Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Hasler Gallery - project underway!

Zoe Hendon, MoDA's Head of Collections, introduces the five creative practitioners who have been selected to take part in the Hasler Gallery project:

The Hasler Gallery, part of North Finchley's 10 Grand Arcade project is now open, and the project is well underway.  We're delighted to have found five excellent designers/artists who will be making work inspired by the collections of the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture over the next few months.  

I thought I'd tell you a bit about each of them here, and I will introduce the five graduates who'll be joining them in next week's blogpost. 

Aviva Leeman
Aviva will be drawing on the designer Charles Hasler’s interests in typography and print processes, with a specific interest in his collection of everyday printed ephemera.  Aviva's practice is typically site-responsive and she is conscious of the location of the gallery in a shopping arcade at the heart of a town centre – a place teeming with public lettering, visual communication, and material detritus of people going about their domestic, business and leisure pursuits.

Aviva's work uses different material forms and contexts, combining installation, public art and participatory strategies, and design methodologies. She has shown work at and developed commissions for Hatfield House, Pump House Gallery, County Hall, the Southbank Centre and Norwich Castle Museum. 

Jo Angel
Jo Angell is proposing to create a multi-layered wall or ceiling suspended art piece. Panels will be designed using two materials and processes – digitally printed fabrics and laser cut fine wooden veneers.  The inspiration for the piece has come from two facets of the Silver Studio’s collections at MoDA: Japanese Katagami stencils and Art Deco period drawings.

After an initial career as a graphic designer, Jo returned to Central St Martins to follow a lifelong passion in textiles and studied for an MA in ‘Textile Futures’ from 2006-8.  Jo’s varied design work has included award-winning wallpaper designs for Graham & Brown, a prototype window display for Louis Vuitton and an innovative shade canopy for the Chelsea Flower Show which won a gold medal.  Jo also creates and sells her own digitally printed textile designs which are made into scarves and other accessories. www.joangell.com

Katie Horwich
Incorporating elements of the architecture of the gallery, its surroundings and local flora and fauna, Katie’s starting point is the creation of a new series of katagami stencils inspired by the ones in MoDA’s collection, introducing an element of exotic chinoiserie to the Grand Arcade.

Katie grew up near the Museum of Design & Domestic Architecture and is inspired by the local landscape. She often works on location, sketching, writing and photographing.

Yemi Awosile
Yemi’s project will draw on the MoDA collection to create engineered textiles which echo graphic elements found within this historical archive.
Yemi is a Designer living and working in London producing materials for objects and spaces. Her practice is driven by industry led research, special commissions and collaboration across a range of disciplines within manufacturing, design and the arts.  Since graduating from Textiles Design at the Royal College of Art in 2008 she has established herself as an independent designer specialising in textiles and material finishes.

Leigh Cameron
Leigh’s work explores concrete and the possibility of radically changing our perception of this material. He works with this age-old material in an innovatory manner to develop and explore the proletariat tacit information hidden in a 2000-year history. This includes developing a new context and aesthetic dialogue, considering concrete as a material; investigating its diversity, structural strengths and limitations; its weight, adaptability and content. 

For this project, Leigh intends to explore texture, colour, shape and ultimately the relationship of concrete to other materials, investigating colour, structure and light through patterns inspired by the collections at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture

I think you'll agree this is a diverse and talented bunch of people, and I'm really looking forward to seeing their work as it progresses.  

Friday, 8 August 2014

Exhibitions, Elephants and Empire

Temporary Assistant Curator Hilary Davidson has been impressed by the wide variety of publications which draw on research using the collections of the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MoDA).  Last month she gave a quick round up; here’s a further selection of some recent highlights

Objects from MoDA’s collections have been loaned to a number of exhibitions over the last few years, and in many cases have been illustrated in the catalogues too.  We loaned objects to the V&A’s major exhibition The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900  which feature in the catalogue. The show – and MoDA objects – toured to Paris and San Francisco.

Art for Art's Sake: the Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900  was a version of The Cult of Beauty which toured to Japan. The beautifully produced catalogue is only available in Japanese, in Japan – unless you’d like to consult MoDA’s reference copy. More objects from our collection featured in the dual English and Japanese language catalogues for another Japan-based show, the 2012 exhibition Katagami Style: Paper Stencils and Japonisme in Tokyo and Kyoto.

Dr Dianne Lawrence turned her Lancaster University PhD thesis into a book: Genteel Women. Empire and domestic material culture, 1840-1910, exploring ways in which ‘women's values, as expressed through their personal and household possessions, specifically their … living rooms, gardens and food, were instrumental in constructing various forms of genteel society’ across the British Empire. MoDA objects helped her to formulate her arguments.

Finally, we’re looking forward to reading the results of regular MoDA researcher Dr Deborah Sugg-Ryan’s  work when she publishes The Inter-War Home and Suburban Modernity:  The Architecture, Design and Decoration of the Semi-Detached House in England  later this year. Deborah has been giving glimpses of her work on Twitter. Her current conference paper ‘The elephant on the mantelpiece: The interwar suburban home & the detritus of Empire’ uses a 1937 fireplace catalogue to think about the material culture of empire within the suburban home. 

If this has inspired you to do your own research using MoDA's collections please email Maggie Wood to arrange an appointment.

Friday, 1 August 2014

And it's goodbye from me

Hilary Davidson, MoDA's temporary Assistant Curator, is leaving us today at the end of her contract. We asked her to write a farewell blog post:

Somehow, three months at MoDA have flown by and I find myself at my last day here. It’s been a wonderful way to spend a summer.  I’ve come across many new and interesting things while updating and improving the collection’s documentation.

It can be hard to come into a new collection and try to get a sense not only of its object strengths, but also of its history and that of the institution. So often exhibitions, publications and past major projects are an oral or memorial history. At MoDA, I’ve been fortunate to be working on digitising large amounts of this historic information and capturing it in the electronic catalogue for all future colleagues and researchers to access. I’ve got a much fuller idea of past exhibitions such as Japantastic and Petal Power than might have been possible otherwise, a sort of crash course in MoDA’s evolution.

I’ve always liked Art Nouveau design of the style that epitomises the Silver Studio’s work in their turn of the century heyday. It’s been a pleasure exploring the astonishing, inventive, seemingly endless wealth of designs these talented men – and women – produced. Seeing the designs themselves, rather than reproductions, really brings them to life and has a much more immediate impact. Every delicate, controlled pencil stroke conveys the skilled hand of the designer. The velvety gouache colours used to infill the sketches show how quickly a dynamic and assured palette was built up and a design brought into being. 

SD760, textile design, circa. 1905

Even the individual printing qualities of mass-produced wallpapers and friezes have a verve and luminosity in the physical object that is impossible to convey in a photograph. There is more design inspiration here than one could hope to tap in a lifetime.

The Orchard Frieze, 
 influenced by the work of CFA Voysey, cicra. 1905. SW733
Wallpaper frieze, ca. 1900. SW1161

I’ve also enjoyed absorbing the kind of optimism that shines through such early twentieth century applied arts: better living through design, and a sense of its transformative powers in the vein of William Morris (a personal hero). The attention paid to the design of, for example, embossed bookcovers, turns a useful object into a beautiful one, something to grace the domestic library or store-room shelves.

A design for a book cover by the Silver Studio, early 20th century. SD464b
Design for a book cover, 1904, 'Adventures in Field & Flood'. Silver Studio, SD1103 

As in most museums, one of the continual working pleasures is being able to absorb knowledge from colleagues and researchers. Before I came I had never heard of katagami stencils. Watching Dr. Alice Humphrey catalogue the collection unfolded a fascinating world of textile printing techniques and Japanese cultural symbols around me. Now when I’m back in the more familiar world of dress history and come across printed kimono and yukata, I have a new appreciation of the intricacies of their production.

Katagami stencil (K2.33) depicting chrysanthemums and Taoist precious objects against a  background of seigaiha  (waves from the Blue Ocean) which are symbolic of calm days.  The auspicious objects include vases or wine jars, a wine cup, hagoromo  (the cloak of  feathers which allows flight) and censers (egoro ).  

Finally – and I hope my colleagues aren’t too tired of hearing me bang on about this – it’s been energising working with a small team. It’s so easy to get things done! The larger an organisation is, the more bureaucracy is involved. MoDA is a great size for working across ‘departments’ without associated reams of paperwork, delay and confusing communiques. I’m impressed at how much MoDA punches above its weight for the size of museum it is and think this is one of the reasons.

Thank you Zoe, Richard, Maggie, Claire, Emma and Justin for being so welcoming and helpful , and for all your support. MoDA’s collection is full of quirks, depths, delights and possibilities. While I won’t miss the daily journey to Colindale, it’s one I really encourage people to make at least once to explore this wonderful Museum.

If you would like to visit MoDA and explore its collections please email Maggie Wood to arrange an appointment.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Protecting the Protectors

Freelance paper conservator, Michal Sofer, has been working on MoDA's book collections for the past few months.  The project has raised some interesting questions; when does a wrapper designed to protect something acquire the status of something that itself needs to be protected?

Over the past few months I've been working at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MoDA) on a major project aimed at improving the condition and housing of thousands of books in the museum's collections.  This will mean that they can safely be handled by students, researchers and other users for more years to come.

Michal removing rusty staples from one of the
publications in MoDA's collections

One of the measures we are taking most frequently to safeguard the books' condition, is covering them with a Melinex*  wrapper.  This is most often to ensure the longevity of the numerous damaged dust jackets, which were originally manufactured to protect the books’ primary covering.

The Domestic Design Collection and JM Richards Library book collections in MoDA's stores date mostly from the nineteenth and twentieth-centuries. Many of them are cloth-covered hard backs with an additional dust jacket, often printed with quite intricate and beautiful designs, very evocative of a book's subject matter or the period during which it was published. 

Dust jackets have a long history: After a first appearance and brief period of use in the fifteenth century, the protective paper covering of books fell into disuse until reappearing nearly 400 years later - the single most important development favouring production and use of dust-jackets was the advent of publishers’ cloth bindings in the 1820's.

The Happy Glutton, by Alin Laubreaux  (1931)
Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, BADDA2356

Two Englishmen, William Pickering and Archibald Leighton, are usually associated with the early manufacture of book cloth around 1825-1830. Case bindings had replaced hand-bound volumes. Cloth in a wide variety of colors, finishes and textures, lent itself to being deeply embossed and colorfully decorated, and stamped with plates that completely covered the boards with designs. The need to protect these delicate cloth covers was ensured by the use of dust-jackets. The efficacy of such a cover is much evident in the collection, where pristine cloth covers are found under soiled and damaged dust jackets.

Some books from MoDA’s collection once belonged to the Silver Studio.  They were probably stored in the Studio itself, and appear to have been referred to frequently for practical purposes, leading to the loss of the original dust jackets. A significant number of these books were provided with protective brown paper wrappers during that time. This was an excellent way to preserving the primary covering materials, and to support book structures, since brown wrapping paper is relatively inert, is quite durable, and the book titles can be written onto the wrapping which is opaque and therefore hides any bibliographic information. These contemporary wrappers are now in various states of disrepair, having undergone up to 100 years worth of handling. Again, we have frequently provided these volumes with a secondary protective wrapping of Melinex over the brown paper dust jackets, so preserving evidence of the ‘provenance’ of the books (ie, proof that they were used in the Silver Studio).

A small but notable number of books  from the JM Richards collection have had their dust jackets laminated by well-meaning librarians, possibly between 1960 to 1980, when the they were housed by libraries in various learning institutions (library, college and school stamps have been found in the front covers). Rather than preserving the dust jackets as intended, this has ultimately lead to an accelerated degradation of them – as the heat-activated adhesive discolours and embrittles the paper cover. This damage is irreversible.
Some libraries have used poor quality polyester to create a wrapping for books which has welded itself to paper covers over time, discolouring, embrittling and cracking the paper, and adhering unevenly to printed surfaces. This often results in a more permanent disfigurement of the paper dust jackets, and can only rarely be successfully repaired, generally taking a lot of time, and the use of solvents. Sadly, the books that have been damaged in this way in the MoDA collection will remain as they are, for now. Thankfully, they are relatively few and far between.  

Hence, we now find ourselves taking measures to preserve protective covers designed to protect the primary book covers where we can with simple inert materials and methods. Who knows what measures conservators may take to preserve our melinex wrappers in the future?...

*Melinex is a tradenamed inert, archival standard polyester commonly used for the preservation storage of museum and archive materials. Our book wrappers are made individually to size, and to various templates for the protection of each individual book's requirements and without the need for adhesives.

If you have questions about the conservation of MoDA's collections please contact Emma Shaw
If you would like to use the collections for your own research, please contact Maggie Wood to arrange an appointment. 

Friday, 25 July 2014

Candlesticks, Castles and Crochet

Temporary Assistant Curator Hilary Davidson has been impressed by the wide variety of publications which draw on research undertaken using the collections of the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MoDA).  Here she gives a quick round up on some recent highlights – more next month.

The team at MoDA deal with all kinds of people wanting to know about the museum’s collections from a wide variety of angles, and for a number of reasons.   Some are researching for undergraduate or postgraduate dissertations or theses; others are intending to publish their research via more formal channels.

In addition, MoDA’s collections are frequently used for research by people who have a great enthusiasm for and an enormous knowledge of a particular area, but who don’t consider themselves to be ‘academics’.  Much of the work around silver designer Archibald Knox comes into this category: 2014 is the 150th anniversary of Knox’s birth, so it has been a big year for the Archibald Knox Society.  They organised a celebratory exhibition at the Olympia Antiques Fair in June. Their catalogue featured an article by Knox-specialist Anthony Bernbaum and reproduced original pencil designs for silverware from MoDA’s collection.

The Archibald Knox Society Journal special 150th Anniversary Edition (April 2014) featured two articles using MoDA resources, one by Anthony on 'The Origins of the Liberty ‘Cymric’ Silver Range’, and one by Society chairman Liam O’Neill - 'Archibald Knox: A 'Ghost' Designer'.

We’ve recently enjoyed reading Philippa Lewis’ new book Everyman’s Castle which uses an image from a 1935 brochure for ‘Roger Malcolm of Edgware’s new houses’ as the cover. There are more MoDA pictures inside this lovely book. AN Wilson gave it 5 stars in the Telegraph and our Head of Collections, Zoe Hendon, also reviewed the book on our blog. Philippa has also written a delightful article on ‘The English Fear of the Flat’ which can currently be read online in the summer issue of the London Library magazine

Everyman's Castle by Philippa Lewis

In terms of magazine articles, MoDA was featured in the BBC Antiques Roadshow magazine of June 2014, focusing on the wallpaper collections. And Jane Pettigrew used images of embroidered tea set covers and a crocheted doily from MoDA’s collection of early twentieth century needlecraft journals for her article 'A Flutter of Snow White Linen' in the June issue of specialist US tea magazine TeaTime.

Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, Badda 3285

There'll be another update on recent research using MoDA's collections next month.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Joseph Farrow - Arthur Silver Award 2014 winner

This year the judges decided to share the Arthur Silver Award between two Final Year students at Middlesex University, Paresha Amin (BA Fine Art) and Joseph Farrow (BA Jewellery & Accessories). In a previous post we featured the award winning work of Paresha and so here we are featuring Joseph's entry.  

Entrants to the award are required to use the MoDA collections as inspiration in the development of a piece of studio work. Up until this point, most students entering the Award have interpreted this brief in a fairly conventional way, choosing to submit work inspired by particular museum objects they have encountered, or related to historical styles represented in the collections.  Joseph's work takes a different approach, inspired by the structure of the MoDA archive itself, and the way we categorise and house our collections.  His starting point was a series of found objects which he dismantled, and separated into component parts. Each part was then catalogued and stored to create a library- or archive-style selection of objects, from which he created a jewellery collection for men. 

All entrants must submit three A3 sized boards showing inspiration, development and finished work.  Here are Joseph's entry boards:

Entry board 1: Joseph put forward his initial idea to create jewellery from deconstructed found objects. Taking inspiration from MoDA, he decided to create his own library, giving each individual component a new identity in the form of an accession number (the unique record number used to identify objects in a collection).

Joseph's first entry board

Entry board 2: Having built a library containing all the different component parts of the found objects he'd previously dismantled, Joseph  utilised his knowledge of computer-aided design to create jewellery pieces inspired by this new library, which were machine cut and hand finished, using the traditional technique of heat tempering.

Joseph's second entry board

Entry board 3: With the jewellery collection consisting of over 50 items and the assembled library continuing to expand, Joseph took inspiration from the catalogues Fleetway: The Greatest Value in the Kitchen (Badda287)  and  Art & Utility in Gas (Badda2072) to write and illustrate a catalogue explaining his work and the processes involved.

Joseph's third entry board

MoDA's Learning Officer Richard Lumb commented,'Rather than being inspired by a particular design or style, Joseph has taken inspiration from the structure of the MoDA archive itself, and the way that we categorise and house our collections. We feel this approach represents an exciting interpretation of the Award brief, and opens up the possibility for creative work which looks beyond the subjects and themes associated with the content of our collections.'

The judges shared this view, adding that Joseph's 'unusual use of archival systems was well thought-out and realised.' 

Joseph receiving his award certificate from Hilary Robinson, Dean of the School of Art & Design at Middlesex University and Richard Lumb, MoDA's Learning Officer

After jointly winning this year's award, Joseph said: “For me this feels great. I would like to put the money towards getting studio space, I’d like to set up my own business.”

Joseph with part of his final jewellery collection

Since winning, Joseph has entered work for the New Designers exhibition which has resulted in a lot of interest. He sold a few pieces of his jewellery collection at the show and there was interest from other buyers as well. Responding to this interest Joseph said, 'It's a great feeling knowing people are are actually interested in my work and want to wear it'.

Joseph has been asked to enter the 'Cultivated' graduate program which runs at Unit Twelve Gallery, based in Staffordshire.  If chosen he will be offered six months free studio space, shop window and exhibition space and a bursary.  He has been asked to stock a selection of jewellery at Gallery 25 in Hereford, which he is currently putting together ready to send off within the next two weeks. Joseph has also been invited to exhibit at Lovers Light Gallery in south-west London, for a two month stint from September as part of a 'new designers' exhibition.

'The next few months are going to be great', said Joseph. 'I just hope that I can find a full time job in the meantime'.  For more information about Joseph and his work please visit his new website.

We very much hope that other Middlesex University Art & Design students will be inspired by Joseph and Paresha's success, and come and explore MoDA's rich and varied archive for themselves.  You can find out about the work of previous Arthur Silver Award entrants in past MoDA blog posts, as well as looking at MoDA's website for more information about the application process.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Research on MoDA's Japanese stencils

Over the past few weeks MoDA staff were joined by Dr Alice Humphrey, from Leeds University.  
Zoe Hendon, the Head of Museum Collections at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, finds out more:

We've mentioned MoDA's collection of Japanese stencils or katagami on this blog several times before. These are delicate stencils which would have been used for printing kimono fabric at the end of the nineteenth century in Japan.  They were acquired by the designers who worked for the Silver Studio to use as design reference. Several of the examples from MoDA's collections have been loaned to recent exhibitions in Japan, and I also looked at their influence on the Silver Studio's design output in my book The Silver Studio and the Art of Japan (2014).

The Silver Studio and the Art of Japan
available online from MoDA via the Middlesex University online shop
But until earlier this year it was still clear that we didn't know too much about katagami  in general, or about the significance of the examples in MoDA's collections in particular.  I was therefore really delighted to be able to invite Dr Alice Humphrey from Leeds University to spend a few weeks with us, to share her knowledge on this fascinating subject.  Alice has recently completed her PhD on the different uses of geometric motifs between cultures.  She has spent some time studying the katagami held by the University of Leeds International Textiles Archive (ULITA), and was therefore well placed to be able to compare and contrast the two collections.  

MoDA’s collection consists of about four hundred stencils, making it one of the largest held in public collections in the UK.  The V&A has a similar number, and ULITA holds about two hundred. 

katagami stencil depicting chrysanthemums and bamboo stems,
Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, K2.28
As a result of Alice’s careful study of MoDA’s stencil collection, we now know that a high proportion (that is, a higher proportion than in other collections), feature floral designs.  This probably reflects the interests of the Silver Studio which acquired them as inspiration for wallpaper and textile design.  The stencils mostly date from the Meiji period (1868-1912).  Several show similar themes (such as chrysanthemums on scrolling stems) in diverse styles (including imitation of tie dye and of ikat weaving) and cutting techniques, providing interesting comparative material.  Of the non-floral designs, most are either geometric patterns or representations of Japanese auspicious objects.  

katagami stencil depicting chrysanthemums and Taoist precious objects
Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, K2.33

Some of the katagami have complex or multi-coloured designs, produced by overlaying stencils; in several cases, quite unusually, MoDA’s collection includes the full set of stencils so the full finished design can be visualised. 

Interestingly, about half of MoDA's collection consists of stencils featuring naturalistic scenes of plants with birds or insects, possibly made for the Western market.  These stencils provide detailed images of Japanese flora which are useful as a key to identifying more stylised flowers and, in their own right, are interesting as a reflection of variations introduced into designs for the export market.  These are not typical of traditional Japanese katagami stencils and do not appear to be widely represented in museum collections in the West.  They might therefore provide a fruitful avenue for further research, perhaps looking at cross-cultural influences between Japan and the West.

We're really grateful to Alice for all her hard work, and for sharing her expertise with MoDA staff so generously.  We'll be making more of the updated catalogue records available on our website over the coming weeks.  The katagami are some of my favourite objects in MoDA’s collections, and I’m looking forward to finding more ways to develop Alice’s research in the future.

The stencil collection is popular with both students and creative practitioners who come to MoDA for design inspiration: Paresha  Amin, one of this year’s Arthur Silver Award winners used katagami as the starting point for her work, and some of the artists taking part in MoDA’s current partnership project with North Finchley (www.mynorthfinchley.co.uk/grand-arcade) will be using them in their projects also.