Our Inheritance: The Arts & Crafts Movement – Rowden Atelier

Our Inheritance: The Arts & Crafts Movement

This article was written, and first published, by Christopher Schwarz, Lost Art Press
"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."
A portrait photograph of the artist John Ruskin
John Ruskin. Image Via: Science Museum Group Collection Online

John Ruskin School

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. Since then the school has moved to its new venue at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

The lifeblood of the Arts & Crafts movement passes through the workshop of Rowden Atelier

Morris, Gimson & Barnsley

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 founded Rowden, where they continue to teach the high-level of craftsmanship that Peters worked to every day.

So if you look closely enough, you can see two unbroken lines from John Ruskin to the hands of the woodworkers that train at Rowden every day in this Devon workshop.

A portrait photograph of William Morris
William Morris
Cabinetmaker and Arts & Crafts pioneer Alan Peters
Image of Alan Peters, kindly provided by the Crafts Study Centre, University for the Creative Arts, UK.

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 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.

a table made by a Rowden student on a cabinet maker course
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