Muriel Rose: Craft Visionary by Professor Simon Olding, Director of the Crafts Study Centre

The Crafts Study Centre is a specialist university museum and is home to internationally renowned collections of modern and contemporary British craft. The Crafts Study Centre is one of our seven partner museums that we worked with on Unbound: Visionary Women Collecting Textiles. This blog post by Professor Simon Olding, on Muriel Rose is drawn from the Crafts Study Centre’s blog which you can access here. Professor Simon Olding has had a varied career across the arts and museums, his recent posts include Head of Arts and Museums for Bournemouth Borough Council, Director of the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum before joining the University of the Creatives Arts as Director of the Crafts Study Centre in 2002.

'The Crafts Study Centre was a partner-museum in the highly-acclaimed exhibition Unbound: Visionary Women Collecting Textiles at Two Temple Place, London. The exhibition, curated by June Hill and Lotte Crawford (with support from Amanda Game and Jennifer Hallam), focused on the extraordinary achievements of a number of pioneering women, who, through lifelong determination supported and dramatically increased museum holdings of historic and contemporary textiles in museums across the UK. The Crafts Study Centre was selected because of the indomitable contribution made to its craft collections (in which textiles and ceramics played central roles) by one of the Crafts Study Centre’s Founder Trustees, Muriel Rose. 

Muriel Rose worked in a number of influential positions in her long career. She managed the influential Little Gallery in the 1930s, selling judiciously selected crafts and promoting the careers of major textile artists such as Barron and Larcher and Enid Marx. She undertook governmental work for the Rural Industries Bureau in their important scheme to support the economically depressions areas of Durham and South Wales by encouraging rural crafts. She was appointed Craft and Industrial Design Officer for the British Council, building up a major National collection of contemporary craft. And in this role, she oversaw the extraordinary Exhibition of Modern British Crafts, which toured North America in 1942, which Imogen Hart reveals as a force for cultural propaganda and a demonstration of the significance of women craft makers at a time when craft was under threat.
Alan Smith, A Christmas notebook for the Little Gallery 1936, Ink on paper. © Crafts Study Centre, University for the Creative Arts

Unbound powerfully represents Muriel Rose’s achievement as a discerning and sometimes fierce judge of craft standards (one can see this perhaps as her life’s work). On one plinth is a setting of craft that could have come straight from The Little Gallery or even a Crafts Study Centre exhibition. Muriel Rose’s personal oak table (by Sidney Barnsley). A jug holds an array of flowers like the ones that Constance Spry made up for her; and behind the table is an array of textile lengths by Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher, shown to full advantage. It is a quiet and undemonstrative meditation of the hand made. It symbolises Muriel Rose’s utter focus to claim these modest things as culturally specific, domestic and ready to enter the museum collection not just for one time, but all time.

   Installation view of Barron and Larcher's block printed fabrics from left to right: Kite (over chair), Carnac, Alice and Bunch with Feathers. Photography by Richard Eaton Photography.

I was lucky enough to see this major exhibition three times: on each occasion the rooms were full. I could not help thinking that the thirst for craft was as high as when Muriel Rose sent her exhibition off to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It was fine, serious and compelling, and a great tribute to all at Two Temple Place.'

For more information on the Crafts Study Centre please see their website here.


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