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The colorful brooches you see above are survivors of a major social movement in England and in the United States during the last half of the nineteenth century. Ruskins, as they are commonly called, were produced and became very popular during the period of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Reminders of a more gentle age and an enviable philosophy, they are increasingly collectable and wearable today.

 

In the Beginning

The Arts & Crafts Movement, was much more than merely an artistic or decorative style. It represented a social philosophy of work and domestic life, as well as a style emanating from that philosophy. Beginning in England, in 1861, the Movement thrived for more than 70 years, and it's effects were far reaching, throughout England, the United States, and parts of Europe.

 

John Ruskin was the founding father of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Born in 1819, he became the first art history professor at Oxford in 1890. He was a great philosopher, writer, critic and social theorist. Among his writings was "The Stones of Venice" written in 1853. One particular chapter, "The Nature of Gothic," was the most influential statement of his Arts & Crafts theories. In it he saw the medieval workman as the model of contentment and creativity. In his view, this model was a means to bring about nothing less than the emancipation of the working classes of his time, and he began using it to address social and political problems in 1857. Part and parcel of this philosophy was a belief that, by surrounding themselves with honest and simple objects and works of art, peoples' lives would somehow be enriched.

 

The Ruskin Pottery was established in 1898 in a suburb of Birmingham, England. The founder, Edward Richard Taylor, so admired the teachings and philosophy of John Ruskin that he named his pottery in his honor. However, it was his son, William Howson Taylor, taking over his father's operation in 1912, who was to come the closest to Ruskinian ideals, and with whom Ruskin is identified today. He believed a decisive change of style was needed in the decorative arts.

Ruskin Pottery enjoyed a worldwide reputation, and considering the times in which it operated, was most successful. Ruskin won the "Highest Award Grand Prize" at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exhibition in St. Louis. Over the years, the pottery received many such awards, both at home and abroad, rivaling such potteries as Rookwood, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton, Moorcroft, Minton and others.

 

Pottery as "Jewel"

In the early 1900's, the Ruskin Pottery introduced small round cabochons, which they called, "enamels" or "plaques". The idea was to use them as gems for inserting into wood, or mounting into metal, and jewelry. They became a major part of the pottery's output over the next few years. All Ruskin advertising included "Ruskin Pottery, Enamels and Buttons".

The pottery also made tiles, hatpins, studs, cuff links, scarf pins, and pendants.

Liberty of London, purveyors of both sterling silver and pewter art objects, started using Ruskin plaques instead of semiprecious gemstones. These gemstones had become so expensive that they simply were no longer cost effective. The Ruskin plaques were relatively inexpensive. And the colors were so beautiful that the public took to them immediately.

 

"An intrinsic feature of the Liberty Style was the decorative use of gemstones and enamel work, and the facing of wall mirrors with repoussé copper work, into which were often set plaques of turquoise enamel or rich, blue Ruskin Pottery 'buttons'." (Liberty Style - The Classic years - 1898-1910)

  Left : 11/4" D, green hi-glaze cabochon; old "C" catch; Sterling mount (lion passant); Chester assay mark; 1918-19 date mark. Initialed C.H. for Charles Horner.

The Cabochons

Ruskin cabochons have the same wonderful leadless glazes that were painstakingly developed for the pottery's simple, but artistically beautiful vases.

Ruskin's soufflé glazes, introduced in 1898, came in a wide assortment of exquisite colors, including green, dark blue, turquoise and purple. Their fabulous, high-fired flambé glazes were introduced in 1903, and came in a wide range of beautiful colors.

Ruskin cabochons carry the impressed RUSKIN on the back of each plaque; some include the word ENGLAND (as seen faintly at right); on others, the mark is stamped in black ink and some bear the artist's initials.


1-3/4" d; silver mount. Pansy pattern cabochon; old "C" catch; impressed: MOORCROFT

Other potteries produced similar enamels during the Arts & Craft years. Some are marked; most are not. Considered the prize among non-Ruskin cabochons are those of England's Moorcroft Pottery.

William, Moorcroft, among others, approached William Howson Taylor to try to persuade him to part with the method used to produce his spectacular glazes. Mr. Taylor, however, had promised his father, years before, that he would never divulge their formulas, and the family's secrets died with the closing of the Ruskin Pottery in 1935.

Moorcroft introduced their own cabochons in the 1920's, featuring their already famous floral designs. These are rarely found today, and highly prized by collectors. The very few we have seen have been mounted in silver.

Minton and Kensington potteries were other producers of ceramic cabochons whose work is now seldom found.

1-1/4" x 2-7/16"; Gold plated mount;old "C" catch; wonderful light crazing; impressed KENSINGTON ART WARE. With light safety chain and pin.

1-3/4" d; Sterling mount;old "C" catch; light crazing; glazed back, faintly impressed ASTRA, from Minton Hollins. Private collection.

The Jewelry

When used in Jewelry, the plaques are most often mounted in pewter or silver. They are also occasionally found in gold or gold-washed mounts.

The backs of sterling silver mounts -- most often very plain and with simple bezel settings -- were usually open, revealing the pottery's mark. The silver itself may bear the jeweler's cypher or initials.

At the same time, Victorian ladies of the cottage-industry home guilds, as well as other artisans, were using Ruskin and other enamels to fashion simple jewelry. Pewter was the metal of choice here. Easily worked with simple tools, pewter was the ideal medium for the largely untrained ladies of the home guilds, often resulting in quite lovely repoussé work. A number of firms produced do-it-yourself kits for just this purpose. These kits were advertised in popular magazines of the day and could be ordered by mail.

To Left: 15/16" x 1-7/8"; narrow silver mount; older "C" catch.


Above: Back impressed: HAND WROUGHT & oval containing FTG.

Above: 1-1/8 x 1-/38; silver mount; old "C" catch..
Left: Ink-stamped: RUSKIN POTTERY. Private collection

Above: Victorian, gold (gold-filled ) setting; 2" l; Blue w/ green & blue; old "C" catch.
Left: Impressed: RUSKIN.
Private collection.

Above: 1-3/16" D; dark green w/blue cabochon; fine crazing; silver mount; old "C" catch. See mark below.

Left: Impressed: RUSKIN

Above: 1-3/4" D; mottled blue w/ pale rose; several small scratches; bezel setting; old "C" catch.
Left: Mkd: STERLING SILVER; impressed: RUSKIN.

Left: 2-1/4" x 1-1/4"; repoussé pewter mount; sheet brass back; old "C" catch. Private collection

In the repoussé technique (seen above), thin, sheet pewter was worked from the back, the design pressed or lightly hammered in, resulting in an embossed design on the front. The backs of pewter pins were covered in thin sheet pewter, brass, copper or tin, unfortunately obscuring any pottery mark that might be present. However, marked or not, the Ruskin franchise was so strong that, today, any Arts & Crafts era pins or brooches, mounted with ceramic, glass or even natural stone cabochons are often referred to by the generic (and lower case) term, "ruskins".

In the course of the 20th century in the United States, as well as in Britain, the resurgence of the Arts & Crafts Movement has renewed the interest in handmade objects. Jewelry bearing these beautiful gems of high-glazed ceramic are tangible reminders of a more simple time. These wonderful "ruskin" art pottery cabochon brooches -- no two alike, and each a collector's item, lovely in it's own right, whether Ruskin, "ruskin," Moorcroft or Kensington -- are a wearable link to the philosophy and ideals of the Arts & Crafts Movement.

Brooch,triangular; 1-7/8" x 15/16"; oil-drop mottled blue & green; ink stamped: RUSKIN. Private collection

Brooch, unusual scalloped repoussé pewter mount, 1-15/16" D;mottled blue cabochon; sheet brass back; old "C" catch; Private collection

Brooch oval, 1-5/16" x 2-3/16"; repousse pewter mount; pale blue & rose/pink; sheet tin back; safety catch.

Bibliography

Ruskin Pottery, Paul Atterbury & John Henson, Richard Dennis Publishing, The Old Chapel,Shepton Beauchamp,Ilminster, Somerset, England, 1993

Moorcroft Pottery, Paul Atterbury, Richard Dennis & Hugh Edwards, The Old Chapel,Shepton Beauchamp,Ilminster, Somerset, Engla nd, 1990

"'Ruskins' An Arts and Crafts Cottage Industry," Carol Woodbury, Style 1900, Vol. 8, No. 3

Jewelry & Metalwork in the Arts & Crafts Tradition, Elyse Zorn Karlin, Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, PA, 1993

Liberty Style - The Classic years - 1898-1910, Martin Levy, Rizzoli, New York, 1986

 

At right: Popular antiques author, Terry Kovel, wearing a pewter mounted ":ruskin" brooch during a book signing in Renninger's Antique Center, Mount Dora, Florida.


Sheila Sindelar is an antiques dealer/collector who, together with her husband, Bob, owns and operates Sindelar & O'Brien Antiques & Design in Renninger's Antique Center, Mount Dora, Florida. Here their inventory features 20th Century Decorative Arts, including objects of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Their shop is known for the distinctive and unique character of the collection they have assembled.

Sheila is a member of the American Art Pottery Association, the Associated Antique Dealers of American, and the Central Florida Button Club. She has been a collector for more than 35 years, and actively in the antique business since 1984.
Sindelar & O'Brien maintains a Website at:
 http://www.sindelarandobrien.com/

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Photographs and design by Sheila  and Bob Sindelar  

Copyright © 2001 Modern Silver Magazine


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