The Handicraft Studios, Taunton

wood-carving and metal work

IN these days when Technical and Art education are making such vast strides, when new schools and classes are being opened all over the country, it is a matter of surprise that so few really good classes are open to students wishing to devote themselves to wood-carving. This can hardly be said of London, for the students there certainly have ample opportunities of studying under good masters; but in the provinces this is not always the case, though there are, of course, several exceptions.
While in Taunton recently we were particularly struck with the excellent system of tuition in vogue at the Handicraft Studios, which are under the direction of Mr. W.S. Williamson, and the results of this system were very evident in the admirable examples of the students' work which we had an opportunity of examining.
Mr. Williamson makes it a strong point from the very beginning that students shall work on objects of utility; not any chosen haphazard, but useful articles that have been carefully thought out, and designed, that shall form a graduated course both in technique and the application of ornament.

In the case of the of the wood-carving students, they are at first taught the different grain cuts by means of diagrams, these cuts being incorporated in the designs which they first work on. Lessons are also given in the sharpening of tools, growth and seasoning of timber and, in fact every subject which bears directly on either the tools or materials used in woodcarving. The first pieces of work which the students are started on are a stool, a shelf for china, and a box, each of which bears directly on and illustrates the lessons being given at that time. They then make studies in leading historic styles (all in the form of useful articles), first modelling the design in clay. Afterwards the students are encouraged to work out their own, basing them on form, and workmg direct from nature. It is compulsory that all students draw out the designs and work from their own drawings or models.
We have so often found that it is the practice in wood-carving classes for the students to work through a number of panels, and we doubt if the students learn much by this beyond mere dexterity in handling the tools and perhaps something of historic styles.
Owing to this, the reasons for carving certain elements in various ways, some sharp and well-defined and others soft and low relief, are lost; for these considerations are governed to a great extent by the use the object is put to (for, after all, wood-carving is decoration, and therefore an applied art), the position it has to occupy, and the consequent play of light and shade upon the ultimate situation, a very different thing to its appearance on the bench. All these considerations have a definite bearing on the treatment. These Panels are generally eventually made up into some object or other. The construction of that object thus becomes a subordinate factor, as, Of course, it has to be made to fit the panel, which is like building a house to fit a piece of furniture.
Whenever possible, the article should be made first in such a way that it can afterwards be taken apart for carving the decoration. Thus the work can be viewed in situ from time to time during its progress. To a great extent it is this that made the old carvings so successful; they were never misapplied. Mr. Williamson works entirely on these lines, and his success is evident from the work which is produced in his studios. We are able to illustrate a few of these pieces.
The vigorous carved panel by Miss A. Ardagh forms part of the choir stalls in the Bishop's Chapel at Wells. The whole of the bench ends and stalls were carved by students in the different classes throughout Somerset, the chief pieces, including the Bishop's stall being executed by Mr. Williamson's pupils, who made careful studies of the beautiful screens and stalls in the neighbourhood, and by adapting them to their purpose obtained much of the spirit of the old work. In looking at Miss Ardagh's panel, it is apparent that the fact of the panel being below the eye when in position has been considered, for the shields have been pitched back on their top edges, as is the foliage, in order to meet the angle of vision and present a fair view to the spectator.
The deep under-cutting being kept below hides all the ugly walls of wood; the light striking down also gives additional value to the shadows. Altogether the carving is characterised by great vigour.
The grate screen by Miss Wood is a well-executed and delicate piece of workmanship, the ornament being on an ogee ground, i.e., concave on the outer and convex on the inner edges. We also illustrate two admirable pieces of carving by Mr. Willianison himself. The panel which forms part of a writing table evinces much grace and feeling, and the idea of the design carefully thought out, the lion's head forming the principal mass, while subordinate masses are introduced on either side, and part of the foliage worked round with fluters and dying away into the background, thus attaching the ornament to it.
Mr. Williamson also holds classes for metal work, to which the same careful thought and instruction are given. The copper repousse candle sconce, which we illustrate, by Mr. J. Poole, is a conscientious piece of work, showing a true treatment with metal. The design based on the briony is cleverly arranged so as to form reflectors, the soft modelling of the leaves being admirable.
The repousse copper alms dish, by Mr. Williamson, is an original conception, and is symbolical of one of the beatitudes, "Blessed are the pure in heart," represented by the leaves of the lily springing from the hearts, the arrangement of the latter suggesting the form of a cross.

As in the case of most of our successful carvers, Mr. Williamson received his early training at the School of Art Wood-carving, South Kensington. He afterwards went into the trade and studied at various schools of art. He holds the School of Art Woodcarving first-class certificate, also the Society of Arts medal, awarded at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition, ten other gold, silver, and bronze medals, and innumerable certificates. Our Somerset and Devonshire readers may be glad to know that Mr. Williamson, besides having his school at Taunton, holds classes at the Tiverton School of Art, the Bridgwater and Weston-super-Mare Schools of Art, and also at Clevedon.

from 'Arts & Crafts' magazine, Vol. IV. No.21. February 1906 (Hutchinson)

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