Studio: international art — 29.1903

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The Lay Figure

" You misunderstand my point," said the
Critic. " I do not object to a discreet use of time-
saving machinery, but many craftsmen of to-day use
it too much. They become slaves to machinery,
and the work they do has a hard, angular
character that offends the eye and gives a stereo-
typed ungainliness to things which should look
graceful and comfortable in our homes. This
was noticed in much of the furniture recently
exhibited at the New Gallery by the Arts and
Crafts Society, and it is, I believe, a very real
danger to the revival of good craftsmanship and of
good design."

" A danger so real," said the Connoisseur, " that
the task of furnishing a house in a modern style is
one which very few persons of taste dare to under-
take, for it requires infinite patience and a great
deal of time. I once asked a well-known designer
why he had filled his home with old-English furni-
ture, instead of encouraging the present-day crafts.
' Well,' he answered, ' this old stuff suits me ; it is
pleasant to live with, every part of it being so
supple, so alive with the modelling touch of a
clever hand; and if I wished to find modern
furniture of equal merit, I should have to spend two
or three months in a war with the manufacturers.
I should get what I needed in the long run, and I
should start at once if I were not so busy in other
ways.' Not busy in other ways ! Besides, it is
easier and more amusing to pick up good old
things at auctions than to spend tiring days in the
large show-rooms of the furniture manufacturers,
whose trade mainly consists in supplying cheap
goods for those who cannot afford to pay for the
better kinds of workmanship."

" Quite true," remarked the Man of Business.
" The furniture manufacturers work for the general
public, but some among them try hard to attract
that small section of the public that likes the best
hand-labour. Whether they succeed or fail, I do
not know. But it seems to me that their practical
efforts form an example that the devotees of art
should follow, for the devotees of art spend most
of their energy in talk. They are always ready to
fire volleys of criticism in a random manner, with-
out aiming at anything in particular. They have,
I am told, an Arts and Crafts Society, that opens
an exhibition now and then, greatly to the distress
of those whose work is not accepted. Well, why
is this Society less useful than it might be ? Why
is it not managed in a spirit of practical enterprise ?

Might it not easily set on foot a warehouse for
hand-made furniture of the finest quality ? That
would be a thing worth doing, and I am surprised
that the scheme has not, been suggested by some
one more interested in art than I am."

" It is not a bad scheme," said the Critic ; " but
if the Arts and Crafts Society took it up, the ware-
house would need to be managed by a very capable
man of business—a strong man, too, for a body of
artist-craftsmen is a difficult one to manage. Not
very long ago, for instance, I heard three crafts-
men discuss a scheme very similar to yours, and
they all wished to exclude certain well-known
designers whose work was in rivalry with their own.
In their anxiety to benefit themselves, they were
wildly unjust to their competitors, and such a feel-
ing as they showed would wreck any enterprise
having for its aim a permanent exhibition of the
best workmanship now produced by designers and
craftsmen. Still, we certainly do need such an
exhibition, and the Arts and Crafts Society would
do well to consider the means by which a ware-
house could be opened for its members' work—
opened, of course, in a good neighbourhood,
and placed under a strong management."

" Good luck to that suggestion!" cried the
Reviewer. " We have all talked more than enough
about the-revival of design and handicraft, quite
forgetting, somehow, that the good subject of our
endless chatter attracts little but professional
notice in our bustling age. What the revival in
question now needs is a permanent home where
its best work can be seen at all times by the
purchasing public. Such a home or shop would
be an education to the public, for even the un-
practised eye soon learns to appreciate the differ-
ence between the hand-made and the machine-
made. It soon perceives that woods planed by
machinery have never the ' living ' surface of woods
planed skilfully with a hand-tool; and when this
fact is once noticed, the supple beauty of hand-
work becomes a need. The eye looks for it, and
takes a greater delight in even the rudest carpenters'
furniture than in the best things turned out to-day
by the machinery of the manufacturers."

"It seems to me," said the Journalist, "that the
warehouse of which you speak would benefit the
manufacturer as well as the artist-craftsman, for it
would attract public attention to the best work,
and would help to make that work the fashion. In
other words, it would extend the present trade in
the best craftsmanship, and would thus encourage
the manufacturers to be its rivals.

The Lay Figure.
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