Wednesday, 17 April 2013

It's in the detail. Reference material in the Charles Hasler collection

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is purported to have said ‘Men who wish to know about the world must learn about it in its particular details’. Last month we began a documentation and conservation project focusing on a part of MoDA’s collection made up of  little bits of detail: scraps of wine labels, books with missing pages, old restaurant menus and envelopes. This reference material from the Charles Hasler collection is both a Museum registrar’s worse nightmare (bags and bags of little bits of paper!) and a fantastic source of inspiration and information about graphic design.

Wine Labels in the Charles Hasler Collection, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (CH/5/4/5).
Charles Hasler (1908-1992) was a graphic designer who worked from the mid-1930s to the late-1980s. He was involved in many high-profile exhibitions, displays, poster campaigns and book publishing in Britain. His work includes wartime exhibitions like ‘Make Do and Mend’, the 1951 Festival of Britain and some Transport for London posters. Hasler was an expert in typography and printing techniques (including photography) and to a lesser extent book binding. MoDA acquired the bulk of Hasler’s archive in the late 1990s. Other parts of his archive went to the University of Brightons’ Design History Research Centre Archive and also the Reading University Library’s Special Collection.

Hasler was a passionate collector of graphic design source material. This included greetings cards, cigarette cards, journals, invitations, books, exhibition catalogues, sales catalogues, prints, packaging, articles, books, business records, photographs, photocopies, manuscripts, slides, CTs, newspaper clippings and journals and trade literature. The aim of our current documentation and conservation project is to make this material more accessible to students and the public. We will be spending the next month counting, listing, photographing and conserving 1000+ objects which range from photographs and flour bags to first edition books and postcards. 

A range of packaging material types in the Charles Hasler reference collection, Museum of  Domestic Design & Architecture, CH/5/4/1.
Decorative envelopes are one example of the sort of printed ephemera in the Charles Hasler reference collection , Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (CH/5/4/2/4).

There are nearly 400 books in Hasler's reference collection, some of which are rare first editions. Hasler's books contain examples of fine illustrations, book binding styles as well as typography and print techniques. 
Museum of Domestic Design (CH/5/5).

Postcard cuttings in the Charles Hasler reference collection, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (CH/5/4/2/2).
The extent of most museum collections is such that curators, conservators and registrars have to be pragmatic and focus on what they consider the most significant items for documentation and conservation projects. It's fair to say folders of old envelopes and end papers can fall to the bottom of the list. Though Hasler's reference collection at first glance can look like many little, insignificant bits of scrap, you just have to look closer to see that, taken as a whole, it is a special collection of material that tells us a lot about graphic design. Watch this space! We'll keep you updated as the project develops. 

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).