Collection

Whitefriars Fruit Bowl

Collection: When modernism goes bad

Category: Ceramics

Date: Circa 1972

Designer: Geoffrey Baxter

Nationality of Designer: British

Manufacturer: Powell Whitefriars Glass Ltd

Manufacturers Location: Middlesex, London (U.K)

Material: Glass

Dimensions: Length 20 cm x Depth 12 cm

Abstract:

Glass Fruit Bowl

Provenance:

Purchased on eBay by Adam Sutherland

Adaptions/renovations:

None- good condition

Why it's in the Collection:

This piece represents Geoffrey Baxter's popular coloured glass designs for Whitefriars in the 70s. This kind of glass has become increasingly more collectable, along with iconic pieces include Banjo, Drunken Brick Layer, Coffin vases which stylistically have become part of the 'Austin Powers' re-visioning of the era and a favourite of the interior decorator.

Geoffrey Baxter provides the final design hurrah for a company very clearly linking the Arts and Crafts movement to the modernist decay of the 1960's and 70's. Whitefriars collapsed when the technical glass end of the business was outmoded - it had remained though high end and technically exacting - a hand-made product, true to the Ruskinian edict unto the end. Harry Powell obviously took to heart Ruskin's pronouncement that 'all cut glass is barbarous' (I love that Ruskin had time to pronounce so forcibly on what seems a rather minor issue, Ed.). There is very little cut glass in the output of Whitefriars up till the later period.

For the company when the functional failed so then did the more decorative end of the business - let's face it no one really 'needs' a paperweight or a decorative ash tray. Whitefriars are really much more interesting than any of their designers, having a fascinating history that takes them from the Georgian period through Ruskin and arts and crafts and modernist movements to their final destiny as a paperweight brand.

About the Designer/Maker:

Geoffrey Baxter (1922-1995) a graduate of the new design course at the Royal College of Art, Baxter joined Whitefriars in 1954 bringing a funky new look and experimental low-tech approach to design. He is noted and well collected for his 70's glass wares, iconic pieces include Banjo, Drunken Brick Layer, Coffin vases which stylistically have become part of the 'Austin Powers' re-visioning of the era and a favourite of the interior decorator. The use of texture and intense colour being the trademark Baxter features (multiple orange 'Banjo' and 'Coffin' vases feature on the Saturday morning TV cooking show).

Baxter's designs were widely copied and cheaper versions produced by Raven glass - amongst others - with a design by John Clappinson called White Fire. There seems to have been a sort of mass obsession with a bark effect finish around the late 60's, with the 'Benney bark finish', Baxter's bark series and many others and derivations of - weird

Here at Grizedale, we have since learnt from a very reliable source, an interesting supposition that would explain Geoffrey Baxter's abrupt psychedelic style change in his work. Apparently, he dropped acid in the summer of 68.

About the Manufacturer:

Whitefriars Glass was reputedly first established in 1680, during the reign of Charles II, in an abandoned monastry in London, that was once inhabited by Carmelite Fathers who were known as 'White Friars'.

Whitefriars 'modern' history starts in 1830 with the glass works on Fleet Street in London. Established by the Powell family (related to Scout leader Baden-Powell). In the early years the focus was on stained glass but by the later part of the century Harry Powell, an Oxford graduate and Ruskin devotee, associated the company with the Arts and Crafts movement, quickly becoming the foremost glass manufacture of the period and retaining that position through the 20th century. In 1919, the company re located to a purpose built factory and planned workers village, following Ruskinian ideals of work and life (sadly his vision for a 'Garden suburb" never materialised).

In the mid 19th century, the mainstay of their production was arts and crafts glass, mainly designed by Harry Powell but also Burne-Jones and Morris and co. The company also innovated many technical uses of glass from light bulbs to colour. The company is commonly associated with Deco style and the bubble ware of the 1920's - 40's a somewhat banal interpretation and a low point in terms of design. The company represented glass at the Festival of Britain and was given a new lease of life following the Festival with the designs of Geoffrey Baxter sustaining the factory throughout the 60's and 70's. Whitefriars closed in 1980. The Whitefriars 'brand' was sold to the glass making travesty that is Caithness glass - the paperweight company

Bibliography & Further information

Whitefriars Glass: The Art of James Powell & Sons, Ed. Lesley Jackson, Richard Dennis Publications, 1996, ISBN-10: 090368540X

Whitefriars Glass: James Powell and Sons of London, Ed. Wendy Evans, Catherine Ross and Alex Werner, Museum of London, 1995, ISBN-10: 090481856X

Whitefriar Wannabees.

Worker at Whitefriars