Muriel Rose and the Little Gallery

by Christine Cariati

Christmas advertisement for The Little Gallery
Muriel Rose Archive, courtesy Crafts Study Centre

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, c. 1950s
Muriel Rose Archive, courtesy Crafts Study Centre

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.

The Little Gallery at 5 Ellis Street
Muriel Rose Archive, courtesy Crafts Study Centre

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

Norah Bradon, vase, 1930s
Stoneware with ash glaze

Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie, vase with embossed leaves
Stoneware, green ash glaze, c. 1920s-1930s

Barron & Larcher, Peach, design for fabric

Ethel Mairet working at a tapestry loom(undated)

Enid Marx, Rope, textile design (undated)

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.

Welsh quilter, c. 1930s-1940s
Muriel Rose Archive, courtesy Crafts Study Centre

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 learn more about Muriel Rose and The Little Gallery, Venetian Red recommends Muriel Rose, A Modern Crafts Legacy, edited by Jean Vacher, published by the Crafts Study Centre in 2006.

To read further about Barron & Larcher, Enid Marx and other British textile designers see previous VR post The British Abstractionists.

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2 Responses to “Muriel Rose and the Little Gallery”

  1. I was thinking about how some artists have erased the distinction that we usually have between art and craft when I wrote the post on the Amish show at the De Young. A couple of the press comments during the preview showed that they hadn’t given it any thought and didn’t realize that the line we draw between the two is very new, historically speaking. I think that it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution and the rise of mass production that those who made the crafts were seen as somehow “lesser” than those who painted on canvas or sculpted in stone.

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