Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Protecting the Protectors

Freelance paper conservator, Michal Sofer, has been working on MoDA's book collections for the past few months.  The project has raised some interesting questions; when does a wrapper designed to protect something acquire the status of something that itself needs to be protected?

Over the past few months I've been working at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MoDA) on a major project aimed at improving the condition and housing of thousands of books in the museum's collections.  This will mean that they can safely be handled by students, researchers and other users for more years to come.

Michal removing rusty staples from one of the
publications in MoDA's collections

One of the measures we are taking most frequently to safeguard the books' condition, is covering them with a Melinex*  wrapper.  This is most often to ensure the longevity of the numerous damaged dust jackets, which were originally manufactured to protect the books’ primary covering.

The Domestic Design Collection and JM Richards Library book collections in MoDA's stores date mostly from the nineteenth and twentieth-centuries. Many of them are cloth-covered hard backs with an additional dust jacket, often printed with quite intricate and beautiful designs, very evocative of a book's subject matter or the period during which it was published. 

Dust jackets have a long history: After a first appearance and brief period of use in the fifteenth century, the protective paper covering of books fell into disuse until reappearing nearly 400 years later - the single most important development favouring production and use of dust-jackets was the advent of publishers’ cloth bindings in the 1820's.

The Happy Glutton, by Alin Laubreaux  (1931)
Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, BADDA2356

Two Englishmen, William Pickering and Archibald Leighton, are usually associated with the early manufacture of book cloth around 1825-1830. Case bindings had replaced hand-bound volumes. Cloth in a wide variety of colors, finishes and textures, lent itself to being deeply embossed and colorfully decorated, and stamped with plates that completely covered the boards with designs. The need to protect these delicate cloth covers was ensured by the use of dust-jackets. The efficacy of such a cover is much evident in the collection, where pristine cloth covers are found under soiled and damaged dust jackets.

Some books from MoDA’s collection once belonged to the Silver Studio.  They were probably stored in the Studio itself, and appear to have been referred to frequently for practical purposes, leading to the loss of the original dust jackets. A significant number of these books were provided with protective brown paper wrappers during that time. This was an excellent way to preserving the primary covering materials, and to support book structures, since brown wrapping paper is relatively inert, is quite durable, and the book titles can be written onto the wrapping which is opaque and therefore hides any bibliographic information. These contemporary wrappers are now in various states of disrepair, having undergone up to 100 years worth of handling. Again, we have frequently provided these volumes with a secondary protective wrapping of Melinex over the brown paper dust jackets, so preserving evidence of the ‘provenance’ of the books (ie, proof that they were used in the Silver Studio).

A small but notable number of books  from the JM Richards collection have had their dust jackets laminated by well-meaning librarians, possibly between 1960 to 1980, when the they were housed by libraries in various learning institutions (library, college and school stamps have been found in the front covers). Rather than preserving the dust jackets as intended, this has ultimately lead to an accelerated degradation of them – as the heat-activated adhesive discolours and embrittles the paper cover. This damage is irreversible.
Some libraries have used poor quality polyester to create a wrapping for books which has welded itself to paper covers over time, discolouring, embrittling and cracking the paper, and adhering unevenly to printed surfaces. This often results in a more permanent disfigurement of the paper dust jackets, and can only rarely be successfully repaired, generally taking a lot of time, and the use of solvents. Sadly, the books that have been damaged in this way in the MoDA collection will remain as they are, for now. Thankfully, they are relatively few and far between.  

Hence, we now find ourselves taking measures to preserve protective covers designed to protect the primary book covers where we can with simple inert materials and methods. Who knows what measures conservators may take to preserve our melinex wrappers in the future?...

*Melinex is a tradenamed inert, archival standard polyester commonly used for the preservation storage of museum and archive materials. Our book wrappers are made individually to size, and to various templates for the protection of each individual book's requirements and without the need for adhesives.

If you have questions about the conservation of MoDA's collections please contact Emma Shaw
If you would like to use the collections for your own research, please contact Maggie Wood to arrange an appointment. 

Friday, 25 July 2014

Candlesticks, Castles and Crochet

Temporary Assistant Curator Hilary Davidson has been impressed by the wide variety of publications which draw on research undertaken using the collections of the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MoDA).  Here she gives a quick round up on some recent highlights – more next month.

The team at MoDA deal with all kinds of people wanting to know about the museum’s collections from a wide variety of angles, and for a number of reasons.   Some are researching for undergraduate or postgraduate dissertations or theses; others are intending to publish their research via more formal channels.

In addition, MoDA’s collections are frequently used for research by people who have a great enthusiasm for and an enormous knowledge of a particular area, but who don’t consider themselves to be ‘academics’.  Much of the work around silver designer Archibald Knox comes into this category: 2014 is the 150th anniversary of Knox’s birth, so it has been a big year for the Archibald Knox Society.  They organised a celebratory exhibition at the Olympia Antiques Fair in June. Their catalogue featured an article by Knox-specialist Anthony Bernbaum and reproduced original pencil designs for silverware from MoDA’s collection.

The Archibald Knox Society Journal special 150th Anniversary Edition (April 2014) featured two articles using MoDA resources, one by Anthony on 'The Origins of the Liberty ‘Cymric’ Silver Range’, and one by Society chairman Liam O’Neill - 'Archibald Knox: A 'Ghost' Designer'.

We’ve recently enjoyed reading Philippa Lewis’ new book Everyman’s Castle which uses an image from a 1935 brochure for ‘Roger Malcolm of Edgware’s new houses’ as the cover. There are more MoDA pictures inside this lovely book. AN Wilson gave it 5 stars in the Telegraph and our Head of Collections, Zoe Hendon, also reviewed the book on our blog. Philippa has also written a delightful article on ‘The English Fear of the Flat’ which can currently be read online in the summer issue of the London Library magazine

Everyman's Castle by Philippa Lewis

In terms of magazine articles, MoDA was featured in the BBC Antiques Roadshow magazine of June 2014, focusing on the wallpaper collections. And Jane Pettigrew used images of embroidered tea set covers and a crocheted doily from MoDA’s collection of early twentieth century needlecraft journals for her article 'A Flutter of Snow White Linen' in the June issue of specialist US tea magazine TeaTime.

Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, Badda 3285

There'll be another update on recent research using MoDA's collections next month.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Joseph Farrow - Arthur Silver Award 2014 winner

This year the judges decided to share the Arthur Silver Award between two Final Year students at Middlesex University, Paresha Amin (BA Fine Art) and Joseph Farrow (BA Jewellery & Accessories). In a previous post we featured the award winning work of Paresha and so here we are featuring Joseph's entry.  

Entrants to the award are required to use the MoDA collections as inspiration in the development of a piece of studio work. Up until this point, most students entering the Award have interpreted this brief in a fairly conventional way, choosing to submit work inspired by particular museum objects they have encountered, or related to historical styles represented in the collections.  Joseph's work takes a different approach, inspired by the structure of the MoDA archive itself, and the way we categorise and house our collections.  His starting point was a series of found objects which he dismantled, and separated into component parts. Each part was then catalogued and stored to create a library- or archive-style selection of objects, from which he created a jewellery collection for men. 

All entrants must submit three A3 sized boards showing inspiration, development and finished work.  Here are Joseph's entry boards:

Entry board 1: Joseph put forward his initial idea to create jewellery from deconstructed found objects. Taking inspiration from MoDA, he decided to create his own library, giving each individual component a new identity in the form of an accession number (the unique record number used to identify objects in a collection).

Joseph's first entry board

Entry board 2: Having built a library containing all the different component parts of the found objects he'd previously dismantled, Joseph  utilised his knowledge of computer-aided design to create jewellery pieces inspired by this new library, which were machine cut and hand finished, using the traditional technique of heat tempering.

Joseph's second entry board

Entry board 3: With the jewellery collection consisting of over 50 items and the assembled library continuing to expand, Joseph took inspiration from the catalogues Fleetway: The Greatest Value in the Kitchen (Badda287)  and  Art & Utility in Gas (Badda2072) to write and illustrate a catalogue explaining his work and the processes involved.

Joseph's third entry board

MoDA's Learning Officer Richard Lumb commented,'Rather than being inspired by a particular design or style, Joseph has taken inspiration from the structure of the MoDA archive itself, and the way that we categorise and house our collections. We feel this approach represents an exciting interpretation of the Award brief, and opens up the possibility for creative work which looks beyond the subjects and themes associated with the content of our collections.'

The judges shared this view, adding that Joseph's 'unusual use of archival systems was well thought-out and realised.' 

Joseph receiving his award certificate from Hilary Robinson, Dean of the School of Art & Design at Middlesex University and Richard Lumb, MoDA's Learning Officer

After jointly winning this year's award, Joseph said: “For me this feels great. I would like to put the money towards getting studio space, I’d like to set up my own business.”

Joseph with part of his final jewellery collection

Since winning, Joseph has entered work for the New Designers exhibition which has resulted in a lot of interest. He sold a few pieces of his jewellery collection at the show and there was interest from other buyers as well. Responding to this interest Joseph said, 'It's a great feeling knowing people are are actually interested in my work and want to wear it'.

Joseph has been asked to enter the 'Cultivated' graduate program which runs at Unit Twelve Gallery, based in Staffordshire.  If chosen he will be offered six months free studio space, shop window and exhibition space and a bursary.  He has been asked to stock a selection of jewellery at Gallery 25 in Hereford, which he is currently putting together ready to send off within the next two weeks. Joseph has also been invited to exhibit at Lovers Light Gallery in south-west London, for a two month stint from September as part of a 'new designers' exhibition.

'The next few months are going to be great', said Joseph. 'I just hope that I can find a full time job in the meantime'.  For more information about Joseph and his work please visit his new website.

We very much hope that other Middlesex University Art & Design students will be inspired by Joseph and Paresha's success, and come and explore MoDA's rich and varied archive for themselves.  You can find out about the work of previous Arthur Silver Award entrants in past MoDA blog posts, as well as looking at MoDA's website for more information about the application process.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Research on MoDA's Japanese stencils

Over the past few weeks MoDA staff were joined by Dr Alice Humphrey, from Leeds University.  
Zoe Hendon, the Head of Museum Collections at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, finds out more:

We've mentioned MoDA's collection of Japanese stencils or katagami on this blog several times before. These are delicate stencils which would have been used for printing kimono fabric at the end of the nineteenth century in Japan.  They were acquired by the designers who worked for the Silver Studio to use as design reference. Several of the examples from MoDA's collections have been loaned to recent exhibitions in Japan, and I also looked at their influence on the Silver Studio's design output in my book The Silver Studio and the Art of Japan (2014).

The Silver Studio and the Art of Japan
available online from MoDA via the Middlesex University online shop
But until earlier this year it was still clear that we didn't know too much about katagami  in general, or about the significance of the examples in MoDA's collections in particular.  I was therefore really delighted to be able to invite Dr Alice Humphrey from Leeds University to spend a few weeks with us, to share her knowledge on this fascinating subject.  Alice has recently completed her PhD on the different uses of geometric motifs between cultures.  She has spent some time studying the katagami held by the University of Leeds International Textiles Archive (ULITA), and was therefore well placed to be able to compare and contrast the two collections.  

MoDA’s collection consists of about four hundred stencils, making it one of the largest held in public collections in the UK.  The V&A has a similar number, and ULITA holds about two hundred. 

katagami stencil depicting chrysanthemums and bamboo stems,
Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, K2.28
As a result of Alice’s careful study of MoDA’s stencil collection, we now know that a high proportion (that is, a higher proportion than in other collections), feature floral designs.  This probably reflects the interests of the Silver Studio which acquired them as inspiration for wallpaper and textile design.  The stencils mostly date from the Meiji period (1868-1912).  Several show similar themes (such as chrysanthemums on scrolling stems) in diverse styles (including imitation of tie dye and of ikat weaving) and cutting techniques, providing interesting comparative material.  Of the non-floral designs, most are either geometric patterns or representations of Japanese auspicious objects.  

katagami stencil depicting chrysanthemums and Taoist precious objects
Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, K2.33

Some of the katagami have complex or multi-coloured designs, produced by overlaying stencils; in several cases, quite unusually, MoDA’s collection includes the full set of stencils so the full finished design can be visualised. 

Interestingly, about half of MoDA's collection consists of stencils featuring naturalistic scenes of plants with birds or insects, possibly made for the Western market.  These stencils provide detailed images of Japanese flora which are useful as a key to identifying more stylised flowers and, in their own right, are interesting as a reflection of variations introduced into designs for the export market.  These are not typical of traditional Japanese katagami stencils and do not appear to be widely represented in museum collections in the West.  They might therefore provide a fruitful avenue for further research, perhaps looking at cross-cultural influences between Japan and the West.

We're really grateful to Alice for all her hard work, and for sharing her expertise with MoDA staff so generously.  We'll be making more of the updated catalogue records available on our website over the coming weeks.  The katagami are some of my favourite objects in MoDA’s collections, and I’m looking forward to finding more ways to develop Alice’s research in the future.

The stencil collection is popular with both students and creative practitioners who come to MoDA for design inspiration: Paresha  Amin, one of this year’s Arthur Silver Award winners used katagami as the starting point for her work, and some of the artists taking part in MoDA’s current partnership project with North Finchley (www.mynorthfinchley.co.uk/grand-arcade) will be using them in their projects also.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Paresha Amin - Arthur Silver Award 2014 winner

As regular readers of this blog will know, this year the judges decided to share the Arthur Silver Award between two final year students at Middlesex University, Paresha Amin (BA Fine Art) and Joseph Farrow (BA Jewellery & Accessories).  Entrants to the award are required to use the MoDA collections as inspiration in the development of a piece of studio work, and both students did this in very different but equally successful ways. 

We thought we would take this opportunity to showcase both award winning entries and to share some of the reasons why they were successful. We thought we would start first with Paresha's entry to be followed in our next post with an in-depth look at Joseph's winning entry . 

Paresha created a series of collage paintings, the result of combining existing work and being inspired by seeing katagami stencils at the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture.

One of Paresha's four award winning collage paintings
One of a number of Katagami stencils that inspired Paresha.  Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (K1. xx)

All entrants must submit three A3 sized boards showing inspiration, development and finished work.  Here are Paresha's entry boards:

Entry board 1: Paresha was initially attracted to the katagami stencils because, like her own nature prints, they are made out of plant matter.  Further examination revealed that various katagami are based on geometric patterns and stylised images of plants which linked to Paresha's own interest in mathematical pattern design. Seeing the stencils led Paresha to consider other Japanese art forms including wood block prints in the collections at the British Museum.

Entry board 2: Inspired by the variety of pattern depicted in the katagami and the work of contemporary artist Jennifer Linsson, Paresha cut up photocopies of her own prints, and photos of katagami, before rearranging and assembling them to make new images.

Entry boards 3: Finally, Paresha created a series of collage paintings, combining her new pictures with paintings which were inspired by the knife-cutting strokes and subtle hues of the katagami mulberry-paper material.

The judges felt that Paresha’s entry 'represented a genuine engagement with and investigation into her subject matter, and that her translation of the material was both thoughtful and inventive'. 

Paresha receiving her certificate from Hilary Robinson, Dean of the School of Art & Design at Middlesex University
and Richard Lumb, MoDA's Learning Officer

MoDA's Learning Officer, Richard Lumb said, 'We appreciated the open-ended and explorative approach taken by Paresha, whose work demonstrated a real engagement not only with MoDA’s collection of katagami stencils, but with Japanese art and design more broadly. This resulted in her creating an exciting and innovative body of work, presented in a thoughtful and considered way.'

'I am thrilled to jointly win the Arthur Silver Award', commented Paresha.  'It was a very interesting and exciting exercise to use MoDA's collections as a starting point to arrive at the paintings.'

She intends to put the money towards the MA in Fine Art that she will be starting at the Slade School of Fine Art, University of London in September  2014.  In the meantime, Paresha will be exhibiting work at Parallax Art Fair in Chelsea at the end of July.  If you can't wait that long then you can see more of Paresha's work on her website.

For more information about the Arthur Silver Award please see previous blog posts.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Everyman's Castle

MoDA's Head of Collections, Zoe Hendon, reviews a new book about domestic architecture.

Philippa Lewis’s new book Everyman’s Castle (Frances Lincoln, June2014) achieves the remarkable feat of covering the whole history of British domestic architecture from ancient times to the present day.  Divided into chapters which take each housing type in turn, from cottages and country houses, through terraces, flats and semis to the bungalow, Lewis examines what each kind of housing type has meant, for both their inhabitants and – in some cases – their detractors. 

Everyman's Castle, by Philippa Lewis, Francis Lincoln, 264pp
In doing so Lewis puts her finger on the fact that ‘home’ means much more than simply a roof over one’s head; but rather the choice of where to live has numerous social, psychological and class-related meanings, perhaps particularly in a British context.  The country cottage, for example, has connotations of rural poverty, but also of a pleasant weekend retreat for busy city-dwellers in search of a simpler life, at least temporarily: 
“ ‘All we wanted was a country cottage, with decent water to drink, reasonable sanitation, and above all a garden, a bit of untouched earth if possible,’ wrote HE Bates of his search with his newly wed wife in the late 1920s, but ‘every cottage in England seemed to be either sordid or arty’.”

This habit of wanting the best of both worlds, urban and rural, is one of the themes of the book. In the chapter on flats Lewis notes that the English (unlike the Scots) were resistant to the idea of vertical living, in part because it meant lack of access to a garden: “Existing horizontally, sandwiched between others, lacked  appeal when compared to living in a house with its own front door standing on its own patch of ground.”  And in the chapter on Suburban Villas and Semis she shows with great clarity and economy how the appeal of the suburbs was related to the attraction of that domesticated semi-rural space, the garden.

Brochure for flats in Hornsey Lane, Highgate
Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, BADDA 4162
Lewis successfully blends discussion of the impact of new domestic technologies (the invention of the lift, for example, which made high-rise living more attractive); with perennial questions of class, taste and propriety.  She draws on numerous sources, from novels and popular culture as well as more ‘official’ reports and documents, and has included a number of well-chosen colour illustrations, making it a lively and enjoyable read.  It’s the kind of book which wears its scholarship lightly; it has an extensive bibliography, but is not encumbered with endless footnotes or references to obscure academic arguments.  If I have any criticisms it would be that some of the illustrations are rather small, and that it’s therefore difficult to see some of the detail; but the publishers should perhaps be congratulated for  allowing the inclusion of as many as they have. 

We're pleased to note that Philippa Lewis did some of the research for this book at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, and used items from our collections as some of her illustrations.  
If you would like to visit for your own research or creative inspiration, please contact Maggie Wood to make an appointment.  To discuss reproducing images from MoDA's collections in a publication or elsewhere, please contact Claire Isherwood.