Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Hollie Price: Domestic life in British film and magazines

We have a guest blog post this week by one of MoDA's regular study room visitors; Hollie Price who is a PhD student at Queen Mary University. Over to you Hollie...

My PhD research focuses on representations of domestic life in British films released between 1930 and 1951. This was a period in which British cinema was considered to be in its golden years and when domestic life underwent dramatic shifts as a result of changes in consumer culture, women’s roles and the sudden national vulnerability brought about by wartime. My research examines themes of progress, class, ideals, nostalgia and gender roles using the depiction of home life, the domestic interior in British films and wider visual culture.

Magazines held in the MODA collections help me to reconstruct some of the key themes attached to the home in extra-filmic culture. Magazines including Homes & Gardens, Ideal Home, Good Housekeeping and House and Garden enable a view of the ideal home as it was being constructed in the pre-war, wartime and post-war periods. 

Pages from Homes & Gardens magazine, 1940s, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (MJ72)

The magazine Picture Post is an equally invaluable resource in the MODA collections as it presents a look at everyday realities of working class home life using articles and photographs to create a narrative for characters with whom readers could sympathise. In a brief example of how I am using the MODA collections, I will demonstrate how two Picture Post magazines, published in 1939 and 1941, provide insight into the milieu of the industrial working class home, thus allowing a reading of John Baxter’s 1941 film, Love on the Dole, which features the same setting.

A photograph of Durham miners in Picture Post , Hulton's National Weekly, 1940s , Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (MJ112)

Set during the 1930s industrial depression, Love on the Dole depicts the trials of main characters, the Hardcastle family, in coping with everyday life as unemployment becomes an increasingly worrying prospect for the family. The film opens with  panoramic shots of the industrial topos of Hanky Park, Lancashire before cutting to Mrs Hardcastle sweeping the yard of the family home, then starting a fire in the grate of the kitchen-living room. 

Still from Love on the Dole (1941)
Although this room is cluttered with worn objects and dark corners, the Hardcastle’s breakfast table gleams with bright, white china and a clean tablecloth. Through their home, Hardcastles are presented as figures of respectability, optimism and hope for the future, within the otherwise dark industrial surroundings outside. 

Still from Love on the Dole (1941)

Similarly to this shift from dark industrial landscape outside to respectable home within, a Picture Post article on unemployment – published February 19th, 1939 – was accompanied by a photograph showing a topos of chimneys and slag heaps. The article then promises a domestic haven from these conditions and states that: ‘Picture Post shows how the Ministry of Labour moves unemployed families from the Special Areas to districts where they can find work, or begin life again on homesteads’.

A photograph in this article titled ‘Their First Meal In Their New Home’, suggests a new life in the home characterised by air, light and good nutrition. These images play on the same contrast between industrial topos and the bright table top setting in Love on the Dole: suggesting a shared optimism that the home could be respectably maintained, or in this case reconstructed, in spite of bleak economic conditions. Grim environments inherited from the 1930s depression are shown to be solvable.

Images from an article on unemployment in Picture Post, Hulton's National Weekly, February 19 1939, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (MJ112)

In a way similar to documentary films of the period about urban working class home such as The Planned Home (dir. Edward G. Moore, 1937), Picture Post enthusiastically demonstrates that the drab conditions of industrial working class life could be improved upon with a bright, well-planned home. In this 1941 issue of Picture Post, new, planned, more spacious and hygienic homes are described and pictured in an article by Elizabeth Denby, a housing consultant and designer. 

'Plan the Home' article in Picture Post, Hulton's National Weekly, 1941 (Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (MJ112)
Within these pages of Picture Post, bright views of future working class domesticity enable a re-situating of the onscreen home in Love on the Dole according to contemporary, publicised attitudes in the late 1930s. The bright table in the opening scene represents the aims of the modern movement and an idealistic view that community, home and health could be maintained even in otherwise bleak working conditions. Although with unemployment as a result of the Depression, in the final scene these standards have slipped. In another scene in the kitchen-living room, Mrs Hardcastle looks despondently on at a now ratty table, an unkempt room and what she describes as her now lost respectability.

Still from Love on the Dole (1941)
The closing inter-title for Baxter’s film quotes from a statement made by Labour MP and first Lord of the Admiralty, A.V. Alexander, offering a final glimpse of optimism: "Our working men and women have responded magnificently to any and every call made upon them. Their reward must be a new Britain. Never again must the unemployed become forgotten men of the peace."  Love on the Dole finally emphasises a reforming agenda, very much in the optimistic tone of Picture Post, and in doing so suggests that the now ragged home of the Hardcastles will not be repeated in a new, planned Britain, and in fact will be restored to the bright conditions apparent in the opening scene.

This analysis of Love on the Dole was presented in part at a postgraduate conference for the Centre for Studies of Home at the Geffrye Museum in September 2012. 

Friday, 22 February 2013

Knox, Knox (who's there?)

Regular readers of this blog will know that MoDA’s core collection is that of the Silver Studio, a  commercial design studio which opened in 1880.  Head of the Silver Studio, Arthur Silver (1853-1896) was a talented designer .  But although we know he employed a number of other designers in the 1880s and 90s, we don’t know much about who they were, or exactly which designs they produced.

One of the designers we think worked for the Studio in the 1890s is Archibald Knox.  He’s perhaps better known as a designer of Liberty silver and pewter, around the beginning of the twentieth century.  The Silver Studio records are a bit hazy around this time, but it seems possible that Knox worked for the Silver Studio around 1897-1900, producing designs which were sold by the Silver Studio to Liberty.

A woven textile featuring an Art Nouveau pattern of stylised flowers, 
attributed to Archibald Knox, around 1900.
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (ST417)

As with much of the work of the Silver Studio, there was a complex path between the original designer's idea and the finished product.  Designs were sold to manufacturers and retailers, such as Liberty, with the designer's name - and that of the Silver Studio itself -  tending to become anonymous in the process.   
This textile design appears in the Studio's photographic records for around 1900, and has been attributed to Archibald Knox. Accompanying evidence has not survived, but there are strong stylistic similarities with other designs known to be by him.

Knox's grave, Isle of Man
image courtesy of Peter Killey

Knox was from the Isle of Man, and his much of his work was influenced by Celtic pattern.   The Archibald Knox Society will be marking the 80th anniversary of Knox's death at 3.30pm today, with a visit to the last resting place of this Manx designer, which is itself an impressive piece of design.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Happy Valentines Day!

Did you receive a Valentines card today?  Whether you were inundated with messages from admirers or not, we thought you’d like to see this rather sweet little Valentines telegram which probably dates from the 1940s or 50s.

Valentine's telegram, Charles Hasler Collection
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture

This image particularly appeals to me because it shows a kind of weather house that reminds me of one that my grandparents had when I was a kid.  We were always fascinated by the way the man popped out with his umbrella when it was due to rain, and the lady in her summer dress when it was likely to be sunny.  (Apparently this works by means of a gut string which reacts to changes in humidity in the air, but when I was younger, it simply seemed like ‘magic’).

The only thing is that since the man and woman are at either end of a swinging bar, they never actually get to meet!  But then again, the course of love never did run true…

You can see more cards and other objects from our ephemera collection on our website by clicking here.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Lovingly creative lingerie for Valentine's Day

What is the best kind of romantic gesture? A little note, flowers, perfume, chocolate and wine? Search terms currently trending on discount shopping sites indicate that the gift you will most likely receive or give this Valentine's Day will be lingerie.

You may think undergarments for one's beloved is a modern day phenomenon but throughout history, delicate items of apparel have been common romantic gifts: think gloves, handkerchiefs and hosiery. Irrespective of consumer trends, lingerie can be a perfect fit with the mood of the 14th as illustrated by these 1907 French postcards: delightful, alluring and intimate (and perhaps a little saucy).

French postcards illustrated by R. Rössler and published by M. M. Vienne & M. Munk, 1907. Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SM154 & SM156)
Gifting lingerie could mean kitting yourself out in something lacy or buying it for someone else. This article from Modern Woman magazine from February 1946 gives advice to women about discerning taste in undergarments. In the last few weeks Magazines, Newspapers and stores pitching at the love-struck shopper are a mix of general 'what's hot' information, along with some tips for buying for another person.

Pages from Modern Woman, February 1946, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (MJ97)

All this talk of retail consumption can leave some feeling a tad uncomfortable, particularly when you can put a price tag to the tune of $USD18.6 billion on it all: that's what the National Retailers Federation estimate the USA will be spent this year on Valentine's Day.

Some would argue that time is the most treasured gift lovers can offer. Others feel that inspired, homemade creative outputs such as crafts can be a more fitting way to express love in tangible form. Here at MoDA, we feel we may have found the perfect solution for the modern day romantic gift this Valentine's Day in our collection store....

Lingerie+Time+Creativity = Knitted Pants.

Designs from Stitchcraft magazine, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (MJ125)

Pattern for A man's light-weight singlet and shorts from The Pictorial Guide to Modern Home Knitting, edited by Catherine Franks, Odhams Press Ltd: London, 1945, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA3266)
Pattern for a vest and pantie set from Practical Knitting Illustrated: The Key to Hundreds of garments you can make yourself, by Margaret Murray and Jane Koster, Odhams Press Ltd: London, 1947 (BADDA3267, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)
Unless you are a whizz with the knitting needles these may have to wait until Valentine's Day 2014, but we do hope you will get some inspiration from the idea.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Lanterns are out for Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year! Also referred to as the Spring Festival, this auspicious occasion is a celebration of the first day of the first month in the Chinese lunar calendar.

All around the globe, people have organised events for the weekend and beyond. Particular symbols and themes unite all these celebrations: Dragons, lanterns, and the colour red are used in parades and parties from Shanghai to Melbourne to London.

According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2013 is the year of the snake and this symbol will be used in different ways throughout the festival. However other motifs such as lanterns are so symbolic of Chinese New Year celebrations you can be sure they are on display, irrespective of which of the 12 animal signs takes precedence. We thought to get into the spirit of the festival and mark the occasion, we'd show off some lantern themed designs from MoDA's collection.

Gong Xi Fa Cai everyone!

A design for a dress silk by the Silver Studio, 1926. Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (SD2322)
Wallpaper by Sandersons & Sons Ltd from around 1925. MoDA (SW2258)

Part of a set of chevron ribbed fabrics with Chinese figures holding lanterns by Wemco of England, 1955. MoDA (BADDA4323)

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

MoDA Study Room users - Student Special

2013 got off to a great start in MoDA's Study room, with Middlesex University students from Fashion, Fashion & Textiles, Illustration and several other Art and Design courses.  Many were second and final year students,  researching for possible Arthur Silver Award entries.

Fashion and Fashion & Textiles First Years started a project titled 'MoDA Obsessions' in December. The project requires them to select an object from the collection based on a particular theme, investigate it further and create a visual diary of their work. They then partner with another student and together create a collaborative garment piece which will form part of a catwalk display later this year. In December, over 100 students visited MoDA to be introduced to the collection, and so far, a third have returned to the study room in January to continue their research.  We look forward to seeing how their work develops, and if we can, we will share it with you.

It's always refreshing and surprising to find out what students find interesting. Their requests to see more from the collection reflect the diverse and creative pathways they are taking out from the material as they continue researching a particular theme or topic:

"Can I see more 1950s patterns?"
"Are there any trade catalogues for built-in wardrobes?"
"Do you have other examples of peacock in Art Nouveau designs?"
"Do you have more work by this designer?" 
"What other magazines will have advertisements which use a similar font?"
"Please can I see more moss-like patterns 
               ...Botanical drawings?
                              ...cigarette cards?
                                            ....katagami stencils?

Middlesex University Fashion and Fashion Textile students search for their 'MoDA Obsession' in the study room.

In January we also welcomed back third and second year Illustration students. As with the 'MoDA Obsessions'  project, the Illustration students are required to use aspects of the collection to inspire a creative output. The difference is their starting point is restricted to a box of ephemera assigned to them at random. Like the Fashion and Fashion & Textiles students, it was exciting to see the rich creativity the students demonstrated as they picked up on unusual or surprising aspects of their box content. 

We are hoping that all the Illustration students will combine their inspirational research and creative output to form the basis of their Arthur Silver Award 2013 entry.  If you are a 2nd or Final Year Art & Design and Media student at Middlesex University, you too can enter MoDA's annual student competition.  Remember the winner receives a cash prize of £1000 and deadline for entries is 17th May 2013.  For more information and an application form please click here.

If you are interested in entering the Arthur Silver Award 2013 and you need help either getting started or with any other aspect of your entry then please attend one of three 'Help with Applying for the Award' surgeries that we will be running between now and the deadline. The surgeries will be taking place on Wednesdays 13th February, 20th March and 17th April, from 1-2pm in the Atrium of the Grove Building on the Hendon campus. There is no need to book - just turn up.  Please let us know which surgery you wish to attend by contacting Richard Lumb in advance.

Have you been inspired by the student research and would like to undertake your own research into the MoDA collections?  If so then contact Maggie Wood to make an appointment. If you are not sure what is in the collections then click here to browse our website, where I am sure you will find something to interest you.

We'd like to take this opportunity to welcome back MoDA's assistant curator Maggie Wood who has returned from maternity leave! Maggie will be overseeing the study room with help from Louisa Knight.