Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Kowhai chintz

It’s a tale often told by New Zealand ex-patriots like myself who are living in London: A thousand miles from home, in a city more than double the size of the homeland, crossing Oxford street/entering a pub/walking into Sainsburys, you see a familiar face...

 ‘Cheryl?!  Aunty Jo didn’t tell me you were over here; haven’t seen you since Uncle Trevor’s 60th’.
‘ Keith, maaate, It’s Sarah remember? Standard 4 class at Titirangi Primary!’

Some days, London doesn’t seem so far away from a lot of kiwi towns or cities. Recently, as I searched a box of 1930s dress fabric designs (the sort sold to retailers like Liberty's), I spotted this familiar sight: 

Design for a dress print in watercolour, Silver Studio, 1930s [SD14350, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture]
Kowhai? What is a kowhai flower doing in amongst the daisies and roses of the Silver Studio chintzes? Kowhai (latin: Sophora) is a native tree of New Zealand rarely seen outside of the country whose flower is commonly used by local artists and the national postal service. Artists tasked with making a distinctly New Zealand piece will often use kowhai and other native flora in their work (for example this Jardinere commissioned as a gift for Elizabeth II on her wedding day by the New Zealand branch of the Royal Empire Society)

This design along with an attached pencil sketch (below) is attributed to Madeleine C Lawrence who was one of several women employed by the Silver Studio in the 1920s and 1930s. Lawrence produced excellent chinoiserie and Modernist designs  for the Studio and was responsible for many floral patterns for Liberty dress fabrics in the 1930s. The work of Lawrence and other female designers is the subject of MoDA's exhibition and publication Petal Power. You can see some other examples of Lawrence's designs on MoDA's website here.

Design for a dress print in pencil, Silver Studio, 1930s [SD14349, MoDA]
I'm sure Lawrence would have found my enthusiasm for this piece amusing as she was most likely just trying to find fresh source material beyond traditional flowers. The design is all the more interesting because we recently found what could be her working notes for the pattern. 

Rex Silver kept a reference library of books, pamphlets, scrapbooks and portfolios for his artists, many of which show signs of use including notes pinned to margins and paint splatters on pages. On one scrapbook cover, we found working notes and sketches about a kowhai flower.

Notes attached to the front cover of a scrapbook in the Silver Studio collection [SR261,  MoDA)

We don't know if this design for a dress print with a particular native flower was ever purchased. I can only speculate that in the 1930s, ladies walked the streets of London in dresses of kowhai chintz. The kiwi-connections aside, this design is a special example in MoDA's collection. Along with the working notes, it gives us an insight into the working process of a Silver Studio designer: how she researched, referenced and tested out a new subject matter for a floral dress fabric. 

Monday, 25 June 2012

Day 38 - Sheffield

It's Monday morning and I spy Sheffield on the horizon for today's Olympic Torch relay. Sheffield is known for its metal work and this book from MoDA, Sheffield Plate really goes for gold.

Sheffield Plate, by Bertie Wyllie, George Newnes, nd, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, BADDA2565
This cover image uses gilding to recreate delicate metal tracery. Gilding is often used on book covers to impart importance and wealth to a cover, but here it also serves the function of representing a material.

2012 Olympic Medals

Like the decoration on the cover of this book, modern Olympic gold medals are not made from pure gold.
Today's medals gold medals are made from a minimum of 92.5% silver and must be plated with at least 6 grams of gold.

Examples of London 2012's Olympic and Paralympic medals are display at the British Museum until the 9th September 2012.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Day 35 - Blackpool

The Torch reaches Blackpool today, famous for its electric illuminations. The Olympic Torch has gone out several times during its relay so maybe it's time to go electric with help from this guide to Electric Living from MoDA's collection.

The Philips Key to Electric Living, Anthony Byers, Publications for Companies, 1971, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, BADDA4624)

From washing to cooking to lighting, electricity has found its way into every aspect of life at home. The bright spark who took this cover shot  uses a single frame to encompass ideal domestic life in the 1970s. Along with the orange patterned wallpaper and the 70s hairstyle of the woman in this picture Electric Living shows that electricity was also an aspiration of the time. Do you think the Torch should go electric too?

Monday, 18 June 2012

Giulia Ricci, artist in residence at Middlesex University

We continue to be excited by the many different ways that artists and creative people take inspiration from the collections at MoDA.  We have invited Giulia Ricci, artist in residence with the Fine Art Department at Middlesex University, to share her ideas and creativity based on visits to the MoDA Study Room:

'The Grammar of Order is a piece of work consisting of a series of A1 digital prints; these loose sheets form a catalogue of patterns which are collected in a portfolio. As the title indicates, this work pays homage to Owen Jones’ The Grammar of Ornament and is the result of my residency at Middlesex University.'
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SD 10982)

'Between November 2011 and March 2012 I visited the archive of MoDA, the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (MoDA) at Middlesex University, and looked at a wide range of items spanning from the 1880s to the 1960s. My research focused on items that presented geometrical patterns and grids; these were mostly wallpaper samples and designs for wallpapers and textiles'.

Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SD 6116)

'The Grammar of Order was made in response to the observation of these designs for domestic use, which form a significant part of the inspiration behind my vocabulary. I set out to create my own catalogue of patterns by using the formal language that I’ve been developing over a number of years. This consists of patterns composed of isosceles right-angle triangles. By using a variety of tiling combinations, I produced more than 200 different patterns encompassing features and structures from a wide range of designs and styles I observed at MoDA.'

Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SD 10434)

'Unlike Jones’ approach, which catalogued patterns from around the world according to the culture from which they were taken, I grouped my patterns into themes that are important within my own practice: alphabet, flora, fauna, symmetry, asymmetry, crystals and boxes. Some of the invented names of my taxonomy hint at relations to figuration, despite the work appearing completely abstract. The basic unit in the alphabet series is a 2x2 grid which inscribes 4 triangles; this is the smallest unit used to compose all the patterns. The other families are made from a 4x4 grid, each featuring 16 triangles.'

'The Grammar of Order is potentially a work-in-progress that could expand endlessly; its elements form a sort of periodic table of patterns that can be combined in almost innumerable ways to generate other patterns'.

'Exploring MoDA’s archives has given me the possibility of seeing a wide range of patterns from a variety of historical periods; I have found it extremely exciting to be able to see how different styles developed and changed over the years. Looking at original designs has given me the possibility of observing the tiling of patterns; this has been the most influential aspect in relation to my practice and it is reflected in The Grammar of Order, because the combinations of the patterns I created are generated through symmetry, mirroring, repetition, combination and rotation. The fact that The Grammar of Order is a piece of work in the shape of a catalogue has also been inspired by the beautiful wall paper books I saw at MoDA; I was really fascinated by the potentially infinite variations of colour and shapes combinations that each design may have.'

Giulia Ricci May 25 2012

I am sure you would agree that the work that Giulia has produced is absolutely fascinating and very different to what we would normally expect from research inspired by the MoDA collection.  In her role as artist-in-residence within the Middlesex University Fine Art Department, Giulia will be presenting an update of her work to staff and students in the Autumn.  In the meantime you can see more of Giulia's work at the Summer exhibition at the Royal Academy which runs until 12th August and by visiting her website and blog.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Day 28 - Newcastle

With a hop, skip and a jump, we find ourselves in Newcastle, home to Newcastle United Football Club, otherwise known as the magpies. This book, Birds One Should Know features magpies on the cover and comes from MoDA’s collection of wildlife books.

Birds One Should Know, by Rev. Canon Theodore Wood, London: Gay & Haycock Ltd, 1925, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, BADDA2918

Magpies have a reputation for being mischievous scamps, stealing shiny objects and featuring in the superstitious nursery rhyme. But here, the idea of the thieving magpie is turned around as this cover shows the magpies' caring side as it feeds its young.

The designer of this cover has displayed both sides of the books subheading, 'Beneficial and Mischievous', through this illustration. A clever idea.

The Olympic athlethes had better keep an eye on their medals with these guys around!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

A Royal Muse

The Jubilee weekend is finally upon us, evidenced in decorated high streets, TFL travel warnings and an abundance of  red, white and blue paraphernalia on shop shelves.

There is certainly a lot of Jubilee ‘stuff’ around for the consumer this summer. Any reputable British retailer worth their salt has dedicated a section of their store to products marking this year’s royal occasion. From Liberty to Harrods, shops are stocked up on collectables, souvenirs, party supplies and anything else that happens to be emblazoned with the Union Jack. In amongst the paper bunting and disposable cups, there is also a lot of well-made, ‘jubilee inspired’ products and ranges by reputable designers and studios.

If you were a designer given such a commission for 2012, how would you interpret the theme of 'jubilee'?

Around 1896 the Silver Studio worked up a wallpaper for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The design is a busy mix of all the main symbols of the British monarchy. It is uncertain if this ever made it to the shop floor but if one had seen this design on a wall, there could be little confusion about it's subject. 

Wallpaper design for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, Silver Studios, 1895/6. [SD11265 Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture].

Fast forward to 2012, and national or royal symbols are still the obvious starting point for designers of products for the current monarch's anniversary. Take for example Emma Bridgewater's Street Party Commemorative pieces or Vivienne Westwood’s jubilee fashion range. In Westwood's dresses there is also a nod to the style of Elizabeth II's coronation year, similar to Marks & Spencer with their 1950s ‘jubilee’ underwear range.  Others have taken Elizabeth II as their muse, reflecting her personality and interests in playful products like Hannah Zakari’s Corgi necklace

Once you've found your royal inspiration, the other question to ask is: Will your design, be it a textile, jewellery or wallpaper, hold appeal beyond this weekend?

In 1953, Arthur Sanderson & Sons Ltd released a 'Coronation Decoration' wallpaper range in honour of Elizabeth II's accent to the throne. Some of the designs are more subtle than others, but the series still begs the questions: who would have purchased this paper, and was it still on walls in the 1960s?

Samples from the Coronation Decoration range wallpaper album , Arthur Sanderson & Sons Ltd, 1953 [SC4, MoDA]

This year to mark the occasion, Graham & Brown have released a wallpaper called 'Jubilee', designed by surface design and textile student Sophie Minal. The references are clear: 1950s, London and a female monarch. It's a clever piece of work which has won praise from the Guardian

'Jubilee' wallpaper designed by Sophie Minal for Graham & Brown, 2012. [Photo courtesy of Graham & Brown]

What do you think of these designs? Would you be decorating your home this weekend with jubilee inspired wallpaper, or will you be keeping it temporary with some paper bunting?

Friday, 1 June 2012

Day 14 - Liverpool

All aboard! For this part of the Olympic relay, we're travelling by train. This book from the MoDA collection marked the centenary celebrations of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.

The book links together the 1830s and 1930s by combining old illustration styles with new typefaces. Here, George Stephenson’s Rocket (built in 1829) is depicted in a Regency print but uses the same colours as the more modern 1930s texts.
The book and programme of the Liverpool & Manchester railway centenary, edited by Edward Anderson, Liverpool: Liverpool Organisation, 1930, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, JMR 1227

Although the trains have changed a lot since Stephenson’s day, they are still a vital part of Britain’s infrastructure as many people still choo choo-se the train to get from A to B each day. Do you use this train route?