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Disrupted Ornamentation: How can the study of ornament at Manchester School of Art in the late 19th and early 20th century inform contemporary craft?

Lawton, Harriet (2019) Disrupted Ornamentation: How can the study of ornament at Manchester School of Art in the late 19th and early 20th century inform contemporary craft? Masters thesis (MA), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This practice-based research project observes Walter Crane’s historical teaching practices, which took natural form and decorative art objects as a starting point for ornamental design, in order to explore how historical museum objects can be used as a pedagogical tool and inform contemporary craft and design practice. Focusing upon a collection of museum objects which contributed to the Arts and Crafts Museum at Manchester School of Art (MSoA), founded following Crane’s recommendations, this research responds to his historical pedagogy through creative practice and written investigation. Object surfaces are broken down into their ornamental parts within craftfocused practice-based research, taking influence from Manuel De Landa’s theories as they are rearranged into new assemblages which explore ornament both upon material surface and as independent object. These assemblages originate as responses to a series of design controls laid out by Crane in his book ‘The Bases of Design’ (1898), and develop into compositions which observe, extend and challenge traditional rules of design, resulting in a series of “Disrupted Ornamentation”. The research also takes a pedagogical focus, encouraging the reader or viewer to spend time with historical museum objects and look more closely. This results in the presentation of ornament as pre-assembled, unfixed ornamental compositions, inviting the viewer to handle ornament and to be inspired to create new ornamental arrangements. Craft and design practice is underpinned by theoretical investigation into De Landa’s Assemblage Theory and the wider context of ornament, including challenging modernist claims that we have gone ‘beyond ornament’ (Loos et. Al, 1998:168) through the exploration of similar projects within the field of contemporary craft. Through the combination of written review, practice-based research and reflective writing (documented in a research journal at the end of the thesis); this thesis aims to demonstrate that historical pedagogical methods can be used in combination with ornamented museum objects to inspire new craft practice and encourage meaningful interactions between object and viewer.

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