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AMBROSE HEAL AND THE ARTS AND CRAFTS MOVEMENT

by patrick macnamara February 26, 2005

AMBROSE HEAL AND THE  ARTS AND CRAFTS MOVEMENT

A SPECIAL SELLING EVENT AT THE TOTTENHAM COURT ROAD STORE TO CELEBRATE THE UNIQUE CONTRIBUTION OF SIR AMBROSE HEAL TO THE ARTS & CRAFTS MOVEMENT SATURDAY 26 FEBRUARY  THROUGH TO JUNE 2005

With a talk and book-signing given by the V & A curator and author Karen Livingstone

Presented by The Millinery Works Gallery At The Heal's Building, 196 Tottenham Court Road, London W1T 7LQ

BRINGING AMBROSE HOME

   Click on small image to enlarge, then click back to get to this page

To celebrate their sponsorship of the International Arts and Crafts exhibition at the V&A (17 March - 24 July 2005), Heal's will host a selling event of Arts and Crafts furniture at its flagship store on London's Tottenham Court Road from Saturday 26 February until June.

Working with one of the country's leading authorities on the Arts and Crafts movement - the Millinery Works Gallery - Heal's has gathered an exceptional range of over sixty exhibits that not only capture the essence of the movement but illustrate the exceptional role played by Ambrose Heal and his Tottenham Court Road store in promoting and developing the Arts and Crafts ethos.

It is a paradox that the majority of the pioneers of the Arts and Crafts movement, including William Morris himself, never achieved what was arguably their most important aim, to supply well-made, soundly constructed furniture on a large scale. Instead they were mostly suppliers to a wealthy minority. 

Many set up remote Utopian communities to avoid the destructive forces of profit- driven, mechanised production and design techniques. Others produced work of the finest craftsmanship and materials, but at a cost beyond ordinary people's pockets. 

When commercial firms attempted to appropriate Arts and Crafts designs they produced, with only a small number of notable exceptions, vulgar imitations that lacked the vital ingredients of the movement's work. 

   Left: Chestnut Letchworth dresser designed by Ambrose Heal and part of the V&A exhibition

The importance of Ambrose Heal's work, particularly his early designs, is his demonstration that this was not an evitable consequence. He designed, produced and marketed a body of work that is undoubtedly equal, if not superior, to that of his contemporaries and which was made available to a far greater public. 

In 1893 Ambrose Heal Jr. joined the family firm of Heal & Son. It is a testament to the quality of his early designs and the skill of the cabinetmakers employed, the core who came from C R Ashbee’s Guild of Handicraft, that Ambrose Heal was able to move from a small corner of the Tottenham Court Road shop to become the dominant force in the firm's direction within the space of just a few years. 

Such was the demand for his designs that in 1899 Heal & Son opened a new electrically powered furniture workshop attached to the premises. The workshop could be visited by customers and the catalogue notes: 

"Whilst taking advantage of all that is best in machinery, we have been careful not to allow the taint of the usual trade machine furniture to invade the workshop. We are in fact most careful to give free expression to that individual craftsmanship & excellence of working-ship without which no cabinet work, whatever its designs, can hope to be in any real sense - artistic". 

This work fulfilled perfectly the demands of the expanding middle classes and praise came from all quarters. The modernist historian and critic Nikolaus Pevsner wrote that it was, "good progressive furniture … Living amongst such objects, we breathe a fresher air". 

Heal & Son, fired by Ambrose's vision, was able to fulfil the Arts and Crafts movement's desire of supplying sound, well-made furniture in relatively large quantities and at reasonable prices. For this we owe Ambrose Heal a great debt. 

To view the a full list of exhibits follow this link 

For further information email art@millineryworks.co.uk or call 020 7359 2019

Visit the V & A’s go to www.vam.ac.uk




patrick macnamara
patrick macnamara

Author




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