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Room: The Written Keystones

3. Composition of Time and Place: the indestructible world of the craftsman

Théo Miller, The Witten Keystones (spread 3), offset, 210 mm x 297 mm, 2020.

Although Eric Gill is regarded as a genius, he is also a controversial person, following the revelations about his sexual abuse. Nevertheless, he has written sensible remarks about typography and its associated professions. Here the Initiator of this palace links these observations to the work of Richard Sennet and the craftsmanship of the typographic mason.

Eric Gill (1882 – 1840) was a type designer, polemicist, social reformer but above all a true professional in the graphic design field. His designs consistently embodied his personal philosophy and reflected his moral positions. He opens his work ‘An essay on typography’ (1931) with a general reflection on culture, in a chapter entitled ‘Composition of Time and Place’. Gill, whose ideas are rooted in the Arts and Crafts movement, compares industrialism with traditional craftsmanship, concluding that the two are not only diametrically opposed, but should actually be considered mortal enemies: “On the one hand is the world of mechanised industry claiming to be able to give happiness to men and all the delights of human life — provided we are content to have them in our spare time and do not demand such things in the work by which we earn our livings.”

This is a world “(…) regulated by the factory whistle and the mechanical time-keeper; a world wherein no man makes the whole of anything, wherein the product is standardised and the man simply a tool, a tooth on a wheel.” In addition, there is “(…) the languishing but indestructible world of the small shopkeeper, the small workshop, the studio and the consulting room — a world in which the notion of spare time hardly exists, for the thing is hardly known and very little desired; a world wherein the work is the life & love accompanies it.”

The American industrial sociologist Richard Sennett described this same indestructible world of perseverance, routine and tradition in ‘The Craftsman’, in which he presents the close interaction of mind and hand – true craftsmanship – as a new source of inspiration for our strained world of work. Guided by a personal ethical compass, the craftsman contributes to a sustainable society that is attuned to human needs. Technology, expression, freedom to move, work and play are all closely connected – as they should be to maintain quality, engender pride and remain a source of joy.

The craft and structure of the mediaeval guilds (in which one progressed from apprentice to journeyman to master) in turn informed the symbolism of Freemasonry. Through a continuous, selfless drive to perfect his craft, the Mason works towards his moral fulfilment as an individual, ultimately forming a perfect stone in the Grand Edifice. That is why I decided to reassemble this symbolic world in the Palace’s Tracing Board Treasury. This room serves as a specific but highly significant example of the many ways in which the craftsman’s way of thinking is embodied in the Palace of Typographic Masonry.