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Arts And Crafts

  The Arts and Crafts movement was a group of British architects, artists and designers who sought to revive standards of design in the later 19th and early 20th century, principally by encouraging the revival of traditional handicrafts. It was in keen reaction to the cheap, mass-produced furniture and architecture of mid-19th century Europe.

The origins of the movement may be identified with the writings of the medievalist propagandist A.W. Pugin (1812 - 1852) and of , John Ruskin (1819 - 1900), for example The Stones of Venice (1851-53). This last work saw in the medieval architecture of Europe the condition of the craftsmen who created its great works, and compared it favourably with the condition of modern working people: freedom compared to slavery. This view had a profound influence on , William Morris (1834 - 1896) who may be regarded as the father of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Morris was educated at Oxford University, trained as an architect and was an associate of the Pre-Raphaelites. While still at university, he realized that his real talents lay in design, and in 1861 he established his own company called Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co. This company, and its products, remained at the centre of the Arts and Crafts movement until Morris\'s death.

The movement believed that a series of simple principles should be applied to the production of design. The first of these was truth to materials. Morris believed that every material had its own intrinsic quality, for example the abstract glaze of a pot or the natural colour of wood. With this in mind he tried to revive traditional methods of production—for example, at his printing works at Merton Abbey in Surrey he reintroduced traditional vegetable dyes (such as indigo) which had been superceded by the new synthetic dyes discovered in the 1830s. As well as reviving traditional craft techniques Morris also researched traditional patterns, spending long hours at the Victoria and Albert Museum studying Islamic carpets and tiles and Elizabethan textiles. These patterns Morris reworked into his wallpapers and textiles which still remain popular.

The young architects who were impressed with Morris\'s essentially pro-handicraft, anti-machine ethic established a number of associations, such as the Art Workers\' Guild founded in 1884 by five architects, including Lethaby, E.S. Prior and Mervyn Macartney, pupils of , Richard Norman Shaw (1831 - 1912). They were concerned with the idea of architecture as an art. The name ‘Guild’ was self-consciously a title identifying them with the medieval guilds. The other members of the Guild were painters and sculptors, craftsmen and designers, and while the Arts and Crafts Movement encompassed all their skills and interests, indeed was concerned with ‘the unity of the arts’, it would be as Alan Crawford writes: ‘Impossible to imagine the Arts and Crafts Movement without architecture …[because]… buildings can show the touch of the craftsman, the texture of materials and virtues of the old techniques.’ In 1887 the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society was founded to exhibit the work of the Art Workers\' Guild and others in the field.

The final component of hardline Arts and Crafts beliefs was a commitment to social issues. Morris himself was a socialist who believed that the production of beautiful objects for all would enrich the spiritual quality of life. He wrote Utopian novels (the best known is News from Nowhere) predicting a happy, egalitarian, socialist future for humanity, was connected with the early Fabian Society, and toured the country lecturing and teaching. Many Arts and Crafts designers attempted social experiments based on the principles of communal living, for example C.R. Ashbee\'s Guild and School of Handicrafts, set up at Chipping Camden in 1888.

For all the busyness and intellectual consistency of the Arts and Crafts Movement, it did little to change the spirit of the time. Its anti-machine ethic was essentially anachronistic, and prevented its high design standards and strong moral qualities becoming a truly effective force in the contemporary world. Morris and his followers had wanted to make handmade products available to all, but in actuality, because production methods and the cost of materials meant that work could not be cheap, they were simply too expensive. Nonetheless, their ideas, products and writings were potent forces in challenging the purpose and function of design and the value of craft versus machine production, and, once the rationale was adapted to the machine age (for example in the Bauhaus), became a seminal influence on 20th-century Western design and, particularly, architecture (where ideas range from the concepts of the house as a ‘total work of art’ to the vernacular revival). PD MG CMcD JM KMcL

See also craftsmanship; functionalism; Gothic Revival.Further reading E. Cumming, The Arts and Crafts Movement; , P. Davey, The Search for An Earthly Paradise: the Architecture of the Arts and Crafts Movement.



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