Arts & Crafts: Britain 1880-1914
In Britain, the Arts and Crafts Movement flourished from about 1880. At its heart lay a concern for the role of the craftsman. Inspired by the ideas of John Ruskin and William Morris, it advocated a revival of traditional handicrafts, a return to a simpler way of life and an improvement in the design of ordinary domestic objects.
The Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, which gave the movement its name, and other organizations such as the Art Workers Guild, worked to raise the status of the decorative arts and of the individual craftsman. They were also determined to interact with the commercial world and influence industrial design.
There was both a sophisticated urban dimension and a radical rural expression to the Arts and Crafts Movement. It evolved and flourished in the city, but the strong pull of the countryside and the simple life that it promised led many to leave the city and establish new ways of living and working. The British Arts and Crafts model of workshop practice and individual creativity was to have a worldwide impact.
Arts and Crafts in the City
The Arts and Crafts Movement flourished in large cities such as London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh. These urban centres had the infrastructure of organisations and patronage that allowed the movement to gather pace. The work itself was created in a variety of situations, ranging from individual and small workshops to larger manufacturers.
Exhibition societies, initially in London and subsequently throughout Britain, gave the movement its name, public identity and a forum for discussion. Progressive new art schools, such as the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, emphasized handwork and craftsmanship. They encouraged the development of workshops and individuals, as well as the revival of techniques like enamelling, embroidery and calligraphy.
Designers and manufacturers forged new relationships and were able to sell their Arts and Crafts goods through shops such as Morris & Co., Heal's and Liberty's. All this helped the movement reach a much wider audience. Its patrons were mainly fashionable and artistically aware individuals, but they also included institutions such as the Church.
Arts and Crafts in the Countryside
According to C.R. Ashbee, one of the leading figures of the movement, 'the proper place for the Arts and Crafts is in the country'. For many artists, living and working in the countryside was the ideal to which they aspired. At the heart of the Arts and Crafts Movement lay a belief in the closeness of mankind to nature and a nostalgia for rural life and local traditions - concepts that appear throughout the literature, music and art of the period.
Followers of the movement established workshops across Britain, in places like the Cotswolds, the Lake District, Surrey and Cornwall. All these locations offered picturesque landscapes, existing craft skills and, importantly, rail links for access to patrons and the London market.
Arts and Crafts makers revived rural craft traditions and offered employment to local people. The movement endured far longer in the countryside than in the city and its impact on rural areas was significant and far-reaching
Sidney Barnsley Cottage
Sidney Barnsley was an architect, but in 1893 he moved from London to the Cotswolds to make furniture using traditional methods. He lived in a cottage converted from the farm outbuildings in the grounds of Pinbury Park, an Elizabethan house that had been leased by his brother. Nearby lived Ernest Gimson, who had also moved with them from London to establish his own workshop.
The simplicity of the cottage furnishings, with its stone floor and plastered walls, evoked a hard-working outdoor country life. Together, Gimson and the Barnsleys got to know local craftsmen and learnt their ways. At home, they kept chickens, brewed cider and made their own bread.
The furnishings in Sidney Barnsley's cottage included a large oak dresser which he made himself. There was also a traditional inglenook, with built-in furniture around the fireplace. This arrangement featured in many Arts and Crafts houses, making the hearth the focus of the home, its warm heart.
This content was originally written in association with the exhibition 'International Arts and Crafts', on display at the V&A South Kensington from 17 March - 24 July 2005.