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Friday’s Library Snapshot … Noel Rooke

May 10, 2013

I have written about several wood engravers over the last year or so. I have lost count about the times I have seen the name Noel Rooke (1881-1953) mentioned; in relation to motivation, inspiration and instruction. Yet, I was unable to find much in the way of autobiographical information either in the library or on the WWW.

Even though he was an engraver and artist it was his teaching and ideas that lead to the revival of wood engraving in Britain in the 20th century.  

Rooke was born in Acton, London and remained there for the rest of his life.  His father an artist in his own right was a studio assistant to Edward Bourne-Jones the British artist and designer closely associated with the later stage of the Pre-Raphaelite movement and William Morris.  Rooke studied in France at the Lycée de Chartres and then at the Godolphin School in Hammersmith, London. He completed his education at the Slade and the Central School of Arts and Crafts.  He was first employed by William Letherby the architect and architectural historian to make drawings of the Chapter House at Westminster Abbey.  This was the beginning a a rich association as Letherby was to become the first principle of the Central School of Arts and Crafts and he was determined for the Central School of Arts and Crafts to be to design as the Slade and Royal Academy are to fine art.  

In 1899 when Rooke attended the Central School as a student his teacher was Edward Johnson the noteable ‘father’ of modern calligraphy and among the others in his class were Eric Gill and T.J. Cobden Sanderson.  Before long Gill and Rooke were teaching one another; Rooke teaching wood engraving and Gill teaching stone engraving and inscription.  

In 1905 Rooke became employed at the Central School teaching book illustration, wood engraving and poster design.  This was obstructed by Letherby at the time; as he didn’t see wood engraving as any more than a reproductive medium.  

It was not until Letherby left the college on 1911 that Rooke was able to introduce a class of lettering and wood engraving.  In 1914 Rooke became the head of the School of Book Production a post he held until 19246.  

Rooke was an important member of  a group artists whose ideas set the tone of the early years at the Central School.  Notable illustrators, painters, designers, draftsmen and architects were ‘breaking barriers’, ‘cross fertilising’  and ‘broadening horizon’s.  

They and particularly Rooke reacted against the reproductive wood engravings of the 19th century where the artist and the engraver were separate.  He suggested that ‘the designer and the engraver must be the same person.’

Images from

Writing & illuminating, & lettering by Edward Johnson : with diagrams & illustrations by the author and Noel Rooke.

English wood-engraving 1900-1950 by Thomas Balston

Flowers of marsh & stream by Iolo A. Williams

The birth of Christ from the Gospel according to Saint Luke

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