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The Art Workers' Guild is an organisation established in 1884 by a group of British architects associated with the ideas of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement. The guild promoted the 'unity of all the arts', denying the distinction between fine and applied art. It opposed the professionalisation of architecture – which was promoted by the Royal Institute of British Architects at this time – in the belief that this would inhibit design.
The founders of the guild were five young architects from Norman Shaw's office: W. R. Lethaby, Edward Prior, Ernest Newton, Mervyn Macartney and Gerald C. Horsley. Its first master was the sculptor, George Blackall Simonds; its second master was John Dando Sedding. Among its members was Henry Bird.
The architects Dunbar Smith and Cecil Brewer had an office in the front of the early Georgian house at 6 Queen Square, Bloomsbury and, when they heard that the freehold was for sale, encouraged the guild to buy it. The back part of the building was reconstructed as a meeting hall, designed by F. W. Troup and inaugurated on 22 April 1914. It is furnished with rush-seated chairs to a pattern made in Herefordshire in the 1880s by Philip Clisset, and afterwards copied by Ernest Gimson and his successors. The names of all members up to the year 2000 are painted on a frieze around the walls of the Hall. The list of names now continues in the front room known as the ‘Master’s Room’.
The Art Workers Guild gave rise to the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society.
The guild began as a male-only organisation, leading May Morris to start the Women’s Guild of Arts in 1907 as an alternative for women. It was not until the 1960s that women were admitted, starting with the wood engraver Joan Hassall who became the first female Master in 1972.
The guild is today a society of artists, craftsmen and designers with a common interest in the interaction, development and distribution of creative skills. They represent a variety of views on design and stand for authenticity (irrespective of political and stylistic ideology).
The Art Workers' Guild today is a body of more than 350 artists, craftspeople and architects working at the highest levels of excellence in their professions. They represent over 60 creative disciplines. Their main charitable aim is to support the visual arts and crafts in any way that may be beneficial to the community.
Past Masters of the Guild
- Thomas, Zoe (June 2015). "'At Home with the Women's Guild of Arts: gender and professional identity in London studios, c. 1880–1925'". Women's History Review. 24 (6): 938–964. doi:10.1080/09612025.2015.1039348.
- Bryant, Mark. World War I in Cartoons. London: Grub Street Pub, 2006, page 17, ISBN 190494356X
- J. L. J. Masse, The Art-Workers Guild 1884–1934 Oxford: Printed for the Art-Workers' Guild at the Shakespeare Head Press, 1935. OCLC 559542296