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A silver-plated miniature watering can, designed by Christopher Dresser, with the maker's marks of Hukin & Heath (John Thomas Heath & John Hartshorne Middleton), retaining its original cross-woven wicker handles, in the Japanese style.
Jonathan Wilson Hukin and John Thomas Heath established Hukin & Heath in Birmigham in 1855. By the early 1880s, J.T. Hukin retired, and J.T. Heath continued with his new associate, John Hartshorne Middleton (1886). The company closed in 1953.
Dr Christopher Dresser was one of the first industrial designers in Europe. A pure product of the Victorian area, Dresser focussed on machine production at the Government School of Design in London between 1847 and 1854. Unlike William Morris and the Arts and Craft Movement, Dresser placed great emphasis on function and efficient use of materials. Dresser was also the first European designer to visit Japan since the country opened its frontiers in 1953. He was invited by the Japanese Government in 1876 to discover the Imperial Collections and review their traditional manufactures. Dresser also took the opportunity to study the strict geometry of Japanese everyday objects and published his findings in the scholarly “Japan, its Architecture, Art and Art Manufacturers” in 1882.
A prolific designer, Dresser worked closely with over 30 British manufacturers, including Minton, Elkington and Hukin & Heath. Dresser was involved with Hukin & Heath very early on. Their first collaboration was entered in the Patent Office Design Registry in 1878, and were marked “Designed by Dr C. Dresser”. This kettle was part of a collection designed between 1892 and 1894, after a modest water jug in the Shosoin Treasure House in Nara’s Imperial Collections. The collection comprised a number of elongated decanters (one with Mallett), a candle-holder and a tea-set, all unsigned. The kettle reflects the restraint with which the Japanese use lines and materials to emphasis function rather than form. The cross woven wicker handle is also reminiscent of traditional Japanese materials.
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