Monday, 20 August 2012

I-spy international Silver Studio textiles

Most of the items belonging to the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture are part of the Silver Studio Collection. The Silver Studio was a design studio which operated between 1880 and the early 1960s, designing textiles and wallpapers for manufacturers and retailers around the world. These were mass-produced products, so you might think that many examples of the Silver Studio’s work would have survived. In fact, the reverse is true – Silver Studio designs must have graced the walls, curtains and furnishings of many millions of homes over the years, but they have rarely survived for posterity. They would have been worn out and replaced as home-owners redecorated. So the evidence for these designs exists in the Studio records, but rarely in the form of items that were used in real homes.

For this reason, it's particularly exciting when we find wallpapers or textiles designed by the Silver Studio that have survived in other museum collections.  One of our favourite objects is a great Art Nouveau curtain which we were able to purchase a few years ago with help from the V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Art Fund.  After we featured it on this blog a few months ago we were contacted by the FIDM Museum, Los Angeles, who have a piece of the same material.   It's great to be able to share information with them about this textile, and to see how the internet can help researchers to 'join up the dots' between collections on opposite sides of the world.

Silver Studio textile, 1897, from the collections of the FIDM Museum, Los Angeles
(Gift of the Textile Group of Los Angeles, 2007.916.1)
The design for this textile was created by the Silver Studio in 1896 and sold to Cumbrian manufacturer Stead McAlpin in 1897. This company printed fabrics on behalf of numerous retailers, including for example, Liberty of London. The pattern of highly stylised poppy sprays is typical of popular British Art Nouveau designs of the late nineteenth century. Though Silver Studio records aren't conclusive, the pattern was possibly designed by Harry Napper for the Silver Studio. 

Silver Studio textile from the collections of the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (ST4298)
MoDA's example has a decorative bobble fringe, a legacy of its use as a room divider.

Thousands of yards of this cloth were undoubtedly sold to homes around the country and even the world. The piece we have at MoDA was used as a ‘portiere’ or door curtain, possibly used to divide the front and back sections of a drawing room. It is double sided (so it could be viewed from either side of the door opening), and edged with decorative bobble fringing. 

Rachel Harris, Social Media Manager, takes up the story on behalf of the FIDM Museum, Los Angeles:

The sample in the FIDM Museum was donated in 2007 by the Textile Group of Los Angeles.  At around that time, we were developing an exhibition exploring design reactions to late nineteenth century industrialization.  We knew that the relationship between fashion and interior design would be a highlight of the exhibition. After many months of research and planning, Aesthetes, Bohemians & Craftsmen: Artistic Dress, 1880s–1920s opened in May 2008. Featuring fashion, textiles and furniture, this exhibition charted the course of the late nineteenth  century design rebellion protesting the ubiquity, uniformity and poor quality of mass-produced goods. Beginning with the Aesthetic Movement of the 1880s, the exhibition explored how artistic dress styles moved from the fringes to the center, becoming mainstream dress by the 1920s.

Throughout the exhibition, garments were paired with furniture and other decorative elements of the same period. 

FIDM Museum’s Silver Studio textile as installed during the Aesthetes, Bohemians & Craftsmen exhibit.

The Silver Studio textile pictured here was grouped with an unusual embroidered silk gown from around 1905, and a mahogany and leather side chair. The sinuous Silver Studio textile was included as a demonstration of how artistic design principles were adopted by large-scale manufacturers and retailers. Because interiors are altered less-frequently than clothing styles, a late nineteenth century interior textile could easily have been the backdrop for an early twentieth century dress.

It’s great to be able to find out about a Silver Studio textile in another museum collection, and it’s an example of how putting collections online can help museums to share knowledge across huge distances.   Many thanks to Rachel Harris and her colleagues at the FIDM Museum for their collaboration in writing this post.  

If you know of any Silver Studio textiles in other collections we'd love to hear about them!

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