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North American Companions

This page ontains news of particular interest to North American Companions.

Please contact Professor James S. Spates at
or Dr Sara Atwood at for further information.

Check out Jim's blog, WHY RUSKIN?


September 23, 2017
"How we live and how we might live"

A symposium at the Swedenborgian Church, San Francisco

Given the present divisive social and political climate in the US, we believe it is important to consider what we might learn from an exploration of the sort of society Ruskin proposes. George Monbiot recently wrote in a Guardian article that "Those who tell the stories run the world. Politics has failed through a lack of competing narratives. The key task now is to tell a new story of what it is to be a human in the 21st century.” Our objective is to show that Ruskin offers us a narrative--not "a new story", but perhaps an eternal story, that might lead us to a better place. A full list of speakers has not yet been determined, but will include Clive Wilmer, Jim Spates, and Sara Atwood. Thanks are due to Companion Junchol Lee, who has generously offered to work with us in organizing this event. An associated event will be held at Companion Tim Holton’s studio and gallery in Berkeley (date and details TBA).

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June 3, 2017, 10.00-16.00
'Hand, head, and heart': Russkin, Morris and Craftsmanship Today

A symposium at the University of Tornoto, Canada (St George Campus)
Hosted in conjunction with the William Morris Society of Canada
Organised by Companions Sara Atwood and Ann Gagne.

Read about it here.

This symposium focused on the influence of John Ruskin and William Morris on craftsmanship in their own time and on those who continue to honour that legacy in their work today. Speakers were David Latham (editor, Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies), Rachel Dickinson (Guild of St. George/Manchester Metropolitan University), Kateri Ewing (Guild of St George, artist and teacher), Ann Gagne (Guild of St George, George Brown College), and Sara Atwood (Guild of St George, Portland State University).

The symposium took place during the annual Canadian Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences, Canada’s largest academic gathering, hosted this year by Ryerson University, Toronto.

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THE RUSKIN LECTURE 2016 — Prof. Sara Atwood: “‘A pile of feathers’: Valuing Education in a Market Society”

Watch the lecture online by clicking or tapping above.

  • Thursday, September 1, 2016
  • 7:00pm 9:00pm
  • Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library, Los Angeles, CA, USA.

The Ruskin Lecture — “‘A pile of feathers’: Valuing Education in a Market Society”

In recent years, the market has extended its reach ever more alarmingly into schools, universities, and educational reform initiatives. More and more, education is equated primarily with national and global economic success. Increased emphasis on testing, standardization, and measurement, a decrease in fine arts programs, and a growing tendency to treat students as consumers, point to a disturbing shift in our understanding of the value of education. At the same time, there is a growing lack of preparedness, curiosity, and cultural literacy amongst students. Today, disagreement persists about access, curricula, standards, teacher training and other subjects. Sara Atwood will consider how Ruskin’s ideas might productively inform our educational debates.

Read a student review here.

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Read David Mostardi's Companion article about
the history of the Hillside Club, Berkeley, California.

Among the audience at 2014’s symposium, "Helping in the work of creation": John Ruskin and William Morris Today” (The Hillside Club, Berkeley, CA), was Berkeley fine-art printer and designer Peter Koch ( . Peter has been designing and printing books and ephemera since 1974 and is deeply committed to craftsmanship and to “the beauty of a thing well made.” In June 2014 Peter delivered the Opening Remarks at the Book Club of California’s Bookmakers’ Congress, devoting much of his talk to thoughts about craftsmanship inspired by discussion at our symposium and his own reading of The Seven Lamps of Architecture. We are honored and delighted to have made Peter’s acquaintance and are pleased to be able to post his Opening Remarks on this website.


[From The Book Club of California Quarterly News-Letter,
vol. LXXIX, no. 4 (Autumn 2014) pp 141-145.]

Opening Remarks at the Book Club of California's
Bookmakers' Congress, June 30, 2014

by Peter Koch

Just one month ago I spent the day attending a John Ruskin conference at the Hillside Club in Berkeley (a club founded in 1896 by a group of Berkeley women dedicated to the principles of the rustic and simple architecture of Bernard Maybeck) where we were addressed by the Master of the Guild of St. George and several other eminent Ruskin authorities.

While listening, I was clearly reminded of our own Club's original commission
to maintain the ideals that grew from the same root sources of philosophic and craft oriented inspiration as those proclaimed by John Ruskin, William Morris, and the private press movement that flourished in Europe and America from the latter part of the nineteenth century until yesterday. I hesitate to say that the traditions of fine printing are flourishing today because as I look around me I see fewer and fewer books being produced that I can point to and say, "Now that is a finely printed book made by a master printer at his press and workshop."

This reminder came at a moment when I was actively despairing of the scarcity of master printers who are adequately trained in the rigorous disciplines of typography, book design, printing, and bookbinding, and in whose hands we can trust the work that will, in the future, carry forward our rich traditions of fine and artisanal bookmaking.

I especially enjoyed the exhortatory lecture delivered at the conference
that afternoon by Jim Spates, professor and member of the Guild of Saint George, on the Seven Lamps of Architecture, a book in which Ruskin elaborates his aesthetic and moral philosophy in relation to building and architecture. Upon reading the book, I found that the Seven Lamps apply neatly to the practice of making of books and to our current state of deplorable uniformity in mass-manufacturing methods. In fact, manufacturing is a bit of a misnomer since the hand plays such a small part in today's printing plant.

Ruskin's Seven Lamps—Sacrifice, Truth, Power, Beauty, Life, Memory,
and Obedience—are all clearly designed to illuminate and celebrate the joy of working by hand. Morris, following Ruskin, remarked that as time passes and more and more of the lamps are extinguished, the less the results of building promote life, and the more they resemble death. Little has changed in that sphere since Morris Co. flourished.

The lamp of Sacrifice is a splendid description of the spiritual nature
of work. Ruskin says of sacrifice that it is the excess of spirit and the generosity of the worker that lights the lamp of sacrifice. When we put that extra 30 percent into the required 80 percent of effort, we are giving of ourselves. We make that gift of ourselves and our spirit to our neighbors and friends. And it is that gift that creates the bond of generosity and thanks between the maker and the consumer of the work. Without that extra effort, that sacrifice, the work suffers. Without generosity, the result is crabbed and depleted.

I found the example that Mr. Spates quoted from a novel entitled
Buried Prey by John Stanford quite instructive: "Lucas had gone in and out of the Minneapolis City Hall probably ten thousand times during his career, and always marveled at how the original architects had managed to contrive a building that was at once ugly, inefficient, cold, sterile, charmless, and purple. And yet they had!"

He paired the above quote with another from an essay on Ruskin by
Ian Jeffrey: "Ruskin's idea was that in worthwhile architecture no two modules, panels or carved ornaments should ever be the same. If they are slightly dissimilar it is a sign that they have been made by hand and not by machine, which is a good thing and acknowledges the workman as a creator. Irregularity also implies change, which Ruskin valued above stasis and the perfection which destroys expression,

checks exertion and paralyzes vitality."


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I find that the "Workman as a Creator" is a deep and still revolutionary concept when it is applied to the whole of life. How many workers on the assembly lines producing our cell phones are acting as fully empowered individuals endowed with the mysteries of creation, destruction, and energy? How can the architects, engineers, and carpenters who build big-box malls exercise their human attributes of imperfect wisdom and the fleeting nature of beauty while installing the drywall? How can their work be joyful and express the uniqueness of each decision and every move?

I have come to appreciate the minute observable differences in inking
and impression that are evident in the hand-printed book. The look of worn type, the imperfections of hand sewing—all bear the marks of a human presence. I feel that the perfection of which highspeed printing machines are capable can, under certain conditions, be highly overrated. Yes there are reasons for verisimilitude and accurate depiction if you want copies and reproductions, but there are also many occasions when imperfection and the mark of the human hand and eye are beautiful, transcendent, and even preferable.

The conditions under which perfection may be considered overrated
or even inappropriate are the occasions that call for work by an artisan for a client or patron who wishes the work to express the joy of workmanship, a generous spirit, and that rare quality which approaches beauty. Simple things like doors, sugar bowls, and books.

It is occasions such as these that we should seek to multiply. We can
leave the perfectly machined reproduction to the trade in facsimiles and virtual copies.

I believe there is a hunger for beauty that we underestimate and
by underestimating, we send signals (and money) to all the wrong places, while, as artisans and connoisseurs, we suffer a self-imposed martyrdom.

The points that were consistently forwarded during the day-long
series of Lectures on Ruskin and his philosophy of art and architecture were clear:

· --That the making of things should be enjoyable and the work should vouchsafe the craftsperson his or her individuality, knowledge, and the opportunity to put something extra and personal into his or her work, the something more that celebrates humanity's joy in good work and workmanship.

· --That the perfection of the machine is not in itself a good and to seek of craftsmen and women the machine's perfection is to dehumanize them.

· --That the irregularity and idiosyncracy of the gothic cathedral (as a prime example) is infinitely more enjoyable an experience precisely because the humans employed in the making of it left their mark in the stones.

By taking into account these premises and applying them to the
making of books we soon arrive at the sad and sorry conclusion that books that rival the beauty of manuscript and the early printed books of the Renaissance are no longer being made except on the rarest of occasions in the workshops of only a few dedicated designer/printer/binders who, resisting the lure of the quick and easy way, insist on exploring the boundaries of the imperfect human condition by working with durable artisanal materials while utilizing methods of hand-craftsmanship and hard work.         (Continued on next page)

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