A Design Lineage: The Rusland Movement at Blackwell exhibition
- Credit: Steven Taylor
The spirit of the Arts and Crafts Movement is alive and well in the Lake District, as Paul Mackenzie reports
William Morris, the doyenne of the Arts and Crafts movement, was unequivocal in his beliefs. ‘Have nothing in your home you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful,’ he said.
The movement railed against mass production and celebrated long-lasting individually hand-crafted furniture and designs.
And it’s a philosophy that is being kept alive by Dan Critchley at the workshop of the Rusland Movement in Greenodd.
An exhibition of their work is now being held at Blackwell, one of the spiritual homes of the movement.
The Grade One listed house was designed by architect Baillie Scott as a holiday home for Manchester industrialist and two times Lord Mayor, Sir Edward Holt. The design follows the Arts and Crafts principles of making the most of its surroundings, the light and the views from the eastern shore of Windermere.
Dan is the founder and creative design director of the Rusland Movement, a team of nine craftspeople who draw inspiration from their surroundings on the fringe of the Lake District to create pieces inspired by nature.
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He first visited Blackwell almost two decades ago and the experience had a big impact on the then Kendal College student. ‘I was training to be a cabinet maker and was exploring different design ideas,’ he said. ‘We had a college trip to Blackwell and until that moment I knew nothing of the Arts and Crafts movement.
‘What I realised that day, was that the direction my work was taking, was an Arts and Crafts one. That visit cemented my love of Arts and Crafts and ultimately led to the creation of The Rusland Movement.’
They now create bespoke hand-crafted furniture for clients across the country and it’s not just the finished piece that’s one-off a, the service is also unique. Dan will visit the home of everyone who commissions a piece, to see where it will stand, the light, the existing décor and how the family lives. His design will then take these factors into consideration and clients will be sent photographs and film clips of their furniture being crafted.
Megan Henshall, who takes and sends those pictures, said: ‘You could go to a shop and get a perfectly adequate piece of furniture, but the pieces created here are a continuation of what has gone before. They are crafted using traditional skills by people who put their heart and soul into the work and it’s a piece that has never been made before and will probably never be made again.
‘Most of our clients are not in this area – people come to the Lakes for a weekend away and when they’re back in Canary Wharf, or wherever, having a piece of hand-crafted furniture takes them back to that wonderful time. It’s a bit of the Lake District in their home.
‘Our furniture is not cheap, but it’s not only for the very wealthy. It’s for people who get what we are doing here. We have had people saving and investing in our furniture to mark a special anniversary, or time in their lives.
‘Environmentally it’s not practical to keep replacing things. Ours is beautiful furniture that serves a purpose and will outlive the people who commissioned it and be cherished for years.’
And she added: ‘When Blackwell approached Dan about an exhibition, they told him that while some people copy the designs of the Arts and Crafts movement, they believed he had developed those ideas and that he is doing what they would be doing if they were around now. They weren’t against technology, and neither are we, we oppose mass production.’
In ‘A Design Lineage: The Rusland Movement at Blackwell’, visitors can explore how the furniture is sketched, realised in 3D models and crafted in the Greenodd studio. Among the pieces on display in the exhibition are an elegant cocktail cabinet, sofa and chair, desk, sideboard, bedside table, mirror and drawer unit.
Visitors will be able to speak to members of the Rusland Movement at a series of monthly Meet the Maker events and there a programme of lectures and talks is taking place in Blackwell’s Main Hall. u