Archibald Knox has for some time been recognised as one of the countries most influential designers who worked predominantly for the company Liberty & Co.
The famous shop in Regent Street would become an international focus of art, design, and good taste. Its founder would shape art history through the wares that he sold.
Knox helped to create the Celtic revival.
In Italy Style Liberty is the term generally used to describe Art Nouveau, such was its reputation.
Though England would help shape the worlds art through the thought process best exemplified by John Ruskin and William Morris on the continent the inspirational work of Viollet-le-Duc would also help give birth to a movement that had more freedom.
The restraint that developed in Britain steered the public away from the designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, whose Glasgow School of Art was sneered at as out of date when completed. On the continent he helped inspire a generation of artists and designers such as Joseph Hoffman as head of The Wiemer Werkstatte.
In Europe the freedom to express forged a more liberated version of art Nouveau.
The term Art Nouveau, French for new art was the name of the shop opened by Samuel Bing that was a direct influence from the Liberty & Co store.
The Celtic style would remain popular for a generation and the man who was to do more to drive it forward would be Archibald Knox.
Knox was born 1864 Cronkbourne (Tromode) Isle of Man. His father was an engineer and he was expected to follow the family tradition. He felt isolated amidst the pressure to, like his brothers join the family firm. Robert Knox was concerned about his sons use of the pencil complaining “Why he doesn't even know how to hold a hammer”.
At an early age he lost the top of his index finger and was happy to sketch and draw.
He was surrounded with Ornament of a Celtic nature, he would be sure to be influenced by this.
Owen Jones Grammar of Ornament would be published in 1856 and would hold a section on Celtic ornament.
Principles of Ornament would be outlined by Christopher Dresser in 1876 in his volume Studies in Design.
He attended St Barnabas Elementary School and then Douglas Grammar School both in Douglas becoming a pupil teacher 1878-1883.
In 1887 he passed the examination in 'Design' with a first class result in 'Principles of Ornament and went on to achieve a Art Masters Certificate in 1889
In 1893 he published an article in 'The Builder' entitled 'Ancient Crosses in The Isle Of Man'. He was possibly working in the offices of the architect and designer M.H. Baillie Scott until 1896.
He left Isle of Man in 1897 to take up a teaching post at Redhill Surrey.
Knox contacted the firm of Liberty possibly through his association with Baillie Scott who had been designing fabrics for the company from as early as 1893.
He became design master at the art School Kingston-upon-Thames in 1899 the same year as the first Cymric patterns became available in the Liberty store.
In 1900 the same year as he purchased a cottage at Sulby on the Isle of Man the cheaper Tudric range was introduced in direct competition to the continental manufacturers. Knox submitted several of piece meal designs.
He would live close to Christopher Dresser who designed, indirectly for Liberty.
1903 sees Liberty taking part in the Arts and Crafts Exhibition with four items by Knox.
By 1904 he was submitting huge amounts of designs for Silver, Pewter, carpets, pottery, jewellery, textiles and possibly furniture to Liberty's. While still teaching at Kingston-upon-Thames. In 1904 he was appointed principle at Wimbledon.
In 1909 Liberty & Co sold several designs to their competitors James Connell.
South Kensington Examiners complain about Knox's style of teaching which he rejects and resigns.
One of the pupils pull out a bunch of designs in a waste-paper basket in Kingston Art School and save them. These are now in the V&A.
Denise and Winifred Tuckfield along with six other students leave in disgust at the acceptance of Knox resignation.
He returned to The Isle of Man in 1912 but on the 21st august that year left for Philadelphia from Liverpool on a schooner named Dominion. He failed to find suitable employment though he taught for a while in Pennsylvania School of Industrial arts. In a letter to Denise Tuckfield he states misgivings about the Renaissance architecture that made up the city. A style of architecture he did not like. 'Renaissance architecture is a scholars work-Gothic is work done by a man of sentiment and feeling'. He would say.
He had carried a letter of introduction from Arthur Lazenby Liberty which no doubt helped him secure work with Bromley and Co designing carpets.
He also carried with him Liberty catalogues and his work was recognised. Though in the letter to Ms Tuckfield he states that one firm called it the art of the drug store.
He moved to New York. In 1913 he returned to Isle of Man.
He taught at the Aliens Detention camp there and served as a censor during the war.
In 1917 Arthur Lazenby Liberty died. Knox designed his memorial stone at The Lee Church in Buckinghamshire.
1920 sees him teaching art at Douglas High school and he also travels to Italy to study frescoes.
He held a one man exhibition in Ottawa Canada of his paintings.
In 1933 he died suddenly and was buried at the age of 69 in Braddon Cemetery Isle of Man.
The Knox designs held in the V&A have long thought to be the rejected designs.
Knox designs have long held an attribution based on elements of design known to be by Knox's own hand.
There is a formula to the work of Knox he would take a rough sketch and rework it over and over again and eventually the Celtic interlacing would appear as if through a fog of smudges and marks. This a very interesting way to work it almost feels mystical. When the work was coming to life with smudges and all and parts of the paper rubbed out with grey lines all over the paper, a transfer was taken by tracing the design using a sharpened lead pencil.
Where semi precious stones were to be placed would often be highlighted with watercolour.
The designs would be annotated with shape size and details such as stones and enamels.
Numbers that were intended to relate to the grouping of several pieces in sequence maybe to be used as a unit such as a tray to be combined with a tea service.
Knox kept a stock book detailing which designs Liberty & Co actually purchased.
The majority of the designs held in the V&A collection were intended for the Cymric range of metalwork.
By 1900 the output was catching up with design and what had been happening on the continent with pewter was put into practice.
Lazenby Liberty had acquired the designs for several competition winners held by The Studio magazine. There was a rule that the purchase of the design could not be purchased for more than the prize money won.
At this stage the numbers are not up to 50 and the Tea Caddy design from the Studio by Tramp (David Veazey). The design for a tankard by ' Parnassus' Charlotte E. Elliot, 111 Chatham Street Liverpool has the number 049.
Rivet as much as you can;
Don't countersink the rivets;
Give them a firm head so they may have a firm grip;
complete them that they cannot hold dirt;
Give them desired form; they are sin clipped:
Flattened too obviously.
He would proclaim to his pupils.
With the pewter range there was no need for riveting in the moulded production and it seems that this is intended for silver work.
The discarded drawings were from 1911-12 when they were binned when he stormed out of his position at Kingston.
So it is by attribution that we put many designs as the work of Knox and Liberty was adamant that the name Liberty & Co would be the only attribution that would appear on the work.
Though the Cymric and Tudric pewter wares are widely known to be by Knox.
Most of the Liberty & Co archives were destroyed by enemy bombing during the war.
That said the Celtic revival that Archibald Knox helped to bring to the masses leaves him placed as one of the most influential designers of the Arts and Crafts period.
The students who walked out from Kingston now formed the 'Knox Guild of Craft and Design' and set up premises at 24 Market St Kingston. He supervised and attended several exhibitions and showed his rarely viewed watercolours.
They exhibited at the 1924 exhibition hall not only work but set up looms and other equipment.
Denise Wren (nee Tuckfield) continued with designs at Oxshott Pottery which is still run today by her daughter Rosemary. Her designs of 1913 show direct reference to the principles of design laid down by her mentor and do look familiar in style. She also designed alphabet that look as if it could have been made at the hand of Archibald Knox.
Liberty sold designs attributed to Knox that were manufactured at the Watts Pottery, Compton.
Most of his work was attributed to Liberty under the usual format.
He seems to have been an unassuming character who would not have minded preferring to be part of something much bigger.
He leaves us a legacy that helped to form the Celtic spirit and the history of its artistic presence in these isles that now too becomes a part of its recent history to inspire further generations in the not too distant future.