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.
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