When I was at the William Morris Gallery yesterday to see their exhibition about the Walthamstow School of Art, I learned something about its origins. The picture above shows its founders, left to right: Walter Spradbery (1889-1969), Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956), and Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo (1851-1942), Brangwyn’s mentor. It was taken on Brangwyn’s seventy-second birthday at his home in  Ditchling.

Spradbery did posters for London Transport, which you can see in the link. Mackmurdo was a key figure in the Arts and Crafts movement, knew Ruskin well and accompanied him on a tour of Italy in 1874. His book cover for Wren’s City Churches (1883) is regarded as the seminal image of Art Nouveau.

Brangwyn was largely self-taught and served as an apprentice to Morris & Co in the 1880s. He worked in a  range of media – painting, drawing, murals, prints and ceramics and designs for furniture, carpets, interiors and stained glass. He has been described as a jack of all trades but he was elected RA. He described his work as ‘a mission to decorate life’.

The museum was set up with much of Brangwyn’s and Mackmurdo’s personal collections. Brangwyn made a large donation to the borough of Walthamstow in 1936, including significant works by the Pre-Raphaelites and his own oils, mural designs, prints and watercolours.

The picture below, taken at the gallery, is of pottery Brangwyn designed for Doulton to be decorated by their staff with freedom to vary the pattern. It’s the sort of cross between studio pottery and factory pottery that I find interesting because it permits people of modest means to buy things that have hand-made individuality.

About ten years ago, fears were expressed that the gallery might close, but in 2011-12 the local council refurbished it with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the friends of the gallery and numerous charities and donors.  It won the Art Fund award in 2103.

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