Read about Omar & Alwyn ..
Omar Ramsden was born in Sheffield in 1873 into a family active in the silver trade. Alwyn Carr was also born in Sheffield, a year earlier. During his youth, Ramsden spent seven years in Illinois, USA, before returning to Sheffield where he was apprenticed to a firm of silversmiths. There he acquired technical training and experience of mechanised silver production.
In 1888 he began evening classes in Silver and Design at the Sheffield School of Art, where he won a succession of prizes and awards. It is thought that Omar and Alwyn met there in 1890 and it is known that they both graduated. Together they attended summer classes at the Royal College of Art in London and later embarked on a sightseeing tour of Europe. They travelled through Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany for between six months and a year and on their return set up a studio together in St Dunstan’s, Chelsea. Shortly afterwards they established a workshop near Albert Bridge, later relocating to South Kensington.
In 1898 they registered their first joint sponsor's (maker's) mark at Goldsmith’s Hall in London. They won the commission to make The Sheffield Mace and the work was done in the Stamford Bridge Studios in London in 1899. The Mace was presented to the City of Sheffield by His Grace, The Duke of Norfolk, to commemorate him being the first Lord Mayor of Sheffield and it was over one metre long. It was an important commission for the fledging firm and although they appear to have made little money from the work, it was very prestigious and led to other significant institutional commissions. Ramsden and Carr were both devout Catholics and also secured numerous ecclesiastical commissions which, once again, raised their business profile and helped to ensure the firm’s financial stability.
Ramsden and Carr were influenced by the Art Nouveau movement, particularly the work of Charles Ashbee, their contemporary, and also by the Arts and Crafts movement. Carr is thought to have been the more active designer and provided financial backing for the business whilst Ramsden was the more entrepreneurial, supplying the marketing and public relations flair. Omar Ramsden became particularly interested in adapting medieval prototypes and reinterpreting them in an Arts and Crafts style. Ramsden’s interest in historic silver had been kindled by meeting the antiquary, St John Hope, early in his career. The actual manufacture of objects was mostly carried out by their staff of silversmiths, designers, chasers, engravers and enamellers.
To fully appreciate the unique contribution of Ramsden and Carr, one needs to understand how they distilled and combined the central strands and philosophies of the Art Nouveau with those of the Arts and Crafts styles. Art Nouveau was heavily influenced by Japanese art and typified by sinuous, free flowing curving lines, asymmetrical naturalistic motifs and ethereal human forms. The Arts and Crafts movement was a rejection of smooth, uniform factory produced goods which had resulted from the Victorian drive for increased mechanisation and industrialisation and it was also a backlash against the very poor working conditions often experienced by factory workers. This was coupled with a nostalgic yearning for a lost historic and largely romanticised medieval ’golden age’ where craftsmanship and individuality flourished. Omar Ramsden joined the Artworker’s Guild in 1903 and Alwyn Carr joined in 1904.
The distinctive appearance of Ramsden and Carr’s silverware came from combining simplified flowing lines from the Art Nouveau with design elements derived from Britain’s historical past and the use of traditional craftsmanship and techniques. Hand hammered surfaces were proudly left visible and not removed by sanding, polishing or electro-cleaning nor concealed by electro-plating. These hammered or planished indentations can be clearly seen as a duller shade of grey, due to copper oxide known as “fire stain”, which occurs on all handmade silver. The effect was further augmented by their frequent use of applied decorations such as enamelled bosses, semi-precious stones and enamelling.
Engraved on many of the pieces is the inscription “OMAR RAMSDEN ET ALWYN CARR ME FECERUNT” which translates as “Omar Ramsden and Alwyn Carr made me”. This trademark signature, found in various forms, was used until the end of Omar Ramsden’s career and reinforced the perception that the client was purchasing a unique piece of silver which had been handmade by a craftsman.
Commissioning silver was not common practice. In general, silverware would have been purchased ‘off the peg’ and without any design input from the purchaser. Ramsden and Carr succeeded in cleverly differentiating their products from those of their competitors by subtly instilling the idea that any of their clients could commission a unique piece, no matter how humble, to his own specifications. This appealing idea was reinforced by the favourable publicity surrounding some of their important commissions and made the firm’s goods highly desirable to many of their clients, particularly the newly rich.
The partnership of Ramsden and Carr was dissolved in 1918, following Carr’s return from the First World War. Carr left the partnership, leaving Ramsden to manage the studio and workshop alone. Omar Ramsden’s business continued to flourish and his distinctive house style became heavier and more traditional, with less of the the fluid Art Nouveau elements of previous years. He placed more and more emphasis on the hand wrought appearance of objects and marketed his viewpoint that each piece should be considered a unique creation. In reality, this ‘uniqueness’ occurred by only very subtly adapting the ‘bespoke’ object from an existing and well proven design. Carr also continued to produce silverware but Omar Ramsden eventually became the better known and he continued to inscribe his pieces ‘OMAR RAMSDEN ME FECIT’. Although Ramsden had up to 20 assistants working for him during the 1920s and 1930s, it is said that, at this time, he never worked on a piece himself!
Omar Ramsden continued working until his death in 1939 and Alwyn Carr died eight months later in 1940
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