Collection

Elliptic Dish

Collection: When modernism goes bad

Category: Metal

Date: Circa 1960

Designer: Unknown

Nationality of Designer: Unknown

Manufacturer: Keswick School of Industrial Arts

Manufacturers Location: Keswick, The Lake District, Cumbria (U.K)

Material: Stainless Steel

Dimensions: Length 44 cm x Depth 4 cm

Purchase Price: £6.00

Abstract:

A stainless steel elliptic dish.

Provenance:

Marked with K.S.I.A Staybrite

Personal history/nominator:

I first became aware of the Keswick School of Industrial Arts through the examples in the Keswick Museum. A little research (looking on eBay) filled in the rest and more contemporary history. Museum Director Jamie Barnes (who worked at Grizedale for a year after completing his curatorial studies at Lancaster University) is a huge KSIA enthusiast and wrote the factual text included in this entry. Jamie has worked with Grizedale and US artist Brian Dewan with another of his museum's star items - a vast stone xylophone, a celebrated instrument of the Victorian era and personal favourite of John Ruskin. The Rock Orchestra of which it was the centre piece toured to huge novelty acclaim. The instrument is supposed to have the capacity to shatter all the windows of the museum if played at full strength (that's 4 strong men hitting it hard)

Adam Sutherland

Adaptions/renovations:

None.

Why it's in the Collection:

Keswick School of Design was established upon Ruskinian principles, making hand crafted work in the arts and crafts manner in brass, copper and pewter. The School moved on to the quintessential Modernist material, stainless steel, in 1930 and adopted a Modernist design aesthetic drawn from Dresser rather than Morris. The company introduced machinery in the 1950's and ceased production in the 1980's. The company's history is particularly pertinent to the Lake District and its rising obsession with the traditional past.

I love the strange trajectory of this company, moving between oppositional positions. Initiated by Cannon Rawlinson on Ruskinian lines, hand worked, educational, local employment. Maintaining that hand worked process through changes from copper and brass to the extremely hard Stainless steel. The slow adoption of more contemporary design influences - maintaining a 30 years time delay - to finally accepting mechnisation in the 1960 after many years of agonised beating with hammers. The ability of the company to only occasionally connect with popular taste but still not actually be radical or innovative. That they were producing stainless steel into the 80's in a quaint back water like Keswick when public taste had so clearly moved to all things historic or 'natural'. That at the point of their demise their early work could easily have succeeded as repro wares. That there are champions of the company who will hold them up as the great Arts and Crafts producer.

Adam Sutherland

KSIA could fit into almost any catagory of the collections, having always been making versions of other producers work - having absorbed a twisted form of modernism - being branded local. But they never knowingly made a mug - the very product which might have saved them.

Following infighting in the company a copyist venture Borrowdale was established in the 1970's, producing almost identical wares but with feet. An example is included under the Fake heading and illustrates that bizarre imitation instinct so prevalent in the rural - hence the vast number of identical and unsuccessful candle makers, potters, B&B etc

About the Designer/Maker:

Canon Rawley, who was a champion of the Lake District and good friend of Victorian polymath, John Ruskin, founded Keswick School of Design. Ruskin's ideas of 'truth to nature' and honest craftsmanship fed into the founding of the Keswick School.

Classes were originally offered in metalwork but were soon broadened to include drawing, design and woodcarving. In 1893, the school received a grant from the City Council, which funded the building of a new school on High Hill. The school swiftly developed a reputation for high quality cooper and silver decorative metalwork.

The designer of this piece has not been identified. Every article made at the School was stamped with the school mark, with nothing been allowed to be sold by individual members. However, pieces are seen unmarked which are attributable to KSIA (as they are to the same design as stamped pieces) and others are seen with the stamp of W H Mawson and E Harrison.

KSIA had many designers working at the school. Harold Stabler and Thomas Clark are two who were connected with KSIA in the early years. Harold Stabler was an extremely versatile designer who had studied at the Kendal School of Art in Cumbria before specialising in metalwork at the KSIA, where he later taught.

Other key designers at the School have included Herbert J Maryon, Isobel McBean, Dorethea Carpenter, Robert Hilton, G Atholl Weeks, and Charles Petrie. Charles Petrie was director of the school at the time this dish was manufactured.

An exhaustive history of the company can be found online - see link.

Bibliography & Further information

The Loving Eye and Skilful Hand: The Keswick School of Industrial Art, Ian Bruce, 2001

The Arts and Crafts Movement in the Lake Dis
trict: a Social History, Jennie Brunton, Centre for North-West Regional Studies, University of Lancaster 2001, ISBN 18622 01110

Allerdale