Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Word and Image: Happy Birthday TS Eliot

"Trams and dusty trees
Highbury bore me.
Richmond and Kew
Undid me. By Richmond I raised my knees
Supine on the floor of a narrow canoe.
My feet are at Moorgate, and my heart
Under my feet. After the event
He wept. He promised 'a new start.'
I made no comment. What should I resent?"

These are verses from 'The Waste Land' by TS Eliot - one of the most significant literary figures of the twentieth century. Eliot was was born on this day in 1888.

Poems 1909-1925, T.S. Eliot, Faber and Gwyer Ltd, 1925 (JMR1065 Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

We mostly remember Eliot as a writer: the playwright and poet of key literary texts in the Modernist Movement, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. He is lesser known for his long-standing role as the first editor and later director of publishing house Faber and Faber.

Recently, MoDA ran a project identifying significant book cover designs in our collection (we made an online exhibition of some them, Illustration Nation). During the project, as we perused shelf upon shelf in the collection store,  Faber and Faber books consistently stood out; grabbing our attention with their distinctive covers.

Book jackets have always been more than simple paper wrappers protecting printed text inside. Publishing houses like Faber and Faber have consistently used their covers to illuminate the written word. Through shape, colour and form, book cover designs visually explain, communicate and express core ideas of the text they wrap around.

Books in MoDA's collection published by Faber and Faber or Faber and Gwyer Ltd (JMR517; JMR295; JMR486 and BADDA2406, MoDA)

Eliot's poetry book shown at the top of this post, Poems 1905-1925, was one of the first publications  when Eliot started as editor at what was then Faber and Gwyer. Fast-forward to 2012 and the publishing industry is rapidly changing as it squares up to the challenges and opportunities of the digital age. Some feel that in this new high-tech environment book covers are becoming less relevant.

Considering the beautiful book covers produced during his time as an editor, I'm sure Eliot would be sad to see this aspect of publishing completely die out. It's heartening therefore, to hear of the success of Faber and Faber's recent app: The Waste Land for iPad, which is an artistic interpretation of Eliot's famous poem through objects, film and spoken word. On a day when we are remembering the birth of a great literary figure, we'd like to also give a big thumbs up to his old publishing house which is breaking new ground: using multimedia to visually express the ideas and content of literary publications in the way book covers did in the past. 

Monday, 24 September 2012

Looking to the past to inspire the future

We're constantly delighted by the different ways that students and researchers use MoDA's collections to create exciting new stuff.  Felicity Ford's Sonic Wallpapers, for example, takes MoDA's wallpaper collection into a whole new, previously unexplored, audio realm.  

But though people like Felicity use MoDA's collections in innovative ways, the idea that students and designers should use museum collections to support their studies is nothing new.  In fact, many design and/or decorative art museums originated from the idea that students needed to be able to look at and learn from real stuff as part of their studies. Museums like the V&A were initially established as educational institutions, with the goal of improving both the standard of training for designers of manufactured goods, and of raising the 'taste' of consumers.  

Arthur Silver, founder of  the Silver Studio, was himself an enthusiastic champion of museum collections for practising designers.  Looking at real examples of textiles was in his view vital for anyone wishing to be able to design textiles.  With this in mind he created the 'SilvernSeries' of photographs, consisting of images of items from the South Kensington Museum (now known as the V&A).  He intended that these photographs as an educational tool for other designers and manufacturers, looking for an understanding of technique and for visual inspiration.

Silvern Series photograph No. 185, 1889.
showing a textile which is V&A Museum no. 5662-1859
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture 

Today's students continue to use MoDA's collections in a similar way to that in which Arthur Silver used the South Kensington Museum: as a source of ideas.  The suggestion that wallpaper could be used as the basis for sound pieces would almost certainly have been far beyond  Arthur Silver's wildest imaginings.  But he would certainly have applauded the use of collections for creative inspiration.  With the new academic year starting soon, we're looking forward to seeing what innovative ideas anyone comes up with next.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

International Talk like a Pirate Day

Scupper that! Today be International Talk like a Pirate Day. Strike yer colours!

Here be one of the most famous of all pirates, Cap'n Hook, in a design by those sons of a biscuit Silver Studio in 1932.

Design for a printed cretonne featuring characters from Peter Pan by Winifred Mold for the Silver Studio, 1932 (SD11392, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

Winifred Mold did them thar design above, and... Avast! here be another by her wit' Pan cutlass-fighting Cap'n Hook.

Design for a printed cretonne featuring Peter Pan and Captain Hook fighting, by Winifred Mold for the Silver Studio, 1932  (SD11430, MoDA)

J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan was released as a play in 1904 and quickly became a popular theme fer sprogs's nursery papers and textiles. A decade earlier and there were other pirates captivating the little 'uns like that salty sea dog, Long John Silver in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Cassell and Co. Ltd., 1892 (BADDA4404, MoDA)

Splice the membrane! Who would think these pirate yarns could make wallpaper and textile designs?

T' see more children's books in the collection click here. Hoist the anchor!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Downton Abbey: only servants with good character need apply

Tomorrow sees the return of ITV's highly popular period drama, Downton Abbey, to the nation's TV screens with the start of series three.

Downton Abbey cast Photo: ITV/PA Wire
Part of Downton's charm is the unlikely interactions between the family and the servants below stairs - or in many cases above stairs! Despite the best efforts of Mr. Carson (butler) and Mrs. Hughes (housekeeper) Downton does seem to have more than its fair share of problems when it comes to servants.  They have had to deal with a  scheming footman prone to dabbling in the black market, 'relations' between a lady's maid and Lord Grantham's man servant - who has ended up in prison facing a life sentence for murdering his estranged wife, an illicit courtship between the chauffeur with Irish republican leanings and Lady Sybil - need I go on? The list is endless and according to Julian Fellowes, author of the Downton series, all based on factual accounts.

As the person ultimately responsible for running the house, Lady Grantham needs to refer to the glut of  advice material on household management published at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century to assist the well-to-do with the management of servants.  At MoDA we have many of these advice books including The Book of the Home, a practical guide to household management, edited by H.C. Davidson with assistance from a hundred specialists, and published in 1906. Whilst it is aimed at the middle classes, it may be of some use to her Ladyship.

A volume from 'The Book of the Home: Practical Guide to Household Management' edited by H.C. Davidson, assisted by over 100 specialists (BADDA1064, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)
The book provides key advice on the engagement of servants. When interviewing servants for vacant positions, the following should be noted:
"Observe the way that the candidate enters, if shy and nervous or sly and evasive, if boisterous and disrespectful, if shifty and hesitating...If an applicant demands a piano, a bicycle or a sofa, or the cast-off wearing apparel, have nothing to do with her... Loose hair pins, tawdry, untidy hats, ragged fringes, cuffs pinned instead of buttoned, and peculiarly untidy boots, bad gloves, and soiled ribbons, all proclaim undesirable mental peculiarities and habits."

Inquiries should also be made about health, so as to make sure that the servant is physically capable.
"The Mistress should observe whether the applicant holds herself easily and upright, whether she stands on one leg, or first on one and then the other: this attitude usually points to internal unsoundness which mitigate against normal and cheerful activity.  If possible find out whether she has been troubled with 'housemaid's knee', a mysterious complaint likely to recur and generally a hindrance to the sweeping of floors...."

Davidson goes on to offer particular advice regarding the appointment of the cook:
"Some of the best cooks are given to intemperance - apparently exposure to the fire leads them into temptation; but a cook who cannot be depended upon in this respect is a most dangerous, impunctual and generally unreliable person."

The next chapter, entitled 'The Law of Master and Servant', details the grounds on which a master may dismiss his servant for wrongful conduct (servants at Downton Abbey take note!):
"A servant should be dismissed on any of the following four grounds:
- Wilful disobedience of a lawful order falling in the scope of the servant's duty
- Immoral conduct (theft, drunkenness or unchastity)
- Habitual laziness
- Incompetence"

 In the following chapter, Davidson makes the following points concerning the treatment of servants:
"Owing to the scarcity of servants, perhaps the tendency of the day is towards an easiness of discipline and a certain indulgence which defeat there own ends, for a lax mistress is never respected by her maids.....As in most things, the middle course is the best to follow, and the mistress who, while insisting on obedience to her regulations, enforces them with kindness... has the best chance of obtaining good service."

The mistress, according to Davidson, should give due attention to the health of her servants by ensuring that their quarters are of a reasonable standard:
"A maid's room should be situated where it will be get a reasonable amount of light and air, and it should not be too far away from the mistresses own quarters....The walls should be decorated with a cheerful paper, not expensive as it should be frequently renewed.  Neat curtains of a pretty cretonne should hang from the windows, and the floor may be covered with cork carpet or linoleum."
MoDA has a number of furniture catalogues from the period including information relating to servants' quarters. The image below is of a maid's room featured in a catalogue by Goodall, Lamb & Heighway Ltd. of Manchester. All the furniture could be purchased as a complete suite.  This rather idealised image seems to include many of the requirements for a servant's quarters as suggested by Davidson.
A maid's room, furniture catalogue, Goodall, Lamb & Heighway, Goodall's of Manchester
(BADDA 469, Museum of Domestic design & Architecture)

Should Lady Grantham take note of this advice and make the necessary changes?  I think not.  After all it would spoil the entertainment for thousands of viewers.  What do you think?  In the meantime I will leave the last word to Davidson:
" Domestic service is a business like any other, honourable, comfortable and exceedingly useful but unpopular through the inability of mistresses to keep house, and of servants to submit to reasonable control." 

Click here to see more examples of material relating to household management in the MoDA collections.