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John Ruskin and the Guild of St George: heritage and legacies

Impact

Description of impact

This case study reports on ongoing work with the Guild of St George’s membership to raise awareness of the Guild’s history and material traces. The Guild of St George is a Utopian society created in 1871 by John Ruskin (1819-1900) in order to provide a model for an alternative to capitalist economic systems and behaviour. It thrives today as a charitable body with a large international membership involved in arts, crafts, environment, conservation, agriculture, social policy, and education. The case also builds on the Guild’s contemporary relevance by fostering economic, cultural, artisanal, and community activities in, around and beyond the Guild’s heartlands in Sheffield and the Wyre Forest. The events and activities that were informed by the underpinning research focused on implementing successful aspects of John Ruskin’s attempts to transform his political critique of society into practical alternative

Who is affected

Guild of St George
Ruskin-in-Sheffield
Ruskin-in-Wyre (Ruskinland)
Bewdley Museum
Millennium Galleries, Sheffield

Narrative

The ICS has involved a sustained collaboration with the Guild, a charitable organisation that has grown in strength under recent leadership and pursues an ambitious programme of cultural, economic, and social activities. These are centred primarily on its two major physical assets, the Ruskin Collection and a 113 acre estate in Worcestershire. The Ruskin Collection is a major holding of art, sculpture, geological items, books, and other materials now leased to Museums Sheffield. The knowledge content of the research has had actual impact in terms of motivating and supporting public research and writing, an exhibition, a promenading performance, and memorial projects that have also had the effect of raising awareness of Ruskin’s work. Many of these activities have taken place as a result of engagement with the research, and through my ability to forge external partnerships. My involvement in Ruskin In Sheffield and the Wyre Forest Steering Group arose because organisers identified me as someone who could provide unique insights into how the Guild’s early history and Ruskin’s complex legacy of ideas can be translated in the present day. Impacts have been successfully directed towards the active membership of the Guild of St George, those involved in agricultural, educational, and social activities on the Guild’s Wyre Forest estate, and the wider community of Walkley, Sheffiield, and Totley. My work in this area has Increased public knowledge of the Guild of St George’s history and increased engagement between the Guild and community organisations and individuals. The underpinning research in this area and the collaborations with the Guild of St George, Ruskin-in- Sheffield & Ruskin-in- Wyre projects, Bewdley Museum and Sally Goldsmith have helped inform the public and the local community about the history of the guild. This also informs us about what is valuable and what is not in Ruskin's work and the guild's approach. Ruskin and his critique of capitalism were not successfully implemented in the Guild’s general operation back in the time. However, the regeneration of the guild in the past 20 years has led to creating a process of moving forward by adopting aspects of Ruskin’s philosophy that it was not possible to do in the past. A. Since 2014 I have worked in various ways with the Director of Ruskin-in-Sheffield. Details of RiS can be found here: http://www.ruskininsheffield.com/ In Sheffield: I contributed to its activities through outreach activities (public lectures) and through discussion helping to shape the ambitious programme of events that RiS has pursued since 2014 as a Heritage Lottery funded project. The director’s main objective was to invite the public to engage with local history, to experience Ruskin’s philosophy about the creation of beauty and fostering connections between people at a local community level. (5.1.c) I led a successful campaign to restore the grave of the Guild Museum’s first curator, Henry Swan, and to create memorial plaques, one for Swan and one on the original museum building. This was important as this is the first museum for working class people which also highlighted the contradiction between Ruskin’s ideology and how it was implemented at the time. It is important to note that Ruskin was trying to teach people to appreciate beauty. i.e. offer access to the art but in practice the people that were working for it experienced different situations. (5.1.c) I have also worked extensively with local historians keen to follow up my monograph research at a local level. One of these, Sally Goldsmith produced a walking theatrical performance, ‘Boots, Fresh Air, and Ginger Beer’, which again drew directly on my monograph research. The purpose of the performance was to present aspects of the early history of the community at the time and the way that it depicts the Sheffield working class culture. The performance offered a greater understanding about the austerity context and how the Guild fits in it. (5.1.c and d) Inspired by my research, and again in close liaison with me, Sally then undertook a detailed study of the Guild’s early Sheffield projects, Thirteen Acres: John Ruskin and the Totley Communists (Sheffield: Guild of St George, 2017). This study followed from my monograph, it focused on offering more detail about the experiences of the people involved in the Guild project, on developing a list of names of the people that were involved, their social history, and the author went into the period a little after as well. (5.1.c and d) B. The second major strand of work involved working with the Guild’s estate in the Wyre Forest https://www.guildofstgeorge.org.uk/projects/ruskin-in-wyre In relation to this: I was invited to sit on its Steering Group in 2014 in order to provide insights into the Guild’s history that would shape the nature of its present activities in order to fulfil Ruskin’s pledge ‘to take some small piece of English Land, beautiful, peaceful and fruitful’, and, in the words of the organisers, ‘to provide opportunities for working people to cultivate land and reconnect with nature’. My work was pivotal in shaping the direction of travel of RiW and in the realisation by the organisers that ‘Ruskin’s ideas remain relevant today and it is our mission to reinterpret them in meaningful, creative and productive ways for a new generation’. (5.1.a) I worked with others on RiW’s successful Heritage Lottery Fund bid for ambitious activities relating to forest management, farming, orchards, arts, and crafts. I wrote part of the bid (section on the historical background), a total of X number of activities we planned, and they were successful as they led to shaping the area into a beautiful place that employed people, that developed volunteering schemes, and that involved architecture students in building installations. All of these activities are part of Ruskin's philosophy, linking people to the land and work (it is how we define ourselves). (5.1.b) My monograph inspired an exhibition at Bewdley Museum in 2014. (5.a) In September 2019 a commemoration project will come to fruition with the creation of a memorial stone at the grave site of the Guild’s earliest agricultural companion in Bewdley. To ensure this person is remembered, people need to be aware of his story and what happened.
Relations

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