Collection

'Shape' Cutlery

Collection: When modernism goes bad

Category: Metal

Date: Circa 1960

Designer: Gerald Benney

Nationality of Designer: British

Manufacturer: Viners

Manufacturers Location: Sheffield (U.K)

Material: Stainless Steel

Dimensions: (Dessert spoon) Height 18 cm x Width 3.5 cm, (Soup Spoon) Height 18 cm x Width 4.5 cm, (Knife ) Height 22.5 cm x Width 2 cm, (Fork) Height 19.5 cm x Width 2.5 cm.

Purchase Price: £12.50

Abstract:

A collection of cutlery with inset decoration.

Provenance:

Stamped with 'Shape' Viners of Sheffield. Purchased from eBay.

Personal history/nominator:

Purchased by Grizedale Arts director Adam Sutherland.

Found mixed in amongst the odds and ends of cutlery found in Lawson Park when Grizedale first took on the building. It only seemed right and fair that it should return as the cutlery for the reborn building.

Adam Sutherland

Adaptions/renovations:

None - some of the black infill has fallen out.

Why it's in the Collection:

The unimaginatively named 'Shape' design is a good example of British Modernist cutlery - offering the working person a more affordable and useable version of it's Danish antecedents. It is a decorative version of the 'Studio 70' range, also by Benney, a much rarer and highly sought after style icon.

Benney made a series of flatwear designs for Viners some of which were extremely successful becoming the core of the Viners empire. There is a sense that this was the bottom end of the market with Benney's 'real' work continuing in the silver-smithing and gold-smithing world. Like many of the designers working for industry at this time Benney was employed at the Royal College of Art, where he became head of department.

Similar to Benney's stainless steel tray - a key work in this collection - the 'Shape' cutlery range is a good example of the Arts and Crafts revival married to modernist design. Most of Benney's cutlery designs also offer a 60s interpretation of the classic British cutlery patterns.

Benney invented the industry standard 'Benney Bark Finish' which he utilized on much of his work. Apparently 'discovered' while using a damaged hammer.

About the Designer/Maker:

Benney stated, "My philosophy as such is to project and involve my own personal design theme without too much reference to others in the field." I guess he meant contemporarily as many of his designs draw heavily from the past.

A fine Goldsmith, Benney was born in Hull in 1930 and went on to study at Brighton College of Art between 1946-8 where his father was Principal. He initially trained under the tuition of ecclesiastical metalworker extraordinaire, Dunstan Pruden at Ditchling (the small village in East Sussex that was taken over by artists and craft workers in the early 20th Century). Though well after Eric Gill's time in Ditchling, the influence is still apparent and is a direct connection to the Arts & Craft movement and Gill's modernist aesthetic.

After studying at the Royal College of Art between 1950-53. Benney became Professor of Silversmithing and Jewellery there from 1974 to 1983. He was Consultant Designer to Viners of Sheffield throughout the 1960's, designing pieces for silver, pewter and stainless steel production.

His company continues to produce high cost metal ware today under the slightly unfortunate name of 'Benney' (sounds like a wine bar) with a showroom on Walton Street, London which is now run by Simon Benney, Gerald's son, in the tradition of the crafts world - happy people with non-rebellious children.

About the Manufacturer:

Viners of Sheffield was founded in 1907 by members of the Viner family. Under the management of Ruben Viner and Leslie Glatman, it became one of the largest manufacturers of cutlery and flatware in Sheffield. At its peak, the firm is said to have employed over 1000 workers.

During the 1950s, Viners acquired the cutlery firms Thomas Turner and Harrison Brothers & Howson. Gerald Benney was appointed as designer from 1957 to 1969. Many of the designs produced by Benney for Viners were commercial successes, including the 'Studio' and 'Chelsea' patterns of cutlery and flatware.

As a result of overexpansion during the 1970s the firm went into receivership in 1982. The rights to the company name were purchased by Oneida and 'Viners' goods continue to be made today with many of the classic designs now being reproduced under license in China.

Bibliography & Further information

Gerald Benney: Goldsmith: The Story of Fifty Years at the Bench, Hughes Graham, 1999.

An example of Benney's varied work: http://www.vam.ac.uk/images/image/19246-popup.html

Viners website

Gerald Benny's obituary