For the past thirty plus years the Guild has dedicated itself to the encouragement and promotion of the art and craft of enamelling, providing opportunities for enamellers in the UK and abroad. With a membership of over 300, which has been growing steadily, anyone can join the Guild and the membership covers a broad spectrum of full time craftspeople, designer makers, trade enamellers and suppliers of enamel materials and equipment. However, the majority of members join as beginners, as young or mature students, who are keen to explore the many opportunities of working with such a lustrous material.
This varied membership reflects the founding principle of The Guild of Enamellers, to promote the craft of enamelling and its continuing evolution for anyone who has an interest in enamel. Therefore it is fitting to discover that the man who initiated the start of the organisation was an avid supporter of the craft industry. Hans Theilade, a Danish journalist, came to Britain in 1965 and initially worked for Reeves and Sons art suppliers selling art and craft materials around Europe. He saw the craft industry booming in places like Germany and decided he wanted to do more in the UK, so after two years he set up his own enamel shop, Crafts Unlimited in Covent Garden, selling his products and teaching enamelling. After relocating to the Old Mill in Nannerch, North Wales, he established 'Craft O Hans' and in 1970 he founded the Artist Enamellers Association.
Six years later through his regular newsletter came the suggestion to form a society for all enamellers. The initial expectation was that there would only be local interest, however it was very quickly realised that there was a national demand and The Guild of Enamellers was born. Hans Theilade’s enthusiasm and charisma made him an excellent facilitator and with the help of Maureen Carswell, a well-respected craftswoman enameller and founder member, a steering group was quickly established. Hans died in 1982, aged seventy-one and since that time an award in his name has been presented each year at the annual Conference to aspiring Guild members who have been practising for three years or less.
Twelve months after the founder members set up the Guild, it held its first Conference at the Holiday Inn, Leicester and Miss Lesley Humphreys took the Chair with around forty delegates. It was during this time that it was decided to define standards of achievement within the organisation from ACGE, Associate craftsman, to CGE, Craftsman and FGE, Fellow of the Guild. Some of the first selectors were Fred and Phil Barnes, Jeanne Werge-Hartley and John Ball, all loyal supporters of the Guild. Since that time, the Guild has convened every spring at different venues across the country for its Conference and AGM, which has grown in size and stature becoming the flagship of the Guild's activities. It has always been an extremely popular event to the extent that in recent years has been regularly over subscribed.
The Guild's strength lies in the way it organises itself to achieve its aims and long term goals. It is a non-profit making organisation with an honorary executive committee of over twenty members to co-ordinate its business, each with a specific role and although they only meet three times a year, they communicate regularly by email. This allows decisions to be made swiftly when necessary so progress is achieved. The Guild also divides itself up into geographical regions in the UK and abroad, with regional representatives to welcome new members and co-ordinate events in that area.Today, the Guild also has reciprocal memberships with other enamel organisations such as the IVE (Institute of Vitreous Enamellers) and the BSOE (British Society of Enamellers). The BSOE was formed as a spin off group from the Guild as a prestigious exhibiting society in 1985. The Guild encourages links with all related arts and crafts as it recognises the benefits this brings with the interchange of ideas and joint projects.
As well as the Conference, Guild membership has many benefits, providing useful sources of information and communication between enamellers. The Guild has always produced a newsletter, now called the Journal, which is a quarterly publication, supplying a wealth of technical instruction, news, events, courses, supplier details and articles by other members and experts. It is modest in appearance, but full of knowledge and is highly valued by all members. The Guild also has an impressive Library with an extensive range of books, articles and DVD’s, which is well used by members throughout the year. In 2001 the first Guild website was set up, but it wasn’t until 2006 that the current site was developed with a more interactive element, allowing members to join online. This has encouraged growth in membership after a static period for some years and has lead to further refinements of the site producing the current version, which has been developed by Guild member Tom Lundsten and is edited by Hon. Secretary David Cowling.
Over the years the Guild also has established a Bursary Scheme, offering successful applicants complimentary membership for a year and a place at Conference. The scheme started back in 2001, to encourage new blood into the organisation. It now has an online application process led by Carol Griffin, the Bursary Officer. It is open to all students of any age and qualification. The Guild has developed links with many schools and colleges who help promote the initiative and in 2012 over twenty applications were received.
It’s ability in recognising the breadth of its membership, responding to its changing needs along with the ever-evolving craft industry and spreading the load of responsibility through its executive committee, developing a strong framework, has allowed achievement and realisation of it’s aims. Its Journal and website provide straightforward yet vital communication between members and Regions encourage activity on all levels throughout the year. Its annual Conference offers members access to tuition and recognition for achievement. Diversity is encouraged as well as supporting traditional skills and the Guild has created an environment which offers the opportunity to share knowledge and experience between beginners and professionals, striving for higher standards at all times.