Christopher Dresser's Teapot


This paper discusses Christopher Dressers work. It entails his ideals, beliefs and principles that led to his success. Central to this discourse, we highlight the use of his design principles to his teapot designed in 1878-9. Christopher Dressers underlying principle of design is often summarized by the phrase Truth beauty and Power. This phrase encircles his ideals and beliefs. In fact, it served as his foundation to the development and execution of his work. To understand the design, this paper carries out a correlation analysis to explore the attributes, previous studies, innovative views and interests that impacted on the design of the teapot. In this sense, this paper covers the relationship between Christopher Dresser and his product.

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Christopher Dresser is renowned for being one of the most outstanding and independent industrial designers. He earned a lot of respect due to his ability to integrate innovative design with an array production and manufacturing techniques. According to Morley, Christopher Dresser was the most prolific industrial designer in the second phase of the nineteenth century. Christopher Dresser was trained as a designer at the Government School of Design between 1847 and 1854. He started his professional work in about 1858. Most of his designs were exhibited in the 1862 Exhibition. In 1862, Dresser established his philosophy of design which was captured in both his review and book. The review was titled, Development of Ornamental Art in the International Exhibition. On the other hand, the book was titled, The Art of Decorative Design. In 1873, he expanded upon this philosophy in his book, Principles of Decorative Design. These publications indicated that, as early as 1860, Dresser had acquired an unparalleled understanding of materials and production techniques by hand or machine. In addition, these publications combined also indicate that Dresser was the mastermind behind the Arts and Crafts Movements. Christopher Dressers views were first evident in his work with Aesthetic Movement or the New English Art. Most of his late designs are characterized by the theme of Art Noveau. Hence, outstandingly, Dresser worked in all three Victorian styles: Arts and Crafts, Aesthetics and Art Nouveau. Despite the fact that there were other designers during his time, Dresser has been stereotyped as an industrial designer to eliminate any direct comparison with these designers.

During the second period of the nineteenth century, the applied architecture and arts movements in Britain underwent several transformations. Structures, interiors and objects mirrored a new and diverse period of mechanized production. The challenges faced by English artisans, designers and manufacturers in integrating the new mechanized production technology was evident in the substandard products that were exhibited at the 1851 International Exhibition in London. It was during this turbulent period that Christopher Dresser was emerged and was recognized a prolific industrial designer. He emerged as an award winning student at the Government School of Design in London. Dressers design principles were developed and influenced at the School of Design by various parties. In reference to Morriss dimensions, he envisioned innovative design co-existing with large scale production. Despite the great weight from Morriss Arts and Crafts movement, Dressers work was rejuvenated by critics such as Nikolas Pevsner in the twentieth century. Unlike William Morris (1834-1896), Dresser took advantage of the opportunity presented by mechanized technologies to make superior designs at affordable prices. He designed an electroplate teapot which was made by James Dixon and Sons. Christopher Dressers work incorporated many unconventional and futuristic components that later reemerged as function objects after his death I904. The section that follows examines sources of his vision an inspiration, his principles of design and their application in the design of his teapot.

Sources of Christopher Dressers Inspiration and Vision in the design of his teapot

Between 1847 and 1854, Dresser was greatly influenced by the Henry Cole group at the Government School for Design in London. When Dresser joined the Government School for Design in 1847, Cole had set up Felix Summerly Art-Manufactures. This institution encouraged artists to design and develop for industries. Other influential voices include Wormnum, Ruskin and Pugin. Dressers principle of conventionalizing natural decoration was influenced by Redgraves laws pertaining to numerical and geometrical rhythm. In his 1873 Principles of Decorative Design, Dresser points out five elements of styles. One of the most outstanding points is that a style should mirror the future. In addition, he pointed out that designers must consider proper material for construction of an object prior to ornament. Further, Dresser pointed that utility must have precedence over decoration. Based on this perspective, it is evident that his design of the teapot is an extension of his principles. In late 1850s, Dresser adapted his form of modern consumption from the work of Chinese artisans who were manufacturing gourd or bottle form vessels. Despite the fact that Dressers realm was ornament, he asserted that ornament and architecture were indivisible. He also believed that religion, climate, customs and materials at hand determined the architecture and the ornamentation of the constructions of the prevailing ages.

Dressers motto, Truth, Beauty and Power, was developed while at the Government School of Design in London. His definition of truth emphasized on the use of honesty or truthfulness in ornament and the use of material. On the other hand, beauty referred to meticulous and lovable forms. In addition, power corresponded to the energy and the insinuation of the conqueror. In other words, Dressers motto emphasized the power that is induced by truth and absence of dishonesty in architecture. Dresser believed that architectural lapses included surface and structural deceits. Considering his teapot design, this belief is expanded by the fact he uses natural materials in the design and ornamentation. Beauty, according to Dresser, was attained by reproducing the appearance of nature. In the same context power is illustrated by the fact that he had the knowledge of acquiring ivory and using it appropriately.

Dresser introduced the motto, Knowledge is Power in his book The Art of Decorative Design. The design of the teapot was based on this motto given that Dresser believed that an artist should be up to date with science as a source of truth. He also combined this scientific truth with the beauty in ornamentation to produce an excellent teapot which was futuristic at its time of design and development. In fact, his ambition as a true ornamentalist led him to take up his unrivaled position through his designs, especially the teapots. Furthermore, it is through his superior knowledge and skills that he managed to inspire and enlighten other designers towards beauty and truth. Some of the designers that were influenced by Christopher Dresser include Benson, Knox, Liberty, Galle, Loetz, Morris, Godwin and Silver Studio. Dresser was a pioneer designer, teacher, author, reviewer, botanist, theorist, traveler, merchant and architect. Above all, Dresser focused on progressive design not only in Britain, but also in Japan, America and the rest of Europe.

The lid of Dressers teapot has a circular piece of ivory which shows cranes flying over a lake. According to V&A. Dresser brought back this piece of ivory from Japan. A year before this design, he had travelled around Japan studying its manufactures and arts. Later on, he wrote a book about Japanese art and architecture.

The futuristic aspects of the teapot are evidenced by plainness nature and lack of surface decorations. The electroplate teapot was never placed in mass production because the process of manufacture proved to be costly. The method entailed using modeled and soldered metal sheet. Dressers teapots appear to be modern even as of this writing.

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In Dressers teapot design, we note that his motto and ambition produced the truth through an innovative design that would not only delight the illiterate, but also thrilled the educated, and the learned. Dressers teapots are a clear indication that he was well versed in the history of design. Moreover, he drew his style from being a talented botanist. Additionally, the plain geometric forms and wooden handles reflect the Japanese influence in his style. The combination of metal and ceramic was inspired by the Chinese metallic and ceramic pots in mid eighteenth century. Most of his teapots were similar to the Chinese shapes of 1850s.


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