With the belief that the country village must be the starting-place for industrial art movements, and the country house fireside the cradle of enthusiasm for artistic skill; with the feeling that no great amount of interest was likely to be taken by the country people in art handicraft till they could realize the skill of their own hands, and feel its gladness a reality in their own lives, we made an experiment at Keswick in the autumn of 1884. (p. 758)
The promoters aimed at bringing the designer and workman into such relation as that they should become identified; they stated that their object was to teach men and boys some artistic handicraft that would give interesting and elevating occupation for leisure hours, and for times when ordinary work could not be got. The conditions of success were probable, because Keswick, owing to its tourist season’s needs, has many idle hands in winter. (p. 758)….
A small local Committee, a Parish Mission-room put at their disposal, was our working staff, and the stock-in-trade at the start. The Committee undertook all risk; all work executed was their property; they were responsible for its sale. The success of the sale of such work, seeing that the shops were crammed with machine-pressed brass-work and imitation repoussé and machine-pressed wood-carving panels also, would lie largely in the worth of the design. The Committee looked to this; the pupils could not be expected to produce designs. These must be procured, or adapted. (p. 759)….
Expenses were heavy at the start. The stock of tools and all the necessities of the workshop cost something. The wood-carving lessons, conducted by an amateur first, and afterwards by a lady instructress from the Albert Hall School of Wood-carving, were a heavy item; but an amateur class of ladies and gentlemen in the neighbourhood, which was conducted in the daytime, enabled us to meet our liabilities for the evening classes. (pp. 759-60)….
The next session [the second] commenced in November 1885. We had no permanent shop, but met as before in the Parish-room. We had no amateur class to help us in meeting expenses, and only asked for local subscriptions to the amount of £11, to help us to defray the heavy cost of a teacher of wood-carving, who came to us once a week from Carlisle, a distance of sixty miles off. (p. 760)
The number of workers in brass and copper, and silver and wood-carving, remained the same as the year before. Many applications were made, but our room could not accommodate more than a certain number, and the wood-carving and brass-hammering went on side by side under one roof. (p. 760)
At the end of the session the working expenses of the school were found to have been £147; but by means of the work sold we had met the liabilities of the previous session, and had a balance of assets estimated at £62. (p. 760)
At the end of the session, a local exhibit was made in the Town Hall of the work done, which surprised those of the inhabitants who had not realised the efforts of the school. (p. 760)
The third session commenced in October 1886. By this time our work was pretty widely known. A friend of the firm of Messrs. Howell and James had entered into business arrangements with us that admitted us to their show-rooms. Bazaars and local industrial exhibitions, and the annual exhibition in London which the Home Arts and Industries Association undertakes for all those individual art classes in connection with it had helped us to a name, and so many orders had come in, that we were busy till Christmas in executing them. (p. 760)
There were now such numerous applicants for place at the repoussé table, or wood-carving stool, that an old stable near the Parish-room was rented and turned into a wood-carver’s workshop. (p. 760)….
[By the end of the third session, Easter 1887] the little School of Industrial Art was self-supporting. (p. 761)
The number of hands had increased, and stood at 44. Fifteen of them worked in wood, the rest in metal. Now not one of these was an incompetent workman. Yet a glance at their ordinary occupations showed that there was little in their previous training to fit them specially for delicate handiwork. Varying in age from fifteen to fifty years, they had been occupied in the pencil-mills, in tallow-chandling, in carpentry, in blacksmithery, in driving, in boating, in the linen-drapers’ and grocers’ shops. Here were men and boys executing in spare hours, by most congenial occupation, and good designs, sconces, offertory dishes, ornamental dishes, tea-trays, bellows, brush-backs, menu-holders in copper or brass or silver, and carving lampstands, jardinieres, table-tops, milking-stools, blotting-cases, paper cases, potato-bowls. (p. 761)….
Best of all, these workmen had learned how to fill vacant hours with something more satisfying than public-house chaff, and more lasting than the pleasure of a glass. (p. 762)….
A lady, who is the residing genius of the whole school, has just come through the blinding snow-storm from the little drawing-school and wood-carvers’ class close by; she is at once appealed to, to say whether this or that tendril or flower-stalk of an old Renaissance pattern is sufficiently raised, or what particular frosting there is to be used in this or that part of an intricate arabesque design. (p. 762)
She settles the matter in a moment, and in another is deciding which hand shall work the handsome offertory dish that has just been ordered. “You see,” she says, “every worker has some individuality, some different touch of tracing and frosting too; one can be trusted to work a design flat for tea-tray use; another will best work a raised design for an ornamental candle-sconce. One works copper better than brass; another excels in delicate silver-work.” (pp. 762-3)….
[At an exhibition in Manchester someone asks Hardwicke] “Has your experiment done more than give a rational amusement? Has it produced designers, or a feeling for design?” We answer:
It has done this; it has made a possible focus for artistic feeling in the little country town. It has called the attention of a whole neighbourhood to the moral and educational worth of such School of Art handicraft in their midst. It has shown how easily the hands and eyes of English men and boys can be trained to certain manipulation of wood and of metal. You cannot train a negro’s hand in thirty years as these English hands have been trained in three…. Amongst the workers it has developed a certain sense of true design…. They have discovered, too, a great secret, that good art work must be slow and painstaking work. That it is intrinsic merit, not money’s worth, that in their little domain of industrial art is to be sought after. (p. 764)
Doubtless the workers in the Keswick School have laboured under disadvantages. They have no regular shop to work in; they pathetically enough have often wished that there was a permanent room whither on each evening of the week instead of two nights only they might go for company’s sake, as they labour with carving or repoussé tool. But they have, in spite of this, rejoiced in their common leisure-hour labour, and have stuck together. The Keswick School of Industrial Arts has proved a blessing to them, and they are proud of it. (p. 764)….
All this points one way. There is a spirit abroad that has already found out that machine-made England is not a happy England after all. That the souls of the righteous are not content with mere machine-print, or machine-patterns, as the mode of their expression of their best thoughts and their highest desires. That the hand of the British workman was made for something else than merely to stand by and feed a hopper or turn a lever. That the home of the labourer, as much as the home of the lord, needs the ennoblement of simple taste. That the leisure hours of the artisan, if only his eyes can be taught to perceive beauty, and his hand trained to execute his perception may be filled with a recreative happiness, on terms that insist on effort, and which with effort bring restful change of task and of thought, and the joy of permanent result. (p. 765)
The suggestions that our observation of the working of the Industrial Art experiment in Keswick gave rise to are briefly
- That our national educators should undertake the task of training the eyes of the three million and a half of children in the elementary schools to much more accurate observation…. That drawing should be made an obligatory subject. (pp. 765-6)….
- That on Saturday afternoon, or on one evening in a week, in a properly certified room or workman’s shop, the hands of children above a certain standard should be instructed in some simple manual training…. The village forge and the village shop might surely be utilised for such a purpose. (p. 766)….
- That first-rate typical examples of manual work of an artistic order, sculpture, wood-carving, stone-carving, metal-work reproduced by photo-gravure, or some enduring carbon process, should be prepared, with short explanations of the date and history and special worth of the example submitted; that these should be issued cheaply by Government for the use of our National School class-rooms; and with them should be prepared illustrations of a live and dead design side by side, and examples of natural growth adapted to the use of the sculptor, the wood and metal-worker, the decorator and designer of ornament. Our children’s eyes need accustoming to some such objects all England over. (pp. 766-7)
- That an attempt should be made by joint Chambers of Commerce, City Councils and Guilds, to provide on a national scale teachers of art, industries, and masters of manual training. (p. 767)
- That the Government should issue a report of the present local endeavours of Industrial Art Schools in the country, and endeavour to enlist and utilise the sporadic and experimental efforts, and the willingness of volunteers to forward the work, by putting school buildings in the country out of school hours at their disposal for classes, and by subsidising local efforts which have approved themselves by some merit grant on the pupils taught, or results obtained. (p. 767)
Take our Keswick school effort as an example. We are hampered for want of a workshop room; a log hut would do, an iron room would be a help. We can get neither; we are poor; and yet if a Government or national fund existed, the work turned out might possibly warrant some grant that should meet and call forth local aid in the procuring of such accommodation as is needed for a national end. (p. 767)
(Murray’s Magazine, 2 (December 1887), 756-68)