The Crafts in Britain in the Twentieth Century


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Tanya Harrod

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From ceramics to silversmithing, calligraphy to textiles, hot glass to bookbinding, crafts have played a rich and complex role in the social, cultural, and artistic history of twentieth-century Britain. This all-encompassing book is the first to survey the full range of individual craft disciplines and key practitioners from the pre-World War I years of the Arts and Crafts Movement to the 1990s. Tanya Harrod shows how the crafts movement emerged in response to generalized anxiety about the production, commodification, and consumption of objects in a highly industrialized society. Caught between the more powerful disciplines of fine art, architecture, and design for industry, crafts have defined and redefined themselves throughout the century.

The book begins with the craft revival of the early 1900s, tracing the complex legacy of John Ruskin and William Morris. The author then discusses how the Arts and Crafts Movement was forced to reexamine its aims during the Great War; how the development of the crafts was closely connected to the development of modernism between the wars; and how during World War II the idea of the handmade, often in the form of vernacular craft discovered in remote pockets of England, played a significant part in propagandizing a national culture worth defending. The book also explores the postwar beginnings of a countercultural workshop-based craft movement led by Bernard Leach and the continuing redefinition of crafts as the government-funded Crafts Council pushed them toward the fine arts and then the government attempted in the 1980s to recast them as exemplars of enterprise culture. Harrod describes the increasingly blurred division between craft and design for mass production at the conclusion of the book. Along with historians, educators, artists, craftspersons, and collectors, readers with an interest in British cultural history will find in this book much to delight and fascinate.

This book accompanies an exhibition of British crafts, “The Pleasures of Peace: Craft, Art and Design in Britain from the 1940s to the 1960s,” that will open at the Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia in spring 1999.

Published in association with the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts

Tanya Harrod is an independent design historian who has written widely on the crafts.

“Very few books achieve the distinction of redefining their subject, but The Crafts in Britain in the 20th Century has done just that, and in the process established a new critical standard for future publications. In a category of writing that has tended to rely on simplistic chronological accounts or personalized histories of individuals, Tanya Harrod, Britain’s leading craft historian, has revealed the complexity of modern crafts in a manner that is informative for scholars and enthusiasts alike. Her achievement is remarkable: for the first time the development of 20th-century crafts has been charted by an analysis of the wider cultural factors that have shaped the craft movement, rather than a concentration on developments in individual disciplines. . . . [Harrod] shows herself to be a keen observer and commentator on such diverse topics as the inspiration of Oriental philosophy, market forces, the socialism of Victorian guilds, and the corporate culture of the present, creating a rich web of interlocking relationships.”—Julian Stair, American Craft

“Harrod’s book is required reading, a benchmark of humane and literate criticism. It is also entertaining, as befits the extraordinary story it tells.”—Edmund de Waal, Ceramic Review

“This beautiful, large-format volume, with more than 500 illustrations, encompasses furniture, ceramics, textiles, stained glass, block printing , silversmithing, jewelry, calligraphy, and carving, and emphasizes artist-craftspeople. . . . This text is a must for decorative art historian, scholars, and educators, and it will be helpful to craftspeople, artists, designers and collectors.”—Choice

“A study of inventiveness and artistry, The Crafts in Britain in the 20th Century . . . is a reference work to turn to when investing in the 'antiques of the future.’ . . . [Harrod] weaves her way between the pottery of Bernard Leach, the hand-blocked linens by Phyllis Barron, the wood engravings of John Farleigh, and from the tube station tiles to stainless steel chairs. . . . An inspiring chronicle of creativity.”—Jill Churchill, Homes and Antiques

“Reviewers too often reach for the phrase tour de force. It is a distinction. . . . But I have no qualms about applying it to Tanya Harrod’s book, a panoramic view of crafts in the century whose endgame we are now in. . . . Harrod, like a good weaver, keeps a firm grip on the threads that matter, and weaves so dexterously that she never loses us.”—Bevis Hillier, Literary Review

“Well-researched and richly illustrated, Harrod’s book is a mine of fascinatingly anecdotal and readable information.”—Judith Bumpus, RA Magazine

“Whether for its wealth of information, expert analysis, pictorial reference, or even just as practicing what good craftsmanship should preach in book design and production, this is a new standard work which any reference librarian must consider very seriously.”—Stuart James, Reference Reviews

“With the publication of this book, British craft now has a narrative, and it is essential reading for those concerned with design and creativity—and the politics of design and creativity. It is also beautifully produced and illustrated. It will be an indispensable reference book for many years to come.”—Gillian Naylor, RSA Journal

“In her magnificent new book, The Crafts in Britain in the Twentieth Century, Tanya Harrod begins the story of a post-Victorian craft revival. . . . After [this] book, the cultural history of postwar Britain can no longer be written without including the crafts, although no simple formula exists to explain their boundary lines and definitions.”—Alan Powers, Spectator

“A fascinating reference book that opens doors on the workshops of those who succeeded William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement.”—Vivien Donald, The Artist

The Crafts in Britain in the Twentieth Century is a substantial volume, full of references to designer/makers, their place in society and their relationship with architecture, galleries and industry.”—Patricia Tarrant Brown, Times Educational Supplement

“A big book that deserves to go into every specialist library.”—Stephen Farthing, Times Higher Education Supplement

“A visual and a verbal feast. . . . Harrod writes with an authoritative voice and passion sustained by careful scholarship and years of research. . . . It is impossible to convey adequately the scope and extent of this book, the questions it raises, the stories it tells and the crafts it celebrates. I would merely encourage everyone with any interest in crafts or in social history to buy or borrow a copy.”—Gay Watson, Resurgence Magazine

“This handsome, sumptuously illustrated book is a visual and textual treasure trove. . . . [A] definitive, pioneering book.”—Circa 89 

“A superb volume . . . hugely stimulating . . .beautifully illustrated.”—Julian Freeman, Art Book

“A phenomenal achievement, both in conception and execution.”—Judy Rudge, Burlington Magazine

“Closely argued, rigorously researched, and conclusively written, The Crafts in Britain in the 20th Century is the sort of book that is normally written by a team of experts, not a single author these days. It is a hugely knowledgeable but extremely readable ‘book of ideas and arguments’ which uses the history of the decorative arts to interrogate British culture of this century. It is quite simple a tour de force. . . . This is by far the best book in its field since Alan Crawford’s C. R. Ashbee, and without doubt it will remain the best artistic and intellectual history of twentieth-century craft in Britain well into the new millennium.”—Lynne Walker, Studies in the Decorative Arts

“This book is a monumental achievement. Scholarly, readable, large and lavish—a credit to both author and publisher.”—Luke Hughes, British Art Journal

“Harrod’s work . . . has resulted in a book which simultaneously presents a history and demonstrates how a history of this kind should be written. It deserves to become a model within the academy.”—Chris Bailey, Journal of Design History

Selected as an "Outstanding" academic title for 2000 by Choice Magazine

Winner of the 2000 Historians of British Art book award for best single-author book on a topic after 1800, given by the Historians of British Art
ISBN: 9780300077803
Publication Date: March 11, 1999
Publishing Partner: Published in association with the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts
496 pages, 9 1/2 x 12
284 b/w + 222 color illus.
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