Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Women’s Advertising and Mid-century Magazines at MoDA

It is currently Women’s History Month (March 1st - 31st 2017), so MoDA’s Collections Assistant Dorian Knight has been researching the history of women as portrayed in the museum’s collection of mid-century magazines.

Looking backwards through the magazine and advice literature of the era, the late 1940s and 1950s can seem both enchanting and glamorous times to be a woman. Publications such as Good Housekeeping and Modern Woman show women invariably smiling, posing in colourful frocks with immaculate hairstyles in front of cakes, custard and jellies and with children who are often groomed to within an inch of their lives. 

Take Time To Be Young (produced by Good Housekeeping in association with Hoover Ltd), circa 1955, front cover
Object number: badda4149

Furnishing with Formica (produced by Good Housekeeping in association with Thomas de la Rue & Co), circa 1955, front cover
Object number: badda4144

However, as the design historian Grace Lees-Maffei writes in her book Design at Home: Domestic Advice Books in Britain and the USA Since 1945 (p.2),  'advice literature needs careful handling. It cannot be taken as direct evidence of  past experiences.' Instead these magazines and publications can be seen as tools used for social conditioning. Indeed, looking through these types of magazines at MoDA an uncomfortable subtext emerges. In late 1942, Sir William Beveridge wrote an influential report outlining improvements for the living conditions of Britain’s citizens under the new Welfare State. Enshrined in this report were two assumptions that have shaped women’s lives into the present day. The first of these was the importance of marriage, and the second was the importance and role of housework. Both of these concepts are explicit in the literature of the era.

In the magazine Woman’s Own, columnist Monica Dickens wrote; ‘marriage is the goal of every female who seeks happiness . . . It was not intended by Nature that a woman should have to fend for herself. The instinctive desire of woman is to attach herself to a man who will be her provider.’ It is no surprise considering those remarks that qualities considered feminine, such as beauty, sex appeal and the ability to cook were heavily deployed in contemporary marketing and advertising within the pages of magazines. 

Good Housekeeping, October 1949, issue 4, volume 56, p. 113
Object number: MJC/63/119

Good Housekeeping, May 1959, issue 5, volume 75, p. 27
Object number: MJC/63/205

This view was endorsed by the widely available 1951 publication ‘HOW TO GET YOUR MAN! For women only.’ Strategies outlined in this booklet include; ‘it is often necessary to lose in order to win. Men do not take kindly to being beaten by women at games’; ‘Don’t talk cleverly to him . . . Men are terrified of brainy women’; ‘be childlike and feminine at all times.’ In this highly gendered world-view, a woman who didn’t try her utmost to find a man for marriage was risking great unhappiness and likely future destitution.

The second theme implied in Beveridge’s report was the importance and role of housework. The decline of domestic servants after the Victorian period put new pressures on middle class housewives. In 1951, 22 per cent of married women had jobs, but being a stay-at-home mother was very much the norm, and it was very hard work. Mass Observation reports from that same year indicate the average amount of time suburban housewives spent on housework was 15 hours a day, often on a rigorous timetable. All evidence suggests that many women took their cleaning and cooking duties extremely seriously, as a sense of righteousness and morality was bound up in housework. Beneath the gleaming veneer of perfect homes was this punishing and isolating schedule. It is perhaps no surprise that the politician Edith Summerskill described the housewife as ‘one of the loneliest people in the country.’

Good Housekeeping, May 1959, issue 5, volume 75, p. 166
Object number: MJC/63/205
These magazines and pamphlets can now seem antiquated and ridiculously old fashioned in their portrayal of women and stereotyping of gender.  However 2017 is still a world where the gender pay gap exists, women from all walks of life are repeatedly judged on appearance rather than merit and the recently elected American president can publicly boast about sexually harassing women. It is therefore worthwhile using historic collections such as MoDA's magazines as a benchmark to reflect on gender equality, how far this cause has come since the 1950s and how far it has yet to go.

If you are interested in our magazine collections then follow us on Facebook (@MuseumofDomesticDesignandArchitecture) and Twitter (@MoDAMuseum) to see more. 

Alternatively, book an appointment at MoDA by emailing modastudyrm@mdx.ac.uk and come and see these magazines for yourselves. 

If you want to read more on the topic of women, magazines and the 1950s, we highly recommend Virginia Nicholson’s recently published ‘Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes (London: Penguin Books, 2015) as an accessible introduction to the topic.


Monday, 20 February 2017

Uncovering the secrets of MoDA's katagami collection

Mamiko Markham is one of the participants in MoDA’s current research project, Katagami in Practice: Japanese stencils in the Art School.  Her research uses both ordinary and infrared photography to examine the katagami stencils in MoDA’s Silver Studio Collection to determine geographical origins, dates and makers.

Here she describes her technique and some of her findings so far. 

The katagami stencils at MoDA date from the late nineteenth century, and were orginaly used for printing kimono fabric.  They are marked with stamps and calligraphic marks which tell us who made them, and where and when.  But these marks are not always visible to the naked eye, which is why infrared photography can help.  But even when we have a clear image of a mark, it requires careful analysis to understand exactly what they mean. 
  
I feel it necessary to draw attention to the difficulties faced in recognizing the stamps and writings on the Katagami.  The Japanese language has three alphabets, Kanji – the ornate script, plus the two phonetic 51 character alphabets, Hirogana and Katagana. Hirogana and Katagana have a number of characters which are similar in appearance, but present no problem when in context in prose; but could be confused in brief markings. The number of Kanji taught in school and required to read most of a newspaper is around two thousand.  A well-read person (such as a professor) may know in excess of five thousand. Unicode fonts contain in excess of 76,000 kanji, many of which are considered obsolete.

marks on one of the katagami stencils in MoDA's collection, revealed by means of infrared photography


Unfortunately a lot of the kanji in the Katagami stamps are now obsolete. This is further compounded by the stylised nature (font) of some of the stamps. All kanji is derived from script described by brush strokes and even when printed in a non brush-like style, the number of “strokes” in a kanji can be counted. The stroke count can be used to help narrow down a kanji search, but at times, it is still necessary to search through several hundred to several thousand kanji.

The calligraphy (hand painted script) is very problematic. Like hand-writing it will be stylised; coupled with not knowing whether one is trying to understand current or obsolete characters. If these obstacles were not enough, deciphering kanji is further complicated due to the “readings”.  Almost all Kanji have many different ways of being pronounced. My name for example, having three syllables ma-mi-ko, has more than 52 different ways of being written!



Mamiko will tell us more about what she has discovered from her research in a later blogpost.  

Monday, 30 January 2017

#Silver50 Object: 'Some Japanese Flowers' by Kazumasa Ogowa

As we continue to showcase the Silver Studio Collection held by MoDA, and its many uses over the last 50 years, this week's #Silver50 object is 'Some Japanese Flowers', one of three rare, intact, bound volumes of  Kazumasa Ogowa's collotypes stored in MoDA's Silver Studio Archive Collection.

Photograph of an Iris from Some Japanese Flowers
All of the Ogowa volumes were sewn in the Japanese style for the European market in the late nineteenth century, or meiji period. This was a time when trading with Japan became possible and had a significant impact on artistic production in that period. For more information on this, visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Timeline of Art History on Japonisme.

Ogowa was a pioneer of the collotype reprographic technique for mass produced photographic images. Our edition of Some Japanese Flowers contains monochrome collotypes, but the publisher also developed a colour collotype method which he used to produce a deluxe version of the volume. One edition of that is owned by the Getty Museum in the US. The Getty Conservation Institute has done an in depth study of the collotypes in its collection, and the museum also republished their own version of 'Some Japanese Flowers. Photographs by Kazumasa Ogowa' for sale commercially.


SD5653, peony design for printed textile next to Tree peony from Ogowa's Some Japanese Flowers

It is easy to see why this particular volume would have been desirable to have to hand for Silver Studio designers creating interior fabrics for a contemporary domestic market intrigued by Japanese style and exotic botanicals. In fact, the influence of these images seems to have stood the test of time in the work of current interior designers who still market fabrics using the iconic Ogawa illustrations from 'Some Japanese Flowers' commercially. Check out the V&A shop amongst others.

The appeal of Japanese botanical art has also endured in Europe and is currently being explored in the
‘Flora Japonica’ Exhibition at Kew Gardens, on until March 5, 2017. The role of photography in botanical illustration is also considered in an on-line video on the exhibition website.

Related publications that may be of interest:
Early Japanese images, Terry Bennett, 1996.
Encyclopaedia of 19th Century photography, John Hannavy, 2013.

MoDA's volumes are referenced in the following publications:
Decorative Arts Society Journal 36 - The Silver Studio Art Reference Collection,  Zoe Hendon, 2012.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

"I Am A Magazine"

Last week students from across Middlesex University's Faculty of Arts and Creative Industries came together to work on an innovative learning project in the Grove Atrium, entitled I Am A Magazine. 

Students from a range of subject areas including Fine Art, Graphics, Fashion Communication & Styling, Photography, Theatre Arts (and more) came together for this inter-disciplinary project.  Their brief was to critically examine magazines in Middlesex University’s magazine collections (drawn from MoDA and the Library). The magazines were a springboard to create new work: students were asked to respond to their content, iconography, discourse and materiality and to the wider context of magazines as communicative tools, as creators of communities and culture.  



Middlesex University Photography tutor, Alison Tanner, helps students get started on the project



Magazines from both MoDA and the Middlesex University Library have frequently used in learning and teaching by students, but this is the first time they were brought together in one large scale project, involving nearly a hundred students.  I Am A Magazine aimed to provide the space and opportunity for disciplines to collide, mix and interweave. 

deep in discussion about the project...


















What students produced during the project was up to them: outcomes included a stop-frame animation, a period room-set and several photographic pieces.  But this was a project in which the process was as important as the product: students were learning skills of team work and negotiation, of working with students, equipment and techniques outside of their usual subject areas.

The Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture has an extensive collection of magazines relating to all aspects of home furnishing, DIY, homecrafts and womens' interest.  They are available to everyone, by appointment in our Study Room.  

Students and creative practitioners from Middlesex and elsewhere frequently use MoDA's collections for visual inspiration.  (One example was the Share Academy project we ran a few years ago).  If you are interested in seeing them yourself please email us to make an appointment (modastudyrm@mdx.ac.uk).