Arts & Crafts Movement and Archibald Knox (1864-1933)
A major influence in the Arts & Crafts movement at the turn of the century was a revival of various Celtic traditions, myths and movements. The ancient Celts were very proficient in metalwork and often decorated their designs with fired enamels. The Celtic craft tradition is based on stylised patterns inspired by nature, rather than direct copying of it. Starting with the architect Owen Jones (1809-1874), who published a seminal design manual the Grammar of Ornament in 1865, there was a persistent interest in these traditions, very much in the same way as there had been for Persian, Greek and Egyptian styles.
Archibald Knox was born on the Isle of Man and was most likely persuaded by the sense of his Celtic heritage to become a designer himself. While studying in at the grammar school, his headmaster, who was a very keen archaeologist, fostered Knox’s interest in the local Celtic traditions. Knox’s graduation work at the Douglas School of Art was based on his research of historic monuments. It is most likely that for that reason he visited Dublin to look at the famous Book of Kells – a great source of Mediaeval ornamental tradition.
He arrived in London in 1897 and was engaged in teaching for a brief period of time. However, shortly he became involved with Arthur Lozenby Liberty (1843-1917), who owned a store in central London, still functioning nowadays and a very famous tourist attraction. He was, in fact, introduced to Liberty while still working on the Isle of Man. By the end of the 1800’s the store had already established a grand reputation for selling its high quality Arts and Crafts products, such as fabrics, furniture, silverware and metalwork and glass.
Knox then started designing for Liberty who sold his designs of the Cymric and Tudric pewter works, which very much enhanced their reputation, and eventually became synonymous with the name of Liberty and Co. He also designed for them a range of Cymric silver jewellery. Interestingly, until the production of this jewellery line finished, the name of Knox as the designer was kept secret. Liberty exhibited the jewellery range at the Art Work’s Guild Sponsored Exhibition Society in 1899 and in 1903.
From 1900 onwards Liberty produced their own pewter range wares to compete against other contemporary pewter craftsmen, and they of course used Archibald Knox. Nowadays, Knox’s work is primarily known for this pewter ware, in which he designed clocks, cigarette boxes, dishes and bowls, teapots, trays, and entire table services. Although Archibald Knox is currently credited with the majority of the Tudric and Cymric ranges of pewter and silverware products for Liberty and Co., there were also a number of other designers. Those were mainly independent studio designs of Rex Silver (1879-1965). The actual manufacturing of the ware was almost entirely done by W.H.Haseler of Birmingham.