William Arthur Smith Benson was an Arts and Crafts designer who campaigned with the National Exhibtion of the Arts for crafts to be exhibited as an art form. Benson’s idea for an exhibition of decorative art lead to the formation of ‘The Combined Arts Exhibition Society’, later becoming the ‘Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society’ and giving its name to the Arts and Crafts movement of the time.
He originally studied Classics and Philosophy at Oxford but after finishing decided that he would be more suited to architecture, combining art and engineering, two of his interests. Benson moved to London to do an architectural apprenticeship and during the 1880s he made the acquaintance of Sir Edward Burne-Jones, the Pre-Raphaelite painter who encouraged Benson’s creative flair. Benson began making metalwork and went on to set up his own workshop where he created and sold new designs. Benson married Venetia Hunt, a friend of Burne-Jones’ daughter, who introduced him to many new clients who bought his products.
Benson designed hundreds of items for modern living in an age of social change and catered to modern clients who were now living in their homes without staff, cleaning and cooking for themselves in an informal manner. With these clients in mind, Benson created a lacquer for brass and copper to stop tarnishing which was a huge success in the modern home. Something that set Benson apart from other Arts and Crafts designers was his passion for industry and machinery. His workshop was full of machines and chemicals that he used in his creation process and this showed in his work through interesting mechanisms, joints and visible wires.