THE GUILD OF WOOD-CARVERS.
NVITH two kinds of workmen's societies the public are suffi- ciently familiar. There are trades' unions, which it is generally considered the correct thing to denounce without hesita- tion, and there are benefit societies, to which is often awarded a little faint praise mingled with a good deal of pity. It is our task to-day to speak of a society of artisans totally different in character from those alluded to, one the self-dependence of which commands respect, whilst its simplicity and directness of aim raise it far above every suspicion of sinister or selfish motives. It is an organization of art workmen, the Society of Wood-Carvers, the thirty-first report of which now lies before us. So unobtrusive has been the course of this little guild that, up to three years ago, when its Committee was introduced to the Society of Arts' Council by Mr. Harry Chester, scarcely any one but its own members knew .of its existence. Since that time the exhibitions of wood-carvings ender the auspices of the Society of Arts, the address last year of Mr. Digby Wyatt on the use of wood-carving as a " structural adjunct," and the lecture by Mr. Beresford Hope on the " Position
• of the Art Workman," delivered at the anniversary meeting of the South Kensington Museum, have all contributed to bring both the art itself and the craftsmen very distinctly before the public.
Whilst Mr. Beresford Hope deserves high praise for the zeal with which he has advocated " the working up of the artist out of the raw material of the artisan," it is but fair to give honour to the five operative wood-carvers who, in May, 1833, formed themselves into a society for that very purpose. Their resources were of the smallest, and their methods simple enough—a twopenny memo- randum-book held their names and accounts—but their aim was akin to that in furtherance of which the South Kensington Museum has since been established and maintained at national expense. Let us look at what these pioneers proposed. In the " Preface " to the sixteen laws of the society its objects are thusenumerated :— 4' The co-operation of wood-carvers to promote the advancement of their art ; the formation of a collection of books, prints, draw- ings, and casts ; to afford facilities for self-improvement and the diffusion amongst members of such information as may assist them in the practice of their art, and enable them to obtain employment." In furtherance of this latter object a registry is kept by the Secretary to which members when unemployed can refer ; but this part of the society's efforts has been quite subsidiary to its great purpose of mutual improvement in artistic skill. Last year Mr. Wyatt spoke of "the purchasers [of wood carvings] as a -class needing encouragement and enlightenment ;" but this year we have Mr. Beresford Hope asserting that the demand and taste for .art have outstripped the skill and effectiveness of the artisans. This remark, as specially applicable to wood-carving, and including a few
years comparison, is not supported by the records of the Wood- Carvers' Society. For the present year, however, the report bears it out by a reference to the great and unusual demand for men in connection with the mansion of Baron Rothschild in Piccadilly. Some twenty wood-carvers are employed there, principally on the doors and fittings of the library.
Here it is needful to indicate what has been done by the Society of Wood-Carvers to carry out the project of its founders. It now comprises some 170 members, the walls of its apartment in New- man Street are nearly covered with drawings from carvings of all kinds, plaster casts of designs, and specimens of wood-carving.
On the tables lie portfolios filled with plates and photographs of choice sculpture and bas-relief work. About one-fourth of the room is occupied with fittings of the library and reading-desks for the larger works. The library, which consists of some three hundred volumes of books and sets of plates, has been chosen not only with the view of instructing the members in their daily craft, but also with the general object of refining their taste and stimu- lating their faculty for design. In this way during thirty years these men have been striving to gain some of that general art- education which Mr. Beresford Hope so earnestly desires to place within reach of the whole class by means of "a pre-arranged training in some technical school." Every facility is given to the members of the society for using their " art treasures."
Each one may take away from the room for a week at a time two books, casts, or drawings. Many of the larger illustrated works being awkward in shape, and therefore not adapted for general circulation, are examined in the room in- Newman Street
by the members on the Monday and Thursday evenings. Most of the men are too busy at present for much study, but in ordinary times the apartment is often crowded on those evenings, and then presents an interesting appearance, as the aspect of these art workmen harmonizes well with the studio-like character of the room. Over the mantel-piece is a good portrait of Grinling Gib- bons, the most noted and successful of English wood-carvers, albeit himself of Dutch extraction. The picture, which is considered a very good one, was casually met with by one of the members, and by him presented to the committee, who felt justified in going to the expense of mounting and framing the likeness of their great predecessor. Gibbons, it will be remembered, flourished in the reigns of Charles II. and James II., and under his superintendence and after his designs much of the wood-carving in St. Paul's was executed. Some of his work may be seen in the Royal Chapel at Windsor, and also on the baptismal font in St. James's Church, Piccadilly. Some time ago several fine photographs from Gibbons' carvings in St. Paul's, and also from similar work of his in Bristol Cathedral, were presented to the society by Mr. Bedford.
During the last year or two the committee besides adding to the library have made several purchases of expensive plates, principally copies of French and Italian designs. The Secretary in last year's report apologized because these purchases had left a balance against the treasurer ; but we observe from the current statement that the account has recovered itself, and of course the library remains permanently enriched. We find that the books in most general circulation,—after those especially relating to cabinet decoration,—are " Owen Jones's Grammar of Art," " Collin's Gothic Art," and " Pugin's Gothic Ornaments." Several French works on design and sets of plates—time Louis XVI.—are much in request ; and botanical works, of which the floral illustrations are good, as " Tyas's Field Flowers " and " Lindley'a British Botany," are regularly studied by the members. It may be fairly inferred from these titles that the wood-carvers do not restrict their special reading only to works which are adapted to assist them in what Mr. Hope calls " conventional originality made easy." This will be still more apparent when we add that " Stones of Venice " is a favourite quarry with the wood-carvers, one from which they may hew other designs than those "gentle inventions" which weary the fervent spirit of Mr. Beresford Hope. There is a tradi-
tion amongst the committee that in some way and at some time Mr. Ruskin has made a promise through Mr. Harry Chester that
he would deliver an address to this society of art workmen. Should leisure and occasion ever serve for Mr. Ruskin to perform this good deed, it could not fail to give such an impetus to the society as would form an era in its calendar.
The rate of subscription by the wood-carvers to their society is only equivalent to threepence per week, and even that is inter- mitted in the case of those members who are unemployed. Coun- try members pay only half-a-crown a year. The total income of the society has not, until within the last year or two, reached 801. ; this year we observe it is upwards of 901. The valuable collection of books, plates, and specimens which the wood-carvers have so patiently gathered by the accretions of thirty years affords an illus- tration of how mach may be done by dint of strict economy of funds and judicious expenditure for a definite purpose. Not until the last two or three years has the society received contributions from any but its own members; and it remains, as it always has been, entirely free and independent as to its management. Since the wood-carvers became known several gentlemen have presented the society with plates and photographs from designs in carved work. The first and most notable of these donors has been Mr. Henry Vaughan, who found out the society long before it was known even to the Society of Arts. A special mention of some of this gentleman's gifts will serve to explain how such an association of artizans may receive healthy encouragement without anything being done to check their sentiment of independence. Mr. Vaughan introduced himself by presenting four frames of photo- graph copies from carved panels now in the line Arts' Institute at Sienna. The carving is by Antonio Barili, bearing date early in the fifteenth century. It was from carving of this period that Mr. Dighy Wyatt took his illustrations in the address which he delivered last year at a conference between the wood- carvers and the Society of Arta.* Mr. Vaughan has also presented a number of large photographs printed from negatives in the South Kensington Museum. These are principally copies from bas-relief work in terra cotta by Clodion ; the set also in- cludes pictures of the fine wood-carved miserere seats in Wells Cathedral. A more recent gift from the same judicious donor consists of two nets of /arge-sized lithographed copies from sketches and studies by Raffaelle and Michael Angelo, after the originals in the gallery of the late Sir Thomas Lawrence. Happening to be in the room on the evening when these plates were first opened there, we can testify to the keen and intelligent appreciation of them by the members who were present, and also to the heartiness with which a vote of thanks to Mr: Vaughan was passed. Mr. Beresford Hope would have been pleased with this incident, because most of these studies from the two great masters relate to "that highest type of beauty, the human model," which he recommends to the study of art workmen above every other type.
In addition to his numerous gifts the society is also indebted to Mr. Vaughan for a protracted loan of several photographs from and specimens of choice French and Italian carvings. It seems well to mention this, because there may be many art patrons and collectors who, though they could not think of definitely parting with any of their treasures, would yet feel great pleasure in lending some of them to a society like this. By means of such loans of casts and photographs all the members would have an opportunity daring a few months of carefully studying the designs, and thus a permanent service might be conferred on the whole society. Its conductors have already secured many excellent specimens and copies such as can be readily met with. What the society would most prize are fragments or copies of carving, in which the designs are rare or of unusual excellence. These craftsmen, whose path lies on the confines of the art world,—but who stand in what Mr. Hope considers " the anomalous position of depending on the trade principle of weekly wages,"—seem to have direct claims for encouragement both from artists and art patrons. In the list of presentations received by the society appear the names of many gentleman well known in connection with art, and also those of the principal firms which undertake wood-carving. These are the useful " middle-men" spoken of by Mr. Beresford Hope, who secure for the art workman his present safe position, ensuring "uniform wages for the workman, an average flow of kindlycriticism . for the work performed, peace of mind to the employer, and smooth mediocre art for the world in general." The kindly interest shown in the society by several leading employers is conclusive proof that it is wholly removed from that position of class antagonism which is the chief raison d'etre of an ordinary trades' union.
The influence of the International Exhibition of 1862, and those of the competitive exhibitions of wood-carvings under the conjoint auspices of this society and the Society of Arts, have had a great effect in reviving a demand for the . art. This impulse will be accelerated by the comprehensive scheme for a competition in art workmanship announced by the Society of Arts for November next, in which the amount of prizes for wood-carvings alone is 1771. 10s. It seems rather surprising that any wood-carvers in London should neglect to enrol themselves in a society which has done so much for the interests of their trade, and which offers to its own members many of those facilities, both of special and general art education, which many enlightened patrons of art consider would be worth the cost of an expensive and elaborate scheme. With regard to wood-
• Reported in "Journal of Society of Arta," No. /M.
carvers in the country we feel satisfied that, if they generally knew how moderate are the terms on which corresponding members are enrolled, there would be none of them hold aloof from a society which both in its intention and management is an honour to the craft and the class to which they belong. As Mr. Be.resford Hope would do, this society "aims to win them from the idea of their being merely artizans, though it may be artizans of a high stamp, and in receipt of abundant wages ; to inspire them with the art feeling, and tell them to go on and prosper as artists."