Craft is the means by which the individual and the collective are represented within economic production. It has come to be associated with rural, rather than urban, and most importantly, has acquired the definition of a self-contained product, entirely conceived and produced within restricted and small-scale, holistic practice, distinct from 'skill', which represents a quality of training or expertise which forms a part of a wider, larger process, only complete with the addition of several others adding their particular skills. It does, however, illustrate the tension between individual creativity and the desire to separate out from the majority those who possess and wish to celebrate particular expertise. The Arts' and Crafts' Movement provides a pointed illustration of the inability in a rapidly urbanising, industrialising, mechanised society to produce individually-crafted objects in which an economic value is placed on the product whilst it remains an everyday part of a materially-depressed community. Thus craft objects become the preserve of the economic elite. However, it is worth asking whether economic value is the point, and whether it has always been the case that some craft producers possess more skills than others and their products have always commanded a high price.
The following extracts are drawn from the writings of William Morris, and whilst it is hard to isolate one person and one piece of writing to illustrate the role of craft in the creation of an economic expression of tripartite folk society, in this case, Morris speaks for the movement. He draws attention to the distinction between art and craft, the unselfconsciousness of the craftsperson in which the producer and the production are subsumed within the product, and to the ignorance of those who lack the expertise of craft which gives it economic, aesthetic and utilitarian value.
William Morris, 'The revival of handicraft', Fortnightly Review (Nov., 1888).
I propose to confine [myself] to the effect of machinery versus handicraft upon the arts; using that latter word as widely as possible, so as to include all products of labour which have any claims to be considered beautiful … one result of the machine-system we are considering. Almost all goods are made apart from the life of those who use them; we are not responsible for them, our will has had no part in their production, except so far as we form part of the market on which they can be forced for the profit of the capitalist whose money is employed in producing them …
[P]roduction by machinery necessarily results in utilitarian ugliness in everything which the labour of man deals with, and ... this is a serious evil and a degradation of human life.
[However] [i]t is ... that very consciousness of the production of beauty for beauty's sake which we want to avoid; it is just what is apt to produce affectation and effeminacy amongst the artists and their following. In the great times of art conscious effort was used to produce great works for the glory of the City, the triumph of the Church, the exaltation of the citizens, the quickening of the devotion of the faithful; ... and the lesser art was unconscious and spontaneous, and did not in any way interfere with the rougher business of life, while it enabled men in general to understand and sympathize with the nobler forms of art. But unconscious as these producers of ordinary beauty may be, they will not and cannot fail to receive pleasure from the exercise of their work under these conditions, and this above all things is that which influences me most in my hope for the recovery of handicraft.
It is a natural consequence of this ignorance of the methods of making wares, that even those who are in revolt against the tyranny of the excess of division of labour in the occupations of life, and who wish to recur more or less to handicraft, should also be ignorant of what that life of handicraft was when all wares were made by handicraft.
As Morris pointed out, Medieval craft was often exercised in the service of the Church. In the second half of the nineteenth century many parish churches were restored (of which Morris would not have approved), repaired (sometimes sensitively, sometimes not), and embellished, the effects of which frequently showcased the influence of the Arts' and Crafts' Movement.
|Few effects were quite as dramatic as that at All Saints, Helmsley, in North Yorkshire. Charles Norris Gray, vicar between 1870 and 1913, built two chapels - one dedicated to St Aelred, in memory of his father - and covered the church in murals, in the Medieval revivalist style popular with the Arts and Crafts' reverence of the craft age. These include the north aisle murals, depicting the Helmsley, Riveaulx, York, and Patron trees, the mission of St Aidan in the St Columba Chapel, constructed in 1896, and the triumphalist victory of Christianity in England on its north wall, with its motto announcing Anglo-Saxon Christianity's defeat of Viking paganism. Gray designed the murals and they were executed by a Mr Gast (probably one, or both, of Frank and Bertram, brothers who specialised in rural scenes), of London, in the early years of the twentieth century. The stained glass in the church is equally reflective of the history of Christianity in the region.|
The Saints of GOD drive Satan forth from Anglia.
All of these images are from the Lady Chapel in St Michael's, Linton-in-Craven, North Yorkshire. The hassocks were the work and the cost of the St Michael's Guild, under the guidance of the wife of the rector, Kathleen Barlow. Work began in 1984. The teal blue wool which provided the background colour was dyed and donated by a member of the congregation, and the designs reflect the flowers which mark the dales' landscape. Highlighted here are the spring selection of flag iris and bluebell and the summer harvest array of poppies, daisies and cornflowers.
Canon John Barlow was responsible for the overall refurbishment of the Lady Chapel in 1973, and it was he who commissioned the chapel furniture made by Thompson of Kilburn, creators of the 'mouseman' chairs, lecturn, altar cross, candlesticks and prayer desk. There are also examples of the Mouseman of Kilburn in the Sanctuary of All Saints', Helmsley.
The booklet available in St Michael's, Linton, is called 'Nine centuries of craftsmanship, care and faith'.