Jack, George Washington
London; furniture designer, wood carver (b.1855-d.1931)
George Jack was born on 8 August 1855 on Long Island, New York. His parents were James Pattison Jack, an engraver descended from Paisley weavers, and Christiana Wilhelmina Reid, whose family were originally from Dublin but had settled in Aberdeen. They married in Scotland in 1852 and after 1855 they emigrated to Long Island. When Jack’s father died in 1860 the family returned to Glasgow, where George and his younger brother, James, attended St David’s School. In 1869, at the age of 14, Jack underwent a period of training with Horatio Kelson Bromhead (1838-1934), a prominent architect in Glasgow. In 1875 he moved to London and Jack found employment in the offices of the architect Charles George Vinall (1835-1905). Vinall often undertook work for Philip Webb and in 1879 Jack did some minor work for the latter. In 1882 Jack became a full-time member of Webb’s staff at Gray’s Inn Fields, as a draughtsman and site architect.
From 1880 Jack assisted Philip Webb’s work as chief designer for Morris & Co, a role which Jack took over in 1890 until 1907. Examples of Jack’s design work for Morris & Co. included the Saville Easy chair, c.1890.
Saville Easy chair made by Morris and Co., c.1890 [CIRC.401-1960]. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Also, a bergere, c.1893-5 https://www.vandaimages.com/preview.asp? and a cabinet, c.1890-91.
Mahogany inlaid cabinet manufactured by Morris and Co., 1890-1891 [W.42:1 to 8-1929]. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Jack’s work for Morris & Co. included designs for Lord Leconfield at 9 Chesterfield Gardens. For Sir Robert Hunter he produced ‘sketch designs for sideboard for Medfield’, Hunter’s home in Haslemere, Surrey in 1889.
About 1885 Jack was given his first lesson in wood carving by Laurence Turner (1864-1957), with some of earliest carvings executed on bedroom furniture and a china cupboard made by his brother James. Jack explained that ‘The art of woodcarving has also to fulfil its intellectual function, as an interpreter of the dreams and fancies of the imagination’, so folk tales, birds, animals and medieval carvings were natural influences for his carving designs. Jack exhibited two items in the first Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society’s show in November 1888 at the New Gallery, Regent Street; an inlaid mahogany cabinet and an inlaid mahogany sideboard both designed by him and executed by H. Sidewell and W. Thatcher, both Morris & Co. employees. The cabinet was awarded a £5 prize and medal at the show, though the Cabinet Maker & Art Furnisher criticized it as ‘an exaggerated tea-caddy on a clumsy stand’. It was later praised by Reginald Blomfield as ‘a very beautiful instance of modern marquetry and… one of the finest pieces of furniture executed in England since the last century’. This cabinet was still available through Morris & Co. in 1912 and examples were made for Melsetter House, Orkney (now in the V&A: Circ.40-1953), Ickworth, Stanmore Hall and an American Arts & Crafts community (now in Philadelphia Museum). In the 2nd Arts and Crafts Society exhibition (1889) Jack exhibited a handmade table with piecrust top and six carved legs, designed by him and executed by Sidewell and Thatcher, with the carving by H. Dodd (catalogue no. 415). In the Morris & Co. catalogue of this year it featured as No. 376, priced at 8 guineas, and a plain version No. 370 was available in oak or mahogany for £4 10 0. The other object exhibited in the 1889 Exhibition was the cabinet (V&A: CIRC.40-1953) which was still shown in Morris & Co’s catalogue of 1912 priced at 98 guineas for the version with decorative marquetry or at 60 guineas for plainer examples. From 1889 Jack’s wife executed embroideries which were shown in the exhibitions of the time; some are now in the William Morris Gallery. Philip Webb often designed objects for Jack to carve, one example being a shield of arms for the lid of a cabinet in carved oak, designed by Webb and executed and exhibited by Jack at the 1896 Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society In 1894 he designed and carved a set of carved book covers for The Tale of Troy.
In the 3rd Arts and Crafts Society exhibition, under his own name rather than Morris & Co., Jack exhibited several pieces including a panel of carved Italian walnut, which was probably later given by Jack to Charles Canning Winmill and from thence to the Cheltenham Museum and Art Gallery. One of his finest pieces of carved furniture was executed in 1892, an inlaid walnut chest bearing the inscription ‘Hunting and slaying is my praying, my life is the dove’s betraying GJ 1892’. It was exhibited at the 4th Arts and Crafts Exhibition held in 1893. Jack’s diary entry for Saturday 10 January 1892 recorded that he spent 2 hours carving a ‘bird panel’ and on Thursday 4 February ‘Morris’s carrier called and took away 4 pieces of carving to be made up as a cabinet’. The cabinet, which is in the form of a chest with a fall front and interior drawers, was made by William Thatcher. It was illustrated in the Cabinet Maker and Art Furnisher of November 1893 who declared ‘Mr George Jack, whose name in earlier exhibitions generally appeared in conjunction with that of Mr William Morris, has done not a little to put good furniture in evidence at the New Gallery. No. 93, a cabinet in Italian walnut is thoroughly commendable, both as regards design, carving and workmanship. The two first are Mr Jack’s own work, and the credit of the latter goes to Mr W. Thatcher. Here, again, well-placed wood adds much to the value of the article’. The chest was also exhibited in the Anglo-French Exhibition at the Louvre in 1914 but failed to sell and remained in the family until given to the V&A [W.33-1972].
Carved walnut chest manufactured by Morris and Co.,1892 [W.33-1972]. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Jack first went to a meeting of the Art Workers Guild in early 1904, where he was introduced by Harold Stabler. He was elected a member on 4 May 1906 and to honorary membership status in 1925. Lawrence A. Turner, member since 1891 and Master in 1922, began to carve Jack’s designs sometime after 1906. These included the oak eagle lectern for St John’s Church, Derby in 1907 (illus. The Decorative Arts Society (2004), p. 91) and a carved and painted reredos for St Peter and St Paul, Godalming in 1912. In 1891 Jack was paid for designs for carvings for the Rounton Grange sideboard and in 1906 Jack was commissioned by Sir Hugh Bell to build a new Common Room and design its fireplace at Rounton. He was paid £150, £26.10.0 of which was paid to Laurence Turner for making the panels and chimney piece and £8.10.0 to Miss Reeks for assistance with carving. The designs is illus. The Decorative Arts Society (2004), pp. 92 & 93. A music cabinet (now in the William Morris Gallery) of light oak with a carved panel by Jack was exhibited at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition of 1910. Other ecclesiastical commissions included Westminster Abbey and Seoul Cathedral; a lectern for St Bridget’s Church, Skenfrith, (illus. The Decorative Arts Society (2004), p. 97); The Sermon on the Mount carved panel for the front of a pulpit for All Saints Church, Brockhampton, Ross-on-Wye in 1902 (illus. The Decorative Arts Society (2004), p. 95) with panels to adorn the choir stalls; an alms box commissioned by Mrs Foster as a memorial to her son, Cedric A Foster; and in 1904 a lectern for St James’s, Coln St Denys, Gloucestershire, dedicated in 1905. In 1919 Jack designed a mahogany font cover for St Margaret’s Church, Rochester and a few years later carved and painted a medallion for the reredos and in 1924 designed a cope chest for the church. Other Kentish church commissions were for Holy Trinity, Crockham Hill; St Paul’s, Four Elms, Edenbridge (1923); St Margaret’s Barking (late 1920s). Plasterwork by Jack was acquired by the Cheltenham Museum.
In 1901 Jack first began teaching wood carving at the Royal College of Art, from 1904 at the School of Art Woodcarving, Exhibition Road and from 1908 at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, Southampton Row, whose prospectus announced ‘A New Class in figure and ornamental carving will be carried out by Mr. GEORGE JACK on TUESDAYS and FRIDAYS from 7pm to 9.30pm’. He continued working at the Central School until 1916. He sometimes produced designs for his pupils to execute; including a satin walnut settle with carving of the story of Little Red Riding Hood by Mary Grace Mead, exhibited in the 1910 Arts and Crafts Exhibition. Other pupils for whom Jack produced designs were Muriel Moller, Harry Snowden and Naomi Simmons. His retirement from teaching at the RCA was marked by the presentation of an unfinished settle leg by him, funded by a group of Jack’s wellwishers.
Unfinished carved oak settle leg by George Jack, c.1892 [W.112-1924]. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
His publications included Woodcarving: Design and Workmanship (1903), Simple Toy Carving (1920) and an article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1929). His twin daughters Jessie and Margery both trained as ceramic painters at the Central School of Arts and Crafts; Jessie painted a china cabinet, designed by Jack c.1912, which was used to house china in the Jack’s family home.
Sources: Collard, ‘Kenton & Co.’, The Journal of the Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present’ (1994); Clarke, ‘George Jack, Master Woodcarver of the Arts & Crafts Movement: In all ways excellent and inspiring’, The Journal of the Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present’ (2004); Carruthers, The Arts and Crafts Movement in Scotland (2013).