Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Inside the covers of Pilgrim's Progress

John Bunyan was born on this day in 1628. A tinker who turned to preaching and writing, Bunyan was arrested and imprisoned several times for preaching without a licence. During his time in prison it is believed Bunyan began the Christian allegory and his most famous work, The Pilgrim's Progress.

John Bunyan by Thomas Sadler, 1684 (NPG 1311Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London)

The Pilgrim's Progress was on its tenth print run by the time Bunyan died in 1688 (he's buried in Bunhill fields, London). It has been translated into over 200 languages and remains in print even today. Literary critic Martin Seymor-Smith and others after him, have ranked it amongst the most influential books ever written.

Today on Bunyan's birthday, we have pulled out of the collection store a copy of The Pilgrim's Progress from the JM Richards collection. It is a lovely, leather-bound edition with gold tooling on the spine and cover as well as beautiful marbled endpapers, with the same pattern extending over the text block.

John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress,  Uxbridge: William Lake, 1822, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture
 (JMR 1374,)
Book design is relevant to MoDA because both the Silver Studio and Charles Hasler worked in this trade (you can see some of the Silver Studio's designs here), We thought rather than exploring the social and cultural significance of The Pilgrim's Progress, we would take a closer look at our copy in terms of book design, and more specifically end paper. It seems relevant considering many different designs for this book have been released over the last 340 years.

End paper from John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress,  Uxbridge: William Lake, 1822, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (JMR 1374)

MoDA's edition of The Pilgrim's Progress was published in 1822 by William Lake, Uxbridge at a time when book binding was only just entering an age of industrialisation and mechanisation. Marbled end paper like that in our copy was a common feature of book design in the period.

End papers function to hold text blocks to book covers and MoDA has a wonderful array of these in our collection. They can be highly illustrative and sometimes informative, including maps and supplementary text but mostly end papers are beautiful patterns that greet the reader upon opening a book.

End paper in Oscar Wilde, House of Pomegranates, London: James R. Osgood McIlvaine, 1891. Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA3128)

End paper in Stuart Chase and Marian Tyler, Mexico: A Study of Two Americas, illustrated by Diego Rivera, London: Bodley Head, 1932. Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (JMR614)

End paper in Sir Osbert Sitwell, Laughter in the Next Room: being the fourth volume of Left hand, right hand! : an autobiography, London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd, 1949. Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (JMR 1016)

A collection of end papers from the Charles Hasler collection, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (CH5/4/2)

The Pilgrim's Progress was an influential book in its day. The British Library note that by the late nineteenth century it was still widely published and featured in most homes as essential family reading. For a time, The Pilgrim's Progress was a staple of bookshelves and for this reason, many well-made and decorative editions exist. Do you have similar books on your bookshelf, perhaps passed on as family heirlooms? Take the time to open the covers and see if any interesting end papers are revealed.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Lansbury Walk

Middlesex PhD student Jessica Kelly is our guest blogger this week.  Jessica is working on the JM Richards collection held at MoDA, looking in particular at the journal Architectural Review, (edited by Richards between 1935 and 1971), within the wider context of public discussions about architecture.  So, she's interested in all aspects of architecture and the build environment, and particularly the gap between how places are imagined by architects, and how they are experienced by those who live in them.

Jessica takes up the story:

In July this year BBC Two aired a series called The Secret Histories of Our Streets, which looked at how London’s streets have changed since Charles Booth’s 1886 survey of social conditions in the city. The first episode, on Deptford High Street in South London, looked at slum clearance and re-housing after the Second World War. Although reconstruction was intended to improve people’s living conditions the programme showed that many people, who were moved out of their homes into modern flats or New Towns, felt angry at the lack of consultation with the architects and planners.

map at the entrance of the estate today

This really resonated with my research into the Live Architecture Exhibition at the Festival of Britain. JM Richards was a member of the organizing committee for the exhibition which, as the name suggests, was more than a traditional exhibition of architecture.  It was a real housing estate, funded by the London County Council and used to re-house local residents whose houses were destroyed by bombing or demolished in slum clearance projects. 

the Festival Inn pub, completed for the exhibition
The Lansbury Estate (named after the late George Lansbury, former Labour MP and Mayor of Poplar) was intended to act as a model for new post-war urban communities. The design of Live Architecture Exhibition reveals the roots of this problem of poor communication between architects and the general public. The houses, flats, schools and public spaces that made up the exhibition were designed on architects' ideas about how people should live, rather than evidence of how people did live. JM Richards and his colleagues at the Live Architecture exhibition were so preoccupied with persuading the public to appreciate modern architecture that they left space no for the public to voice their own ideas. 

Market Square, completed for the exhibition

Houses and flats on the estate, completed for the exhibition

This lack of real participation had a lot to do with social class – architects and architectural critics of Richards’ generation had little knowledge or experience of the lives of the people they were re-housing. For example, when he was asked in an interview about the houses and flats he had designed in the 1950s, Lionel Escher, the architect of Hatfield New Town, said that he had failed to understand that ‘ordinary English people’ wanted ‘to paint their house any colour they like’. This lack of understanding between architects and their public is really at the heart of the ongoing problems of urban housing today.

Clock Tower at Market Square.
During the exhibition it could be used as a viewing tower for  views across the estate.

You can find out more about Jessica's research on JM Richards on her own blog, Ardour of the Layman.  

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Sonic Wallpapers at Knitting & Stitching Show 2012

Its been a while now since we launched our latest touring exhibition, 'Sonic Wallpapers' at the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace (11th -14th October), so we thought we would share with you how it went.

As regular readers of this blog will know, Sonic Wallpapers is an imaginative exploration of wallpaper samples from MoDA's collections.  Sound artist Dr Felicity Ford created sound-pieces based on interviews and field recordings.  Her work expands the way we think about wallpaper, drawing our ears into a context which has historically been discussed in purely visual terms. At Alexandra Palace we invited visitors to scan QR codes with their mobile phones in order to hear the sound pieces connected to a selection of ten wallpapers.

The annual Knitting & Stitching Show is a well attended event, attracting on average 10,000 visitors per day over 4 days.  There's a lot of hustle and bustle; many visitors found that MoDA's Sonic Wallpapers exhibition provided a welcome oasis of calm amid the busy crowds.

Sonic Wallpapers attracted a wide range of visitors including groups of younger people who were part of school or college parties.

Visitors were very interested in the exhibition and so we were very fortunate to have Dr Felicity Ford in attendance during the first three days of the show to answer the public's questions about the project.

Most visitors were impressed by the way that Sonic Wallpapers  asked them to think differently about an apparently ordinary subject - wallpaper.  Those who were able to listen to Felicity's sound pieces enjoyed the way that the sounds interacted with the wallpapers in front of them.

Using QR codes was something of an experiment.  We decided to use them as a cost effective way of enabling visitors to experience a different dimension (sound) using their own phones, thus removing the need for specialist sound equipment.  Visitors were generally positive about the experience of using QR codes, despite the difficulties of getting network access in some cases.  But we are aware that it didn't suit everyone, and this is something we'll bear in mind for next time.

For those visitors without a smart phone or one with poor connectivity, we were able to provide alternative listening facilities via the CD.  This contains all the soundpieces and is included free with the Sonic Wallpapers book that accompanies the exhibition.  If you would like to purchase the Sonic Wallpapers book from our online shop then please click here

Sonic Wallpapers will tour to other venues in the coming year.  If you are interested in hiring Sonic Wallpapers for your own venue please contact Sara at Expositionis for more information.  In the meantime you can see a larger version of the exhibition on the MoDA website.  Do let us know what you think!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Inspiring the next generation

In the last six weeks we've had over 200 visitors pass through the study room, the majority of whom are first year Middlesex University Art and Design students. It will continue to be a busy time for MoDA in the lead up to Christmas but we thought today we'd take a breather and fill you in on what's been happening here in Beaufort Park. .

BA (Hons) Fashion, Design, Styling and Photography students (FDSP) were some of the first visitors this term. They made their way down from Hendon campus in groups of 16 to look through a selection of objects in our collection and gather ideas for a still-life composition project.

Hot on their heels were Fashion students who were given a brief introduction to the collection and set to work analysing a specific object. In groups of twos or threes they had to interrogate their object and find out key facts. What is it? Who made it? When was it made? Where was it made and what was it used for? The task drew out some interesting ideas and was an fascinating exploration of the assumptions, speculations and analytical skills we employ to make sense of objects.

MA/MSC Creative Technologies students paid a visit last month and were introduced to some of the highlights of the collection by our curator, Zoe Hendon. The students have been given a brief to develop a site-specific 'digital intervention', enabling users at Hendon campus to gain access to and engage with MoDA's collection. It's not often that we get the opportunity to work with science and technology students. We look forward to sharing some of their ideas with you at a later date.

Second and third year Illustration students have been visiting the study room each Friday in groups of five. They are working on a specific project to study one box selected at random and develop a creative piece inspired from its contents. This work will form the basis of their Arthur Silver Award entries for 2013.

It hasn't all been group visits. Individual researchers, students and design professionals have continued to book in to see the collection (and are welcome to do so, please contact us to make an appointment).

Nearly all the visitors to MoDA's study room, be they students or professional researchers, come armed with cameras. They snap away, gathering images of objects to use as reference for their work later on. This month it was a delight to have one student arrive with their (make-shift) pencil box, pull out a range of coloured pencils and start sketching from sight. Subsequently we have noticed some Illustration students doing the same. I'm sure there are benefits to drawing directly from the source. What do you think? 

Friday, 9 November 2012

Arthur Silver Award 2013

Announcing the launch of MoDA's Arthur Silver Award for 2013 - our annual competition for Middlesex University undergraduates studying Art & Design and Media.

As regular readers of this blog will know, the Arthur Silver Award was set up to encourage Middlesex University Final Year Art & Design students to engage with the museum's collections.  Entrants to the award are required to use the MoDA collections as inspiration in the development of a piece of studio work.  The winner receives a cash prize of £1000.  From this year the award will also be open to entries from 2nd Year students.  

Publicity for this year's Award is launched this week and we hope that entries will be of similarly high standard to previous years.  You can see the winning entries of previous winners of the award in a display at Middlesex University on the ground floor of the Sheppard Library on the Hendon campus. The display will be up until Friday 30th November.  Alternatively you can refer to previous blog posts.

Hair necklace design by Kerry Howley, 2011 winner

To download an application form please click here.  The deadline for entries for this year's award is Friday 17th May 2013.

For more information about the Arthur Silver Award please see previous blog posts or contact Richard Lumb, MoDA's Learning Officer, on 020 8411 4380 or email