Muriel Rose and the Little Gallery
Muriel Rose (1897-1986), though largely unknown today, played an extremely important pioneering role in the flowering of the 20th-century crafts movement in Great Britain, first with her influential gallery in London and later as a Founder Trustee of the Crafts Study Centre in Surrey.
Muriel Rose (with Margaret Turnbull) opened The Little Gallery on Ellis Street, off Sloane Street, in Chelsea, in 1928, and was its director until the gallery closed in 1939. Rose created an environment where craft was shown as the equal to fine art. A strong and forceful personality, she was rigorous in her standards, and only showed work of the highest level of craftsmanship. She was just as adamant that the work was displayed with care and artfulness. She created vignettes, grouping work in simulated domestic settings. Rose championed the work of established and well-known craftsmen and women as well as anonymous craftspeople from around the world. She exhibited hand-printed and handwoven textiles, glass, pottery, embroidery, lace, hand-made papers and more. The Little Gallery also sold more familiar high-end tableware from Wedgewood as well as English and European art pottery.
Rose exhibited the work of potters Bernard Leach and Norah Braden and Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie among others, as well as the important textile artists of the day, including the innovative designers of hand-blockprinted textiles, Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher, and Ethel Mairet, a pioneer in the English handweaving movement. Rose also featured the textile work of Enid Marx, with whom she shared a passion for international folk art and a commitment to preserve the quickly-vanishing ethnic arts of the world. Rose traveled extensively studying and collecting pieces, and in The Little Gallery displayed work from Italy, Eastern Europe, Japan, India and Mexico. She also sought out the textile work of miners’ wives from Durham and Wales, exhibiting and selling their high-quality handmade quilts, which were very popular and provided a much-needed financial boon to those impoverished communities.
Bernard Leach: Life & Work by Emmanuel Cooper
The Little Gallery was not just a place for craftspeople to exhibit and sell their works, Rose created a community. The gallery was a place where artists could mingle and socialize with each other and with their clients, and often collectors would simply drop by for tea. Rose knew it was important to educate her customers so they would understand the skill required to create the works on exhibit. For example, if there was an exhibition of weaving, looms were brought in to the gallery so the artists could demonstrate their techniques. This interaction between artist and customer encouraged sales, but Rose was also concerned that these traditions, techniques and skills be valued, preserved and passed on.
During the war, Rose was hired by the British Council to organize a touring show, The Exhibition of British Crafts. The exhibit opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1942 and toured the United States until 1945. She also organized another show, Exhibition of Rural Handcrafts from Great Britain which toured England and New Zealand in 1946. Rose served as Crafts and Industrial Design Officer of the British Council until 1957. In the 1960s, Rose helped found the Crafts Study Centre. Rose donated her archives and her collection of antique and contemporary crafts to the Centre, and they remain an important part of their collection.
To read further about Barron & Larcher, Enid Marx and other British textile designers see previous VR post The British Abstractionists.