Arts & Crafts & Stamps

20 May 2016

The creation of a stamp is an art in itself, and for many years stamp designs have showcased other forms of craft. Here are just a few examples of how different crafts and their processes have been displayed.

Stained Glass windows depicting angels and religious figures.

Christmas, Miniature Sheet, 2009

Though stained-glass panels can be found in numerous buildings, we mainly associate them with places of worship. They are there to illuminate their surroundings but also to educate or act as devotional images. They are produced by cutting coloured glass to the required size and patch-working the image together within a lead frame. Details can then be added to the image by painting onto the glass, as you can see in the angel’s hair below. Not all windows depict narrative; many are geometric patterns or symbolic motifs.

Stained Glass window with an image of Angel Gabriel holding lilies.

Angel Gabriel, St James, Pangbourne, Christmas, 18p, 1992

William Morris (1834-1896) was one of the leading figures in the British Arts and Crafts movement, which began around 1880. He was known for creating wallpapers, fabrics and even stained glass. His wallpaper designs were produced by carving into wood blocks to create intricate patterns. He chose to use Jeffery & Co. to produce the paper and worked closely with them to attain the exact colour he wanted, favouring the natural pigments.

Image of William Morris wallpaper depicting large flowers on a detailed background.

Morris and Company, Cray, 1st NVI, 2011

Morris made friends with many of the leading artisans of the Victorian period, including Edward Burn-Jones, Gabriel Rossetti and Philip Webb. Together with others they formed the partnership Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., though Morris later took control of the entire company, forming Morris & Co. His designs have had a huge impact on interior design and influenced generations of designers. You can still buy them today.

William Morris design of strawberries, birds and flowers.

British Textiles, William Morris, Strawberry Thief, 15½p, 1982

The production of jewellery is an expensive craft, and what better example of this trade could there be than the Crown Jewels. St Edward’s Crown is the principle piece in the Royal Regalia, used at the moment of coronation. It was produced for the coronation of Charles II and was based on the medieval crown of Edward the Confessor, which was melted down by the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War. Initially the jewels in the crown were hired, until the coronation of George V, when they were permanently set into the crown.

The top of St Edwards Crown made in gold adorned with jewels.

The Crown Jewels, St Edward’s Crown, 1st NVI, 2011

The Sceptre with cross is presented to the monarch during the coronation as a sign of power. The sceptre, like that of St Edward’s Crown, has undergone many alterations – most significantly in 1910, when it received the Cullinan diamond. The Cullinan diamond was discovered in Pretoria, South Africa and is still today the largest diamond ever found. It was presented to Edward VII as a gift, and when cut produced 9 principle diamonds and 97 smaller gems. The largest of these, at a weight of 3,025 carats, sits in the sceptre.

Top of the Sovereign's Sceptre which holds the Cullinan diamond.

The Crown Jewels, The Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross, 1st NVI, 2011

Andy Goldsworthy OBE (born 1956) is a British Sculptor who lives and works in Scotland, where many of the Christmas stamps below were produced. His work is inspired by nature and produced with natural objects. His work conforms to the restraints of its surroundings and as such will change and decay during its lifespan.

Garlic leaf sculpture arranged in a spiral on earth.

Garlic Leaves, The Four Seasons Springtime, 30p, 1995

The below First Day Cover shows the second Royal Mail stamp issue Goldsworthy worked on, this time for Christmas, focusing on his ice sculptures. Some of his work is extremely fragile, and because of its transient nature, photography and film production are integral to his art. Photos prints can be made from these, allowing a wider audience to experience his creations.

A first day Cover depicting the six sculptures Andy Goldsworthy produced for Royal Mail made from ice or snow.

Christmas, First Day Cover, 2003

I have always admired the concept of craftsmanship, and the workshop that passes down skills from generation to generation. Many of these items are collaborative works, but without the genius of skilled individuals like William Morris and Andy Goldsworthy, none of them would have been possible. Hopefully future stamp designs will continue to appreciate other forms of crafts, depicting art in art.

– Georgina Tomlinson, Curatorial Assistant