BERGEN: AN INTRODUCTION TO A SCANDINAVIAN INSPIRED DESIGN - COMING JULY 2020
As a student silversmith Robert Welch became inspired by the work of contemporary Scandinavian designers.
“Scandinavia loomed large as an influence in the mid-1950s; the philosophy of the Scandinavians, so popular at that time, designing simple, everyday objects that were functional and beautiful and which most people could afford, greatly appealed to me. I was, and remain, committed to this ideal and since the ‘50s I have endeavoured to pursue this aim along with the craft of silverwork.”
Welch, R. (1986.) Hand & Machine, p.16
Robert made 4 trips to Scandinavia between 1953 and 1955, his first visit to Norway was in the summer of 1954. He was one of a group of students from the Royal College of Art and Kingston College of Art invited to work in Norwegian factories, with the visit culminating in an exhibition held in Bergen which was designed as a room setting. As the only silversmith in the group Robert worked with the factory of Theodor Olsen, a company founded in 1868 specialising in silver and enamelware.
During his time there he produced a candle holder and flower vase. The vase he made is chased with lines which were meant to be covered with a translucent enamel, but Robert ran out of time - it was bought in this unfinished state by Bergen Museum of Applied Art and is still on display there to this day. The sale “bowled him over”.
At the end of his time there Theodor Olsen offered Robert a job as a craftsman/ designer, Robert felt unable to accept, but it encouraged him to know that there were potential opportunities to work in this way, especially as the prospects for silversmiths in England seemed so bleak at the time.
On a separate visit to Sweden, Robert happened upon a display in a bank window showing designs for stainless steel. The drawings, dies, models and finished pieces were designed by Sigurd Persson and made by Swedish manufacturer, A.B.Silver & Stal. He realised that they were promoting the concept of the use of the material, but also of the designer working directly with a manufacturer, as well as the bank’s involvement in the enterprise. It made a profound impression on him, and he photographed the window.
Going into his last year at the Royal College, with the potential of this new material on his mind and the larger notion of design in the atmosphere at the college more generally, Robert decided that by focussing solely on silver he would be unable to support himself financially. His student thesis therefore explored his new love. The Design and Production of Stainless Steel Tableware explored how stainless steel had been used up until that point, largely focussing on Scandinavian designers and manufacturers as they had overtaken UK manufacturers after the war.
His final examination pieces were handmade and sent away to be industrially satin chrome plated, to show how it could be styled to look modern and clean.
"He began to think of himself as a designer and a silversmith, and this double identity remained with him for the rest of his life.” Crawford,A.(2004).‘Welch,Robert Radford (1929–2000)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press.
Nearly 70 years on, one of the new additions to the Robert Welch cutlery collection, Bergen, has its roots in this legacy and is named for the place Robert first conceived of becoming a designer/silversmith. The Scandinavian aesthetic and ethos are as much of an inspiration to our design team today as they ever were to Robert, and the material we specialise in owes its origins to his formative visits and the education he got whilst there during the 1950s.