Dunstan (Alfred Charles) Pruden was brought up in Hammersmith, London. He chose to go to the Central School of Arts & Crafts rather than the Royal College of Art as he had been advised that ‘those who wanted to teach went to the Royal College; those who wanted to do went to the Central’. Living in the crafts hothouse of Ditchling in the 1930s he was much influenced by the Eric Gill and the Guild of St Dominic, under whose auspices (with Philip Hargreen) he published Silversmithing: its principles and practice in small workshops. For a number of years, commencing in 1934, Pruden was in charge of silversmithing at Brighton School of Art, his best-known pupils including Gerald BENNEY RDI, Michael Murray, and Anthony Elson, who studied at Brighton in the mid-1950s. Pruden is widely recognised for his ecclesiastical commissions, several of which are in the Victoria & Albert Museum; his silversmithing heritage continues in Ditchling through his grandson, Anton.

Black and white photograph of Dunstan Pruden and a printed bookplate reading Dunstan and Anne Pruden

LEFT: Dunstan on bench. With kind permission of Anton Pruden of Pruden & Smith. RIGHT: Bookplate by Philip Hagreen, with kind permission of the Hagreen family, Ditchling Museum and Anton Pruden of Pruden & Smith.

‘Some assessment of Dunstan’s status as an artist is due. He had an international reputation and I think it is true to say that only he and Meinrad Burch-Korrodi of Zurich were comparable as figurative goldsmiths… Both were in the top rank of ecclesiastical goldsmiths, but Burch operated a large workshop whereas Dunstan preferred to handle all the work himself, assisted only by his own students or former students. Both helped to change the design of altar vessels, though Dunstan’s influence was less spectacular, being a trend towards greater and greater simplicity, while Burch introduced colour in the form of enamels and gemstones…

[Dunstan’s] most original contribution was his technique of making figurative work directly in silver, instead of making casting patterns in wax or plaster of Paris. His work was conceived as metal, and as it grew under his hands he could judge exactly how it would look when it was finished. He regarded work executed in the conventional way as a mere copy in metal of a design in another medium. His method takes more thought, time and skill than most silversmiths can offer, so few have adopted it…

Image of frontispiece to the book Silversmithing its principles and practice in small workshops by Dunstan Pruden. Also a silver chalice.

LEFT: Cover of Silversmithing by Dunstan Pruden, 1933. Engravings by Philip Hagreen. With kind permission of Mary Hoar (loan of book) and Anton Pruden of Pruden & Smith. RIGHT: Dunstan Pruden, chalice, on long term loan to Ditchling Museum, with kind permission of Anton Pruden of Pruden & Smith.

He scorned any high fallutin’ ideas about inspiration, and sneered horribly about “artistic temperament” or “being in the mood”. He was a complete professional. He was so disciplined that he could put down anything he was doing without hesitation, or stop reading a book in mid-sentence. He admired the attitude of Doctor Johnson who wrote Rasselas in less than a month to pay for his mother’s funeral. Only amateurs, Dunstan maintained, could afford to keep a muse.’

(This quoted passage, written by Pruden’s widow Winifrede, is taken directly from an epilogue to Pruden’s unpublished autobiography, So Doth the Smith)