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Arts and Crafts design in contemporary work

The finished table

Blame it on the martini I had the night before. Or maybe on the dribble of eleventh-hour requests for illustration proofing related to my forthcoming book on English Arts & Crafts furniture. Whatever the reason, while I was sanding the 2″-thick edges of a current commission one day last week, trying to decide how much of the torn grain my client might want me to leave, it occurred to me that this unusual table paradoxically exemplifies the qualities of design and craftsmanship on which Arts and Crafts design was founded.

These qualities were originally enumerated by Victorian art and social critic John Ruskin in “The Moral Elements of Gothic,” a chapter in his magnum opus, The Stones of Venice. In view of their profound influence on the Arts and Crafts movement (and also in view of how few contemporary makers not affiliated with the formal study of art history are aware of this important document’s existence), I devoted the bulk of my book’s first chapter to this mordant, often dramatic critique of modern style and mores.

Instead of explaining Ruskin’s six moral elements of Gothic here (you’ll be able to read the book itself this May), I’m going to list them with an invitation:

Puzzle through the delightfully peculiar vocabulary, linking each “moral element” with one or more features of this table, print out the form below and fill it in, then email it to me at my business website with your answers. (The website is in my profile at the end of the post.) The first reader to send a set of answers that reveal you really thought about the material will win a copy of Making Things Work and a bookmark with ordering information for my forthcoming book, English Arts & Crafts Furniture: Projects & Techniques for the Modern Maker. 

The finished table is in the illustration here (it’s finished with one coat of Osmo Natural, which left specks of white in the grain, per my client’s request) and you can see the process in detail in my last post.


Arts and Crafts design in contemporary work

The winner will be announced in next Monday’s post, where I will publish his or her answers along with my own.

– Nancy Hiller

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