This September, the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft will celebrate the centenary of the St Dominic’s Press, founded in Ditchling in 1916. A number of exhibitions, displays and projects on craft will mark the legacy of the St Dominic’s Press on craft both in Ditchling and beyond.
In 1916, Ditchling resident Hilary Pepler’s acquisition of a Stanhope Press, one of the oldest iron hand-operated printing presses, marked a significant new chapter in the history of the private press movement in England. Pepler’s Ditchling Press (re-christened the St Dominic’s Press in 1918) also formed a crucial part of the story of the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, and the community of artists and craftspeople who chose to settle in the village. The lead exhibition at Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, The Book Beautiful: William Morris, Hilary Pepler and the Private Press Story, will explore the influence that William Morris and his prominent Kelmscott Press had on the development of the St Dominic’s Press.
William Morris was eager to return to the quality and craftsmanship accomplished by the original hand-printing of the 15th century, which he believed had been eradicated by the mechanisation of printing. He founded the Kelmscott Press in 1891, producing books influenced by illustrated manuscripts of the 15th and 16th centuries in both their design and fabrication. Included in the exhibition will be the most prominent book to be published by the Kelmscott Press, The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, designed by Morris and the leading Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones. The book is considered a masterpiece of both fine printing and the Arts and Crafts movement, and of it, Burne-Jones said: ‘If we live to finish it, it will be like a pocket cathedral – so full of design and I think Morris the greatest master of ornament in the world.’ The book was completed in June 1896, and was Morris’s final project, as he died in October of the same year.
Founded 25 years later by Hilary Pepler, the St Dominic’s Press can be understood as a descendent of the Kelmscott Press. In his biographical essay The Hand Press (1934), Pepler maps Hammersmith as the locus for the private press movement, noting the ‘influence of that Borough upon Typography’. Hammersmith was home to two of the most important pre-war Arts and Crafts private presses: William Morris’s Kelmscott Press and T J Cobden Sanderson and Emery Walker’s Doves Press, and it was in this artistic milieu that Pepler’s enthusiasm for printing was founded. Prior to moving to Ditchling in 1913, Pepler lived in Hammersmith where his circle of friends and neighbours included many of the leading figures of the movement such as Cobden Sanderson and Walker, as well as later Ditchling residents Eric Gill and Edward Johnston. The spirit of reform that animated this group in Hammersmith resonated strongly with his own ideals and began his involvement with the local Hampshire House Workshops, of which he was a co-founder. The Workshops provided education, entertainment and opportunities for working men in poor areas, and included a parliament, dramatic society, lecture programme and annual art exhibition. During World War I, the Workshops provided employment to Belgian refugees, and the craft workers amongst them were encouraged to make crutches and splints for the war effort. The exhibition will include the Doves Press’s The English Bible Volume 1, amongst other important published works from this era.
Like Morris, the wider Ditchling community was committed to the conservation of traditional crafts, as shown by the St Dominic’s Press’s three main areas of focus. The first was to promote the cultural importance of the printed word through literary, religious and philosophical commentaries, the second was to function as a jobbing press, serving the printing needs of the village, and lastly was an agenda to preserve the craft knowledge and ideals which were central to the artistic life of Ditchling. These three intentions were reflected in the first things that were printed: first, the first chapter of the book of Genesis, second, beer bottle labels for the local brewery, and thirdly, weaver Ethel Mairet’s instructional text A Book of Vegetable Dyes. The press went on to publish contributions by Hilaire Belloc and G K Chesterton, illustrations by David Jones, Gwen Raverat and Eric Gill, and calligraphy by Edward Johnston, amongst others. The exhibition will include wood engravings and other works by a number of these artists.
The exhibition is curated by Professor Dennis Doordan, Visiting Fellow from the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, to the University of Brighton.
Dyeing Now: Contemporary Makers Celebrate Ethel Mairet’s Legacy
17 September 2016 – 23 April 2017
In response to the main exhibition, Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft will celebrate the centenary of Ethel Mairet’s A Book of Vegetable Dyes with an exhibition and live research project around the book. A Book of Vegetable Dyes was so successful it ran to five editions, and today remains an enormously influential text for weavers through its availability as an e-book.
Mairet shared a view common with many of her Ditchling contemporaries that the sustainability of craft lay in communicating with of a new generation of practitioners, and to this end she taught at Brighton Art School between 1939 and 1947, favouring experimentation rather than technical expertise. Reflecting both Mairet’s ambition to pass on her knowledge and the book’s continued influence, the Museum has invited around 60 contemporary international weavers, artists and dyers to respond to the book in a live research project, and will incorporate their works into the display alongside examples from the Museum’s collection of Mairet’s dyeing, weaving and all five volumes of the original book.
Ethel Mairet (1872 – 1952) was a pioneer of the 20th-century modern craft revival in Britain; visited by Gandhi in 1914, and the first woman Royal Designer for Industry (RDI) in 1939, she was described by Japanese master potter Shoji Hamada as ‘the mother of hand-weaving’.
Tadek Beutlich: Beyond Craft
17 September 2016 – 16 April 2017
Tadek Beutlich (1922 – 2011) is internationally recognised as one of the great masters in the art of tapestry weaving, and lived in Ethel Mairet’s home in Ditchling 20 years after her death. In his lifetime Beutlich exhibited throughout the world including in Holland, the USA and Switzerland. He graduated in Textiles from Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in 1950 and subsequently taught at the school from 1951 to 1974. Whilst Beutlich was studying, he accompanied his teacher, weaver Barbara Sawyer, on a visit to Mairet at Gospels, her home and workshop in Ditchling. Mairet’s imaginative treatment of yarns had a profound influence on Beutlich and his subsequent practice.
The Museum will show Beutlich’s woven tapestry pieces alongside his prints in order to consider his relationship between the two disciplines of craft and fine art. This exhibition will place the two in conversation and further demonstrate Mairet’s influence upon contemporary weavers and dyers.
John Vernon Lord: A Catalogue of Life
17 September 2016 – 23 April 2017
Responding to Ditchling’s important printing history, the Museum will present a display of illustrated diaries and notebooks by illustrator and Ditchling resident John Vernon Lord (b. 1939). Made over 56 years, the books feature pages of Vernon Lord’s recognisable style and contain over eight million words. Of the diaries, he has said:
‘Scribbling in them is something of an obsession, whether writing in them or drawing… Sometimes they are scribbled from life in family kitchens or gardens and some of them have been done during meetings. Many of them are imaginative pieces… [T]hey are drawings just done for their own sake, rather like exercising – to keep the fingers and brain nimble and to explore new technical ways of making images.’
Vernon Lord has illustrated texts including Aesop’s Fables (1989), The Nonsense Verse of Edward Lear (1984), the Folio Society’s Myths and Legends of the British Isles (1998), and Epics of the Middle Ages (2005). He has also written and illustrated a number of children’s books including The Giant Jam Sandwich (1972) and Miserable Aunt Bertha (1980). Vernon Lord has taught illustration at Brighton College of Art (1960 – 1971) and Brighton University (1992 – 1999).