Collection

Fusion tray

Collection: When modernism goes bad

Category: Metal

Date: 1960's

Designer: Gerald Benney

Nationality of Designer: British

Manufacturer: Viners of Sheffield

Manufacturers Location: Sheffield, Yorkshire (UK)

Material: Stainless steel and coloured enamels

Dimensions: Width 30cm x height 30cm

Purchase Price: Prize

Abstract:

Steel decorated tray

Provenance:

Won at the 2007 Coniston ‘Gardeners Questions Time’ raffle by Lisa Stewart. Karen Guthrie was on the panel answering questions about gardening in the Lake District.

Personal history/nominator:

'It was this or an egg harp' Lisa Stewart

Adaptions/renovations:

None

Why it's in the Collection:

This work - in stainless steel and enamel - brings together two disparate designs, one drawn from the work of Christopher Dresser, the other a trademark Gerald Benney form of a quintessential 1970’s ‘Abigails Party’ style Hors d’oeuvres tray.

The piece illustrates the juxtaposition of modernist lines with theVictorian decorative aesthetic movement (as - in a roundabout way - does 'Abigail’s Party'). It is one of the key works in the Collection that illustrates the impact of the Arts and Crafts revival on modernist design.

About the Designer/Maker:

Oddly, Benney stated "My philosophy as such is to project and involve my own personal design theme without too much reference to others in the field."

A fine Goldsmith, Benney was born in Hull in 1930 and went on to study at Brighton College of Art between 1946-8 where his father was Principal. He initially trained under the tuition of ecclesiastical metalworker extraordinaire, Dunstan Pruden at Ditchling (the small village in East Sussex that was taken over by artists and craft workers in the early 20th Century). Though well after Eric Gill's time in Ditchling, the influence is still apparent and is a direct connection to the A&C movement and Gill's modernist aesthetic.

After studying at the Royal College of Art between 1950-53 Benney became Professor of Silversmithing and Jewellery there from 1974 to 1983. He was Consultant Designer to Viners of Sheffield, designing pieces for silver, pewter and stainless steel production.

His company continues to produce high cost metal ware today under the slightly unfortunate name of 'Benney' (sounds like a wine bar) with a showroom on Walton Street, London which is now run by Simon Benney, Gerald’s son, in the tradition of the crafts world - happy people with non-rebellious children.

About the Manufacturer:

Viners of Sheffield was founded in 1907 by members of the Viner family. Under the management of Ruben Viner and Leslie Glatman, it became one of the largest manufacturers of cutlery and flatware in Sheffield. At its peak, the firm is said to have employed over 1000 workers.

During the 1950s, Viners acquired the cutlery firms Thomas Turner and Harrison Brothers & Howson. Gerald Benney was appointed as designer from 1957 to 1969. Many of the designs produced by Benney for Viners were commercial successes, including the 'Studio' and 'Chelsea' patterns of cutlery and flatware.

As a result of overexpansion during the 1970s the firm went into receivership in 1982. The rights to the company name were purchased by Oneida and 'Viners' goods continue to be made today.

Bibliography & Further information

Gerald Benney: Goldsmith: The Story of Fifty Years at the Bench, Hughes Graham, 1999, 095266531X

An example of Benney's varied work

Viners