Tanner collection

Scope and Content

The Crafts Study Centre has listed together in this collection small offerings of letters and publications relating to Robin and Heather Tanner, collected together or preserved by admirers.

Administrative / Biographical History

Robin Tanner was born in 1904 in Bristol although his family moved to Chippenham, Wiltshire while he was very young. Over 60 years he produced nearly 50 etchings celebrating his beloved Wiltshire countryside. Following in the tradition of Samuel Palmer and Frederick Griggs, Harvest Festival (1930), Autumn (1933) and Wren and Primroses (1935) are amongst his most enduring images.

Tanner was also known as a radical educationalist, advocating a child centred approach to learning and the full integration of art and design into the syllabus. He trained as a teacher at Goldsmiths College, University of London from 1922-1924, going on to teach at Blackheath Road Boys' School in Greenwich in 1924. Whilst at Greenwich he studied drawing and etching at Goldsmiths School of Art under Clive Gardner and Stanley Anderson, producing his first etching A Tithe Barn in 1926.

In 1928 he returned to Wiltshire to etch full-time and in 1930 he went to teach at his old primary school Ivy Lane School in Chippenham. In 1931 he married Heather Spackman (1903-1993) and moved into Old Chapel Field, Kington Langley, Wiltshire. In 1935 he was appointed HM Inspector of Schools in Leeds and the following year he became an Associate of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers. In 1937 he was appointed HM Inspector of Schools for Gloucestershire and in the same year moved back to Old Chapel Field. In 1938 he offered asylum to Dietrich Hanff, a Jew, and registered as a conscientious objector: Dietrich was to live with the Tanners for the rest of his life. Committed Quakers, pacifists and staunch supporters of CND, Robin and Heather also shared a love of the English countryside, its customs and traditions. These were reflected in their joint publications such as Wiltshire Village (Collins, 1939), while Woodland Plants (Robin Garton, 1981) revealed the depth of their botanical knowledge and strong preoccupation with ecology and conservation. Other books by Robin Tanner included Children's Work in Block Printing (Dryad Press, 1936), Lettering for Children (Dryad Press, 1937) and The Etcher's Craft , published by the Friends of Bristol Art Gallery in 1980. In 1952 he was elected to the Royal West of England Academy. In 1956 he was appointed HM Inspector of Schools for Oxfordshire, his final HMI appointment until his retirement in 1964.

The Tanners were friends with many of the leading craftsmen of the day and their home was furnished with work by contemporary makers, including pottery by Rie, Coper and Pleydell-Bouverie. After Phyllis Barron's death in 1964, the Tanners were left Barron and Larcher's collection of hand-blockprinted textiles, blocks, garments, samples and papers. These inspired the Tanners, and others, to set up the Crafts Study Centre Charitable Trust in Bath in 1970. Robin became one of the Craft Study Centre's founding Trustees. In the same year he resumed etching after a gap of 24 years and in 1973 he was made Senior Fellow of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers. In 1980 he had a retrospective exhibition at the City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery which toured to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford in 1981.

Robin Tanner died in 1988 at Old Chapel Field. There is no biographical information about Heather Tanner currently available to support this entry.


  • TAN/1 Justin Howes's collection, 1988-1994: Letters from Robin and Heather Tanner, 1988, [1989?], appreciations and obituaries of both, copies of RT booklets, catalogues of RT works for sale
  • TAN/2 Andrew McFadden's collection 1961-1993: Copies of 'The Countryman' containing poem by Robin Tanner and obituary of him, letters from Heather Tanner and Dietrich Hanff, texts of talks at Woolley Hall courses, copy of 'Lettering for Children', and photographs of the Tanners at Old Chapel Field
  • TAN/3 Ruth Wertheimer's collection 1961: Letters from Robin Tanner, text of talks by him, anthology in remembrance of him, poems written out by him, and obituaries
  • TAN/4 Margaret David's collection 1974-1993: Letters from Robin and Heather Tanner, greetings cards bearing RT drawings, text of HT talk, catalogues of RT works for sale
  • TAN/5 Photocopies of Denis Welchman papers 1989: Letters from RT to Denish Welchman, newspaper articles about the Tanners, and Janet Watt's review of 'Woodland Plants'
  • TAN/6 Lucie Rie's collection 1980-1990: Catalogue of the exhibition of Robin Tanner's works, 1980-1981; prospectuses of etchings and other works by Robin Tanner available from Garton & Cooke (later Garton & Co); copy of 'What I believe'
  • TAN/7 Olive R. Quilter's collection 1971-1990: Publications about Robin Tanner and catalogues of exhibitions and sales of his works
  • TAN/8 Letter from Robin Tanner to Joyce Kohn, 5 February 1981
  • TAN/9 Photographs of displays by Robin Tanner, 1964, 1966
  • TAN/10 Publications and photographs about furniture-making, [1905]-[1950s]
  • TAN/11 Letters from Robin Tanner to Marjorie Breakspear, 1979-1987

Access Information

Archive material may be viewed by appointment only.


This entry was compiled by Greta Bertram, Crafts Study Centre Curator, June 2020.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogue on Crafts Study Centre database. A pdf copy is available on request.

Conditions Governing Use

Written permission must be sought before any archival material is published.

Appraisal Information

None timetabled.


It is likely that further Tanner-related material will be offered to the CSC. Material of interest will be added to this collection.


Selected Bibliography

Roscoe, Barley, 'Robin Tanner, Writers and Thinkers', Crafts magazine , issue no 187, March/April 2004

Tributes to Robin Tanner, 1904-1988 , Crafts Study Centre, 1990

Tanner, Robin, What I believe, lectures and other writings by Robin Tanner , Crafts Study Centre, 1989

Tanner, Robin, A Country Alphabet , Old Stile Press, 1984

Tanner, Robin, A Country Book of Days , Old Stile Press, 1986

Tanner, Robin, Double Harness, An Autobiography , Impact Books, 1987

Tanner, Robin, 'Children' in the Report of the International Conference of Craftsmen in Pottery and Textiles held at Dartington Hall, 1952 , pages 122-8

Tanner, Robin, The Etcher's Craft , Friends of Bristol Art Gallery, 1980

Fenn, Tim (ed), Letters from Old Chapel Field , Impact Books