Noel Rooke ARE, NS, SWE

Noel Rooke ARE, NS, SWE

1881 - 1953

1881, born in Bedford Park, London; 1953, died in Bedford park, London.

Wood engraver, illustrator, painter and teacher. Studied at the Slade and the Central Schools. An Associate of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers (ARE) (now the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers), a members of the National Society of Painters, Sculptors and Gravers (NS) and the Society of Wood Engravers (SWE). His father, Thomas Matthews Rooke, was a painter and studio assistant to Edward Burne-Jones.

In 1899, aged 18, Rooke was employed by William Lethaby during the school holidays to make drawings of the Chapter House at Westminster Abbey. Until 1903 he attended part-time art classes at the Slade School and in 1904 joined R. J. Beedham's classes at the LCC School of Photoengraving and Lithography at Bolt Court. Dissatisfied with photo-mechanical process as a means of artistic expression, Rooke resorted to wood engraving, having been encouraged by the artist Lucien Pissarro to experiment with techniques including 'graduated' printing, woodcutting on the side-grain of boxwood, and colour printing. From late 1899 Rook attended, with Eric Gill among others, Edward Johnston's revolutionary Writing and Illumination class at the Central School. It was Johnston's principles of calligraphy which inspired Rooke to make wood engravings on the same basis, in terms of the nature of the tools used.

As a teacher, Rooke was largely responsible for raising the status of wood engraving as an independent graphic medium, but only after receiving significant opposition. From 1905 Rooke taught at the Central School but was restricted to teaching woodcutting and wood engraving within book illustration classes only, although in 1912 he was allowed to teach lettering and wood engraving in the Day Technical School. Despite being appointed Head of the School of Book Production, Rooke was unable to establish a specific woodcutting and wood engraving class until 1920. He retired from the School in 1947.

Rooke's campaign to revive the medium on 'autographic' principles provided the impetus to the modern wood engraving movement. He made a lasting impression on many of his pupils and the next generation of artists and illustrators. In particular he played a vital role in encouraging his students to break into the world of publishing and in persuading commercial publishers to recognize the value of the medium. As a result of Rooke's efforts, his own output was comparatively small, consisting of line drawn, watercolour, and wood-engraved illustration to a few books and various individual prints and posters - several of which reflect his passion for mountains. Rooke was a founding member of the Society of Wood Engravers (SWE) in 1920 and in the same year was elected an Associate of the Royal Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers. He was also Honorary Secretary of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society. In 1932 he married one of his pupils, Celia Fiennes.