The Second Industrial Revolution: Arts & Crafts Movement

June 2, 2012 2:38 pm

This article is to be one of three, beginning with an introduction, the second, a concentration on the prominent movers and shakers,

William Morris was an important figure at this time

and third, some of the artistic works produced during this amazing era from furniture to jewellery and metalwork.

How did it come about and who spearheaded this extraordinary movement which began in this country and spread throughout Europe and across the Atlantic, and why? As with all arts movements, there are the movers and shakers such as William Morris, renowned for his artistic fabric designs and wallpaper and who became the father of the movement.  Others include John Ruskin, who set up the Guild of St George; which unfortunately failed, but above all, he was a social reformer and writer as well as being the founder of the modern Labour movement. The third was Pugin, who earned his spurs learning architecture. Therefore, anyone who lives in London would surely be familiar with his most renowned examples: The Houses of Parliament.

What was the ethos of this movement?  The answer: it was a protest against the mass industrialism and soul destroying toil of the labour force and wanted a return to a more convivial, even medieval existence when a man’s labour in production was to be one of joy, using their hands as distinct from machines. Also a gentleman was given equal value whatever work he performed, whether it was making furniture, metalwork, labouring in or outdoors; he was on the same equal footing as someone who wrote or thought, played music. In short, a restoration in the delight of living as opposed to oppressive toil for profit to the manufacturing masters who contributed their merchandise to the Great Exhibition held at the Crystal Palace in 1851. It was also a clarion call to return to nature so that the workers could work yet enjoy the benefits of human recreation, whether it be working on their plot of land, participating in culture and music, even cooking – in summary; a lifestyle change, escaping the monotony of machines and return to handmade production.

It was with these ethics of social reform in mind, that these leading lights of the Arts and Crafts Movement such as John Ruskin, William Morris and Mackmurdo, that Guilds were set up or re-established. These Guilds were in fact, associations for craftsmen to practice their artistic skills, half way between a trade union, a cartel or secret society, whether it be metal work, carpentry, fabric design, architecture.  For instance, William Morris founded the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the Century Guild was founded by Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo, born in 1851 and died in his early eighties, in 1942. This organisation specialised in design, taking and placing all branches of its art, whether it be metalwork, building, decoration and glass painting out of the hands of tradesmen into the hands of the artist along with sculpture and painting. He also taught alongside John Ruskin before going on to produce furniture and metalwork designs, especially the motifs and curves that influenced European Art Nouveau.

 There are, of course, countless examples of  evidence that are synonymous with this extraordinary movement, such as the Royal College of Needlework and Garden cities such as Welwyn Garden and Letchworth, created by Ebeneezer Howard who created this phenomena during the 1900s. The aim being was to combine town and country to be almost synonymous whereby the inhabitants could live and work in tranquillity, happiness and a condusively healthy environment.  The scheme was based on Ruskin’s concept of a fourteenth century village where the worst woes of the working class such as misery and unemployment would belong to the past.  In the late 1890s, he wrote a book entitled; Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform, but later renamed as Garden Cities of Tomorrow, published eventually at the turn of the century. Two notable architects, Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker who were largely responsible for their work in the Garden City Movement, enabled them to advance into town planning and social engineering, winning a competition to plan the garden City at Letchworth; as well as being responsible for creating Hampstead Garden Suburb instigated by Dame Henrietta Barnett who was a social reformer, advocating education to achieve social change. There were two others who adopted a similar principle of improving housing for the working classes, providing cultural and sport facilities, these being William Hesketh Lever responsible for Port Sunlight and Joseph Rowntree, a Quaker, who built the village of New Earswick Yorkshire, utilizing the architectural services of Parker and Unwin to build brick and rough cast houses with gardens and a village green.

No doubt London residents and those living beyond, will have heard of Liberty. The owner Ambrose Heal, who may well have been conscious of the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement, believed that the machines relieved the workers of drudgery and enabled the people who were purchasing the merchandise, to do so, at a reasonable cost and improve their lifestyle. To sum up, we have established a full definition of the Arts and Crafts movement, its ethos, the creation of housing and garden cities for workers and the motives of Liberty & Heals who were responsible for supplying goods at a reasonable price to furnish these homes, thereby, improving the lifestyle of the middle working classes.

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