The company ethos of the Omega Workshops was a development from that of previous institutions and movements. The Aesthetic movement of the late nineteenth century had stressed ‘art for art’s sake’1 as a working principle which translates into the Omega emphasis on pure art and beauty. What critic Charles Marriott sees in Omega as ‘a genuine revival of folk art’2 resonates with these sentiments, as does Fry’s concern with artistic ‘vitality’3, sparking a return to the ‘ideal of naive or peasant decorations’4 wherein appearance resonates with truth. Omega stripped objects of associations with individual artistic genius in order to enhance the innate aesthetic qualities such an artist would have imbued the object with.
Printed Plate with Letter Omega, attributed to Roger Fry, Omega Workshops, 1913, ceramics.
The initiative taken here depended on artistic synergy, shared contribution and creative energy focused in the diversity and range of products on offer: from tableware produced by Fry, art pieces by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska to lamp stands recalling Cubism, experiments with marquetry and clothing woven from fabric designed by the firm. This activity attests to a firm belief in the authenticity of artistic experience as do the allowances for idiosyncrasies in the finished pieces.
‘The Wrestlers’, Tray, 1913, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Omega Workshops, Wood, with marquetry.
This in turn has its roots in the Arts and Crafts Movement whose revivalist workshops had spearheaded the uniqueness of the applied arts. However, in terms of values, Omega differed in shifting the focus from ‘craft’ to ‘art’ and the livelihood of the artist himself. Here we can parallel William Morris, who was committed to social reform through design reform5, to Fry who contracted out the process of production to manufacturers, makers and designers6 all working in tandem to fundamentally support the artist.
Lamp Stand, Omega Workshops, V&A, In Storage.
Omega was initiated by Fry providing a monetary incentive for artists who may not have been otherwise trained craftsmen, which points to an experimental learning curve in the business model:
I am intending to start a workshop for decorative and applied art. I find that there are many young artists whose painting shows strong decorative feeling, who will be glad to use their talents on applied art both as a means of livelihood and as an advantage to their as painters and sculptors7
This statement made by Fry in 1913 outlines Omega’s cooperative efforts and shared endeavour, which were later consolidated by an anonymous basis of production and set rate once established. The model of production was beneficial to numerous parties: Artists and designers were able to work with mixed media and enter the arena of industrial production whilst those who could realise the Omega artist’s designs were allowed into the fold. For example, the French colour printing firm, Maromme, were engaged to print Omega linens and ‘employed a number of special technical processes in order to preserve as far as possible the freedom and spontaneity of the original drawing.’8
Roger Fry in the Omega Studio.
The structure and operation of Omega therefore inherently fostered experimentation through its sources of inspiration, working incentive and the artistic freedom given within the applied arts.
(Stay tuned for further exploration of this gorgeously aesthetic movement in British Design History)
1‘Aesthetic movement’, Tate Learn: Online Resources [n.d], http://www.tate.org.uk/learn/online- 13 resources/glossary/a/aesthetic-movement [accessed 2017].
2Naylor, ‘Reviewed Works’, pp. 85-88.
3 F. Spalding, Roger Fry, Art and Life (University of California Press, 1980), p. 233.
4Naylor, ‘Reviewed Works’, pp. 85-88.
5‘The Arts & Crafts Movement’, vam.ac.uk [n.d.], http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/the-arts-and-crafts-movement/ [accessed 2017].
6Kaname, ‘Deign for Whose Sake?’, p. 1.
7Spalding, Roger Fry, Art and Life, p. 176
8Kaname, ‘Design for Whose Sake?’, p. 8.