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Gordon Russell

(1892—1980) designer and craftsman


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(1892–1980)

Russell was a leading figure in design and craft circles, involved with state design policy in connection with the Utility scheme of the 1940s and the Council of Industrial Design (see Design Council) on which he served as director from 1947 to 1960. For much of his life Russell was closely identified with the Cotswolds, attending the Grammar School in Chipping Camden where C. R. Ashbee had established his Guild of Handicraft. From an early age he worked in his father's furniture repair shop and, after serving with distinction as a soldier in the trenches in the First World War, commenced a career in furniture design. Heavily influenced by the tenets of the Arts and Crafts Movement, much of his early work was geared to hand production. Russell furniture was exhibited at the Wembley British Empire Exhibition in London (1924) and at the 1925 Paris Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels where he was awarded a Gold and two Silver Medals. Russell Workshops Ltd. was established in 1927, becoming Gordon Russell Ltd. in 1929. His outlook became increasingly oriented towards mechanization and quantity production, particularly through the manufacture of radio cabinets (often designed by his brother R. D. Russell) for radio manufacturers Frank Murphy and E. J. Power. Russell was also active in the Design and Industries Association, an organization that was in tune with Russell's commitment to producing well‐designed furniture in quantity at attractive prices without sacrificing quality. The company had showrooms in Broadway in Gloucestershire and in London and its designs were also sold through selected retailers, including those of the Good Furniture Group of the late 1930s. Russell's links with Modernism in Britain were further consolidated by the appointment during the 1930s of Nikolaus Pevsner as buyer of textiles and glass for the company. During the Second World War Russell became a member of the Board of Trade's Utility Committee (from 1942) and chairman of the Board's Design Panel (from 1943). As a campaigner for better standards of design in British industry with an intimate knowledge of the field he was appointed as a member of the Council of Industrial Design (established 1944, see Design Council), becoming its second director from 1947 to 1959. He was knighted in 1955 and received many honours for his services to design, including the Albert Medal of the Royal Society of Arts (1962), election as a Royal Designer for Industry, and a number honorary doctorates. He was also the first Fellow of the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers (see Chartered Society of Designers), president of the Design and Industries Association, and master of the Art Workers' Guild. He was also the first chairman of the Crafts Council of Great Britain, showing that despite his deep professional involvement with the promotion of industrial design in the 1940s and 1950s he was still sensitive to the arts and crafts philosophy that had influenced him earlier in life. Russell was a writer on many aspects of design and furniture, including the revealing Designer's Trade: Autobiography of Gordon Russell (1968).

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Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art — Decorative Arts, Furniture, and Industrial Design.


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