks his centenary - and also the 30th anniversary of his death - and commemorative events include a beautiful exhibition now under way in Aldeburgh, at the former home of his old friends and patrons, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears.

Alan Reynolds Stone was born at Eton in 1909, where both his father and grandfather were housemasters. After studying history at Magdalen College he became an unofficial apprentice at the Cambridge University Press and began to experiment with engraving on metal and wood.

After a chance meeting he engraved an alphabet under the supervision of the great Eric Gill - who pronounced him proficient in the craft after a fortnight.

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Soon he was a full-time engraver, producing a bookplate for Elizabeth of York, later the Queen Mother, and the commission would ultimately be repeated for the present Prince of Wales.

Reynolds Stones engraved a Royal Coat of Arms for two coronations - that of George VI in 1937, and Elizabeth II in 1953.

After the war, in which he served as an aerial photographic interpreter for the RAF and taught himself the memorialist art of engraving in stone, he was introduced by his friends John and Myfanwy Piper to Britten and Pears.

There would then be annual expeditions to Aldeburgh - and commissions and exhibitions also.

The red-letter year of 1953 brought him work for the Queen's coronation, a CBE and a move to an idyllic Dorset rectory, his family home and working base for the rest of his life.

Here he encouraged his four children in their variously creative lives - painter Edward, designer Humphrey, illustrator Phillida and Emma (wife of artist Ian Beck and curator of the current Aldeburgh show).

Here he plotted memorials in slate and stone to the likes of Winston Churchill, Ralph Vaughan Williams and T.S Eliot - and finally for Benjamin Britten's grave in Aldeburgh churchyard.

His last works included illustrations for A Year of Birds, with poems by Irish Murdoch. In a memorial address she said: 'Good art shows us reality, which we too rarely see because it is veiled by our selfish cares, anxiety, vanity, pretension.

'Reynolds as artist, and as man, was a totally unpretentious being. His work, seemingly simple, gives to us that shock of beauty which shows how close, how in a sense ordinary, are the marvels of the world.'

One marvel of the Stone world was the designing of his own engraved letter face, named after his wife, Janet, for which Sir Kenneth 'Civilisation' Clark wrote a memoir of his Suffolk childhood for use in a specimen publication. Years passed and the Clark piece was already printed in a 50th birthday book for Britten when the project was finally realised - thanks to a �150 inheritance for Jonathan Gili which he used to set himself up as a publisher with work by his future father-in-law.

The booklet The Other Side of the Alde was to be the first and 34th publication of the fine press Warren Editions. Phillida, now Jonathan's widow, is reissuing it as another memorial tribute.

Besides four Stone engravings of Suffolk scenes, and that lovely letter face, the fabulous text reveals a life of privileged neglect. Sir Kenneth begins: 'I spent the first 15 years of my life from 1903 to 1918 across the river from Aldeburgh in a house called Sudbourne Hall.

'It was one of Wyatt's characteristic East Anglian jobs, large and square, red brick outside, pseudo-Adam inside, and has now been pulled down, all but for the stables, which were probably the best part. It had belonged to Sir Richard Wallace, but the only signs of his taste were a few French mantelpieces and a number of bottles of peach brandy.

'My father had bought it because of the shooting: the estate stretched from Snape to Gedgrave and from Butley to Orford, and provided three months' sport as good, I believe, as any in England.

'My parents arrived from Scotland in time for the first of October, when pheasant shooting begins, and left for Monte Carlo on about the 10th of January, when all but the wiliest of old birds had been polished off. I remained there alone for the greater part of the year.'

Suffering the tyranny of servants (with 'rancid butter and cheese so full of weevils that I remember pieces of it hopping about the table'), and shunning the tedium of children of his own age, he consoled himself with Chopin on the pianolo - his parents having banned a piano so the sounds of his practising would not annoy them on the rare occasions they shared the same county.

He was also left alone with his fear of ghosts which would 'swish around corners in the galleried hall, and whimper at my bedroom door. For years my nights were a misery, and I was quite relieved when a homing Zeppelin dropped fourteen bombs in the park, and created a diversion.'

A world away from that upper-class nightmare is another new Stone publication - designed by Humphrey and with a text by Emma about their supremely happy upbringing. It's illustrated with their mother Janet's photos.

A love of life - a joy in the world and in other people - is writ large in the small gems left to us by Reynolds Stone.

Visionary Landscapes: Reynolds Stone, a Centenary Exhibition, is hosted by the Britten-Pears Foundation in The Red House, Golf Lane, Aldeburgh (01728 451700) until April 24. Open Monday to Saturday 2pm-5pm. Admission free.