Christine Dove, The Society of Designer Craftsmen

by Rachael Chambers

Rachael Chambers talks to

Christine Dove, Chairman of the Society of Designer Craftsmen

What is your role at the Society of Designer Craftsmen and what duties does this involve?

“I am currently Chairman of the Society of Designer Craftsmen which is managed by a Council made up of Fellows, Members and Licentiate members. As Chairman I am responsible for organising and chairing the Society’s Council meetings which are held six or seven times a year, and an AGM. Because of our charitable status I am also accountable to the Charity Commission to ensure that we comply with the guidelines and rules for charities. As with any organisation there is a considerable amount of administration. However my role has enabled me to be more directly involved with the members and I am looking forward to meeting some of them at the Designer Crafts at the Mall Galleries in January. I am keen to get a better understanding of what members expect from the Society and then to see what other opportunities  we can develop”. 

 How did you become the Chairman? 

“I have been a member of Council since September 2005. In January 2011 I volunteered to help the Chairman until a new Vice Chair could be appointed, the Vice Chairman had recently resigned due to work commitments. Unfortunately, in May the Chairman also had to resign following medical advice, so I found myself thrust into the role of Chairman. After the initial shock of finding myself in this position, I realised what a privilege and honour, not to mention how humbling, it is to follow in the footsteps of such a distinguished line of Chairmen and women, who have seen the Society through two World Wars and many economic difficulties.”  

The Society of Designer Craftsmen has historical roots of which it is very proud, how was it founded and when?  

“The Society was originally formed in November 1887 when a group of artists met to discuss their concerns about the fact that the Royal Academy of Arts would only accept “fine arts” and “crafts” were not given a platform to exhibit. There was also concern about the effects industrialisation was having on design and traditional skills. The first committee was formed and included Walter Crane, who chaired the group, W.A.S Benson, William de Morgan, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones   to mention just a few. Their aim was to organise exhibitions to enable “decorative arts” to be showcased alongside “fine arts” and the craftsmen to have their work recognised for its artistic value. There was some debate about a name for the new society and initially the suggested name was “The Combined Arts Society”. However, at their meeting in May 1887 the name decided upon was the “Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society”. Walter Crane became the first President followed by William Morris in 1891, but Crane returned in 1896 following the death of William Morris and remained as president until his death in 1915. The first exhibition of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society was held at The New Gallery, Regent Street in October 1888. The archives of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society are held at the V&A National Art Library alongside early archives of the Society of Designer Craftsmen. The name was changed from the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society to Society of Designer Craftsmen in 1960.  There were apparently debates throughout the years from as early as 1901 about a new name. Various names were put forward and the favoured option was The Society of Designer Craftsmen, which was finally agreed at the AGM in 1960.”

Where is the Society currently based, and how many members does it have?

“The Society owns premises at 24 Rivington  Street in London.  Our current membership is 702, including honorary and associate members. We have members throughout the UK, Ireland and in Europe, Canada and Australia.”

The Society runs an annual ‘selected’ exhibition, when is this held and what is the criteria for selection?

“The Designer Crafts exhibition is held at the Mall Galleries, London annually in January.  We usually have approximately 110-120 exhibitors of which some 40-50 would be Licentiates of Merit, who are members who joined the Society after graduating in the previous June.  Of the new Licentiates assessed and accepted into the Society, a number are awarded Merit in recognition of the quality of their work and their perceived potential. These are automatically given the opportunity to exhibit.  Applications are invited from all Fellows, Members and Licentiates and the Selection panel is looking at the quality and originality of the work, but importantly for skilled craftsmanship. There is also a need to ensure fairness across all disciplines and members. The exhibition in January 2012 will be the 22nd year and, as in previous years, the work of established members will be shown alongside that of the new graduates, which makes quite an interesting and exciting exhibition.” 

What plans for the future does the Society have?

“This year the Society has gone through a period of change as a number of Council members, including the curators of our annual exhibition, stepped down for a well earned rest.  As a result the summer has been a busy time, but the challenges for the Council are exciting and interesting; we will do our best to continue to support members and maintain stability for the Society. The craft sector is important to the economy and sadly, because of the economic situation, many organisations have recently lost funding on which they were dependent. This is not the case for the Society as we have not been reliant upon funding to keep going. 

Council is looking at setting up sub-committees to help organise exhibitions, workshops and day events. We are also aiming to encourage members to form local groups so that they can offer support to each other and to encourage them to exhibit in their local area as a Society of Designer Craftsmen group.

We will continue to develop the Mentoring Scheme to include business and financial advice in the form of group workshops and this will be followed by more specific one to one help and guidance for licentiates on their specific work so that they can develop to a level where they can apply to upgrade to full member. 

Society of Designer Craftsmen, 

24 Rivington Street, London EC2A 3DU

T: 020 7739 3663

E: [email protected]

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