Robert (Mouseman) Thompson (7 May 1876 – 8 December 1955) was a British furniture maker. He lived in Kilburn, North Yorkshire, where he set up a business manufacturing oak furniture, which featured a carved mouse on almost every piece. It is claimed that the mouse motif came about accidentally in 1919 following a conversation about “being as poor as a church mouse”, which took place between Thompson and one of his colleagues during the carving of a cornice for a screen. This chance remark led to him carving a mouse and this remained part of his work from this point onwards.
He was part of the 1920s revival of craftsmanship, inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement led by William Morris, John Ruskin and Thomas Carlyle. More specific to furniture making in this genre and era include Stanley Webb Davies of Windermere.
The workshop, now being run by his descendants, includes a showroom and visitors’ centre, and is located beside the Parish Church, which contains “Mouseman” pews, fittings and other furniture. The company is now known as “Robert Thompson’s Craftsmen Ltd – The Mouseman of Kilburn.”
Fr Paul Nevill, a former Headmaster of Ampleforth College, asked Thompson to make the Ampleforth Abbey’s furniture; they liked it so much that Ampleforth kept asking Thompson for more works, including the library and most of the main building. Fr Gabriel Everitt, current Headmaster, has recently asked the Mouseman company for more work. Most of Ampleforth College houses are decorated with Robert Thompson’s furniture.
Sir (Sydney) Gordon Russell (1892-1982) was one of the most important figures in the history of 20th century furniture. From his early Cotswold Arts and Crafts furniture , to the modernist antique desks of the post-war period, he managed to embrace mass production and mechanisation without losing the underlying concepts of high quality craftsmanship. The history of his antique cabinets, tables, chairs and concept furniture can be tracked at the Gordon Russell Museum, housed in his original workshop premises in Worcestershire.
Russell spent his early years in Cricklewood, London, before moving to the Cotswolds town of Broadway in 1904, when his father bought the Lygon Arms Hotel. Upon finishing his education he was put in charge of the family workshop, repairing the hotel’s antique furniture. After gaining military honours in World War I, he returned to the family business and began making Arts & Crafts furniture for retail. After marrying in 1921 he began experimenting with modern styles – beginning with the marriage bed.
In 1923 Russell expanded the business and invested in modern machinery. His aim was to combine Arts and Crafts workmanship with mass-production to produce high quality furniture affordable to everyone. This ranged from homely dining tables to elaborate antique marquetry furniture , such as the 1925 print cabinet now residing in the Cheltenham Museum.
In 1929 he founded Gordon Russell Ltd, finding a market in America. The Depression caused a downturn, but he kept afloat designing and making Murphy radio cabinets. These antique cabinets are still popular auction pieces today.
In 1938 Russell set up the Good Furnishing Group, promoting the retailing of high-quality, mass produced furniture. During the war he spearheaded the government’s utility furniture scheme, and in the post-war years took posts leading to directorship of the Design Centre. He played a leading role in the Festival of Britain in 1951, and was knighted in1955. He retired to the Cotswolds in 1958, but remained closely connected with his company until his death.
Gordon Russell’s antique cabinets, desks and bookcases continue to be in demand today, evoking images of the very best in 18th century design – with a modern touch.
Born in 1857, Simpson showed interests in carving from a very early age and at 14 was apprenticed to the Kendal Cabinet maker Robert Riggin. In 1875 he started work on an apprenticeship carving for Gillows and in 1879 worked for two years under Samuel Barfield in Leicester, before then returning home to Kendal to set up his own workshop in 1881, as an ‘Architectural and General Woodcarver’. Finding no local market he later returned to London in 1882, where he worked for quaite a number of firms before securing work with H. Faulkner Armitage in Altrincham., Cheshire. He made a number of notable contacts at this point in his career including William Simpson of Simpson and Goldee.
In 1885 he went back to Kendal to re-found his company, advertising ‘the entire fitting of houses in an artistic and economical manner’ and spent much of his time to the teaching of his craft. In 1887 he got married to Jane Davidson who herself became an accomplished embroiderer and leather worker. In 1889 a piece of Simpson’s carving was accepted by the Arts & Crafts Exhibition society and in 1901 he opened a new showroom in Windermere, which became known as ‘The Handicrafts’, also introducing many other crafts along side his cabinet making and wood carving, including pottery, metal work, needlework and fabrics. He was at the very heart of the Arts & Crafts movement in the Lake District, counting John Ruskin amongst his close friends. In 1886 he had held his first exhibition in Kendal, his woodcarving was exhibited along side drawings by Collingwood, the following year works also included pieces by The Keswick School of Industrial Art (KSIA).
Simpson’s first apprentice carver was Harold Stabler who stayed with him until 1896, ad then became a teacher at the KSIA before moving to work with Rathbone in Liverpool. Other trainees who worked with him included Arthur Dixon who went on became Foreman Cabinet maker of the Handicrafts in 1922. In 1899 Simpson was the joint secretary for the loan Exhibition at Abbott Hall, Kendal. Exhibitors included C.F.A.Voysey, Collingwood, Shrigley and Hunt, Rathbone, Mawson, Harold Stabler, Messrs Essex & Co and Messrs Morton & Co. This marked the beginning of a very close working relationship with Alexander Morton and his firm. It was Simpson who provided all the furniture for Alexander Morton on his marriage in 1900. From 1909 the Handicrafts introduced into their stock Sundour fabrics, Donegal carpets and Torfyn rugs. Simpson’s son, Ronald was to become one of Morton’s most highly acclaimed designers. During the 1912 Ideal Home Exhibition at Olympia, Simpson was awarded a stand between C F A Voysey and George Walton, the entire exhibit was sold to just one customer.
Following Gimson’s death in August 1919 Peter Waals continued to run the Daneway Workshops. By December 1919 he was writing to potential clients in his own name on Daneway headed paper. He wrote to the Leicester architect Albert Herbert to promote the workshops. He emphasised the continuation of quality of design and construction while hoping to ensure low prices, ‘by careful organisation & the judicious use of machinery’. Early in 1920 he moved out of Daneway and along the valley to the village of Chalford. With the support of clients such as Alfred James of Edgeworth, W A Evans from Leicester and Arthur Mitchell from Cheltenham, he was able to set up a workshop.
His relationship with Gimson’s widow and his family were not easy. They were fiercely protective of Gimson’s memory and concerned that Waals would set up in business reproducing his designs. Waals promised not to reproduce any of Gimson’s inlaid designs or experimental pieces. He could not to the same for the plainer domestic items of furniture. He wrote:
‘If I received orders for similar pieces and set myself to design these, after my 20 years experience at Daneway, the results would never exclude the impression that they were not copies. It will also be realized, that I do not feel myself in the position of a designer copying a dead man’s work, but in that of a foreman continuing his master’s workshop.’
Gimson’s friend, F L Griggs acted as a go-between and tried to impress on Waals the need to establish his own reputation as a designer. He provided recommendations as well as commissions describing him as ‘a good and efficient designer – more, as a man who does work as excellent as ever, and certainly designed with great charm’
. Following one visit, Waals wrote to Sydney Gimson saying:
‘We have had enough work since I started to keep the old men busy and at present I have orders to give work to nearly twice their number. It is mostly church work and joinery to architects’ designs’.
At Chalford, Waals had easy access to the railway network. He also installed some basic machinery into the workshop – a band-saw, planer and mortiser – which enabled him to price his furniture more competitively.
The furniture historian and commentator on design, John Gloag, rated Waals very highly as a craftsman. He described him as, ‘an enormous bulky great Dutchman with shoulders like a gorilla and a deep voice. He loved to contradict people which he did all the time.’ He was strongly built with a heavy accent which he never lost. Some of the craftsmen at Chalford nicknamed him ‘Duchy’.
In 1935 Frank Pick, chair of the Council for Art and Industry, suggested that Waals should be invited to Loughborough College to act as consultant in design. The college was the main centre for the training of handicraft teachers and Waals’s work did a huge amount to disseminate the approach and standards of furniture making established by Gimson and the Barnsleys. As well as working with the students Waals designed all the furniture for Hazelrigg Hall as well as other fittings throughout the college
Waals died suddenly in May 1937. His widow and Leo Waals, his son, battled to keep the workshop going. They moved to new premises, Cotswold Works, until a fire destroyed the building, design, work in progress and the tool boxes of the cabinet-makers in 1938. The workshop finally closed in 1939 when Leo Waals was called up following the outbreak of World War Two
Ernest William Gimson (1864 – 1919) was an architect and Arts and Crafts furniture designer who founded the movement known as the Cotswold School. Although he built a number of country houses, his true skill lay in his antique marquetry furniture , chests and ironwork. Gimson’s Arts and Crafts furniture utilises many cross-cultural references, with elegant lines and simple, but effective ornamentation.
Born in Leicester, Gimson initially trained with the architect Isaac Barradale. In the 1880s he met William Morris, who recommended him to the London architect John Dando Sedding. Here, Gimson developed an interest in natural craft techniques, working alongside Ernest Barnsley while learning traditional furniture skills and plasterwork.
In the 1890s Gimson formed a furniture company with Sidney Barnsley and others, eventually moving to the Cotswolds. In 1900 he set up a furniture workshop in Cirencester. Later he moved to Sapperton, where he designed furniture until his death. His large team of craftsmen, led by cabinet-maker Peter van der Waals, later relocated to new premises in Chalford.
Gimson’s Arts & Crafts Furniture was as diverse as it was inspired. Made with woods like oak and cherry, derived from local sources, he left technical features such as dovetail joints and dowels exposed to reveal the craftsmanship. Later he used metalwork to embellish his antique chests and cabinets. He also made use of agricultural styles, such as chamfered hayrake stretchers and open-work wagon rails.
Gimson’s church commissions were ornate, his designs often inspired by Gujarati, Venetian or Byzantine styles. His antique chests and caskets were furnished with mother-of-pearl or silver, his antique marquetry furniture decorated with leaves and flowers.
When asked to design furniture for “grander” homes he often returned to the craftsmanship of the 17th century French palaces, but ornamentation was always secondary to design. Macassar ebony and holly stringing, figured Birdlip oak and English walnut detailing, simple gougework, forged ironwork, multi fielded panels and bowed, curved and canted lines gave his antique cabinets elegance, beauty and function. Today, Gimson’s antique chests and cabinets can be seen at venues like the Leicester Museum and Owlpen Manor.
Ernest Gimson was one of the most inspiring and influential designers of his age. His friend, the architect, writer and educationalist, W R Lethaby described his furniture as, ‘one kind of ‘perfect’, that is it was useful and right, pleasantly shaped and finished, good enough but not too good for ordinary use’. His approach to design was straightforward – Gimson believed that design was not something added on. It should come out of the careful use of proportion and construction, choice and knowledge of materials, tools and techniques.
He began designing furniture and patterns for embroidery as a young man. While a student at Leicester School of Art in 1885 he was awarded a silver medal in the National Competition for a set of drawings of furniture. These drawings have not survived. Somewhat surprisingly in view of the award they were described in the National Competition Reports 1885-96 as being, ‘based on an illogical, fantastical, unfruitful and embarrassing style.’
A credenza is a piece of furniture that became very fashionable during the second half of the 19th century. Often made of a burnished and polished wood decorated with marquetry, a central cupboard would be flanked by symmetrical quadrant glass display cabinets. The top would often be made of inlaid wood, marble, or another decorative stone.
Originally in Italian Credenza, meant belief. In the 16th century the act of credenza was the tasting of food and drinks by a servant for a lord or other important person (such as the pope or a cardinal) in order to test for poison. The name passed then to the room where the act took place, then to the piece of furniture.
Founded in 1875, the name of Liberty is synonymous with Art Nouveau ornaments and Arts & Crafts Furniture. Employing designers of the calibre of William Morris, Archibald Knox and Leonard Wyburd, Liberty created iconic originals which drew their inspiration from all four corners of the globe.
Arthur Lasenby Liberty , the founder of Liberty of London , was a man of vision with a thirst for foreign culture. Born in Chesham, Buckinghamshire in 1843, he began working at Farmer and Rogers of Regent Street, in 1862 – the year of the Great London Exposition. In 1874 he decided to open his own store, with the intention of revolutionising home design and fashion.
From Chinese antique cabinets to the Art Nouveau movement
With the aid of a family loan, Arthur Liberty took out a small lease, opening Liberty & Co in Regent Street, in 1875. Initially it was an Oriental warehouse, selling imported fabrics and ornaments from Japan and the Middle East. This included ‘Anglo-Oriental’ bamboo furniture , some of it made by local craftsmen. The style proved very popular, and by 1883 Liberty had enlarged his premises and opened a Furnishing and Decoration studio under the direction of Leonard Wyburd.
This is where the first original Liberty designs were created, many of them inspired by foreign shores. At this time, there was a craze for Egyptology, and Liberty capitalised on this with its unique “Thebes” stool. Based on an ancient Egyptian design, it quickly became a best seller. On the strength of this, Liberty opened an “Eastern Bazaar” in his store at 142-144 Regent Street. Opened in 1885, it quickly became a fashionable shopping emporium for Pre-Raphaelite artisans.
By the 1890s, Arthur Liberty had built strong working relationships with a number of English Arts & Crafts Furniture designers, as well as Art Nouveau craftsmen like Archibald Knox, whose iconic Cymric and Tudric designs became symbolic of the Art Nouveau movement. Other Art Nouveau designers working for Liberty included C.F.A. Voysey, Walter Crane, L.F.Day and the Silver Studio, which together made Art Nouveau a mainstream art form.
Antique dining tables and softly draped curtains – the Liberty look
Liberty worked closely with many different craftsmen and wholesalers to develop the eclectic “Liberty look.” William Birch, for example, supplied the rush-seated Victorian dining chairs popular in Cumbrian antique shops today. J.S Henry supplied furniture designed by George Walton, whose antique dining chairs and settles have become museum pieces – the V & A has George Walton Liberty furniture on display.
Liberty also used German designers, such as Richard Riemerschmid, prized for his Modernistic antique dining chairs. Pewterware was introduced around 1898, importing from German designer J.P.Kayser before Archibald Knox began designing the in-house Liberty collections. Other metalware craftsmen included Oliver Baker and John Pearson, while new textile, carpet and costume ranges were developed by designers like E.W. Godwin, Thomas Wardle, Voysey and Morton & Co.
Sir Arthur Lazenby Liberty died in 1917, though the Liberty name lives on. Today, collectors from Cornwall to Cumbria hunt down the rustic Victorian dining chairs and antique marquetry furniture which once graced the Liberty Gift And Furniture catalogues.
Walnut wood comes from the walnut family of trees called juglandaceae. There are different types of species classified in this family. The most popular are English walnut, black walnut and white walnut (butternut) trees. The most prominent type of walnut tree used for lumber is the American black walnut. This can be found in various places in North America. The wood follows a rich history. Even from colonial times, American families have used walnut wood for homes and barns.
Walnut wood has many uses. It is used to make furniture, wood crafts and musical instruments such as pianos. The highest quality of walnut lumber can be made into veneers. Veneers are slices of wood with a thickness of approximately 1/28 inch. They are typically pasted to less expensive wood that serves as framework. These veneers can also be used as panels. Using veneers is the economical way of enjoying the luxury and stability of walnut furniture.
There are two different types of walnut lumber depending on the layer. The outer layer is called sapwood and the inner layer is called the heartwood. Walnut sapwood can be three inches in width and has a creamy white color. The walnut heartwood has a more dark brown color. The walnut wood surface reflects an extraordinary grain variation. Its rich and illustrious brown color lasts over time, that’s why it has become a favourite among carpenters and woodworkers.
Candelabra is a set of branched candlesticks, each with arms that can hold multiple candles. A single such piece is known as a candelabrum. The word comes from Latin
Although the electrification of interior lighting has relegated candleholders to the status of backup light sources in most homes and other buildings of the modern era, interior designers continue to model light fixtures and lighting accessories after candelabra and candlesticks. Accordingly, the term “candelabra” has entered common use as a collective designation for small-based incandescent light bulbs used in chandeliers and other lighting fixtures designed to provide decoration as well as illumination.
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Goncalo Alves is a wood from a large canopy tree, which is rare outside of the protection of national parks, and is listed as threatened in “Arboles Maderables en Peligro de Extincion en Costa Rica”. The trees reach up to 120 feet in height with a trunk 3 feet in diameter.
Goncalo Alves ranges in colour from light to reddish brown to a deep mahogany reddish brown with a striking figure created by beautiful dark bold brown to nearly black irregular marks or stripes. With a fine to medium texture with a fine grain. In spite of its high density goncalo alves carves well, finishes smoothly and takes a beautiful polish. It is used for fine furniture and decorative figured veneers.