Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Old sources for new ideas

As regular readers of this blog will know, we're always keen to encourage students, particularly those from Middlesex University, to use MoDA's collections for inspiration in the development of new work.  But I'm also interested to think about the Silver Studio Collection in another way, and to examine how the Studio's original designers got their inspiration.

detail of plate from Etoffes de Soie du Japon, Paris, 1925
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, Middlesex University (SR179)

These days we are constantly bombarded with visual imagery, whether online, on tv, film, or in print. It's hard to remember that this is only a relatively recent development: in the early twentieth century, before the advent of cheap colour printing, visual reference books for artists and designers were expensive and highly prized.

The Silver Studio Collection contains a number of art portfolios and reference books which seem to have been accumulated to act as inspiration for the Studio's employees. They include volumes from France, Germany and Japan, as well as Britain.  Many of the images are extremely beautiful,  and they are interesting both as objects in their own right, and for what they show us about the Silver Studio's design sources and working practices. Using these sources, the Silver Studio designers developed ideas for wallpaper and textile designs, while adapting them to appeal to British mass market tastes.

In some cases it's possible to hazard a guess that Silver Studio designers might have taken inspiration from the particular colour palettes used in one of these books; in others they seem to have been more useful as reference for the shapes and forms of plants and flowers.  The portfolio collection includes a number of photographic studies of nature, which seem to have been used as botanical reference works:

Illustration from Kazumasa Ogawa, Some Japanese Flowers, Yokahama, 1897
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, Middlesex University (SR189)
Design for a textile or wallpaper, Silver Studio, 1890s
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, Middlesex University (SD9323)


It's fascinating to see the different ways in which today's students create new ideas from looking at some of the same original sources.

You can read more about this in my recent article, "The Silver Studio Art Reference Collection," in the Decorative Arts Society Journal, (Vol 36, 2012).

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