Robert Welch - 1930-2000

Robert Welch was a pioneering designer whose pieces define the British “contemporary” style. His stainless-steel candlesticks, alarm clocks, cutlery knife sharpener are just some products of his that are cult objects of the 1950s and early 1960s. Born in Hereford in 1930, Welch was very much a country man, he loved English village architecture, pubs, cricket and overall rural town life. His mother was a painter so growing up he had a creative role model. Welch pursued his interest in drawing, painting and silversmithing by enrolling at the Malvern School of Art and then onto the Birmingham College of Art where he met his wife, Patricia Hinksman. Drawing was always important to Welch and, in his final years before his death in 2000, he would return to filling canvases with bright colour and bold shapes. 

'Early on I was inspired by architecture... but lately my sources of inspiration have been painters and sculptors, Brancusi and Giacometti for example..'

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Keen to continue his studies after graduating form Birmingham College of Art, Welch enrolled in the Royal College of Art in London in 1952. He then ended up attending the silversmithing school where he studied under a famous professor named Robert Goodden. It was this department that birthed many of the great jewellers and silversmiths that created a mid-century renaissance of British metalwork design. While studying, Welch made two extended visits to Scandinavia where he studied design in Stockholm and worked with the silversmith Theodor Olsen. This experience made a great impression on Welch, his love for Scandinavian tatse translated into the functional precision and love for clean line within his work. He also discovered Scandinavian modern stainless steel, which inspired him to design a British equivalent. 

 

After establishing his own style in his final year at the RCA, Welch was hired at Old Hall, the only British manufacturer of stainless steel tableware. His great success and work for Old Hall would lead him to becoming the darling of what is now the Design Council. His iconic Campden Cutlery set was created at the time and became the first modern cutlery created in stainless steel in Britain. Also, at this point in his career, Welch’s coffee pots and toast racks were being sown in galleries and salerooms as classics of their time. 

 

Over the next few years, Welch continued to network with fellow designers and began to focus on domestic design. His work was incredibly varied, using a range of materials including pottery, cast iron and glass, as he designed decorations, light fittings and kitchen knives. He also had clients abroad, designing cast iron cookware and enamelled steel kitchenware. At the same time, Welch’s workshop was producing one-off pieces of handmade silver. 

 

Welch’s work was greatly respected throughout his career and many of his finest pieces have been given as offerings and gifts to institutions and academies. He explored texture and form in a bold yet simple way, consulting strong, high-quality materials. For this reason, his pieces have continued to be in use in homes today while the designs are still iconic and ever-influential.

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