Friday, 31 May 2013

All useful things are made by machines - The Rustic Renaissance continued

Following on from my last post on this subject, in the chapter 'Town or Country', Godfrey Blount (Blount, G., Rustic Renaissance, The Simple Life Series No. 21, A.C. Fifield, London, 1905) went on to further set out his argument for the return to handicraft and the need to return to the country:

"But people say, and say with some reason that it (Handicraft) neither makes useful things nor makes them particularly attractive; and this, they say, is because all useful things are made by machines and all pretty things by professional artists.  This is a disheartening criticism more often inferred than expressed, and is the more dangerous because, in a way, it has almost become a truth.  The things we use are, as a matter of fact, almost invariably made by machines; the things we admire, pictures, poems, plays, are the work of a profession of artists.  We have come to believe that this is a satisfactory, or at any rate an inevitable, state of things.  It has a scientifically complete look about it, as if we had struck the bed-rock and arrived at a workable hypothesis about these matters; and yet it is just this complacent formula, this glib hypothesis, that we must deny and reject, for it has never yet been entirely true and, pray God, may never become so.

Godfrey Blount
from W.R.Trotter, The Hilltop Writers, The Book Guild Ltd, 2003

"Useful things never used to be made by machines till machines were invented to make them; pretty things were never made for the public by a profession solely devoted to aesthetics, till the ordinary artisan had given up making them instinctively himself.  The flaw that lies at the bottom of this formula, however, and which contaminates and retards the revival of Handicraft, is that useful things and pretty things have nothing necessarily to do with each other; and the first law of any real revival and lasting renaissance of Handwork, as opposed to machine work, is that such a distinction should cease to exist, and that a really useful thing must be considered a pretty one, and a thing which has no real use must be considered an ugly one.

"Those of us who are in earnest, including perhaps a few politicians, are beginning to see that this country can only be saved, physically, mentally, and spiritually, by cultivating it.  Soon we shall also realise that if a return to the land is the correct cure for overcrowding in the towns, the object of cultivating the land will not be the feeding of towns but starving them, and the feeding of the new peasantry; and that only so far as the towns are making useful things, useful, that is to say, to the countryman, will the countryman consent to support the towns.

Surrey Landscape by Godfrey Blount
Bushey Museum & Art Gallery

"It is a question entirely of where you will have your population, in the country or in the town.  You cannot have it in both, healthily, at the same tie, and the mistake people make is, that when they talk and think about the future, they don't seem able to see that these huge festers of manufacturing cities are quite unnecessary to the nation's true welfare or happiness, and persist in imagining that the agricultural revival will be perpetual saddled with the weight of them.

"A return to the country must imply the decay of the town.  If it does not imply this it can be no true return.  A return to the country with the corresponding decline of the town, must also mean a return to simplicity and Handicraft, because, when the town ceases to be a burden on the countryman's back, he will have to make what he wants by hand in the country instead of having them made by machinery in the town.

"But, above all, a return to the country means the determination to be thorough-bred peasants and not mongrel ones.  What we are most of us secretly hoping may happen is to be able to play at peasants, like Marie Antoinette, and live in garden cities that will combine all the advantages of town and country life, with the disadvantages of neither.  Garden cities may be capital investments and convenient suburbs for people with hobbies and for week-end visitors; but no solution for the danger that has us by the throat, and which is eating our heart out.  The rural depopulation is our punishment, call it misfortune if you like, the city is our sin.  No national revival or revivification is possible, till we repent of our sin and return with some sort of conviction to the manners, if not to the faith, of our forefathers."

Sunset over the Downs by Godfrey Blount
Bushey Museum & Art Gallery

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Arthur Romney Green, Sir Robert Hunter & Godfrey Blount

Following on from my post Arthur Romney Green and the Peasant Arts People, I have gone back to the source of Susan Elkin's description (Life to the Lees, Cromwell Press, 1998) of Arthur Romney Green's move to Haslemere to see Green's explanation.  Green calls himself 'Artifer' in his autobiography.

In his unpublished memoirs Work and Play (held at the National Art Library, Victoria and Albert Museum), Green states "My father's greatest friend at London University was Robert Hunter, afterwards Sir Robert and Solicitor General to the Post Office; and his second wife was another of my Father's beautiful friends.  They had three daughters rather younger than ourselves, their charming home at Haslemere which, with those of our grandparents at Alton and at Saffron Walden, we regarded as amongst the most ideal of holiday resorts.  O, the holiday delights of those three homes - the intelligent friendliness of our hosts, the love of gardens, the pony-riding and the picnics and the good eating." (Chapter 2, page 8).

Work and Play,
autobiography of Arthur Romney Green,
National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum

As a footnote to page 8 Green adds "It was mainly owing to my introduction to Haslemere by the Hunters that I set up there my first real workshop.  On leaving Haslemere I saw little of them for many years; but not it pleases my to know, as I revise this chapter, that amongst my own are the daughters of my father's greatest friends."

Later Green writes "We chose Haslemere because hand-weaving and other small industries were already there, inspired or attracted by the genius of Godfrey Blount.  Also because my Father's old friends Sir Robert and Lady Hunter were still there, and were very able and willing to give us introductions to many of the rather cultured and wealthy people who abound in that beautiful neighbourhood."

Work and Play,
autobiography of Arthur Romney Green,
National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum

Friday, 24 May 2013

Luther Hooper at Hindhead

Hindhead, Surrey is only a few miles away from Haslemere.  In 1911 Luther Hooper wrote a short series in The Art Journal on 'Art in the Church'.  The first article in February 1911 had a split focus on St Christopher's Church Haslemere, where Hooper's work was evident in the altar hangings and the vestry curtain, and the Country Church, Kings Road, Haslemere, the site of Hooper's old weaving workshop.  The second article in March 1911 is devoted solely to St Alban's Church, Hindhead, a church so new at the time that Hooper calls it the "New Church of St Alban's, Hindhead".

Detail of Luther Hooper altar cloth,
St Alban's Church, Hindhead
Art Journal, March 1911

"The church of St. Alban's itself, in so far as it is finished - for the nave has yet to be built - is a good specimen of the best art of to-day.  Its simplicity and purity of design, its perfect proportions, which suggest spaciousness, and its admirable lighting, all tend to raise it far above the ordinary level of modern buildings."  Whilst devoting a large part of the article to the stained glass windows by Karl Parson and Christopher Whall, Hooper then goes on to describe:

"The holy table, St. Alban's with its carved tracing, is a good specimen of solid oak joinery, restrained design and careful carving.  It compares favourably with the usual rough solid table commonly used, which requires a frontal to be always affixed to it to hide its deformity from the public eye.  The small altar and reredos, carved in oak by Messrs. Martyn of Cheltenham, is in the chapel of the Good Shepherd, built in memory Mr. Frederick Townsend....   This, although much more elaborate in design, is far less distinctive."

Altar Table, St Alban's, Hindhead
Art Journal, March 1911, p.84

"Although with such a holy table...a frontal or altar cloth is not always required, it is an advantage to have a set of special appropriately rich covers or palls, as they used to be called, in order to distinguish certain seasons and festivals.

Festival Altar Cloth, St Alban's Church, Hindhead
designed by Luther Hooper, embroidered by Miss Charlotte Brock
(Illustration 5)
from Art Journal, March 1911, p.85

detail of Festival Altar Cloth, St Alban's Church, Hindhead
designed by Luther Hooper, embroidered by Miss Charlotte Brock
(Illustration 6)
from Art Journal, March 1911, p.85
"Illustration 5 shows the cloth with which the altar is covered at festivals.  It is made of white silk damask, having a design of vine leaves, grapes and wheat.  This pattern on the silk is shown more clearly in the Illustrations 6 and 7.  The broad parts of the applied design with which the front of the cloth is decorated are cut out of cloth of gold and silver and outlined with white silk.  The fine lines are composed of a few thicknesses of gold thread couched with yellow silk.  This work was done by Miss Charlotte Brock.  The size of this and the other cloths, Illustrations 7 and 8, when extended, is fifteen feet by nine feet.

Green and Gold Altar Cloth, St Alban's, Hindhead,
with Ornament and Inscription woven in,
Designed by Luther Hooper, woven by Messrs Warner and Sons
(Illustration 7)
Art Journal, March 1911, p.86

"The green and gold cloth, Illustration 7, is for the most part plain green satin of a rich and vivid colour.  The five panels at the front and back, and the single panels at the ends, have a green gold damask design of vine leaves and grapes woven in the satin fabric.  In the border, with its inscription, the effect of colour is reversed, the letters standing out green on a gold ground.  The chequer edging which divides the panels and border is of dark green and white silk.

Lenten Altar Cloth, St Alban's, with Ornament and Inscription woven in,
Designed by Luther Hooper, Woven by Messrs Warner and Sons
(Illustration 8)
Art Journal, March 1911, p.86
"The Lenten altar cloth of the same set, Illustration 8, is made of a damask of the same design as that of the festival cloth, but in this case the warp is dark blue and the weft, which chiefly shows in the design, is composed of a curious mixture of coloured silk threads.  This weft mixing with the dark blue of the warp, results in a beautiful quality of violet.  The continuous inscription, "Miserere Domini," which runs all round the edge of the cloth, is also woven in the damask manner.  The double edging of lace, which takes the place of a fringe, is hand-made of silver thread and dark blue silk."

From talking to a gentleman who has been a member of the congregation at St Alban's since the 1950s, I understand that the altar cloths were in regular use up until they were sadly destroyed in a fire in 1999 which was started by the altar, totally destroying all of the altar cloths so that not even a fragment was left.  He fondly remembered looking at these cloths over the decades.

It is sad that whilst at St Christopher's Church, Haslemere there is no living memory of the Luther Hooper works, and no trace of them; and at nearby St Alban's, Hindhead, Luther Hooper's works had been very well used, but are now destroyed.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

In the Factory by Maude Egerton Hine

From Maude's collection, Poems (Hine, Maude Egerton, Privately Printed, 1885), this one in particular stands out, and indicates that Maude was thinking about looms and their sociological impact on the worker a few years before she published this poem aged 18.  It also reminds of her sister, Ethel Blount, and husband, Godfrey Blount's later association with the Healthy and Artistic Dress Union.

Lancashire Victorian factories
"[This poem was suggested by a notice which appeared in one of the papers a few years ago, the gist of which was, that in consequence of the great demand for foreign materials, the Bradford looms were standing still and the people were starving.]

There is quiet in the place, and the silent looms,
Stand useless and grim in the empty rooms;
But the hush of the quiet with trouble is rife
For the people who wearily wait without;
Their rest means starving, their work means life.

Their faces are hopeless, their clothing is torn,
And the heart of the bravest is bruised and forlorn,
For these hundreds here starve by one foolish whim,
For Fashion and Folly of Riches born
Have crushed the people, and made them mourn!

They pray in their need for the smallest task,
And see - at the answer to what they ask,
The desperate tears will gain their way,
Though never a sob may be heard aloud!
Then they push back through the silent crowd.

There is quiet in the place, and the silent looms
Stand useless and grim in the empty rooms;
And the people without may wait and starve,
Their hearts may weary, their hearts may ache
Their hearts may madden until they break!
For Fashion has willed it shall be so,
And Fashion rules fools, and fools abound
On too many breadths of English ground!
Let them look to the horror that they have wrought,
The sin and the heart-ache, by lack of thought,
And then just for once let Fashion go,
For Fashion weighs lighter than human woe;
- O shame! to be told of a civilised age
Counted as Christian, counted as sage,
That it left the toilers that clothe the land
To read their doom from a fashion-page!"

A Song of Spring by Maude Egerton Hine

From Poems (Hine, Maude Egerton, Privately Printed, 1885), a collection of poems printed when Maude was just 18 years old.

Old bramley tree, in what was once Foundry Meadow, Haslemere

"It is the time of all things gay and green,
A-down the sun-rays slips a showeret clear,
And twigs and stalks and most bare things are seen
To bud beneath the young sun o' the year.

And on the hill a light wind is at play,
Kissing the young-eyed daisies here and there;
And far above the dear Earth in her May
A raptured bird thrills the ecstatic air."

Poems by Maude Egerton Hine, 1885

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Town or Country? The Rustic Renaissance by Godfrey Blount

Following on from my previous post, Rustic Renaissance, the book (Blount, G., Rustic Renaissance, The Simple Life Series No. 21, A.C. Fifield, London, 1905) begins with a chapter titled 'Town or Country':

"Few prophets of "The Simple Life" will deny that the revival of Handicrafts is an integral factor in the larger Revival of the Future, and must be advocated, if with no anticipation of its becoming an immediate and general means of livelihood, yet as an educational influence of the greatest importance even at a time like the present, when our boasted industrial development has made it almost impossible for the Handworker to compete with the factory in the production of anything useful, and in which the art of every old-fashioned industry threatens to become lost.

A.C. Fifield advert for
The Rustic Renaissance by Godfrey Blount

"We are certainly beginning to realise how deeply our characters must be modified by the conditions under which our work is done, and that no amount of apparent economic advantage, whether to employer, employed, or the public at large, under the regime of the machine, can compensate for the loss of that true dignity and general intelligence which are only possible when the worker is free in the truest sense of the word.  In other words, the question at issue, the question of Hand Labour as opposed to Machinery, does not so much relate to the Labour as to the Labourer, not so much to Capital, which is merely the tool, as to those who handle it.  But few will take so serious a view of the case as myself.  We live in an age in which the most desperate views of life jostle with anticipations of the most triumphant future.  I am of neither party, because I am of both.  I dare to criticise the present because I trust to the future; but I do not forget that the good times coming, for which I hope, must be the fruit of thought and action born of to-day.

"Simple woven border from the lower part of a linen or cotton apron"
from Art Workers' Quarterly, Volume 1, Issue 2, April 1902 p.53

"The Handicraft movement is then to my mind intensely significant.  That organised efforts to popularise handwork should be made in these days of triumphant mechanism is in itself a wonder-worthy paradox; for how could anyone in his senses advocate a return to a practise diametrically opposed to what he honestly believed to be the path of progress, unless he recognised in it the first symptom of a revulsion of feeling which heralds a change in public opinion and conduct?  If the finger of true civilisation pointed unmistakably to the greater elaboration and the more extensive use of machinery, what excuse could be found for childish tinkering with discarded tools?  It is true that the promoters of Handicraft among our Peasantry adduce poor enough arguments to explain their purpose, such as its counteracting attraction to the public-house, the supplementing of exiguous wages, the occupation of winter evenings with the ingenious manufacture of useless knickknacks which it is not worth the machines's while to exploit.  These are some of the inadequate arguments used to defend and explain the first signs of a wave of feeling which is probably all the stronger because it has grown spontaneously out of the nation's instinct for greater social health, and not in answer to a distinct appeal or for an isolated reason.

"Piece of strong tapestry fabric,
designed and produced by Luther Hooper, Haslemere"
from Art Workers' Quarterly, Volume 1, Issue 2, April 1902 p.53
"This way of answering an unvoiced but none the less strong demand has been, it seems to me, characteristic of most great movements.  If we do not, for instance, after nearly 2,000 years, realise the exact want which Christianity supplied, and the exact message it has for us, still we instinctively feel that it did and does supply both, and will do so more and more as we learn to understand its principles, so that my only fear is not that I shall exaggerate, but that I may underrate, the motives of a movement in which we ought all to be deeply interested; not as a new method which one or two here and there can adopt to escape the cruel and vicarious sacrifice of the many for the few, which our civilization demands, but the very solution and conqueror of this un-christian civilisation itself, which, unless we soon solve it, will crush everybody in its indiscriminating grasp.

"Vine Border.  Woven in a Linen Cloth by the Haslemere Weaving Industry,
from Design by Godfrey Blount"
from Art Workers' Quarterly, Volume 1, Issue 2, April 1902 p.53

"I maintain then that the Handicraft movement is much more serious and far-reaching than has yet been guessed, in spite of the amateurishness with which a great deal of it may certainly be charged.  The ordinary conception of Handicraft in a mechanical age like the present involves two ideas: the idea of making things by hand, and the idea of making them pretty.  This appears to me a fairly accurate definition of the movement's quite laudable ambition, and a definition, too, which hides in it more than meets the eye, as I think we shall soon discover."
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