David Watkins and his students
David Watkins and his students
16 September – 29 October 2005
Twenty five years of innovation and research
Participating makers: (M = CAA Member)
David Watkin (M)
Michael Carberry (M)
Rebecca De Quin(M)
Simone ten Hompel(M)
Anna Osmer Andersen
Tine De Rysser
Pornpilai Zou Meemalai
Maria Ka Pick Wong
In his first Bauhaus manifesto of 1919 – the one with Lyonel Feininger’s woodcut ‘cathedral of the arts’ on the cover – Walter Gropius issued a clarion-call to his colleagues in the worlds of art and design: “architects, sculptors, painters, we must all turn to the crafts”. Translations of this manifesto into the English language have almost turned the phrase into “we must return to the crafts”. Not turn to return. As if the future of the Applied Arts lay in the past. As if their history had stood still. As if William Morris and chums still cast a long shadow.
Within education, the definitive ‘turn’ happened in the 1980’s based on the work and vision of a small number of pioneering individuals (plus their supporters and entrepreneurs) – just beginning to become and international movement in the 1970s. Crafts no longer had to be functional, traditional and made of natural materials: they could be non-functional, urban, up-to-date and made with synthetic materials in all colours of the rainbow; they could also be feminist and often were. They could be precious or non-precious, exceptional or everyday, manual or digital, apostolic or eclectic. And they were no longer expected to provide a solace in a rapidly changing world: instead they could now provide a challenge sometimes by touching at their outer edges the worlds of fine art and design which themselves were converging. At the same time, the very word ‘crafts’ feel out of favour as an accurate description, to make way for ‘applied arts’.
David Watkins was deeply involved in both the movement and its educational mirror-image. In 1984, he became the Royal College of Art’s Professor and Course Director of Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalwork and Jewellery (usually known as GSM&J – David extended the name from the more traditional S&J, on arrival, to reflect the diversification he wanted to encourage). He succeeded Gerald Benney (Professor from 1974-1983) who in turn had succeeded Robert Goodden (Professor from 1948-1974) – and thus the lineage of Professors in this area went back, unbroken, to the reforms of 1947 which created the recognisably modern Royal College of Art. But David’s time at the College, over the past twenty-one years, has seen profound changes in the way jewellery is made, designed, replicated, taught, researched and sold – and through his practice and his teaching (as well as that of the committed team of practitioners-teachers he has assembled) he has made an important contribution to each of these processes. Above all, he has done so through successive generations of his postgraduate students.
Central to the Department’s philosophy, since 1984, has been – in David’s word – “the sustaining of that individually-directed contemplation, discovery and development which characterises the postgraduate experience of this discipline”. Hence the words “innovation and research” in the title of this exhibition, words which would have seemed very out of place in the oaken days of the arts and crafts.
David Watkins and his students is a celebration of twenty-one years of student/professional achievement, as ambassadors and as makers, and a ‘coming of age’ of an important era in the applied arts – which has always depended on a strong sense of individualism allied to a deep understanding of materials and a robust aesthetic.
It is cheesy to talk about “the key to the door” these days, but in this case they key has been, and remains, a very special one. History is only just beginning to appreciate its significance.
Sir Christopher Frayling © August 2005
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