My paper is about two women who focused on a common ideal, namely, the use of hand labour for social reconstruction after the Second South African War of 1899 to 1902. The women, Florence Phillips (1863-1940) and Emily Hobhouse (1860-1925), could not have been more different, although there are common threads running through what they hoped to achieve and they shared the same historical landscape. They may even have met, or at least have known about the other. But they were radically opposed in the social and political sphere, and the results of their efforts were as different. I shall examine how and why ideals formulated in nineteenth-century Britain were transplanted and interpreted by two such different agents at the periphery of the empire.
The point of departure in this study was research on the founding of the Johannesburg Art Gallery. I discovered, rather unexpectedly, that arts and crafts initiatives in the post war period, which devolved from the mother country and engaged people as diverse as Emily Hobhouse and the architect Herbert Baker, were a seminal influence in the creation of this municipal art museum. But this was only to the extent that they were mediated through Florence Phillips. It was she who set about institutionalising various vague ideals about the arts and crafts and the social organisation of the working classes, although whether the end result was what she initially planned is another issue. I shall begin by examining the two principal influences that shaped Florence Phillips’s public work: the Arts and Crafts Movement and educational museums in Britain of the late nineteenth to early twentieth century.
Florence Ortlepp was born and grew up in South Africa, met and married Lionel Phillips on the Kimberley diamond fields in 1885, visited Britain for the first time in 1887 to meet Lionel’s family, and moved to Johannesburg in late 1889. Between her first visit and the opening of the Johannesburg Art Gallery collection in November 1910, Florence spent more time in Britain than South Africa. Their longest period here was when the Phillips family moved to Britain in 1896 following Lionel’s implication in the Jameson Raid and expulsion from the Transvaal Republic. They were resident in Britain during the Second South African War, in considerable luxury, with homes in London and Hampshire. When they returned to Johannesburg for a visit in 1905, and to settle in February 1906, they retained their British country estate, Tylney Hall, and continued to visit Britain regularly.
Florence Phillips appears to have been considerably influenced during her long periods in Britain by the tenets of the Arts and Crafts Movement, in its increasingly diluted form, that is. Around the turn of the century the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, which coined the phrase ‘Arts and Crafts’ at its foundation in 1886, began to divert from its original purpose of providing gainful employment through collaboration with commercial manufacturers, like textile or wallpaper firms. It increasingly became more akin to the concerns of a women’s institute, where occupation for idle hands predominated over the need to generate funds to feed a family. This filtered-down form of the Arts and Crafts Movement meant that a wealthy woman like Florence Phillips could subscribe to the idea of crafted items and gainful handwork without allying herself with the socialism of William Morris (1834-96) and John Ruskin (1819-1900) that initially
informed the movement. Although there is no evidence that Florence Phillips read Morris or Ruskin, she seems to have been familiar – or at least in sympathy – with Morris’s precept of “Art made by the people and for the people as a joy to the maker and the user” and Ruskin’s precept that, along with government training schools, there should be established “manufactories and workshops for the production and sale of every necessary of life, and for the exercise of every useful art.” These ideals she attempted to transplant in South Africa.
Florence Phillips was also influenced, during her sojourns in Britain, by the type of educational museum that flourished in Britain during the second half of the nineteenth century and was epitomised in the South Kensington Museum, founded in 1852 and renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in 1899 (but Florence always called it the South Kensington).
The basis of the V&A’s educational programme was to have a teaching collection linked with a school of industrial science and art. Its broad aim of facilitating museum access for the indigent and providing high quality exemplars for teaching purposes was largely responsible for the early development of the V&A’s collection, in which the fine and applied arts were mingled in a general whole designed to communicate on a simple level. The vastness and divergence of the collection attracted huge audiences of domestic and foreign visitors, resulting in the general perception of the V&A’s extraordinary success in reaching its goals. It was highly influential in the development of the type of museum in Britain, Europe and the USA, where period rooms, decorative art and sculpture were displayed alongside paintings.
In Britain, the numerous provincial galleries and museums established in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century were also related to a broader social initiative: the efforts by representatives of the upper and middle classes to organise the leisure of the working classes by offering educational, cultural and sporting opportunities. These efforts ranged from Samuel and Henrietta Barnett’s initiatives in the east-end slums of London like the Toynbee Hall settlement movement and the Whitechapel Art Gallery, to garden cities or suburbs like Henrietta Barnett’s Hampstead Garden Suburb, to art galleries and museums in new industrial towns of which a prime purpose was to proclaim the good administration, wealth and sound cultural values of both local government and the newly-rich patron. The new museums often housed indifferent educational collections of craftwork and paintings, frequently gifts, resulting in an ambiguous relationship in their collections between the fine and decorative arts.
This ambiguity lies at the heart of the divide between the museum which displayed the visual arts indiscriminately, and the museum (or gallery) in the late nineteenth- to early twentieth-century which focused exclusively on the fine arts, such as the National Gallery in London, or Hugh Lane’s highly-acclaimed gallery of modern art in Dublin. The latter type of art gallery was what Johannesburg got in the end, when Hugh Lane was commissioned to put together a collection of modern art for this colonial town. But in fact, Florence Phillips’s preference was to reproduce a V&A clone in Johannesburg, an educational museum and art gallery for the masses, with a school of art and design and an art library. She did not succeed. The Johannesburg Art Gallery nucleus collection of fine art is not the whole of what she intended, and does not even seem to have been part of her initial plan. I will not deal with the complexities around the founding of the Johannesburg Art Gallery in this paper, other than to show how Florence Phillips’s art gallery plans originated in her earlier reconstruction initiatives in the arts and crafts sphere.
After Florence and Lionel Phillips settled back in Johannesburg in 1906, Florence became increasingly interested in arts and crafts projects, with particular emphasis on providing occupation for women and the needy. She did not introduce these ideas, she was merely expressing a widespread attitude of the time. But she was able to implement her plans – or to attempt to implement them – because of her wealth and social prominence, and the particular environment in which she moved in South Africa. A principal influence, if not directly on Florence then at least on the Johannesburg context in which she lived, was the architect Herbert Baker (1862-1946), whom Florence and Lionel had first met in Cape Town. There were short-lived plans for Baker to design a country residence for them in the northern Transvaal, followed by more ambitious and concrete plans for a new home, Villa Arcadia, which was constructed 1909-10. Baker implemented in Villa Arcadia various arts and crafts details, using local craftspeople. Florence Phillips evidently collaborated in and probably initiated much of this scheme. It seems likely that her direction, if not here then at least in the preceding years, was shaped by Baker’s outlook on arts and crafts in a South African context.
Baker subscribed to arts and crafts ideals both in his buildings and the concept of the garden suburb. He trained in an arts and crafts environment in London, where a number of his colleagues, like Robert Weir Schultz (who worked on the Phillipses’ British country home, Tylney Hall), were associated with the Art Workers’ Guild and the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society. When Baker moved to South Africa in 1892 he worked for the social sector to which the Phillipses belonged, that of the British South African imperialists. In Cape Town he was associated with Cecil Rhodes and, shortly before the end of the Second South African War, he moved to Johannesburg at the request of Alfred Milner, to assist in the reconstruction of the town.
Shortly after he settled in Johannesburg, Baker was asked to address the Teachers Congress in July 1902 on the topic ‘Architecture & education’. His views in this paper give valuable insight into the dominant British South African attitude towards arts and crafts at that time. After expounding the myth of the empty landscape, so to speak, namely that there was no art indigenous to the country, Baker then says that fine art is only appropriate in a leisured society, and South Africa is not that yet. The appropriate art for local people in the aftermath of a war was handmade crafts that would be beautiful, mentally beneficial in the making and a source of gainful employment. He supports his arguments with references to John Ruskin, Thomas Carlyle and William Morris. Baker attempted to implement these ideals towards the end of 1904 by establishing a furniture-making industry on the Duke of Westminster’s farming estates in the eastern Free State. But, even though the scheme was endorsed by Alfred Milner, it never matured.
In one of those curious paradoxes of this time, another rural industry scheme introduced by someone on the opposite side of the social spectrum took root in the Free State shortly afterwards. This was Emily Hobhouse’s spinning and weaving school at Philippolis, targeted at young women.
The British philanthropist Emily Hobhouse is principally renowned for her exposure of conditions in the concentration camps for Boer women and children during the Second South African War. She came from an environment where the socialist ideals of the Arts and Crafts Movement prevailed, having more empathy with Toynbee Hall in Whitechapel, one of Samuel and Henrietta Barnett’s enterprises, than with the Phillipses’ arts and crafts decorations at Tylney Hall in Hampshire. The Barnetts were friends of hers and Samuel Barnett was one of those who “willingly gave his name and support” to her South African Women and Children Distress Fund, set up in 1900 “to feed, clothe, shelter and rescue women and children, Boer, British or others who had been rendered destitute and homeless by the destruction of property, deportation, or other incidents of the military operations.” Emily Hobhouse set sail for South Africa in December 1900 to assist the destitute.
Alfred Milner had initially facilitated her visits to concentration camps in the Orange River and Cape colonies in early 1901, but then, with Kitchener, had ordered her deportation from Cape Town in early November 1901 shortly after she had landed on a return visit. On her next visit to South Africa from May to December 1903, when she returned to investigate post-war conditions, Hobhouse was (understandably) sharply critical of Milner, the unsatisfactory type of British settler he had introduced (“Milner’s especial pets”), the move to import Chinese labour, and the “gold combine” capitalists in whose hands Milner was merely a tool. It was during this visit that Emily Hobhouse conceived plans for “suitable house or cottage industries” for the Boer girls confined to farms with ruined homesteads, where “every means of occupation had been destroyed.”
In early 1904, after her return to England, Hobhouse decided that lace-making and particularly needlepoint would be the most suitable occupation for Boer farm girls as they had a skill with the needle and a latent sense of art, they were devoted to their homes and family life, they had time on their hands, the light from the “brilliant skies” was excellent, what little material that was needed was easily available by post, and the finished item could just as easily be sent away by post for selling. Furthermore, lace-work had excellent moral qualities in that it was “refining and educative” and encouraged production “in hours that are otherwise often only idle a work of art which, though not a livelihood, will bring pocket-money.” This belief in the moral benefits of needlework for young girls recalls the widespread missionary initiatives in southern Africa during the nineteenth century for black women and children, but neither Emily Hobhouse nor Florence Phillips seem to have connected their current concerns with these earlier ones.
During 1904, in order to equip herself to teach lace-making, Emily Hobhouse set out to acquire these skills herself. In this she fundamentally differed from Florence Phillips, who, some years later, sought to impart skills through exhibition displays, and seems never to have practised needlework crafts herself in order to educate others. Hobhouse’s investigations took her to Venice and then to Ireland, where Alice Stopford Green, an activist in the Irish Nationalist movement, persuaded her to switch her allegiance from lace (“a ‘luxury’”¦ that only wealthy Johannesburgers would be able to afford”) to spinning and weaving, which were considered more practical and, furthermore, would make use of South Africa’s staple product, wool.
In January 1905, Emily Hobhouse and her assistant, Margaret Clark, armed with the skills of lace-making, spinning and weaving, went out to South Africa in order to set up the first cottage industry in Philippolis. (Coincidentally, Lionel and Florence Phillips set sail down the east coast of Africa at about the same time, their first visit since going into exile in 1896.) Knitting, weaving and dyeing lessons started in Philippolis in March 1905 – lace-making seems to have been abandoned fairly early on, only being established at Koppies four years later by one of Hobhouse’s protégés. Hobhouse shortly realised the need to expand the schooling system to a more central place, and one with easy access to water. She consulted Louis Botha and Jan Smuts, her staunch supporters in her enterprises (although Smuts was reported to have felt like a female ostrich in his suit made from the rough tweed which her schools produced). By August 1905 she had established a second school at Langlaagte in Johannesburg. The school moved to new premises during 1906 which were located with the help of William Poultney, who was married to Florence Phillips’s cousin Dora (born Ortlepp). Dora was president of the Johannesburg branch of the Federation of South African Women, founded in 1905 to help the destitute. She took a particular interest in Hobhouse’s schools and was likely to have been a supporter of hers during the Second South African War when the Poultneys, then living in Bloemfontein, sided with the Boers. There was a temporary coolness in Phillips-Poultney relations during the war, but the former ties were re-established afterwards. Although Florence Phillips did not join Dora in her work for the Federation of South African Women, she appears to have visited, and approved of, Emily Hobhouse’s school, probably in the company of Dora, soon after she settled back in Johannesburg in 1906. Emily Hobhouse and Florence Phillips may therefore have met in 1906, but they are unlikely to have had any social contact, being on opposite sides of the political and social spectrum.
Emily Hobhouse returned briefly to England from April to early July 1907, when she visited a handcraft exhibition at the Albert Hall which included some items from her schools. (Florence Phillips left for England in May and could possibly have seen this exhibition.) Thereafter, with the formalisation of industrial education under a new education ministry, it was considered advisable to move the Johannesburg school to Pretoria. When Hobhouse left South Africa in October 1908 she handed over to the Orange Free State and Transvaal education authorities weaving and spinning schools in about twenty-five urban and rural centres, with the prospect of more schools being established.
By the time Emily Hobhouse returned to Europe, Florence Phillips was becoming increasingly involved in local arts and crafts initiatives on a ‘grand lady bounty’ scale that would have been totally alien to Emily Hobhouse’s ethos, even if the general aims were similar. Florence never showed more than a perfunctory interest in the more humble activities of social welfare, such as the feeding and clothing schemes of the Guild of Loyal Women of South Africa (of which she was honorary vice-president) and the Federation of South African Women. She was more concerned with the larger social picture. Her interests centred on fund-raising on a grand scale, lending her name to committees on which her input ranged from organising balls to contributing funds, hosting ‘At Homes’ for the (slightly) less privileged, accommodating white miners’ wives and children in her ‘Dorothea Clubs’ when they visited Johannesburg, planning ambitious arts and crafts initiatives, and organising others in the implementation of her ideas.
Florence Phillips’s interest in local manufacture and home industries grew in an atmosphere of recession and political change in the aftermath of the Second South African War and the run-up to Union. Employment opportunities, investment in South African goods and the encouragement of a settled local community were priority concerns, particularly for the Randlord class, which depended on a settled community to service its mines. Like Herbert Baker and (in a different sphere) Emily Hobhouse, Florence Phillips proposed various arts and crafts employment initiatives during this period. Soon after the Transvaal government elections of February 1907, when Het Volk gained a majority and Louis Botha and Jan Smuts came to power, Florence Phillips proposed a furniture-making industry from local woods in the Zoutpansberg (but, like Baker’s earlier attempt in the eastern Free State, this did not materialise). At the same time, Lionel Philips discussed with the Pretoria businessman Sammy Marks, who in turn held discussions with Botha and Smuts, the development of local industries using local resources such as wool, hide and skins. And also at about this time there was a highly successful exhibition of South African products, coordinated by Pieter Bam, at the Royal Horticultural Society’s hall in London. It seems there were plans at this stage to form the South African National Union (SANU) to promote South African goods, and a centre was established in Johannesburg on 8 November 1907. But little real headway could be made until a constitution was adopted, as was done the following year.
In May 1908, Bam convened a conference in Bloemfontein to promote the production and consumption of indigenous goods and to present the draft constitution of the SANU, whose principal object was “To promote the spirit of patriotism and the sense of partnership throughout British South Africa in the development of our country, its products and its industries,” and also to “aid ladies in the formation of Ladies’ Branches to encourage the use of South African products and manufactures.” Florence Phillips, in her capacity as president of the Ladies Committee of the Witwatersrand Agricultural Society, was one of the few women amongst sixty delegates to attend – and one of only four delegates from the Transvaal. She was elected a member of the General Executive Council of the new SANU and, with other delegates, visited Emily Hobhouse’s school of spinning and weaving. The conference was a defining moment in the genesis of the Johannesburg Art Gallery. It marked the beginning of an initiative on which Florence increasingly focused her energies and which in due course mutated from an exhibition of arts and crafts to a gallery of modern art.
The Johannesburg centre of SANU was formalised during 1908, when Lionel was elected president and Florence was elected to the executive council. One of its first and most important projects was a permanent exhibition of South African products, allied to a temporary loan exhibition of arts and crafts. Florence expanded on these plans in an article in the SANU’s 1908-9 Annual, ‘Obstacles to our progress,’ in which she expressed the opinion that nothing great had so far been done by a South African, the local inhabitants being too content with the mediocre. Dutch phlegm, conservative ideas and political dissension were all partly to blame, but since the war a marvellous change had occurred due to national pride and the time was ripe to improve the quality of local production through education.
Herbert Baker also contributed an article to the 1908-9 Annual, ‘South African Arts and Crafts,’ in which he links the domestic arts and crafts movement to that “started in England a generation ago by the inspiration of Carlyle, the teaching of Ruskin and the work of William Morris and many others.” He concludes his article with some practical suggestions which evidently influenced Florence Phillips. He would advocate, he writes,
”¦the holding of periodical exhibitions of local arts and crafts, divided at first into two sections, the one consisting of a collection of old Cape made furniture and metal work, the other of modern South African craftsmanship. From the former there might gradually be developed in every large town a museum of domestic art housed preferably in an old room or building in harmony with the objects”¦ This museum should be mainly composed of South African exhibits, but old or even good modern examples from the rest of the world should be added for educational purposes. Then from these central museums, permanent or temporary small collections should be sent to other centres where local industries existed; such as Knysna, or the Woodbush in the Transvaal. By this means local teachers and craftsmen would have a few good old models before them, by which means a tradition might gradually be revived and established.
Florence Phillips in late 1908, at a SANU meeting in Cape Town, expanded on the proposal “to hold an exhibition of old Colonial-style furniture with a view to restoring it to fashion and stimulating the establishment of a local furniture-making industry.” And a deputation sent by the Johannesburg branch of SANU to the Transvaal government at about this time asked for support in maintaining a permanent exhibition of South African-made goods in Johannesburg. Early in 1909, Florence outlined a proposal at a SANU meeting for an arts and crafts exhibition. These early records show that the original plan of the Johannesburg centre of SANU was to have both a permanent and a temporary exhibition of South African arts and crafts.
There is no record at this early stage, as Florence Phillips later claimed, that one of the aims of the temporary exhibition was “to found a permanent picture gallery”, nor that the proposed SANU permanent exhibition was to issue from this temporary one, and was to comprise foreign (and not South African) craft items. Yet these were the plans that Florence pursued during her sojourn in Britain from March to November 1909, in particular after she had met Hugh Lane in April 1909 and authorised him to start collecting paintings for an art gallery. It appears that the scope of her activities and the developments after she met Lane were without the full knowledge and authority of the Johannesburg Ladies’ Branch of SANU. When she returned to Johannesburg in late November 1909 and resumed her role as presidential head of the SANU exhibition committee, her plans for an art gallery were well advanced and she had already procured a number of foreign items for the exhibition –250 photographs of different types of furniture in the V&A’s collection, examples of book bindings and other British craft items.
The SANU Arts and Crafts Exhibition was an ambitious and highly successful project, largely because of Florence’s drive once she was back in Johannesburg and enlisting the support of a wide range of people. Four days before the closing date of 21 March 1910 for the competitive sections, nearly 3,000 entries had been received (five times more than expected), and an even larger number came in after the closing date. By the end of the exhibition on 24 April 1910 it had been seen by 16,285 people in less than a month. Even prior to these impressive results, which would have silenced any criticism of Florence’s autocratic organisational methods, there seems to have been no objection to her acting without SANU’s authority in starting an art collection under the flag of their Arts and Crafts Exhibition. She was “re-elected with acclaim” as president of the Ladies’ Branch at the SANU Johannesburg annual meeting in January 1910. At the third national conference of SANU, which took place during the Arts and Crafts Exhibition, Florence was re-elected vice-chair of the national executive and was nominated chair of the national executive, but withdrew in favour of Pieter Bam. At the SANU national conference a year later she accepted the position of chair of the national executive, an unprecedented position for a woman at that time. These were sure endorsements, from SANU at least, of Florence’s activities. Yet she had deviated from SANU’s initial purpose of creating a forum for gainful local employment when she authorised Hugh Lane to start a non-South African fine-art collection. Although Florence Phillips persisted in trying to get a Museum of Industrial Art and a School of Design as part of the Johannesburg Art Gallery, only the fine-art core was, in the end, realised in a meaningful way. Her lace and textile gifts were initially stored in boxes, then transferred to the Africana Museum, and only assessed in their own right by the Johannesburg Art Gallery in the 1990s.
In effect, Florence Phillips used her wealth and influence to divert funds from local enterprise in order to acquire foreign decorative and fine art items. She maintained that this was for the good of ‘the people’, in that they would have quality exemplars to inspire them, and such items could not be sourced locally. She operated within an organisation, the SANU, which proclaimed high-flown ideals in its constitution, including the aims of promoting the development of the country, its products and its industries, and encouraging consumers to use South African rather than imported items. The SANU does not, in fact, seem to have done more than act as a supportive and advisory body, and its members did not always practise what they preached in the use of local products. The arts and crafts side, judging from the SANU Annuals, seems to have petered out within a couple of years.
One of the last documented SANU arts and crafts projects was the exhibition held at ‘Niagara’, Johannesburg, from 30 October to 9 November 1912. The catalogue includes an entry for the Home Industries Boards, established by Emily Hobhouse in the Cape and Transvaal Provinces and the Orange Free State. The entry lists the Transvaal Weavery in Pretoria, the headquarters, amongst the seven schools in the Transvaal, most of which (it relates) use both girls and boys in making their products. The Langlaagte school produces all the blankets for the orphanage. A school in Potchefstroom makes leather goods, hats and caps, and basketware, and will soon start making tweeds. Both boys and girls spin and weave at the Middelburg school, which produces excellent felt hats, and there are further schools at Zeerust, Lichtenburg and Lydenburg. The entry concludes with the confident statement that, with the introduction at the Pretoria headquarters of up-to-date machinery capable of supplying carded wool to all other schools, laborious toil in the country districts would now be alleviated.
Emily Hobhouse learnt spinning, weaving and lace-making in order to understand the workings of these crafts and to impart skills in the schools in which she taught with a couple of assistants. Florence Phillips consulted museum experts in the perfecting of her textile collection, commissioned a prominent needleworker (Mary Waring) to make samplers and proposed a public museum with attached school in which these items would serve as reference models. Florence Phillips’s plans required professional advisers, public buildings, customised display cases, curators and teachers. She could not have pursued them without the backing of wealth and influential allies.
Emily Hobhouse’s initiatives were started without the backing of Randlord money or of a grand-sounding national union. They were practical, employed local skills, and were handed over to government structures once they were up and running. Unfortunately, despite the introduction of wool-carding machinery in the Pretoria headquarters, their influence gradually diminished with increased mechanisation in other spheres and the migration of the rural poor to urban areas. The irony is that there is no grand memorial today to what Emily Hobhouse achieved in the arts and crafts sphere yet Florence Phillips, who by comparison merely dabbled in the practical aspects of gainful employment through hand labour, is remembered by the Johannesburg Art Gallery. A further irony is that Florence Phillips’s memorial is not, in fact, what she originally intended.