This section is from the book "Arts & Crafts Magazine Vol1-2", by Hutchinson & Company.
Speaking of the fairness of the author brings us to the closing chapter, which we find the most interesting in the book. In it he discusses what he calls "The 'Quaint Style' of Furniture." Under this not very happy designation - which, we are sorry to learn from him, " has come into current use " - he discusses the style of furniture associated, he says, with the names of "Liberty," "Morris," and "The Arts and Crafts." To the aims of the latter Society he pays his respects as follows: -
"All that I can do is to sum up, as concisely and yet as fully as lies within my power, the cardinal points of the creed subscribed to by this little band of workers who have come so greatly into prominence of late years. They may, I think, be stated as follows: - That the labourer is worthy of his hire. That the artist and craftsman, who create and produce beautiful things, have as much right to be known to the public as the middleman, who, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, could not produce a beautiful thing if he tried, and has no desire to. That both artist and craftsman should be in a position to work under such conditions that they may find actual pleasure in the labour of their heads and hands. That the
Example of Modern British Furniture.
From R. Davis Benn's "Style in Furniture." (Longmans, Green & Co.) public should be educated in such a way as to enable it to distinguish between the good and the bad in art and craftsmanship, and so be induced to encourage the one and reject the other.
"These, so far as I understand them, are the main teachings of the Society, but prevailing conditions always have been, and still are, too strong for them. What are those conditions ? The labourer is compelled to fight for his hire, and not infrequently starves in the struggle to obtain it. If the artist and craftsman make any attempt to bring their names before the public they do so at their own risk, knowing that it may spell financial ruin to them - the majority of the middlemen see to that. In the great mass of their work the artist and craftsman are too much engaged in getting through at a 'cutting price,' to find pleasure in it - disgust is nearer the mark. Most members of the public prefer to buy the cheap, showy - and nasty, to the cheap, simple - and good."
The case seems fairly stated, and the answer, from the commercial point of view, is plausible enough. But with the economic side of the question we have nothing to do. It is a social problem the consideration of which is beyond the scope of an art magazine. But what is very much to the point is that our author, who is entitled to speak for the trade, admits that the society "have accomplished an incalculable amount of good," although he asserts that in some cases their furniture was so badly put together that it came to pieces in the gallery where it was exhibited. "The professional furniture designer, and the manufacturer - in fact, the much-abused 'trade' - saw that the Arts and Crafts Exhibitions had done much towards the creation of a genuine demand for simple and quaint furniture; so they, who were trained in the business, set to work: in that direction, and, with the aid of all the most modern, and most perfect, facilities and manufacturing appliances that money can command, produced their own designs upon commercial lines, and found that they met with the heartiest welcome. Thus these simple forms found their way into the greater number of the furnishers' show-rooms of any importance up and down the country, and, as they were unusual, comparatively inexpensive, and far superior in construction and design to much that was already there, their popularity became assured."
Example of Modern British Furniture.
From R. Davis Benn's "Style in Furniture." (Longmans, Green & Co.)
As examples of the severe simplicity characteristic of the furniture exhibited by the Arts and Crafts
Society "not so very long ago," several of the pieces shown are illustrated - we reproduce two of them on page 34. Then, to demonstrate that the lesson has not been lost on the "trade," he gives several designs (by Mr. W. Baldock), inspired, he says, by "exactly the same spirit, but it is that spirit interpreted by one who has made a life-long study of the task in hand, and who is, therefore, able to avoid the pitfalls that beset the simple amateur." Is that not just a little patronising ? Still, some of the designs in question - we reproduce two of them on page 35 - are very good, and, no matter from what source they may be derived, we are glad to know that they are to be found in "the furnishers' showrooms."
Summing up the situation, our author declares that "there never was a time in the history of our country when so great a degree of good taste was to be found in the furnishing showrooms as is to be seen there to-day, and that there is not the slightest excuse for anyone, however limited may he his resources, to admit into the home ugliness in the form of furniture." True, and, as we have seen, the credit for it all belongs primarily to the able and spirited little band of artists constituting the Arts and Crafts Society, who first demonstrated to the trade, as well as to the public, that good taste in design and soundness in material and workmanship are compatible with production at reasonable prices.
In conclusion, we would say that Mr. Benn shows a thorough mastery of his subject, and the value of his lucid text is enhanced by the clearness and profusion of Mr. Baldock's very suitable pen drawings. The paper, printing, and binding leave nothing to be desired.