Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Collecting Colour

Middlesex students studying the Creative Non-Fiction module on the BA Creative Writing with Journalism programme visited the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, led by Dr Josie Barnard, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing and Journalism.
This guest blog post is by Sylvia Ikua, a student who visited the museum as part of this session and was inspired to write about a very special object from our collection.

I often refer to this intriguing piece simply as “the dye book” when speaking about it with Curator, Sim Panaser, at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MoDA).  The book is a sort of ‘how to’ for dyeing fabric.  It contains over one hundred pages, filled with more than two hundred colour samples on fabric swatches.  The varying colours are due to the use of natural and chemical elements whose ingredients have been methodically pencilled in.     

Dye Book,1894, badda3192, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture 

Mystery surrounds the book.  The owner of the book is believed to have been an Oswald Gunnell. Mr Gunnell’s name appears handwritten inside the front cover.  Some of the information currently held about the book is owed to the examination and research that has been conducted into it.  It has been presumed that the book is the result of Mr Gunnell’s hobby.  The book’s informal exterior does resembles a very large journal or crafts book. 

The blues, badda3192, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture 

However, wanting to find out more about the owner of the book, Curator, Sim Panaser, conducted further research about Oswald Gunnell.  Sim discovered an article co-written by Oswald Gunnel titled ‘The Colouring Matter of Querbracho Colorado’, published between 1878 – 1925 in The Journal of the Chemical Society.  The article extract indicated an investigation into the dye properties of Querbracho Colorado, a tree found in “the northern part of the Argentine Republic”.  Interestingly, the article also refers to “Alum”, an ingredient which was noted on page seventy-four of the dye book.  The article was co-written by Arthur George Perkin.  Mr Perkin is thought to be the son or a relation of George F. Perkin who established G.F Perkins and Sons, a dye works in North West London.  One of his sons, William Henry Perkin was mentioned and pictured in the first chapter of The Colour Revolution by Regina Lee Blaszczyk.  Blaszczyk notes that while studying, W.H Perkin “accidently synthesized a deep purple dye from coal waste” helping to “establish the field of synthetic organic chemistry, and ushered in an era of rainbow colors”. 

Another fascinating discovery was a patent under Oswald Gunnell’s name, granted by the United States patent office in July 1928, for a “label or tab for use with goods which have to be dyed”.  The connection between the name and an invention related to dyeing suggested this was the same Oswald Gunnell who had produced the book at MoDA. 

Children of the light...a note found inside the dye book

The book’s potential historic connections add to the element of intrigue that stir up when browsing through its dated, crisp pages.  In the book there are a few torn pages with ash near the binding and what resembles a recently clipped on white paper with writing which resembles a poem or incantation by an unknown author.  Glancing at the book, it is these small details that drew me in and continue to make me wonder about its creator and journey.    

A big thank you to Sylvia for writing this blog post. Sylvia graduated from Middlesex University this summer and we wish her all the success for her future.  

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