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Cotswold School, England, mid 1930s
Height 36” (92cm) Width 16” (40cm) Depth 10” (26cm)
Stock No. 9892
Originating in Britain in the 1880s, the Arts and Crafts movement was an emphatic reaction to the mass production of over-elaborate, poor quality household items from the Victorian era, along with a universal decline in traditional craftsmanship. William Morris and John Ruskin are generally considered to be the fathers of the Arts and Crafts movement and strove to create honest and functional designs, using natural forms and materials and focusing on the importance of creative, manual work. Believing that everyday objects and domestic items deserved the same attention to design and materials that other forms of art and sculpture attracted, William Morris wrote that a beautiful house was ‘the most important production of art and the thing most to be longed for’. It was set against this backdrop that, in 1893, the designer and architect Ernest Gimson along with the brothers Ernest and Sidney Barnsley set up workshops in the Cotswold countryside near Chipping Campden where they successfully revived the tradition of rural craftsmanship. It was not long before the members of the Guild of Handicrafts, an Arts and Crafts group started by Charles Ashbee, decided to move away from Essex to join the thriving enterprise that came to be known as the Cotswold School or tradition.
Although styles and designs did not follow a specific template, the creators of Cotswold tradition furniture always ensured that they used carefully chosen solid wood and, from that, made simple, well-proportioned and functional pieces. Other notable features of the style incorporated ‘open’ construction with the dovetails, tenons and pinned joints visible on the sides and tops of pieces, restrained decoration, panelling and the often seen, very slightly unfinished, irregular surface to the wood that was usually partially sanded and just treated using beeswax. The simple and restrained decoration included contrasting woods as handles and stringing, gouging, chip carving and chamfering.
Introduced to Ernest Gimson in 1901 when he moved to London, the Dutch born craftsman and cabinet maker, Peter Waals (1870 – 1937) was considered one of the most influential of furniture designers, with his work epitomizing the essence of the Arts and Crafts movement. His work is well represented in the principal collections of the decorative arts in both the UK and the USA, notably the Cheltenham and Leicester Arts and Crafts Museums. As the foreman and chief cabinet maker in the workshops of Ernest Gimson in Daneway House, Sapperton, not only did he produce furniture of supreme quality, but influenced and taught a great many future cabinetmakers. It was because of this degree of influence and recognition of his stature as a craftsman, that, in 1935, Waals was invited by Loughborough College to act as consultant in design. The forerunner to the University, Loughborough College was the principal centre of education for handicraft teachers in England and, with his teaching, Waals was able to influence future generations of craftsmen in the extraordinary qualities of the Cotswold Arts and Craft tradition. Still in use today is some of the furniture that was designed for the college by Waals and thereafter made by his students. On the death of Gimson in 1919, Waals set up his own workshops in Chalford, near Cirencester.