Monday, 7 December 2015

MoDA and the Festival of Britain

Sophie Rycroft, MoDA's new Collections Assistant, finds out more about some of the interesting booklets and pamphlets in the museum's collections:

Ninety-five pamphlets from our collection here at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MoDA) have received some TLC and are now back and ready to be explored. Following the much-needed conservation work, the pamphlets can now continue to be a vital resource for all.

The eclectic collection focuses on domestic design, interiors and textiles, but also includes subjects as varied as zoology and alpine plants.  

Amongst the collection is the programme for the Southbank Exhibition, part of the Festival of Britain, held in 1951. This extensive festival encompassed exhibitions relating to a great variety of themes, including Britain’s landscape, architecture, art, photography, industry and science. What better way to signal an optimistic look forward for a post-war Britain, having suffered years of austerity, than a celebration of all things British?

The pamphlet commences with the grand statement ‘all through the summer, and all through the land, [the Festival’s] spirit will be finding expression in a variety of British sights and a great range of British sounds.’ (p6)

South Bank Exhibition; A Guide to the Story It Tells, BADDA2594, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture

The Festival of Britain programme and associated materials are particularly relevant to MoDA. Firstly, MoDA holds the archive of mid-century designer Charles Hasler (1908-1992) who was chairman of the Typographical Panel for the Festival. A great deal of attention was paid to the visual identity of the exhibition to celebrate advancements in contemporary graphic design. Hasler was also involved in the production of what we would now call branding guidelines for the use of logos, colours and fonts. The colour scheme of blue, red and white further contributed to the desire to re-construct National identity for Britain.

Photograph of Staff Designers at the Festival of Britain, 1951, CH/1/1/5, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture. In the right foreground is Charles Hasler 
Display letters designed for the Festival of Britain, 1951, CH/1/1/1, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture

Secondly, the Festival had a lasting effect particularly in terms of domestic design. The cheerful and contemporary ‘Festival of Britain Style’ found its way into ordinary homes, perhaps as a way for individuals to replace furnishings they associated with tough times during the Second World War. The Festival sparked a frenzy of home improvements in the 1950s, with many adopting styles exhibited at the Festival itself. For example John Line’s 'Limited Editions' wallpaper collection was brought out to coincide with the Festival. The example below shows an abstract design which was displayed in a room set in the Homes and Gardens Pavilion. It was used as part of Robin Day's scheme for a 'low cost living room'.

John Line’s ‘Limited Editions’ wallpaper, SW2082, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture

Magazine culture was also an important source of inspiration for many home-owners during this period. Magazines such as ‘Practical Home Decorating on a Small Budget’ contributed to, and encouraged, affordable home improvements through providing practical and stylistic suggestions. 

Practical Home Decorating on a Small Budget, BADDA1339, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture

Herbert Morrison, the former leader of the London County Council, described the Festival as the British showing themselves to themselves - and the world'. It seems that it was this sense of pride that the British sought to emulate in their own homes. 

To find out more about MoDA’s Charles Hasler archive you may be interested in our new publication, 
Charles Hasler Sends his Greetings, available here.

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