Central School of Arts and Crafts…and Noel Rooke (1881–1953)

From Wikipedia: “This important art school was established by London County Council in 1896 ‘to encourage the industrial application of decorative art’, an aim that was developed strongly by its first principal, architect, educator, and conservationist William R. Lethaby (appointed jointly with the sculptor George Frampton) in the years leading up to the First World War.

Lethaby, who had become the first principal of the Central School of Arts and Crafts in 1896, wanted it to become for design and the crafts what the Slade and the Royal Academy were for the fine arts.

Noel Rooke joined the Central School as a student in 1899. In the same year the calligrapher Edward Johnston came to the Central School as a student, whereupon Lethaby immediately asked him to teach a class in calligraphy. His first class of seven students included Rooke, Eric Gill, Graily Hewitt, T.J. Cobden Sanderson, MacDonald Gill and Lawrence Christie. Johnston taught that the form of a letter should be determined by the tool making the letter, a principle which Rooke later applied to wood engraving. In 1904 Rooke also attended evening classes in wood engraving at the London County Council School of Photo-engraving and Lithography in Bolt Court, where he learned the skills of wood engraving from R. John Beedham. At the period Eric Gill gave classes in stone carving and inscriptions, and Rooke later gave Gill private lessons in wood engraving.

In 1905 Rooke became a teacher of book illustration at the Central School, and introduced wood engraving for book decoration into his syllabus. He faced opposition from Frank Morley Fletcher and Sydney Lee who taught classes in colour woodcuts in the Japanese style. Lethaby had had to overcome opposition to Johnston’s calligraphy classes, and, along with most artists at the time, saw wood engraving simply as the reproductive medium that it had been until then. He vetoed the introduction of the new style of wood engraving into the curriculum. When he left in 1911 Rooke was able introduce a class in lettering and wood engraving in 1912, and a class in wood engraving and poster design in 1913.

In 1914 Rooke became head of the School of Book Production, a post that he held until 1946.

He was an important member of a group whose ideas set the tone of the formative years of the Central School. This was a time of cross fertilisation where extraordinary people came together and barriers between crafts and skills were broken down. Lethaby was the editor of a series of books – the Artistic Crafts Series of Technical Handbooks, and Rooke drew illustrations and diagrams for three of them – Bookbinding, and the care of books (1901) by Douglas Cockerell, Writing and Illuminating, and Lettering (1906) by Johnston and Hand-loom Weaving (1910) by Luther Hooper. These became standard works on their subject, and, along with the other handbooks in the series, ran into many editions.

Rooke reacted against the reproductive wood engravings of the nineteenth century, where the drawing, the creative impetus of the artist, and the engraving, carried out by a skilled craftsman, were separate. He said:

“There is only one way of getting a thoroughly satisfactory engraving: the designer and the engraver must be one and the same person…”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s