The Gordon Russell Design Museum
I've been a fan of Gordon Russell for many years as I believe him to be the link between the Arts & Crafts and the Modern Movement. He's the person who single-handedly took British furniture design and production into the twentieth century.
The Gordon Russell Design Museum have kindly agreed to loan a piece from their collection for this exhibition and have invited me to view a table, designed in 1929. They understand the point I'm trying to make with this exhibition and feel that this piece will illustrate it. The table marks the transition in Russell's work from handmade to made-with-the-help-of-machines.
The museum's chairman, Richard Paice, takes me over to their store. We chat animatedly on the way - he's enthusiastic about everything. The store is full of bundles of old blueprints of Russell designs, old photos including a large framed black-and-white photo of a tweed-suited Sir Gordon in his study, and the walnut table that we're collecting for this exhibition. It's 'Design Number 830'; Russell numbered all his designs in the order he produced them. On the underside is a pasted paper label giving the designer, foreman, cabinet maker (C. Gutteridge), timber, and date completed (10.11.1930). Surprisingly, in 1930, Russell got to 'Design Number 906', gave up designing, and sent his younger brother Dick off to be trained at the Architectural Association in London. Initially I'm worried that the walnut table is not typical enough of the Russell style - too plain perhaps - but I have to agree that it does fit the brief for this exhibition. And it foreshadows the more simple and pared-down style that Russell was to promote later through the Utility Furniture Advisory Committee, and subsequently the Council of Industrial Design. All this is a long way from C R Ashbee and the Guild of Handicraft, but it's a direct route, down the same road.
Back at the museum, we meet Gordon Russell's grandson who is over on a visit from his home in Hong Kong. I shake his hand, feeling by this a closer connection with Russell himself! Everyone here is very friendly; Ray Leigh, former MD of Gordon Russell Ltd is buzzing about; museum curator Jennifer Piepereit comes up and very thoughtfully presents me with a printout of the design for the table, and a period advertising photo of it in a 1930s interior.
Before I leave Richard gives me a DVD called Gordon Russell : A Champion of Design. Later I watch it to find Russell described as 'a brilliant ambassador for design whose work has been underestimated.' I can't help thinking they're right. 'I'm giving you this so you can watch it, and then pass it on to another designer; they can watch it and pass it on again, and so on,' Richard says. They're clearly on a mission here to spread the word. 'I'll pass it on to Sarah Kay,' I tell him.
(above) A video by Russell's biographer Jeremy Myerson, featuring an interview with Ray Leigh.
(above) A video telling the story of the chairs for Coventry Cathedral, designed by Dick Russell.