During the Library’s collection rebuild, individual book donations from our friends and supporters has led to a collection of published works by prominent decorative artist and commercial designer Lewis Foreman Day (1845-1910). During his lifetime, Lewis F. Day acquired a reputation as a designer across a number of design areas (including textiles, wallpaper, silver-work) and his accomplishments as a designer of stained glass are often cited in writings on his life and works. This early training provided the practical foundations on which Day’s reputation as a forerunner in design education was to be steadily acquired.
Despite modest coverage of his work in comparison to that of contemporaries William Morris and Walter Crane, Day’s enduring influence on the direction of decoration and ornament is to be found specifically in his writings as an educationalist. In addition to lecturing on ornamental art at the Royal College of Art, he also inspected and reported on the standards of art education being applied in provincial design schools which, historically, included Glasgow School of Art. His extensive scholarly publications on design principles not only position Day as an academic authority, but also provide a theoretical framework against which the creative practice of designers and artists-craftspeople in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries may be examined. Many designers of the Aesthetic and the Arts and Crafts movement were taught by Day and, undoubtedly, would have read his diatribe ‘L’Art Nouveau’ in which he railed against the emerging and corruptive force of Art Nouveau that sprang from the 1900 Paris Exhibition.
Day’s beliefs in design reform and the equal ranking of designers alongside fine artists are clearly stated in his writings. The most recently donated volumes to the Library include important titles from Day’s seminal series ‘Textbooks of Ornamental Design’. The series ran to many editions and was often recommended reading for design examination candidates. Among the volumes, The Application of Ornament (1898) argues for the belief in natural forms of ornament, while Anatomy of Pattern (1887) reflects on the subtleties between pattern and repeating ornament. Alphabets Old & New (1910) attempts to show the art of lettering as a living art form and rival to the printing-press, something reified by the decorative book-binding which deliberately foregrounds the practised craftsmanship of the author himself. All of the texts feature full-page, decorative plates in black and white that serve to illuminate the advice Day dispenses in his practical prose style. The value of such advice may be judged in the connections it forged between the Arts and Crafts movement and the government educational establishment and industry.
In addition to these texts, Day contributed several articles to publications such as the Magazine of Art, the Art Journal and the Journal of Decorative Art and designed several of the covers for art societies’ journals. Alongside Walter Crane, he helped found the Art Workers’ Guild and was a long-serving member of the Royal Society of Arts. While the history books may fail to bestow the requisite amount of accolades, the books received by the Library are testament to Lewis F. Day’s vigorous contributions to arts education. We thank all those who have donated: David Heath, Richard McElroy, University of Wolverhampton, the Wallace Collection and former GSA Librarian, George Rawson.