Book of the Week: British Craftsmanship
Words Mark Hooper
Images Guy McCheyne
In our latest recommendation from the H&C bookshelf, we look at an enduring classic that could be a set text for our remit of celebrating craft, beauty, passion and skill…
Essentially six books in one, British Craftsmanship (Edited by WJ Turner) is a compendium of thematically linked imprints form the Collins ‘Portrait of Britain’ series from the 1940s: British Craftsmen by Thomas Hennell, British Furniture Makers by John Gloag, English Glass by WB Honey, English Pottery and Porcelain by Cecilia Sempill, English Popular and Traditional Art by Margaret Lambert and Enid Marx and British Clocks and Clockmakers by Kenneth Ullyett.
Despite being published 70 years ago this year, the introduction by WB Honey (he of English Glass fame) could have come straight out of the editor’s letter of the latest issue of Hole & Corner. Noting that the spirit and craftsmanship that the book describes often seems to be dying out, he adds a Churchillian rallying call for traditional skills: ‘Yet,’ he says, ‘ the old craftsmanship will survive. There is room and need for it in the modern world… The man who builds a boat for his own sailing, and the woman who embroiders a quilt for her own home, are getting a satisfaction far beyond that given by any passive pleasure. Making things is a good life.’
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves. From the great Enid Marx’s paean to folk art (placing everything from Staffordshire figures and pub mirror engravings to Pearly Kings on the same pedestal as the ‘refined’ arts) to Thomas Hennell’s celebration of ‘common crafts’, this collection would be first on any ‘Further Reading’ appendix in any of our issues. The index reads like a who’s who of British ingenuity: Josiah Wedgewood; John Harrison; Beau Nash; William Morris; Christopher Wren… all are featured within these pages. But it’s the unknown maker: the hundreds of thousands of stonemasons, cabinet-makers, upholsterers, glassmakers, woodworkers, silversmiths, horologists and amateur artists who are the real stars of this book…