Rare treasures in One and All: Cornish Arts and Crafts Metalwork at the Royal Cornwall Museum

By Culture24 Reporter | 12 August 2011
A photo of a man standing in front of metalworks inside a museum
© Bernie Pettersen
Exhibition: One and All: Cornish Arts and Crafts Metalwork, Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro, until October 1 2011

A chartered landscape architect by day, Colin Pill had his eyes opened to Cornwall’s monumental design lineage by his father, and was sufficiently inspired to spend the past 15 years building up a collection charting its story. “It’s amazing how many pieces I still find,” he says. “The thrill of discovery never gets any less. Coming upon something that I haven’t seen before is very exciting and never fails to make me smile.”

Any craft connoisseur could echo his sense of wonder during a saunter through this show. The region may be best known for the master painters of its art dynasties, but the objects here count everything from caskets and platters to letter racks and fireside sets, made between the end of the 19th century and the late 1960s. Keen to contextualise them within a story, Pill goes for substance as well as style.

“I wanted to choose a range of exhibits – most of which had a functional use in their time,” he says. “They showcase Cornish culture as well as its art, and should prove fascinating to anyone interested in Cornish history as well as art.” Pill has had some great characters to choose from, illuminating previous shows at Cheltenham Art Gallery, London’s Geffrye Museum and Penlee House in Penzance.

Archibald Carne, to name one, was both a skilled blacksmith and a gifted artist and designer, born in nearby Kea in 1897. He opened up a forge at the tender age of 17, before being scuppered by enlistment when the First World War broke out.

Eventually he found fame and fortune in Newlyn, London, Paris and New York with a range of glorious wrought-iron works ranging from candlesticks to gates, with members of royalty among his buyers. Following his death at the age of 70, in 1968, an archive documenting his ingenious handiwork was donated to the Royal Cornwall Museum.

Another south-west pioneer was Charles Eustace, whose distinctive trays, brooches, pitchers and handkerchief boxes comprise some of the highlights of the exhibition. Eustace taught his art to his younger brother, eldest son and eldest daughter, who all excelled in their own right.

Silver and enamel gems from the hand of Reg Dick – an Honorary Life Member of the Newlyn Society of Artists considered one of the greatest Newlyn Enamel jewellery makers of all time – also go on rare display. Enamels and silver from the area are both unusual and highly-prized, so these examples from the silversmith, painter, stained-glass artist and designer are genuine treasures.

They’re also rewards for Pill’s tireless passion. “Collecting Cornish metalwork is an investment but, much more importantly as far as I’m concerned, it’s enjoyable,” he says. A maker himself who finds time to produce a few pieces a year alongside commissions and restorations, the curator coincides the launch of One and All with his new book, Cornish Art Metalwork.

“It was a book I wanted to buy but no-one had written,” he admits. “That’s why I knew I had to write it.”

  • Open 10am-4.45pm Tuesday-Saturday. Admission free.
More pictures from the show:

A photo of a man looking at a small ancient comb
Colin Pill takes a closer look at one of the exhibits in One and All
© Bernie Pettersen
A photo of a metallic cast frame of a sailing ship at sea
Exquisitely intricate designs reveal an arguably overlooked design heritage across the county
© Bernie Pettersen
A photo of a light brown metalwork showing a crest of Cornwall
One and All has already proved popular at other museums in the south-west and London
© Bernie Pettersen
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