Whether you like Arts & Crafts furniture is irrelevant if you are a woodworker. Even if you dislike expressed joinery, native materials and the color brown, the Arts & Crafts movements in England and the United States were a turning point for craftsmanship.
The ideas behind the movement came from John Ruskin, a 19th-century artist, author and art critic who was about 100 years ahead of his time with his speeches and articles on the dignity of labor, the preservation of old buildings and furniture, and even environmentalism.
Ruskin founded the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine art in 1871 at the University of Oxford, which still educates artists today.
David Savage attended this school starting in 1968, which led to his post-graduate studies at The Royal Academy.
Ruskin’s writings were hugely influential with William Morris, the founder of the British Arts & Crafts Movement and grandfather of the American movement. Morris’s teachings have influenced millions of people. But we’re concerned with Ernest Gimson and Edward Barnsley in particular, who adopted Morris’s radical ideas and were the backbone to the furniture side of the English Arts & Crafts Movement in the Cotswolds.
Barnsley trained Alan Peters, one of the greatest woodworkers of the 20th century. Peters taught and mentored David Savage, who continues to teach the high-level of craftsmanship that Peters worked to every day.
So if you look closely enough, you can still see two unbroken lines from John Ruskin to the hands of the woodworkers that Savage and his employees train every day in his Devon workshop.
You might think it’s a stretch, but I’m here to tell you that it’s not. The lifeblood of the Arts & Crafts movement passes through the workshop of Savage’s Rowden Atelier. They push students to do a high level of work that is rarely seen today. They prepare students for a lifetime of making with classes in handwork, machine work, drawing, design and business.
After working with the students at the school for two weeks, I’m quite impressed. The woodworkers enrolled in the school’s 50-week program were fast, devilishly accurate and serious about the craft, sucking up every bit of information offered. And then looking for more.
My only regret is that I didn’t have a school like this when I was 21 and crazy to make things with my hands. If you are looking to design and make furniture, it’s worth the trip. It’s worth the money. It’s worth your time.
— Christopher Schwarz
- Take a tour of the Rowden workshop via this blog entry I wrote for Popular Woodworking Magazine.
- Read more about the courses at Rowden here.
- See English Arts & Crafts furniture at Cheltenham in this blog entry here.
9 thoughts on “David Savage: The Unbroken Lines”
I have followed your posts from Rowden (along Mr. Savage’s) with keen interest. Since you pointed him out awhile back, I have subscribed to his posts and mailings and find his position very refreshing. The man is certainly headstrong, and his musings are cleverly worded and entertaining – but more important he constantly challenges his readers to put effort into creativity and not underestimate the difficulties of the process.
Thanks to Mr. Savage I have done more free form sketches and drawings (though no nudes yet – and I am not asking for a volunteer Chris!) and feel that I am learning from the process. I am inspired by his work – namely as stand alone pieces – for some reason I struggle to see a house full of this furniture, with every piece competing for attention.
Regardless I couldn’t agree more about the life-long inspiration his courses would have offered a young version of myself. I’m not that old, but old enough to know that youth is wasted on the young!
Hello Chris, your link between the Arts & Crafts movement and David Savage is very interesting, some say the link between A&Cs and the 21st century ended when Alan Peters died, how long did David train with Alan Peters and how long did he mentor him?
David had a long history with Alan after he took a two-week short course. A few of the details of their relationship and the Devon Guild are here:
…one more thing. Many of the people who trained with Alan Peters are still making and teaching. Steve Hopper heads up the furniture program at Bridgwater College. And many others are documented in Jeremy Broun’s books and film on Alan.
So it is my opinion that the legacy lives on in many ways and through many talented and active makers.
Steve spent five year with Alan, only one other student managed that. By all accounts he could be very headstrong and most didn’t last the distance with him.
Having met Steve earlier this year at Bridgwater he came across as a really decent person, very understated and hugely generous with his time. He spent an entire day on the router table for our group with most not knowing just how talented a woodworker and designer he is.
I was lucky enough to have been taught by Steve Hopper for two years at Bridgwater College, he was with Alan for, I believe, fifteen years and was his workshop manager, Steve made a number of pieces for Alan which gained much coveted Guild Marks, his insight into the Alan Peters workshop is fascinating, he shared with me and few others a few Alan anecdotes, both funny and eye opening. I wish someone would do a good, in depth interview with Steve he is a master craftsman and deserves in my humble opinion a lot more credit and coverage in our woodworking publications.
I’ve really enjoyed your blogs and YouTube videos from the Rowden Workshops, David seems to be one of those “Marmite” people, you either love him or hate him, whichever way you feel it can’t be denied he and his team have produced some wonderful work and trained some very good makers, I admire the way he praises and credits those that work for him and doesn’t try to hog the lime light.
I thought it was fifteen years Simon, maybe I’m wrong, but I’m sure it was more than five.
Hi Mark, you are right it was fifteen in total. What I should have said was that he was one of only two people to complete a five apprenticeship under Alan’s guidance.
I was on a course with David Barron, whom I have the utmost respect for his work and teaching. David said he wasn’t fit to polish Steve’s boots !!!
One day during the course Steve gas us a talk and showed some past pieces made at Bridwater, it was a really great thing to see the quality of work being turned out there. I would love to see more about Steve online, maybe something he might do if he chooses to retire one day.
It’d be really interesting if you ever had a chance to sit down and compare notes with author Matthew Crawford.
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