Hart to Hart
Work by the Arts and Crafts silversmith George Hart and C. R.Ashbee’s influential Guild of Handicraft goes on show this month.The exhibition chronicles the history of Hart’s work, which three generations later, continues at the same workshop in Chipping Campden
THE ARCHITECT AND DESIGNER Charles Robert Ashbee (1863-1942) was one of the leading figures of the Arts and Crafts movement.The Guild and School of Handi craft which he established in Whitechapel in 1888 was inspired by the anti-industrialism of John Ruskin and William Morris.
Ashbee believed that good design and craftmanship depended on good social conditions and in 1902 Ashbee, the guildsmen and their families, moved from their home in London’s East End to the Cotswold town of Chipping Campden.The decision was perhaps the ultimate expression of Arts and Crafts ideals, providing an escape from the city and reuniting the craftsman with the countryside. Here, the guildsmen and their families could find creativity in their surroundings and in the music, sports and amateur theatricals that were a fundamental part of guild life. As Ashbee declared in the introduction to his collection of designs, Modern English Silverwork, in 1909, ‘Humanity and craftsmanship are inseparable.’ The exodus included around 50 jewellers, enamelers, woodcarvers, cabinetmakers, silversmiths, French polishers and bookbinders.The group, some 200 in all, including wives and children, descended on the town, bringing with them fresh ideas and making the market town a centre for the study of Arts and Crafts and contemporary design in the early part of this century.
BEAUTY AND USE At the turn of the century the Guild of Handicraft was at the height of its success, gaining an international reputation for innovative design. As it developed and expanded, tableware became central to the guild’s output, reflecting its importance in the Arts and Crafts home. C.R.Ashbee was a pioneer of metalwork design, using simple forms, flowing wirework and expanses of plain silver set with coloured gemstones and enamel.This sparing ornamentation was in contrast to the highly-decorative, highly-polished wares of the period and allowed Ashbee to draw attention both to the particular qualities of the silver and to the hand of the craftsman. Planishing – the process of finishing hand-raised silver by using a round-faced hammer – is evidenced in the small but visible marks across the surface of the objects, giving the silver a distinctive sheen.These innovative designs influenced contemporary silver not only in Britain but also in Europe and America, and placed Ashbee and the guild craftsmen at the forefront of modern design.
CEREMONIAL SILVERWARE However the guild in its original form ultimately proved to be financially unsus tainable going into voluntary liquidation in 1908.That was the year George Hart took on the silversmiths’ workshop ensuring continuity in the traditions of the guild. He also helped to promote these ideas through his involvement in the Gloucester shire Rural Industries Committee in the 1920s, supporting his fellow craftsmen and women, who faced challenging times in the interwar years. During this period, the focus of Arts and Crafts silverware shifted from the domestic sphere to the public, with civic and ecclesiastical patronage playing a vital role in the long-term success of the workshop.
Many of these important early works were commissioned by a Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery – Prinknash Abbey,
The Guild of Handicraft in 1907. © Hart Silversmiths
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