English Arts & Crafts at the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum

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We are less than five minutes into the tour when David Savage stopped to scold the museum docent.

“You really are doing a poor job of displaying this,” Savage said, pointing to a Morris textile hanging in a shadowy corner. “Really, you can barely see it.”

Savage has a reputation for being a straight talker, both to his students and readers of his excellent blog. And you know what? I had to completely agree with him. The gorgeous and subtle textile looked like a blanket hung off to the side to block a draft.

So began a morning at the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum with Savage and a handful of his students. Savage brought them there to view the museum’s excellent Arts & Crafts Movement Galley and discuss the history of the relationship between makers and customers.

I got to tag along, and I’m glad I did. The Cheltenham has a small but quite astonishing collection of pieces I never dreamed I’d see all in two rooms.

A Sidney Barnsley Hayrake table? Check. Frederick Rawlence coffer? Yup. Ernest Gimson 1885 ladderback armchair. Check. And this checklist could go on for several more paragraphs.

Savage lectured at bit in front of several of the pieces, pointing out design or construction details for the students. At the Gimson armchair, Savage discussed the relationship of the width of the slats and the negative space between each as they progressed up the back.

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Then he paused for a minute.

“That chair,” he said, “more than anything, made me a furniture maker.”

It’s a surprising statement on its face. Savage’s work is so incredibly forward-looking and technical. Gimson and his Cotswold companions were trying to harness a bit of the past with their work.

But after a bit of reflection, the relationship between the two men seems clear. They were both independent craftsmen who were incredibly concerned with proportion, good lines, proper construction and beauty.

Below are some of the pieces from the exhibit. If you are every near Cheltenham, the museum is well worth a visit.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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7 Responses to English Arts & Crafts at the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum

  1. There’s a fine line between being straight talking an being a pretentious so and so. These tapestries are known to be light sensitive which is why many are only displayed for short periods every few years. Trying to impress his hangers on by belittling the docent (who probably had nothing to do with the design of the display) wont earn him any points with me.

    On the plus side the museum looks very good and I’ll be sure to check it out in the near future. If anyone is interested in tapestries by the likes of Morris and Edward Burne-Jones then there is currently an exhibition at the Birmingham Museum (UK).

    • While the collection is excellent many of the pieces are difficult to see. David wasn’t belittling her. And he was right. If you cannot see it, why have it out at all?

      • Richard O. Byrne says:

        David’s comment on the hanging fabric should be considered in the context of museum conservation policy which probably was deliberate to avoid any fading by bright light to the dyes or damage to the textile fiber from UV. What the viewer can do is to let one’s eyes adjust to the ambient light level and then enjoy the object…and more importantly others will too because of a thoughtful museum policy.. Docents are mostly volunteers. Learrn to ask questions gently. .We are all in creation together.

    • jenohdit says:

      Yep, exactly. I make a point of visiting textile exhibits and have for many years. Lighting is always low. Light kills textiles.

      • I’m sorry I don’t have a photograph to show all of you all, and this silly thread would be over.

        The textile was “shown” on edge. You couldn’t stand anywhere and see the front of it. I know you all want to think David was being rude, but he wasn’t. It was silly placement. And light that was ridiculously low for anything but bats.

        Go see it for yourself….

  2. Niels Cosman says:

    But that marquetry on the Gimson cabinet though! Hubba Hubba!

    Love the hayrake! It’s one of those designs that will always looks fresh and contemporary. Even with the all of the carved decoration and embellishment, you could plop it down in a white cube full of modern furniture and it wouldn’t look out of place. The day that I have space for a giant monolithic dining room table, the following day I’m building one of those suckers.

  3. nateharold says:

    Definitely in Europe! Dig those bright red pants!

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