In the Footsteps of the Mouse

In the Footsteps of the Mouse

Thomas ‘Gnomeman’ Whittaker and the Legacy of Kilburn

Sworders are delighted to be offering a private collection of Gnomeman furniture as part of our 31st of October Design Sale, acquired by the parents of the vendor directly from the artist’s studio outside Littlebeck in Yorkshire where they travelled regularly to make new purchases throughout the 1950s.

17 October 2023

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The furniture and crafts of Robert ‘Mouseman’ Thompson remain as prolific as they were 100 years ago when Thompson, following in the footsteps and philosophy of William Morris and John Ruskin, headed up the revival of British crafts during the 1920s. As the popularity of his craft grew, so did his workshop in Kilburn, Yorkshire, where an increasing number of disciples and students were taken on to meet the demand.

 

 

As a result, following Thompson’s death in 1955, the stage was set for a new generation of craftsmen mimicking the crafts taught to them by Robert Thompson, each setting out under their own moniker, ranging from Derek ‘Lizarman’ Slater and Bob ‘Wrenman’ Hunter, to Horace ‘Knightman’ Knight and Alan ‘Acornman’ Grainger. The school of craftsmen have since become collectively known as the Yorkshire Critters, celebrating their Yorkshire heritage and the stylistic and technical influence of Robert Thompson, with some adhering to his style creating exact replicas, rather than defining their own style and legacies.

 

 

One of the anomalies in this regard was Thomas Whittaker (1910-1991), known under the pseudonym Gnomeman. Whilst Whittaker trained in York and is indeed considered by many a member of the Yorkshire Critters, he did in fact never train or work under Robert Thompson. He also travelled to southern Germany and northern Switzerland, allowing himself to be influenced by the Black Forest crafts as well as his native Yorkshire school of crafts. Often considered a later comparable with Robert Thompson, Gnomeman pieces have become increasingly collectible in recent years, with prices starting to be comparable with Mouseman pieces in places.

 

A pair of Thomas 'Gnomeman' Whittaker oak side chairs (£200-300)

 

Sworders are delighted to be offering a private collection of Gnomeman furniture as part of our 31st of October Design Sale, acquired by the parents of the vendor directly from the artist’s studio outside Littlebeck in Yorkshire where they travelled regularly to make new purchases throughout the 1950s. The centrepiece of the collection is an extraordinary court cupboard, which exhibits his signature style, combining continental crafts and shapes with local iconography. Executed in the traditional 16th and 17th century style seen across northern Europe it features an exquisitely carved Yorkshire rose on the centre cupboard over the three coiled serpents of the Whitby coat of arms, seamlessly marrying his influences together.

 

A pair of Thomas 'Gnomeman' Whittaker figural oak bookends (£300-500)

 

In an age of computers and technology the tactile nature of the Yorkshire School remains as popular as ever, exhibiting a sense of tradition and skilled craftsmanship. With the workshop at Kilburn still active and catering to a global demand, connoisseurs and enthusiasts may instead consider many of the Critters whose practices and workshops died with them, with talents on par with those of Robert Thompson. Having endured stylistically and materially for over a hundred years, these make for excellent objects at auction, celebrating the British crafts and design tradition still carried on to this day and desired across the world.

 

A carved Thomas 'Gnomeman' Whittaker oak figurine (£200-300)

 


 

Tuesday 31 October | 10am

design@sworder.co.uk | 01279 817778

 

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