John Farleigh © National Portrait Gallery

This is an edited extract of a talk I gave to the Society of Designer Craftsmen on 25 March.

The debates on art and industry in the 1930s were bound to impinge on the designer craftsman. The progress of manufacturing, modernist ideas and the Wall Street Crash all sowed doubts about the role and purpose of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society. Within it there emerged a group of reformers who thought a rapprochement with industry was inescapable. They were represented by the wood engraver John Farleigh, who, in 1933, read a paper to the Society, Welcome Machinery! — one of three read before a symposium that year — Farleigh’s, one by J. H. Mason about the place of hand-work in modern civilisation and one by Noel Rooke about the craftsmen and education for industry. Farleigh, Mason and Rooke were all practitioners of fine printing, had all been associated with private presses at one time or another, and all taught at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, part of a strong contingent of book arts in the Society. The president was Edward Johnston and C. H. St John Hornby, the vice-president, ran the Ashendene Press when he wasn’t running W. H. Smith.

Farleigh said the craftsman now had to face the challenge of designing for mass production. There were some things members made that couldn’t be made by machine but there were other things that could. He had no doubt that hand-made things were better, but if something was going to be made by machine, it was best that it was designed by a craftsman. Anyone who designed for the machine had to understand the machine, so the craftsman had to embrace machinery. “We are in a machine age,” Farleigh said, “and to ignore it is to ignore life as it is lived today.” That would be suicide for the craftsman, whose job isn’t just to make unique articles for the client who’s able to pay for them, but also to make things to be used by the many. Later he told the Society that members who refused to design for machine production had no social conscience.

Farleigh’s best-known work is his wood engravings for Bernard Shaw’s book The Black Girl in Search of God, a controversial fable that mocked religion and whose notoriety stimulated large sales. Farleigh put forward the book as an example of designing for the many. Designing for the machine press hadn’t been either easier or more difficult than for designing for the hand press, it was simply a different challenge.

John Farleigh. Illustration for The Black Girl in Search of God.

Farleigh was referring to machinery in two aspects. The first was the factory, but the second was the machine itself, and he observed that opposition to the machine it was based on a misunderstanding because there’s little to distinguish a machine from a tool. The point was better made by David Pye, who is unsurpassed as a writer on design and workmanship.

Pye defined a machine as a tool to which some motor force is applied, whether hand or electricity or anything else. A hand tool wasn’t better or worse than a power tool and it didn’t necessarily call for more skill either. Take the dentist’s drill versus the hand brace. In this case, the power tool undoubtedly requires more care, judgement and dexterity than the hand tool. It’s not possible to distinguish between the appearance of hand-made things and machine-made things because there’s nothing in them that allows us to determine what the motive force was of the tool that was used to make them. Nor can many things be said to be truly hand-made because tools are required for almost everything — the exceptions Pye mentions are writing and sewing and we may add baking. Pye was forced to conclude that “hand-made” isn’t a technical term at all — it’s a social and historical term that refers to workmanship of a kind that existed before the industrial revolution. Pye is much clearer and more analytical than Farleigh, but Farleigh was probably trying to say something similar.

Mason took a rather more traditional view than Farleigh and did believe in the distinctiveness of hand-made things. He said that the division of labour was harmful and that the products of machinery were generally inferior to hand-work. That was especially so in the case of printing, which he knew about as head of the printing department at the Central. Those who work with the hand press can raise the standards of mechanical printing by their influence, as he and Edward Johnston had done. Noel Rooke told an encouraging tale of how the example of typographers, printmakers lettering artists at the Central and the private presses had lifted commercial printing out of the doldrums. Out of this symposium came the idea of including deigns for mass production in the next exhibition. Needless to say, it met with stiff opposition in the following year, notably from Douglas Cockerell, Grailey Hewitt and — the most vociferous — from Bernard Leach.

Noel Rooke. Woodcut.

But what’s interesting is that, when we drill down into Bernard Leach’s views, we find that they weren’t all that different from Farleigh’s. In some ways he was as hostile to industrial civilisation as Ruskin and Morris had been, but he acknowledged that if mass-produced pottery were designed by the right people it could possess what he called “quality of body and beauty of form”. What was needed, he thought, was a new type of designer who understood both the studio and the factory and could keep the factory up to the artistic standards of the studio. Surprisingly, despite disliking much about modern America, he admired Charles and Ray Eames. But Leach always insisted that the factory must come to the craftsman, the craftsman should not go to the factory. He didn’t think the Society should exhibit designs for mass production. Its job was to serve the crafts without compromise, and if it exhibited industrial design it would betray its purpose. He resigned over the issue and Dora Billington had to use all her tact and charm to persuade him to re-join.

Farleigh returned to the topic of admitting design for mass production to the Society on and off for years, but there was always loud dissent and eventually he had to drop the idea. But the dissenters were in a minority and by 1944, two-thirds of the members were said to be designing for industry.

Boxes in Resin ‘M’ designed by Reco Capey and made by Imperial Chemical Industries.
Exhibited at ‘Art and Industry’, 1935.

Design for mass production was included in the 1935 and 1938 exhibitions but those events didn’t differ much from earlier exhibitions. In 1935, six cases out of 600 were devoted to mass production and none departed far from the Society’s traditions. Naturally, Farleigh’s wood engravings featured prominently, and other book arts as well. There was lettering and typography by Grailey Hewett, Alfred Fairbank and Lynton Lamb — all of whom taught at the Central. The only throughgoing examples of industrial design were Reco Capey’s: perfumery productions in glass, metal and synthetic materials for Yardley similar to the designs for manufacture in synthetic resin by ICI that he showed at the 1935 Art & Industry exhibition at the Royal Academy.


Bernard Shaw bequeathed his house at Ayot St Lawrence in Hertfordshire to the National Trust in 1950. He was fifty when he moved in in 1906 and already successful. He became rich but remained a socialist of a peculiar kind, at first wedded to Fabian gradualism but from the 1920s onwards preferring dictatorship and admiring Lenin, Stalin and Mussolini. We went on a tour the other day.

Shaw’s study with a portrait of William Morris above the desk and Morris & Co. curtains. The little monogrammed pot on the right of the typewiter was made by Louise Powell.

When I moved to Hertfordshire in the 1980s, old people remembered him driving through the lanes either in his Rolls Royce or on his tricycle. The tricycle bore witness to his passion for healthy living, including vegetarianism, wool next to the skin, sleeping with the windows open and opposition to vaccination, but it also bore witness to socialist principles.

Bare boards and an electric fire. On the mantleshelf, a Staffordshire figure of Shaw’s chosen rival, Shakespeare, and his 1938 Oscar for the screenplay of ‘Pygmalion’. The portrait is of his wife, Charlotte.

Shaw’s Corner is modestly furnished in the style of a clerk or a schoolteacher and doesn’t look like the house of a wealthy man. The house had servants’ bells but Shaw refused to use them, going down to the kitchen and knocking on the door if he wanted to talk to the cook. Shaw liked the quiet villlage without a train station or a bus service.

The sunny veranda, which Shaw called ‘The Riviera’. The house was built without running water or electricity but Shaw was quick to adopt technical innovations.

It has Arts and Crafts connections. Shaw was a follower of Ruskin and Morris, greater influences on progressive thinkers in England than Marx, and a portrait of Morris hangs above his desk. He was part of the Morris circle. He preached socialism in street-corner meetings with Morris. He flirted with May Morris, she fell in love with him and Morris might have liked him as a son-in-law.

May Morris, her fiancé Henry Halliday Sparling, Emery Walker and Bernard Shaw.

Like every advanced middle-class house of the period, Shaw’s Corner has Arts and Crafts touches throughout: Morris & Co. furniture and fabrics, a piano designed by Walter Cave, secretary of the Art Workers Guild, pottery by Alfred and Louise Powell and a sense of The Simple Life.

A patterned vessel by Alfred and Louise Powell, china and varied reading.


Albrecht Dürer, The Imperial Captain Felix Hungersperg, 1520

Some of Dürer’s drawings and paintings reminded me of Maxwell Armfield (1881 – 1972), who was the first artist I ever noticed because, as a child, I had his illustrations to Andersen’s Fairy Tales, drawn for J. M. Dent in 1910.

Maxwell Armfield, illustration to Andersen’s Fairy Tales, 1910

Armfield trained at Birmingham Art School, the first to come under the infuence of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and painted in a late Pre-Raphaelite style – linear with a highly-worked surface, usually in bright colours and with a shallow picture space – which he kept up long after it had become unfashionable, even in the years after the Second World War.

Maxwell Armfield, Miss Chaseley on the Undercliff, 1927. (Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum)

His landscapes are flat and he’s interested in the patterns they make, which makes them artificial and imaginary, suiting fairytales, especially when they feature castles on distant mountains.

Maxwell Armfield, San Gimignano, Italy (Victoria Art Gallery)

Dürer’s landscapes, many of which also have castles on mountains, have the same fantastic effect. There were other influences on Armfield, notably Japanese woodcuts, and his drawings are very much simpler than Dürer’s, but both have the same hard line and absence of extreme tonal contrast.

Albrecht Dürer, View of the Arco Valley in the Tyrol, 1495

Albrecht Dürer, Christ Carrying the Cross

Maxwell Armfield, illustration to Andersen’s Fairy Tales, 1910


Stanisław Wyspiański, ‘Self Portrait’

The William Morris Gallery, one of my favourite boutique museums (the other is the Estorick Gallery in Islington), did community outreach, as musems do, to connect with the large Polish community in Walthamstow. The upshot is their current exhibition, Young Poland: An Arts and Crafts Movement 1890 -1918, mounted in collaboration with the Polish Cultural Institute and the National Museum of Krákow. Young Poland is unknown to most in the west – I’d never heard of it before – and most of the exhibits in this show have never been seen outside Poland.

Vastomil Hofmann, ‘Confession

Young Poland is often regarded as a fine art movement with a record of patriotic, religious and pastoral painting, typified in Vastomil Hofmann’s Confession (above), but the Gallery decided to record the artists’ contribution to the crafts, often overlooked but very important.

In central and eastern Europe the Arts and Crafts were an assertion of national identity, one aspect of the struggle for independence, rejecting the forms and styles imposed by the imperial powers. While the British looked to the Middle Ages as they imagined it to be, the Poles looked to contemporary peasant life and art. Young Poland, which emerged in Kraków, focused on the Highlander people of the nearby Tatra mountains and adapted their architecture, interior decoration, textiles and dress in an attempt to create a national Polish style.

Stanisław Wyspiański (top), a key figure in the movement, might be called the Polish William Morris – a brilliant polymath, a painter, poet, playwright, textile designer, furniture maker and graphic artist – though the two men never met and there’s no record of any communication between them.

In one room of the exhibition there’s a large stained glass, a reproduction of a window designed by Wyspiański for the Kraków Medical Centre, in another a model of The House Under the Firs, a vernacular house by Stanisław Witkiewicz, another major figure, drawn from the Zakopane style of building. Witkiewicz is shown with the model on the left of the group above, the other men dressed in traditional Highlander costume.

In lighter mood there were reconstructions of toys from the Kraków Workshops, a co-operative of artists and craftsmen formed in 1913, who made use of folk patterns in their work. The picture (above) shows delightful original toys in the Ethnographic Museum of Kraków.


The Wiener Werkstätte began in 1903 as a metal workshop, though that understates the elegance and refinement of their silver objects (above). Its founders, Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, had to get apprenticed craftsmen to front the company because they couldn’t get a trade licence themselves, not being trained in the craft. That might surprise Britons, who are used the the idea that anyone can set up in any trade they like, apart from architecture, drug dispensing, chiropractic, medicine, opthalmology, social work, law and vetinerary surgery.

Perhaps it was that lack of regulation that led, in the first decade of the 20th century, to complaints that the Arts and Crafts movement was attracting incompetent amateurs. And it probably explains Nikolaus Pevsner’s Plea for Contemporary Craft (1939), quoted in Stephen Games’s account of his early life, in which he notes the poor standard of workmanship in England compared to Germany:

If you want your shoes soled and heeled, you still hand them self-confidently to Herr Muller who does the job conscientiously in his back-room where he works with one journeyman and one apprentice. There is no Branch 26 of a back-in-a-day shoe repairing service to lure you away from the craftsman. The same is true – at least outside Berlin – of the cabinet-maker, the plumber, the locksmith, etc. It is an extremely interesting consequence of this … that a cultured public also expects the very best article. … Hence the successful handweavers, silversmiths, potters all over Germany, and hence the many Kunstgewerbe (craft) shops in German towns, shops of a kinds which scarcely exists in Britain.

Immigrants from central European countries even today express astonishment that anyone can set up as a builder without any qualifications or evidence that they know what they’re doing.


The Decorative Arts Society have started their guided visits again and the other day I joined them at the William Morris Gallery for a talk by Roisin Inglesby on the the Century Guild exhibition that she has curated. The Guild was a short-lived Arts and Crafts body, started by Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo and Henry Horne and soon joined by Selwyn Image, lasting only from 1882 until 1893, when each member went his own way to follow his particular interests.

I knew little about the Century Guild other than that Pevsner had pointed out that their sinuous designs (above) anticipated Art Nouveau and that fifty years later Mackmurdo was one of the founders of the William Morris Gallery. From the Mackmurdo donation the Gallery has come to have the largest holding of Century Guild artifacts anywhere, which has enabled them to put on this event with little borrowing.

The Guild lacked some of the common prejudices of the Arts and Crafts movement, notably Morris’s dislike of everything Italian, and Horne went on to make a study of Boticelli. They were also less enamoured of Gothic. Their furniture is more classical than anything produced by Morris and Co., as are Mackmurdo’s and Horne’s architectural designs.

Century Guild emblem.

The exhibition has textiles, wallpaper and designs on paper that illustrate their use of plant forms and their departure from the symmetry of Morris’s designs. The name of the group refers to their 19th century and indicates a forward-looking attitude. They were designers and were not wedded to the idea of a craft-based economy.

Arts and Crafts Pioneers by Stuart Evans and Jean Liddiard accompanies the exhibition.


The 1926 Yearbook of Decorative Art published by The Studio magazine was frank about British design conservatism: ‘On the Continent and in the United States the enterprise was greater than in this country and the results more hectic. We Britons have always been somewhat slow in the uptake in the matter of design; but our conservatism in the long run has done us little harm.’ Remember that the 1925 Paris Exhibition is seen as the launch pad of Art Deco and then see that many if not most of the designs featured by The Studio are still in Arts-and-Crafts mode.

Architectural examples were predominently vernacular in inspiration, with a trace of neo-Georgian in the examples from Welwyn Garden City. But although interiors were  traditional, they were stripped down and free from clutter, as in work by the Deutsche Werkstätten. Gordon Russell’s simple and useful furniture was made by the best cabinet makers available. Heal’s furniture anticipated Utility, with which Russell, of course was associated.


00011-scan_2021-06-29_15-40-03r pottery1

British ceramics emphasised craft methods: hand-painted pottery from Pilkington, Wedgwood and Poole, work by the up-and-coming studio potters, William Staite Murray and Bernard Leach, figures by Stanley Thorogood, Wilfrid Norton, Harold Stabler and Stella Crofts.  Handicraft was also emphasised in Continental ceramics but the Deco element was evident in pieces designed by Claude Lévy and Madeleine Sougez for Atelier Primavera (top), who had exhibited at the 1925 Paris Expo.

00024-scan_2021-06-29_15-41-41l Continental


Figurative ceramics were more evident in the illustrations from the Continent, despite the fact they were at the height of their popularity in Britain.

00051-scan_2021-06-29_15-46-59r pilchowesi

By 1933, there had been a major change. The rchitecture and interiors featured in the Yearbook were now mainly modernist, including British examples by A.V.Pilchowski and Stanley Hall and Eastern & Robertson. Fewer ceramics were shown but they included mass-produced factory wares like those designed by M. Friedlaender.

00053-scan_2021-06-29_15-48-17r friedlander



I’ve been looking at the National Portrait Gallery’s large collection of William Morris portraits. This photo (above), taken in the 1880s when Morris was in his fifties is fairly representative. For a man concerned to make every aspect of life beautiful and harmonious, he was notably indifferent to his own appearance. His hair is so uncombed he makes Boris Johnson look neat, his beard is untrimmed and he wears everyday clothes. Was this one of the blue workman’s jackets he was famous for? Whether it was or not, he was an exemplar of rational dress. In several pictures he wears a soft tweed suit and always wears a soft attached shirt collar, which was unusual, I think, before the 20th century, and here he appears to be wearing no necktie. He contrasts with Walter Crane (below), an extravagant dandy, with a carefully trimmed beard, waxed moustaches and colourful clothes, despite being a supporter of dress reform, who seemed to pay more attention to his appearance the older her got.


Zsuzsa Gonda in her review of Crane’s visit to Hungary in 1900 says that it is one of the most extensively documented events in the artistic life of the country in that period. Despite Crane’s eminence in England, it does seem that he was more honoured abroad, which was flattering of course, and after being decorated by Victor Emmanuel III, he called himself Commendatore Crane at home.

The welcome extended to him in Hungary was not entirely personal, however: he was the representative of England, the bastion of liberty, the nation that sheltered Kossuth and took him to its heart. Crane the socialist could not fully understand why in Hungary the appreciation of traditional art marked one out as a nationalist.

Gonda’s article is principally about museum acquisitions of Crane’s work. The vase pictured above, with a design by Crane, was one of the items purchased by György Ráth, former director of the Museum Applied Art, from the 1900 exhibition. Crane very much appreciated the warmth of his reception and in his memoirs reproduced in full the address delivered to him by Gyula Wlasics, Hungarian minister of culture and religion; but he was disappointed by sales from the exhibition and was understandably annoyed that the magazine Új Idők did not pay a royalty for the reproduction of his Kalotaszeg drawings.


The Budapest Museum of Applied Arts included this sketch (above) by Walter Crane in Masters of the Secession, showing Crane, left, and the director of the museum, Jenő Radisics, right, riding hobby horses, with an unidentified Frenchman in the middle, as judges at the Turin Exhibition of Decorative Art in 1902. Radisics had been instrumental in mounting the large Crane exhibition in Budapest a couple of years earlier, and here they meet again.

Jenő Radisics, 1911

Radisics made large acquisitions of contemporary art and is largely responsible for the museum’s having such a large collection of Art Nouveau. He toured Europe tirelessly, dressed in Hungarian ceremonial costume at public events (as he is in Crane’s sketch) and spent generously. He acquired the entire Alexandre Bigot pavilion at the Paris Exhibition of 1900, which remained in store until 2013, when much of it was put on display.

Alexandre Bigot, architectural ceramics, acquired by Radisics in 1900 and seen on display here in 2015.

Crane’s visit to Hungary was more strenuous than I realised: as well as visting Budapest and Kolozsvár he saw the Zsolnay ceramics factory in Pécs. The Museum of Applied Arts has a Zsolnay lustre vase (below) decorated by Géza Nikelszky, who, it says, was probably inspired by Crane’s visit in October 1900.