The Arts and Crafts style was initially developed in the 1850s by the English artist, textile designer, printer, typographer, bookbinder, craftsman, poet, writer and champion of socialist ideals, William Morris (1834–1896), who was influenced by the writings of John Ruskin (1819-1900). Ruskin was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era and also an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist. He wrote on subjects, ranging from geology to architecture, myth to ornithology, literature to education, and botany to political economy. Both Morris and Ruskin felt that the reason ‘modern art’ was bad was mainly due to the conditions of life of working people in an industrialised society, and so campaigned for a better quality of life.

How did the conditions of life of working people in an industrialised society have a detrimental effect on the art of the period? The Industrial Revolution began with the invention of the steam engine by James Watt in 1765, leading to the mechanisation of industry, agriculture and transportation, which in turn changed the life of the British Victorian working people. They moved from a rural lifestyle ‘in England’s green and pleasant land’ to work in the ‘dark Satanic mills’ of the Industrial Revolution and, consequently, the environment in which traditional skills and crafts could flourish was lost, as was that feeling of security and belonging which comes from living in smaller communities.
Members of the Arts and Crafts Movement (ACM, 1850-1900), which included artists, architects, designers, craftsmen and writers felt that the rural craftsman had a superior lifestyle to those slaving in the urban mills and factories. They believed that hand crafted objects were superior to those made by machine and that machine production had taken the pride, skill and design out of the quality of goods being manufactured by separating the artisan from his creation. They aimed to promote a return to hand-craftsmanship and to assert the creative independence of individual craftspeople.

I have a feeling that there are many people with creative talent in this area, producing their own individual hand-crafted pieces, whether it is paintings, sculptures, jewellery, cards, knitted or sewn items. I would like to encourage this hand-craftsmanship by starting our own Arts and Crafts Movement within RAF High Wycombe. Please get in touch with me and tell me about your craft activities. Let’s tell other people about what you are producing and perhaps give them the opportunity to buy them, particularly if you are supporting a charity with your work. If there are enough people producing craft items maybe we could set up a retail outlet. This is just an idea but it all depends on you.
Helen Olive, on our editorial team, has developed her interest in supporting red kites in the area into card making, raising funds for her website to raise public awareness of these magnificent birds. I would love to hear from anyone who is doing anything similarly ‘crafty’.