A Guild of Sussex Craftsmen existed between1931 and 1953. Born of the depression years, interrupted by the war, it is interesting to read the list of crafts which were to be prioritised in 1946. It included: blacksmithing; wheelwrighting and cart building; brick making; saddlery; trug making and basketry; woodland products; textiles and other industries. All useful activities in a rural community, but the Guild as we know it has grown from the root stock of that last category- the ‘other industries’, and our work has had to find a very different place in the economy of 2021.
The idea of forming a new guild of craftsmen sprung from a series of exhibitions held at Michelham Priory from 1964, organised by COSIRA, the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas. A small group of exhibitors discussed the notion at length, and in 1970, under the leadership of our late founder member-Samuel James Fanaroff- better known as Sam, drafted a constitution and The Guild of Sussex Craftsmen came into formal existence.
Behind this apparently chance meeting lay more than you might imagine. Sam was born in Latvia, of Jewish heritage, and came to this country shortly after the second world war via South Africa and Israel. London was then the capital of the British empire and following the terrifying destruction and upheaval of the war, provided our young founder with what he called his university- a ferment of influences, ideas and inspiration. He joined the anarchists and from them absorbed the idea that more could be achieved through cooperation than competition.
So the idea of forming an association of craftsmen and women to support each other and to put on exhibitions to sell their work made practical sense, but was also aimed at helping to overcome the isolation which many craft workers experienced.
As well as helping sell our work, Sam set quite as much store by friendships formed among Guild members, the sense of belonging which the Guild might generate, the social get togethers, late night discussions which might or might not ensue.
Four years after its founding, the Guild took the momentous decision to admit only members whose work had been passed by a selection committee. The question of whether this was to apply to existing members caused much heartache, but it was clear that if the Guild was to be representative of something more than amateur handicrafts, it would have to restrict membership. There was further debate about whether the Guild should be limited to professional, meaning full time, craft workers, but that might have reduced membership too drastically and was not agreed.
THE FIRST 21 YEARS
From 1972, the Guild published a newsletter called CRAFTSMAN which flourished under the editorship of Michael Renton for over 80 editions. His editorials are fine examples of thoughtful writing by a letter cutter and woodblock artist of national standing.
The Guild of Sussex Craftsmen, as it was then still called, produced an excellent commemorative newsletter in 1991 entitled -The First 21 Years. The Cover by Michael Renton, articles by Tony Ford and our president Camilla Neville. The list of exhibitions is startling- Ardingly at the South of England show- Singleton- Brighton Museum- The British Craft Centre in London-The Towner Art Gallery-Chichester cathedral- Dyfed College of Art- Winchester cathedral.
Jonathan Chiswell Jones East Dean 30/04/2021
TO BE CONTINUED