Tending the Flame

A commission from the National Trust

‘Tending the Flame’ is a piece designed by Hugh and Howard Miller for William Morris’s Red House Museum, commissioned by the National Trust. The commission came as a result of an invited competition, a collaboration between the National Trust and the Crafts Council, to design and make a contemporary response to the long-lost cooking range which once stood in the kitchen at Red House.

Tradition is the tending of the flame, not the worshiping of the ashes

The concept of the design is based on a quote by Austrian composer Gustav Mahler: ‘tradition is the tending of the flame, not the worshiping of the ashes’. This sentiment sits hand-in-glove with the brothers’ interpretation of Morris’ ethos for the Arts & Crafts, the movement from which Red House is an exemplar, where Arts & Crafts philosophy was not about ‘worshiping the ashes’ of times gone by, or lamenting progress, or shunning technology. It was, in Hugh and Howards eyes, about ‘tending the flame’ of craftsmanship, in a symbiotic relationship between a maker’s head, heart and hand. The brothers’ design was a call to tend this flame, both metaphorically and literally, in that the partial ‘burning’ of the work was an integral aspect to its concept and making.

The Burn Ceremony

The piece is constructed of British oak, and made up of a dovetailed box held on triangulated legs. A slatted ‘burn funnel’ hangs underneath the box, and an urn sits at the bottom. The inspiration for the shape of the burn funnel comes from the iconic dormer facing the garden at Red House, where the brick pillar widens to accommodate two arched windows.

Once made, the piece was set on fire in a public ‘Burn Ceremony’ in the garden at Red House. Burning represents the creative destruction signalled in tending the flame. The charred timber references the cast iron of the missing Red House range, and the use of fire as a tool welds the design to the original range, rekindling the fire of the solid-fuel stove that it once contained. The charred surface of the timber also reflects the analogue thinking and making processes Morris championed - engaging materials with head, heart and hand.

The fire that was stoked in the piece was held in a bespoke bronze cradle made by Manchester-based metal artist Jon Male. This cradle was made up of two paddles, which were inscribed after the burn to commemorate those involved in the project.

Find our more about the project, watch a teaser video, and see an interview with Hugh about how the piece was designed, by clicking the links below....

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Project credits:

Design: Hugh Miller, Howard Miller
Making: Hugh Miller
Metal Work Artist: Jon Male, Studio Jon Male
Client: The National Trust, Red House - Robynn Finney, Lucy Porten, Elly Bagnall
Funding: National Trust Orpington & Chislehurst Centre
Design Competition Supported by: Crafts Council - Amelia Lawrence, Caroline Johnson, Francesca Glass, Scarlett Millar, Jill Read
Film Making + Process Photography: Harry Johnson
Photography (Completed Work): Robert Holmes

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