Friday, 7 January 2011

Peasant Beliefs - An Introduction

One of the most interesting aspects of the Peasant Arts movement is their beliefs.  They saw their industry as part of a wider social movement which was in conflict with industrialization. 
Haslemere Weaving Industry, Blue Table Runner.  Reproduced courtesy of Haslemere Educational Museum

The literature produced by the industry itself proclaimed a number of beliefs which provide a good starting point.  A Haslemere Weaving Industry brochure explained that the movement was “maintained, as it was started, in the belief that the production of materials by hand for use in the home and for the clothing of its inmates is a great source of happiness for the worker and has besides an educational value hardly to be measured.

In order to train workers and to demonstrate that beautiful and useful things of individual character can be made under happy conditions with very simple appliances, a building was specially designed and erected and subsequently enlarged to its present size.  In it, women and girls from the village, under the superintendence of a Lady Manager, are daily employed at hand-looms, weaving cotton, linen and silk materials which are used for dresses, children’s frocks, curtains, tablecloths, bed-spreads and many other purposes.  Lessons in spinning and weaving can be given, and visitors are welcome every day.”
Haslemere Weaving Industry Bag.  Reproduced courtesy of Haslemere Educational Museum

The leaflet for the First Annual Exhibition  of the Haslemere Handicraft Industries, 24th August, 1904 states “The Haslemere Industries represent one of the many branches of the movement for the revival of Handicrafts, with which the names of Ruskin and Morris have been so closely associated.  Their example and teaching has resulted in a School of Artist-craftsmen, who refuse to limit the term “Art,” to what has become known as the “Fine Arts” (a limitation which is directly opposed to the spirit of all former times of great artistic energy) and they assert instead that now, as then, we must struggle to maintain the fine tradition of good workmanship and design.

It is sometimes asked why Handicrafts should be revived, when almost every thing we want can be made by machinery.  The answer is that machinery can never supersede the craftman’s hand in producing work which is to have a distinctive character and value of its own; and that the methods of the factory system are fatal not only to the artistic quality of the things made, but also the mental and physical well-being of the workers employed.  Moreover, the revival of Handicraft in our villages and country districts is one of the best possible means of coping with the evils resulting from the depopulation of the country, the decline of all interests in rural life, and the growth of great towns.
Godfrey Blount Drapery.  Reproduced courtesy of Haslemere Educational Museum

It is towards such a goal that the Handicraft movement is tending, and the fact that in Haslemere alone there are sufficient craftsmen and women to hold an Exhibition of their work, proves how widely the feeling is spreading, the result of which will be the re-awakening of the artistic power of the English people amidst healthier and better social conditions.”

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