Friday, 24 April 2015

To Liberty and Beyond

MoDA Curator, Sim Panaser takes a closer look at some of the the designs of the Silver Studio...

Liberty is my favourite department store, so I was especially excited to find out more about the connections between the iconic store and the Silver Studio, whose collection is here at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture.

Liberty was founded by Arthur Lasenby Liberty in 1875 initially under the name East India House.  A hotbed for fashion, good taste and the Pre-Raphelites, it became renowned for its imported silk, in single colours and subtle hues of blues, greens and terracotta, which became known as Liberty Art Fabrics, alongside selling imported goods from what was then considered the Far East. 

Arthur Liberty understood the appetite for pattern in the late 1880s. An increasing interest in interior design, coupled with increased prosperity for the middle classes and the burgeoning popularity for what we know term the Art Nouveau style, which followed Aestheticism, saw Liberty art fabrics pop with patterns. 

Patterns for textiles were bought by Liberty from the Silver Studio.  The Silver Studio was established by Arthur Silver in 1880 in Brook Green, Hammersmith. The timing of the Studio was perfect; patterns for wallpapers and textiles were in high demand and between 1880 and 1910 the Silver Studio sold hundreds of designs in the Art Nouveau style to various clients across the world.      

Silver Studio Designs dating from late 1800s, SD3514, SD3597, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture.  

Arthur Silver is widely attributed as designing Liberty’s famous peacock print, Hera (below) in 1887.  However although Arthur Silver is attributed as the designer, subsequent research has questioned whether this is in fact the case or whether Arthur Silver adapted the design from another peacock pattern registered in 1876.  

Sketch of Peacock Feather, Silver Studio, SD9230 and Liberty Hera Fabric, ST3935b, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture 

The day books of the Silver Studio here at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture show that in 1891 the Silver Studio provided Liberty with 19 designs.  The relationship between the Studio and Liberty continued into the 1900s with female designers working for the Silver Studio providing Liberty with floral patterns for dress fabrics.

Cotton dress fabric known as  'Runis' Crepe designed by  Madeleine Lawrence of the Silver  Studio and sold by Liberty in the early 1930s for 2 shillings  and 11 pence per yard, ST3505, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture

In addition to textile designs, the Silver Studio also provided Liberty with designs for their Tudric Pewter and Cymric Silver ranges.  We have a large collection of drawings for items including clocks, mirrors and jewellery for these Liberty ranges.  Not only did the Silver Studio maintain the anonymity of its designers, but Liberty did too, in order to protect the idea of Liberty as a brand.  This makes it particularly problematic when trying to trace provenance of a design. 

         Design for silver powder box, SD8326, Design for label or stamp, SD8344, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture 

Liberty patterns have an enduring legacy; Liberty regularly re-issues designs from its archive, often re-working them for today.  One of its most recent is a twist on its Art Nouveu Ianthe pattern from the 1900s.   

As well as Silver Studio textile designs for Liberty, we hold a collection of Liberty catalogues and Liberty Art Fabric swatches.  If you would like to visit us to see the collection up close or have any questions a then please contact us.  We are open by appointment Monday to Friday and look forward to seeing you.  In addition to individual appointments we can arrange group visits too, so do get in touch! 


Friday, 17 April 2015

Curator of the Future Conference

MoDA's Collections Assistant Jacqueline Winston-Silk @_jsws discusses a thought-provoking conference at the British Museum. 

This week I went to The Curator of the Future Conference at the British Museum.  I was joined by around 100 other delegates; a mix of early career professionals, postgraduate students and Heads of Departments - we discussed and debated the nature of the curatorial role today, asking where it’s come from, where it’s going and where it needs to go.

The conference was opened by John Williams, Deputy Director of the British Museum who gave an overview of the museum’s National Programme activity.  The British Museum has 2,700 objects on loan to other museums in the UK, reminding us of the importance of partnerships in curatorial practice – a theme that re-emerged throughout the day.

Here’s a handy executive summary of what I learnt! If you want to read more, I've shared a handful of the speakers' discussions below:

·         Digital is an ongoing interactive process
·         39% of Generation Z  (those born after 1996) think museums are irrelevant
·         American actress Hedy Lamarr was granted US Patent no. 2292387 in the 1930s for an early system of Wi-Fi
·         All 700 UK cultural institutions combined receive only 0.08% of all UK web traffic – the equivalent of B&Q!

Curatorial survival kit

Maurice Davies of the Museum Consultancy discussed the myriad skills (collections management, conservation, engagement etc.) which are now enveloped under the umbrella title of ‘the curator’. He described how the role has evolved from a previous connotation of the curator as ‘priest’ of a cathedral of objects with privileged access, to the curator as a ‘market trader’ in the agora; a person who sells and negotiates in an open forum. Perhaps Maurice’s biggest message was his belief that a curator’s ability to communicate is today more important than their subject-specialist knowledge. This really got me thinking, as without subject-specialist knowledge; what do you communicate? However, as a regular exhibition-goer I can understand that being able to successfully communicate an idea or a narrative is paramount, and even more so, being able to communicate that information across a variety of media - and pitched to a specific audience(s). What do you think, is communication key? 

Bill Seaman of Colchester & Ipswich Museum Service shared the concerns of many people in the room. Due to budget cuts, the current operating model we have is unsustainable - leaving museums with a ragged service and lack of diversity in their workforce.  To combat this, Bill invited a new professionalism model based on partnerships and new technologies. Bill promoted peer to peer learning and advocated social media – with its innate ability to know instantly what our audiences think and like. Bill suggested that technology frees us from merely imparting facts and offers a democratisation of information – allowing new perspectives on collections to be eked out. As a museum studies graduate with 4 years of professional experience, I can very much see Bill's point and have been equally frustration at the lack of diversity in museum recruitment, let's not get started on the unpaid internship issue..

Getting your game on

The conference programme was full to the brim, and so a few events were squeezed in during the lunch break. I managed to attend a workshop led by @tl_gould and @martadabrowka of National Galleries of Scotland, on developing audience engagement for digital collections. I took away some valuable insight into the profile of potential younger audiences. Generation Z (those born after 1996) are surrounded and comfortable with technology, they like information presented visually and believe learning should be a two-way dynamic – wanting to discover, as opposed to being told. Generation Z are creative and entrepreneurial, however they have shorter attention spans and believe interactivity should come as standard. This is interesting stuff, and I think it should be in the forefront of our minds when sharing collections digitally. Perhaps even more so because 39% of the Generation Z audience think museums are irrelevant in today’s digital age - quite a worrying stat! 

Brave New Words

Chris Michaels of the British Museum explored curatorial practice, using objects (some from the collection) to illustrate the shifting opportunities and responsibilities within a curator’s transforming role. I thought this was the highlight of the conference, not least for originality in presentation style. There were too many to mention here, but my favourites were:
  • The Gebelein Man (3,400 BC) tells the fundamental story of humankind, of living and dying. Communicating this ubiquitous narrative is a central aspect of a curator’s role
  • Flood Tablet (650 BC). Discovering knowledge anew. Discovering something new about the past and making that knowledge available for the present is fundamental to a curator’s role.
  • Admission Ticket (c. 1759). 17th and 18th century enlightenment values of sharing knowledge for free and with free public access, underpin the museum. With external pressures to privatise museums, part of a curator’s role should be to facilitate, protect and defend access.
  • iPhone. Digital platforms make it possible to communicate fundamental knowledge to a wider global audience. With the development of personal mobile devices the boundaries have collapsed between what can be seen within and outside the museum. Content can now live on external media not just in the doors of the museum.  
  • Lester Wisbrod Selfie Collection. Individuals are now curating the present at all times, and telling the world they’re doing so. This shift represents a re-triangulation between people, objects and the new media space. As a result, curators need to ask what curating in the present means.

Anra Kennedy of Culture24  gave some helpful advice on what museum content needs to be in order to be engaging on a digital platform. She advised high resolution, high quality images. For catalogue records to be labelled and tagged with correct and up-to-date information. For content to be usable, re-usable and share-able, and that objects be contextualised and interpreted. As we continually add records online and improve our collections documentation at MoDA, this is a good benchmark to work towards. 

The Next Generation

Rachel Souhami discussed the The Future of Museums conference held in 2014 and reflected on the outcomes, including the subsequent manifesto. The manifesto was a call to arms by the conference delegates (all of whom within the first 6 years of their careers) to imagine the museum landscape in twenty years’ time; and we were encouraged to be idealistic about what we'd like to see. To support these young professionals, Rachel urged us to stop using the murky phrase “the museum sector” as it gives a false sense of homogeneity, denying diversity and differing agendas. I have to admit, I often fall into the trap of using the phrase and have had to edit myself in this blog post as a result... so Rachel... I'm trying! In a bid to support future curators in their careers Rachel urged us to ensure cogent, collective leadership. To engage with emerging museum professionals themselves and to remind those emerging museum professionals to be proactive. I took part in The Future of Museums conference and was a contributing author to the manifesto, and so it was really interesting to hear Rachel draw some conclusions and recommendations from the event.

I found the conference to be really useful in corralling and synthesizing current debate and ideas about the role of the curator, at a time when museums face budget restrictions and become ever more digital. The digital aspect of sharing collections is certainly something that the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture is striving to engage and innovate within, and so I left a happy delegate with a head full of helpful resources. Watch this space. 

Friday, 10 April 2015

Bringing You Better Living

MoDA's Collections Assistant Jacqueline Winston-Silk @_jsws discusses the new exhibition at The Hasler Gallery.

Bringing You Better Living is a site-specific installation at Ten Grand Arcade by Aviva Leeman. The work is inspired by the Charles Hasler collection at MoDA.

Now open at The Hasler Gallery, the commission is a collaborative project which was informed by the site and character of the gallery itself. The Hasler Gallery is located in a retail unit in a 1930’s arcade – an architectural construct in the history of the development of modern shopping.

Bringing You Better Living at The Hasler Gallery. Photo courtesy of Aviva Leeman. 

View of the Grand Arcade, 1980. Courtesy of the Friern Barnet & District Local History Society. Photographer Doug Rose.

The Charles Hasler Collection at MoDA

The project was born out of an investigation into language during developments in the retail industry. Aviva’s research focused on publications of the time - in particular Shelf Appeal (1934-38), a trade magazine for the emerging packaging industry, as well as contemporaneous printed advertisements. Aviva also consulted Charles Hasler’s specimens of display letters produced for the Festival of Britain

CH/5/2/5, Shelf Appeal magazine October 1935.

CH/5/2/5 Shelf Appeal April 1938

Shelf Appeal was a magazine aimed at the newly emerging professional designers of packaging and promotional material. It considered typography, illustration and graphics to explore how products (especially in new materials such as plastics, Bakelite, aluminium etc.) might be marketed to consumers through the development of a ‘brand image’.

MJ174, Detail of advertisements in Homes and Gardens magazine, June 1951. 

Examples of advertisements from Homes and Gardens magazine, similar to the items consulted at MoDA. The aesthetic and language of the period advertising is interrogated in Aviva's installation. 

CH/1/1 specimen of display letters.


Charles Hasler was chairman of the Typography Panel of the Festival of Britain. This Panel oversaw the visual identity of the exhibition.  It drew up specimens of display letters, and developed guidelines on how the logo should be used on Festival-related publications and publicity.

The installation at The Hasler Gallery

Aviva Leeman, The Silent Salesman, 2015. Photo courtesy of Aviva Leeman. 

The Silent Salesman lays bare product packaging and the display system as sites and channels of communication in the context of the shop. The texts are extracted from industry adverts aimed at designers and manufacturers, extolling the abilities of the new packaging materials and technologies to sell. Between the wars, the package, shelf and counter display became objects of intense imaginative interest, the bearers of a new commercial aesthetic, and the language used reveals the optimism felt.

Aviva Leeman, We Women All Agree, 2015. Photo courtesy of Aviva Leeman. 

We Women All Agree is a suspended window display of women’s heads gathered together from magazine advertisements from the 1930s – 1950s, reworked and scaled-up to life-size. The cut-out aesthetic recalls early window displays but also comments on how the dimensionality of how the shopper, typically the housewife, was imagined in the early days of retail psychology, and which to some extent prevails today. To the left is a key identifying each character by an extract from the advert in which they featured, in many cases an attribute that could interchangeably apply to the product being promoted or the woman presented as an embodiment of the brand.

Exhibition3rd April - 30th April 2015

Gallery Opening times:
Thursday & Friday 12-6pm
Saturday 12-4pm
Or by appointment:


Address: The Hasler Gallery, Grand Arcade, North Finchley, N12 0EH

Aviva Leeman trained in Graphic Design and Visual Communication and has practiced as an installation artist since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2002. She has shown work and developed commissions for galleries and non-gallery contexts including the Museum of St Albans, Hatfield House, Battersea Pump House Gallery, Aldgate Station, County Hall, the Royal Festival Hall and Norwich Castle Museum. A local resident since 2010, she recently completed a commission to celebrate the tenth anniversary of artsdepot. She has worked on residencies for community organizations and schools, and also runs a fledgling press, designing and producing bespoke short-run letterpress. Aviva is currently researching a PhD at Central Saint Martins on how the materiality of text affects our construction of meaning.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Kitchen Politics

Join MoDA's Curator Sim Panaser in the kitchen....

This week the general election campaigns have begun with a vengeance, we've heard fighting talk, sound bites and the occasional policy issue thrown in for good measure. 

The photo-op, a vital tool in every party’s election arsenal provokes strong responses.  And this year politicians in kitchens seem to be a thing.  From the scrutiny surrounding Ed Miliband’s kitchenette to David Cameron’s announcement that he doesn't want to stand for a third term, which was accompanied by photographs of him in the kitchen of his constituency home.  It appears the kitchen is where politicians want to be seen and heard. 

Considered the heart of the home, the kitchen is seen as nourishing and warm together with being commonplace, whilst not everyone has a dining room in the main they will have a kitchen or kitchenette.  The kitchen is a highly charged space.  It is aspirational, we are sold dream kitchens and kitchens reportedly increase the value of homes.  It is a space for family and friends, eating, entertaining, domesticity and at times drudgery.

Here at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture we have a collection of books and ephemera on kitchen design dating from 1930s to 1970s.  From labour saving to saving face, these designs demonstrate the minutia of detail which according to manufacturers and taste-makers needed to be considered when designing a kitchen.

Watch Your Step, Kitchen Planning circa 1945, BADDA 4226, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture

In the illustrations below, the kitchen appears to be the domain of the female.  Much of post-war kitchen design was marketed as improving conditions for women, a more efficient kitchen purported to an increased leisure time for women.  The kitchens depicted below also appear sparse, nearly everything is packed away into cupboards, leaving work surfaces clear and ready for action. In the 1940s and 1950s the kitchen hatch connected the kitchen to the dining area, enabling food to be presented without witness to the cooking or being taken to the table. 

A place for everything and everything has its place, BADDA 4677, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture

Kitchen Dining Room in a Family Flat, BADDA, 4226, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture 

1940s Service Hatch in Choose Your Kitchen by Adie Ballantyne, BADDA 4563, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture

Today kitchens are seen very much part of leisure time, we like to cook or at least buy cookery books. We leave things out and 'on show'.  The kitchen is both private and public and perhaps the room that people can most readily identify with, from a place where we make a cup of tea after a long day to entertaining from the ever desirable kitchen island, it is both a space to relax and to perform. Maybe this is why politicians have taken to their kitchens to communicate their message and why the analysis of their kitchens has garnered so much attention.

Please get in touch with us if you would like further information on our collections or to view our collection of books and ephemera related to design for the home.  We welcome visits from groups and individuals and look forward to seeing you!      

For collection enquiries or to book an appointment to visit MoDA's Collections Centre please email 

Friday, 27 March 2015

#MuseumWeek 2015

MoDA's Collections Assistant, Jacqueline Winston-Silk @_jsws discusses MoDA's experience of #MuseumWeek.

#MuseumWeek 2015 is here. Described as an opportunity for museums from all over the world to celebrate culture on Twitter, we were eager to be involved. To join conversations, to share collections, and to broadcast into the ether a love of all things museological!

We thought we’d take this as an opportunity to reflect on what’s been a very social week. Looking at how we tackled the daily themes, which objects we choose to share and what we learnt as a result.

To orchil or not to orchil?

Monday was the day to peek inside and discover by following #secretsMW. We tweeted stories of finding butterflies in books and of hidden Victorian messages.

BADDA2208 Beautiful Butterflies of the Tropics: how to collect them, 1920 

Charles Hasler ephemera collection

But #secretsMW proved the ideal opportunity to share a curious note which had been found pinned inside the pages of one of our textile dye books a few weeks prior. Handwritten and burnt around the edges, we have no knowledge of the author or when it was written, but it’s somewhat whimsical prose has caught the attention of our curators. The note describes tragic artists and omnipotent powers, occupying a peculiar landscape:  

In the mighty city of Londinium there existed deep in the marshlands of Barnetis [?] a northern province [?], a strange dwelling at the artisans, Catter [?] Hillock. It is written how the architecture of this fair place was so delicate & beutifull [sic] that strangers would gasp when they saw it. 


The cryptic text has really spurred our imaginations and we’d like to research any possible literary references and associations, as well as establishing more about the locations given and the mention of the artisan creed. We’ve decided to delve a little deeper and will share any findings here, but if you think you can help give meaning or context to the text please get in touch - we’d love to hear from you.

The dye book itself is attributed to Oswald Gunnell, produced in 1894. Textile dye books contain small cotton swatches arranged in colour order, with formulas of dyes and information on how to dye cotton. At the time, Gunnell was working with a leading chemist Arthur George Perkin who was Professor of Colour Chemistry and Dyeing at the University of Leeds. 


After tweeting, a discussion began with a researcher of orchil. Orchil is a natural dye extracted from lichen which gives varying degrees of a magenta hue. Now we have to confess, our knowledge of orchil was somewhat limited until this point. So limited in fact, that we had mistakenly catalogued orchil as orchid, and so thank you to @Orchella49 who corrected our mistake! It seems the dye book is having somewhat of a resurgence as we’ve subsequently received even more interest in the object and its note; we plan to share our findings with you here.

What secrets did we learn from other museums? That there exists such a thing as universal curatorial chores, like the obligatory washing of white gloves – thanks to the London Transport Museum for sharing. That The Geffrye Museum’s front garden contains WW2 Anderson Shelters and that there is a secret door in the British Museum’s Enlightenment Gallery. Who knew!


All about Hasler

Tuesday was a day to share momentos and cast an eye towards the museum gift shop using #souvenirsMW. It was an opportunity to highlight the vast and meticulous collecting of graphic designer and typographer Charles Hasler, whose ephemera collections are held at MoDA. As part of Hasler’s design process, he collected visual material for inspiration, and to inform his interests in printing, illustration, typography, branding (and more!). Part of the pleasure derived from Hasler’s collections is in the sheer breadth of material types. He amassed collections of company letter paper, wine lables, notgeld, handbills, exhibition guides, providing us with ephemeral souvenirs which might otherwise be overlooked. 



What were our favourite souvenirs and what did we learn?  The British Museums’ original souvenir pin badge, can you spot the error? That selecting souvenirs for the curious public is both an art and a science; The Wellcome Collection suggest it’s what the museum gift shop doesn’t stock that allows the “more unusual, less ubiquitous” to shine brighter. You can read more about it here. We were reminded by the Ministry of Curiosity that a mug remains a classic museum gift-shop purchase; their mug de jour was produced by the V&A for the Disobedient Objects exhibition. 


JMR Library

Wednesday was a day to turn our attentions to museum buildings by following #architectureMW. Museum buildings often elicit ideas of grand, nineteenth century vitrines; steadfast and ornate architecture reflecting a responsibility to guard material culture for prosperity. In reality, museums come in lots of different shapes and sizes, and MoDA is testament to this! In lieu of having a Hintze Hall, a pavilion commission, or a ceramic staircase we chose to focus on how architecture is represented within our collection – by sharing highlights from the JMR Library. A diverse and distinctive library, we tweeted a few choice architecture books with inspired covers.

JMR672 London Night and Day: a guide to where the other books don't take you, 1951

JMR770 High Street, 1938

JMR395 Inside the Pub, 1948

London Night and Day (1951) provides an hour by hour account of the city, taking you into the small hours and suggesting at 1am near Garthickhithe "a walk through the City in full moon is a thing no one forgets". Inside the Pub (1948) charts the evolution of the traditional pub type, while artist Eric Ravilious gives a charismatic portrait of high street facades in High Street (1938).

The architecture that caught our eye? The Barbican’s infamous brutalist concrete was impressively handmade to create a ‘pitted’ effect.  The British Museum once had its own dedicated underground station. The relocation of the Design Museum from a reused banana warehouse in tucked-away Shad Thames, to Kensington’s shiny museum quarter is well underway.  


Help Wanted

Thursday was a day for some reciprocal inspiring with #inspirationMW. It was the ideal theme to share with our followers how the museum has inspired our visitors and how visitors can inspire the museum!

As part of MiddlesexUniversity we’re always welcoming learners to our Study Room, and we encourage the use of collections in student’s research. We wanted to share with our followers some case studies of how learners and artists have recently engaged with our collection as a springboard for inspiration and new knowledge. 

It’s true to say that inspiration comes from the unlikeliest of places…  our Japanese Katagami stencils were consulted by student Leah Orford as part of her BA Design Crafts research project. Katagami stencils are made from mulberry bark paper; the papers are glued with wheat starch paste, stained and waterproofed with persimmon juice. They were produced as a way of applying patterns to fabric, namely kimonos.  Leah examined the stencils to inform her research into the practical applications of mushrooms and fungus as a material! You can read more about her project here

The Hasler Gallery, photo by Justin Piperger 

Artists exhibiting at the recently opened Hasler Gallery took inspiration from MoDA’s Silver Studio and Charles Hasler collections to produce new, original work. Exhibitions Two Worlds in the Footsteps of the Silver Studio and A Second Look demonstrate the myriad practical applications of the archive. 

Finally, #inspirationMW gave us a chance to garner support from our followers and offer them the chance to inspire us. The museum is looking to develop a new website and is seeking feedback on our current site’s usability and asking what new functionality our audiences might like to see.  We also cheekily offered up some MoDA magnets as a thank you for those who contributed their ideas! We are still looking for more help, if you would like to contribute to the museums digital development you can inspire us here (and we still have some MoDA magnets to give away!).

What inspired us this week? The London Transport Museum launched its roundel campaign and asked us to tweet a photo of a TFL roundel. We were inspired to take part and seek one out. Tate held a mini twitter takeover and asked us to join them and their Lead Curator Chris Stephens for #desertislandart where Chris would be tweeting artworks he’d take to a desert island. While we were inspired by @MarDixon who tweeted her own ‘Mini Mar Museum’, sharing images of objects on her shelves.


We are family

Friday was a day to consider objects with an affiliation to the idea or image of the family and the family home (a familiar theme for us!), by following #familyMW.

Now considered a design classic, we tweeted a plate produced by Ridgeway Potteries and designed by Enid Seeley, which became a common sight on the dining tables of mid-century family homes. Retailed in their thousands over a period of 12 years by recently defunct high street chain Woolworths, their affordable price ensured the plate’s ubiquity in our homes. Something which proved evident to our followers who either own or covet the monochrome plates today.


Donated by a family member, we hold a collection of photographs which document the activities of the donor’s family in Dagenham, Essex between 1928-1935. Acting as a snapshot of the suburban landscape, the photograph is a group portrait depicting the donor’s paternal family including the donor’s paternal grandfather. The black & white and sepia images illustrate a growing family at leisure in the spaces of the garden.  


Perhaps impacting most on London residents and families today, we tweeted a brochure for newly built semi-detached and detached properties in Edgware. The tube network reached Edgware by 1924, opening up the area for builders to buy up land and make a profit from people wishing to buy houses and become commuters. On the market in 1935, the architect-designed homes seem like a snip at £2,100 in today’s property climate.

How did other museums interpret the theme of family? The Natural History Museum shared news of their soon to open family favourite exhibition Sensational Butterflies, with an image of their soon to open chrysalises! The V&A gave its visiting families a guide on ‘Fifty Ways to Use Postcards’, an inventive approach to a cheap and accessible learning resources . While the National Portrait Gallery provided a timely welcoming and celebration of all families with Grayson Perry’s portrait of a ‘Modern Family’ on his ceramic pots.    

Here’s to #MuseumWeek 2016

Taking part in the initiative has demonstrated just how enthused both museums and museum visitors are about the role of museums and their fantastic collections. It’s been an ingenious way of engaging with our audience, gaining new followers and of being asked to interpret and share our objects in new ways. More than anything, the week feels as though we've taken part in something significant, being part of a growing discussion and providing a forum to get excited about our shared culture and heritage. But perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the week were the prize tweets that emerged as museums started to reveal their informal voice, their mistakes and their magnificent idiosyncrasies…


Friday, 13 March 2015

It's curtains for the 1950s

MoDA’s Collections Manager, Sam Smith, discusses the recent donation to the museum of a 1950s curtain sample.

Of the recent acquisitions made by the Museum of Design and Domestic Architecture, one of the more interesting is this sample of a 1950s curtain. It was made up by the donor’s mother and hung in the kitchen of their childhood home in Bletchley during the 1950s.

BADDA4959, Museum of Design and Domestic Architecture

The curtain sample mirrors the check design of a typical chef’s outfit, with kitchen ingredients and cooking paraphernalia interspersing blank squares and waffle patterns in a black and white checkerboard design.

Spurred on by the inactivity of the war years, designers in the 1950s began to revel in their new found freedom. Patterns emerged inspired by art, architecture and science, and popular tastes moved toward the more experimental and colourful.

The design of the curtain rejoices in the re-availability of its subject matter – from tin pans and kettles, to ingredients and egg timers – it speaks to the new possibilities of post-war domesticity, modernity and suburban bliss. It also reflects two important themes in post-war Britain: the need for housing and the development of DIY.

As many as a third of British homes had been damaged or demolished during the Second World War and, with marriages and births on the increase, housing in Britain become a national priority during the 1950s.

The semi-detached bungalow where the curtains were hung was built in 1957 and was typical of the type of housing that was constructed late in the decade and influenced by American and Scandinavian design.

A photograph of the bungalow from the garden shows the curtain in situ in the kitchen window c1960 (top right).
BADDA4969, Museum of Design and Domestic Architecture

These buildings were typically one storey high, accentuated light, and embraced the notion of a multi-purpose living room space.

Towards the end of the decade living standards were on the rise, with weekly wages almost doubling from £6 8s. 0d. to £11 2s. 6d. by its end. Whilst household budgets remained limited, the ongoing increase in disposable income and free time – as well as in available housing – all helped to feed the development of the concept of do-it-yourself home improvement during the 1950s.

Illustrated guide to DIY home improvements published in the 1950s as part of the Home & Garden gift booklet series. BADDA1339, Museum of Design and Domestic Architecture

This in turn is reflected by the growth of DIY literature at the time, with magazines such as the Practical Householder gaining in popularity.

The 1950s saw the growth of trends in the domestic and design spheres that we take very much for granted today. The curtain is a welcome addition to the collections, and demonstrates well the kind of contextual information that can add value to objects for students, researchers and general visitors.

As a typical item of the period it provides a useful window on the 1950s as rebuilding commenced and the curtains were raised at the end of the Second World War.

If you would like to see more of the 1950s items held by the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture please email us to make an appointment. 

Friday, 6 March 2015

Hasler Gallery website launched

A new project website has been launched this week.  It provides an overview of the work of five artists who were commissioned by the North Finchley Town Team and MoDA to create new work inspired by the museum's collections.  

Regular readers of this blog will know that the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MoDA) has been working with North Finchley Town Team over the past year or so, running a project called the Hasler Gallery in Barnet's Grand Arcade.

Over the months, five professional artists and designers have used MoDA's collections as the starting point for the development of new work, each finding different inspiration and taking their work in surprising new ways.

Four of the artists have now shown their work in the Gallery, with the fifth, Aviva Leeman, due to open in a few weeks.  The project website launches this week.  It provides an overview of their work for this project, and will hopefully encourage other young artists and designers to come to MoDA for creative inspiration.

If you would like to visit the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture please drop us an email to arrange your visit.  Visits are by appointment only, but everyone is welcome, whether you are a student, researcher, artist/designer or member of the public.

PS: we're currently thinking about how to redevelop MoDA's own website
If you'd like to help with the process by sharing your thoughts, please complete this quick questionnaire: