Keith Murray in 1947. © Wedgwood Museum
KEITH MURRAY (1892-1981) was one of the most influential designers of glass, ceramics and metal ware in inter-war Britain. In recent years his elegant, minimalist designs have chimed with current interior tastes making him avidly collected in Britain, his native New Zealand, the United States and Japan.
His name was mostly associated with the range of plain, crisply modeled earthen ware vases, bowls and jug sets designed for Wedgwood pottery, although few people are familiar with the broad range of glassware which he designed for the Stourbridge firm of Stevens and Williams and still fewer know of his design for the Royal silversmiths, Mappin and Webb.
A New Zealander by birth, he moved to England aged 14, and trained and worked as an architect until lack of commissions in the lean years of the late 1920s forced him to consider an alternative career.A keen collector of English glass, he became interested in the design of table glass and was influenced by modern Swedish glass. He made some designs for simple table glass and began looking for a manufacturer who might be interested in producing them. He was encouraged by the Design and Industries Association’s stalwart representative Harry Trethowan, buyer of glass and ceramics for Heals’, who suggested that Murray write to Hubert Williams-Thomas, managing director of Stevens and Williams of Brierley Hill.
EARLY YEARS Murray was employed by Stevens and Williams as a freelance designer from 1932 until the outbreak of war in 1939. During
In a new series Antique Collecting highlights the work of influential designers whose work is still highly collectable.This month the ceramicist, glass and metal designer Keith Murray is in the spotlight this time he made more than a thousand designs ranging from ornamental pieces to bathroom sets and table services, all of which are numbered and recorded in Keith Murray Works Description Book at the Royal Brierley Crystal Museum.The range was know as ‘Keith Murray Glass’ and was promoted and sold as an entirely separate entity from the traditional cut crystal which was the firm’s mainstay between the wars.
The impetus to produce modern glass came from the impact that imports of modern glass, especially Swedish, was having on the home market. Hubert WilliamsThomas realised, like Murray, that it was not just the low cost of some to the Swedish glass which made it attractive to the modern market, but the high standards of design associated especially with the leading Swedish glassworks, Orrefors, who employed the artists Simon Gate and Edward Hald. Swedish firms, like Orrefors, had taken a lead by engaging artists and designers to work in the manufacturing industries.
INFLUENTIAL CERAMICS In 1932, following the early success at Stevens and Williams, Murray was invited to visit the Wedgwood pottery at Etruria. In 1930 the future of Wedgwood was uncertain.The economic slump had seriously affected the pottery industry and Wedgwood was particularly vulnerable because its American sales were badly hit. The firm pursued a policy of rationalization throughout the 1930s, reducing the number of designs and encouraging simpler shapes and patterns.The young managing director Josiah Wedgwood V appreciated Murray’s interest in designing for industry and invited him to work as a freelance designer for two months a year. He began to make designs for Wedgwood on a commercial basis in 1933. Murray’s plain modern designs for bowls,
Keith Murray’s matt green glaze earthenware vase, shape 3765. © Wedgwood Museum
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