Wednesday, 19 December 2012

A special find in the Charles Hasler collection

Auditing is an every-day sort of activity in the life of a museum worker. It involves sifting through objects, ticking off numbers and making sure everything is where it’s supposed to be. The other week I was thus employed with a box of magazines from the Charles Hasler collection. Pencil in hand, I ran down the inventory list: Two editions of Radio Times – check, eight editions of the Observer check, and two copies of the first edition of Picture Post, 1 October 1938 - check.

Wait... Can you see what is not quite right here?

Two copies of Picture Post, Hulton's National Weekly, 1938, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (CH5/2/8/1 and 2)
Picture Post was a British weekly magazine that ran for 13 years until 1957. It is considered a pioneering publication for photojournalism. It was founded by film maker, cameraman and editor Stefan Lorant with the financial backing of publisher-millionaire Edward Hulton. Hulton become aware of Lorant through his editorial work on the lad's mag Lilliput (MoDA has editions from 1934 to 1956). The story goes that a dummy run of Picture Post was knocked up on a weekend in the autumn of 1938 and the magazine scheduled for release in September of that year

Which brings us to this curious case of our not-quite-first edition here in the Charles Hasler collection. On closer inspection it is clear that one of the magazines is in fact the dummy run. It was used to promote Picture Post to potential investors (companies who would buy advertising space).

The opening page contains a note by Lorant casting the vision for what Picture Post will be:
PICTURE POST will have a definite attitude to the problems of to-day – but it will choose its pictures first for their picture-value and their freshness… The drama of great achievement or calamities ; the private lives and interests of famous men and women ; the high-lights of sport ; the astonishing range of expression on the human face ; the natural grace of children ; the improbable and sometimes terrifying, ways of animals and insects… from this vast field PICTURE POST will take picture-records and picture-stories to entertain and interest its readers week by week.
On the other side, it is down to business: setting out the cost of advertising space, with the enticing special introductory offer of a twenty percent discount.

Page 1 of a dummy run of Picture Post, Hulton's National Weekly, 1 September 1938, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (CH5/2/8/1)
It is fascinating comparing the dummy run to the first edition to see who purchased advertising space and which photographs were used or replaced. Take for example Page 8 and 9. The dummy run advertises a full spread on page 8 for £120 and on page 9, four cameramen snap away at a swim-suited beauty up a pole with a caption that explains that 'Picture Post photographers cover the world... Picture Post will portray world events more fully than has ever been done before.' 

Page 8 and 9 of a dummy run of Picture Post, Hulton's National Weekly, 1 September 1938, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (CH5/2/8/1)
Regent Chemists Ltd. purchased the full page advertisement on page 8 of the first edition to sell Urillac tablets for rheumatism. On page 9, the swim suit model has been replaced by Hitler and Chamberlain at Godesberg in September 1938, with the caption: 'The Fateful moment: the issue between Peace and War is presented'.

Page 8 and 9 of Picture Post, Hulton Press Ltd. 1st October 1938, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (CH5/2/8/2)

In his opening note in the dummy run, Lorant speculates that the magazine would have a national circulation of hundreds of thousands. In fact the first edition's print run of 750,000 copies sold out by noon and within six months the magazine's circulation was over 1.6 million. By the Second World War it is thought that up to 80% of the country was reading the weekly publication.

When one factors in the high readership of the magazine and the significant period of history that it covered (the lead up to, the experience of and aftermath of World War Two) it is no surprise that we prize Picture Post as one of the more significant magazines in our collection. MoDA holds editions of the magazine from 1938 to 1957. I would thoroughly recommend it to researchers for it's visual representation of social, political and cultural matters impacting the UK during this time. To get a sneak peak inside the magazine, check out this online exhibition from Getty and this magazine article about one of Picture Post's prominent photographers, Thurston Hopkins.

Now, I will get back to auditing. In regards to the dummy run of the first edition of Picture Post, please do get in touch if you have any thoughts, information or ideas about this special find.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Butterflies, bacon and other things left behind in books

There is a famous story within library circles of a book discovered in the Duke University Library with a rasher of bacon as a bookmark (later the Guardian uncovered a similar case in Worthing). More often it's mundane and less fatty materials that get slipped between pages as markers, reminders or supplementary information for later readers. 

At MoDA we often find things like newspaper cuttings, bus or theatre tickets and sometimes on rare occasions, pressed flowers in books. See the example below of the contents of Miss Bracegirdle and Others which includes a sweet wrapper and recital programme.

Ephemera found in the book by Stacey Aumonier, Miss Bracegridle and Others, London: Hutchinson & Co., 1923 , Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA3031

The other week, we were looking through Beautiful Butterflies of the Tropics by Arthur Twidle (Twidle was also the illustrator for many of the Sherlock Holmes books by Arthur Conan Doyle). 

Arthur Twidle, Beautiful Butterflies of the Tropics, London: R.T.S., 1920, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA2208)

Between the pages, and alongside some of Twidle's colour illustrations of action-packed butterfly catching, we made an unexpected discovery: a beautifully preserved butterfly with iridescent wings sitting on a padded board beside a pressed fern.

We make an effort to keep all things found in publications at MoDA and so this butterfly will be repaired and stored either in or close to the book. Obviously we have to be careful that anything found inside books isn't going to do any damage, however one can never be too sure if these remnants could reveal information in the future. 

The little scraps found in books - be they butterflies or newspaper cuttings - act as identifiers, reminders or clues to past readers. One may pick up a book on birds, with the intention of some ornithological research but on discovering a theatre ticket, a little scrap of paper with a hand-drawn sparrow, it reminds us that the book had belonged to someone else once. It had been enjoyed, read and used in other ways.

Beautiful Butterflies of the Tropics is part of the Silver Studio's reference collection and would have been used by the Studio's designers when working up designs. Perhaps real specimens like the one found in this book, aided the development of patterns such as the design for a dress silk below. For now, the butterfly and how it came to be in the Silver Studio collection, remains somewhat of a mystery, but a beautiful one at that. 

Design for a silk by Winifred Mold for the Silver Studio, 1923. Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SD2764.1)

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Technology students get creative!

Regular readers of this blog will know that at MoDA we always get very excited when artists and creative people take inspiration from the museum collections.  We've recently been working with Middlesex University MA/MSC Creative Technologies students on a collaborative project devised jointly with RedLoop, the University's centre for design & innovation.  The project has now ended so we thought we would tell you a bit about it. 

The students were given a brief to develop a site-specific 'digital intervention', enabling users at the University's Hendon campus to gain access to and engage with MoDA's collection. The brief was to design an 'intervention' that would provide inspirational, educational and 'potentially magical' experiences for users, whilst working sensitively with the chosen site.

This brief came about in response to MoDA's new approach to sharing the collections, 'Online, On Tour & On Request', within which we seek to take advantage of innovative digital means to making the collections more available to students, researchers and the public.  MoDA's website showcases the collections, and touring exhibitions travel to other venues around the UK.  However it is difficult to find suitable spaces to display museum objects around the Hendon campus due to concerns about security, environmental stability, light and humidity.  So the brief was to help us to meet one of our priorities for the coming year to find new ways to make parts of the collections visible on campus.

So to start the project the students were first introduced to some of the highlights of the collection by our curator, Zoe Hendon.  

Suitably inspired, the students were given eight weeks to formulate their ideas, undertake further research and finally pitch their ideas by means of a formal presentation.  

Everyone listened carefully to the presentations and the feedback

Overall we were very impressed with the ideas for 'digital interventions' put forward by the students.   They showed a good understanding of the exciting technologies available, and made some innovative suggestions about how they could be used to show parts of MoDA's collections in different locations on the Hendon campus.  

Students gained from the experience of working for a 'real life client', to a specific brief, and of pitching their ideas to a panel.  Magnus Moar, MA course leader, commented:

'The students really appreciated the opportunity to take part in the challenging and interesting project devised by MoDA and RedLoop. They were able to work in groups to create several innovative concepts, some of which may be developed further as part of their future studies.The MoDA and RedLoop staff were very generous with their time and advice. The students particularly appreciated the insightful feedback they received.'

It's not often that we get the opportunity to work with science and technology students.We really enjoyed being involved and hope to do something similar again next year.  We enjoyed working with the students, and we're hoping develop some of their ideas further so that we can put them into practice. 
Watch this space for further developments!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012


Back in June this year, MoDA's new website was launched. Since then we've made it a priority to regularly update the site and make more of the collection available to the public. We've recently focused our attention on objects related to the topic of 'colour'. We've grouped these together and created a new online 'Theme', which you can look at here.

Through this new colour theme we hope to showcase our collection to those working in what is a very broad and interdisciplinary research field. Organisations like the UK Colour Group help to bring together researchers studying colour across a range of disciplines. It is a very broad subject, of interest in equal measure to chemists and engineers as to fine artists and fashion designers.

MoDA has had assistance identifying objects in our collection which could be of use to researchers from  Gwen Fereday,  lecturer in Fashion and Textiles at Middlesex University.  Gwen is currently researching the phenomenon of Grapheme-colour synesthesia.

One of the books in our collection she discovered is The Laws of Contrast of Colour from 1868 by the French chemist Michael Eugène Chevreul (Incidentally as well as as introducing the idea of a systematic approach to seeing colour, Chevreul also discovered the fatty acid that led to the invention of margarine). If Chevreul is of interest to you, I'd recommend checking out this re-enactment of an interview between Chevreul and the great photographer Felix Nadar in 1886 where they discuss photography, colour theory, balloons and how to live to 100.

ME Chevreul, The Law of Contrast of Colour, translated by John Spanton, London: George Routledge & Sons, 1868. Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA2289)

Perhaps the most obvious use of MoDA's collection for those researching colour, is investigations around the developments of colour choice, style and taste in home decoration. From turn-of the-century best-selling author Mrs JE  Panton (an authoritative voice on home-making) right through to DIY magazine columnists of the 1960s, MoDA's collection contains a wealth of opinion on colour choice. Often these opinions tended to insinuate that decisions about tones and shades for the home also communicated things about the personality or temperament of it's occupants.

In Nooks and Corners, the companion book to Kitchen to Garrett, Panton advises on the right colour scheme for halls, recommending her personal favourite 'yellow' and condemning the use of terra-cotta or real green.
I cannot and never do recommend either a terra-cotta or real green wall; the latter is such a nondescript and uncertain colour that the use of it in the entrance appear to me to strike the keynote to the character of the inhabitants, who are thus pronounced uncertain in their ideas, and not particularly satisfactory...'
The 1951 publication Designs for Living: Colour in Home Decoration illustrates to the reader through a series of colour photographs, 'appropriate application of colour and pattern', whilst also claiming to assist with planning a colour scheme to suit ones' personality. Below is an example of a colour scheme for a 'smartly conservative' personality.

An example interior for the 'smartly conservative', from Effa Brown, Designs for Living; Colour in Home Decoration, Chicargo: Wilcox and Follett Co., 1951, page 11, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA938)
A 1950s paint chart from the Ripolin collection, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture(BADDA4024)

We hope that our new thematic group is a helpful 'way in' for those wanting to make use of MoDA's collection to study colour. We would be very interested to hear from anyone who might have other creative ideas about to use our collection to explore this theme.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Inside the covers of Pilgrim's Progress

John Bunyan was born on this day in 1628. A tinker who turned to preaching and writing, Bunyan was arrested and imprisoned several times for preaching without a licence. During his time in prison it is believed Bunyan began the Christian allegory and his most famous work, The Pilgrim's Progress.

John Bunyan by Thomas Sadler, 1684 (NPG 1311Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London)

The Pilgrim's Progress was on its tenth print run by the time Bunyan died in 1688 (he's buried in Bunhill fields, London). It has been translated into over 200 languages and remains in print even today. Literary critic Martin Seymor-Smith and others after him, have ranked it amongst the most influential books ever written.

Today on Bunyan's birthday, we have pulled out of the collection store a copy of The Pilgrim's Progress from the JM Richards collection. It is a lovely, leather-bound edition with gold tooling on the spine and cover as well as beautiful marbled endpapers, with the same pattern extending over the text block.

John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress,  Uxbridge: William Lake, 1822, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture
 (JMR 1374,)
Book design is relevant to MoDA because both the Silver Studio and Charles Hasler worked in this trade (you can see some of the Silver Studio's designs here), We thought rather than exploring the social and cultural significance of The Pilgrim's Progress, we would take a closer look at our copy in terms of book design, and more specifically end paper. It seems relevant considering many different designs for this book have been released over the last 340 years.

End paper from John Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress,  Uxbridge: William Lake, 1822, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (JMR 1374)

MoDA's edition of The Pilgrim's Progress was published in 1822 by William Lake, Uxbridge at a time when book binding was only just entering an age of industrialisation and mechanisation. Marbled end paper like that in our copy was a common feature of book design in the period.

End papers function to hold text blocks to book covers and MoDA has a wonderful array of these in our collection. They can be highly illustrative and sometimes informative, including maps and supplementary text but mostly end papers are beautiful patterns that greet the reader upon opening a book.

End paper in Oscar Wilde, House of Pomegranates, London: James R. Osgood McIlvaine, 1891. Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (BADDA3128)

End paper in Stuart Chase and Marian Tyler, Mexico: A Study of Two Americas, illustrated by Diego Rivera, London: Bodley Head, 1932. Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (JMR614)

End paper in Sir Osbert Sitwell, Laughter in the Next Room: being the fourth volume of Left hand, right hand! : an autobiography, London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd, 1949. Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (JMR 1016)

A collection of end papers from the Charles Hasler collection, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (CH5/4/2)

The Pilgrim's Progress was an influential book in its day. The British Library note that by the late nineteenth century it was still widely published and featured in most homes as essential family reading. For a time, The Pilgrim's Progress was a staple of bookshelves and for this reason, many well-made and decorative editions exist. Do you have similar books on your bookshelf, perhaps passed on as family heirlooms? Take the time to open the covers and see if any interesting end papers are revealed.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Lansbury Walk

Middlesex PhD student Jessica Kelly is our guest blogger this week.  Jessica is working on the JM Richards collection held at MoDA, looking in particular at the journal Architectural Review, (edited by Richards between 1935 and 1971), within the wider context of public discussions about architecture.  So, she's interested in all aspects of architecture and the build environment, and particularly the gap between how places are imagined by architects, and how they are experienced by those who live in them.

Jessica takes up the story:

In July this year BBC Two aired a series called The Secret Histories of Our Streets, which looked at how London’s streets have changed since Charles Booth’s 1886 survey of social conditions in the city. The first episode, on Deptford High Street in South London, looked at slum clearance and re-housing after the Second World War. Although reconstruction was intended to improve people’s living conditions the programme showed that many people, who were moved out of their homes into modern flats or New Towns, felt angry at the lack of consultation with the architects and planners.

map at the entrance of the estate today

This really resonated with my research into the Live Architecture Exhibition at the Festival of Britain. JM Richards was a member of the organizing committee for the exhibition which, as the name suggests, was more than a traditional exhibition of architecture.  It was a real housing estate, funded by the London County Council and used to re-house local residents whose houses were destroyed by bombing or demolished in slum clearance projects. 

the Festival Inn pub, completed for the exhibition
The Lansbury Estate (named after the late George Lansbury, former Labour MP and Mayor of Poplar) was intended to act as a model for new post-war urban communities. The design of Live Architecture Exhibition reveals the roots of this problem of poor communication between architects and the general public. The houses, flats, schools and public spaces that made up the exhibition were designed on architects' ideas about how people should live, rather than evidence of how people did live. JM Richards and his colleagues at the Live Architecture exhibition were so preoccupied with persuading the public to appreciate modern architecture that they left space no for the public to voice their own ideas. 

Market Square, completed for the exhibition

Houses and flats on the estate, completed for the exhibition

This lack of real participation had a lot to do with social class – architects and architectural critics of Richards’ generation had little knowledge or experience of the lives of the people they were re-housing. For example, when he was asked in an interview about the houses and flats he had designed in the 1950s, Lionel Escher, the architect of Hatfield New Town, said that he had failed to understand that ‘ordinary English people’ wanted ‘to paint their house any colour they like’. This lack of understanding between architects and their public is really at the heart of the ongoing problems of urban housing today.

Clock Tower at Market Square.
During the exhibition it could be used as a viewing tower for  views across the estate.

You can find out more about Jessica's research on JM Richards on her own blog, Ardour of the Layman.  

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Sonic Wallpapers at Knitting & Stitching Show 2012

Its been a while now since we launched our latest touring exhibition, 'Sonic Wallpapers' at the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace (11th -14th October), so we thought we would share with you how it went.

As regular readers of this blog will know, Sonic Wallpapers is an imaginative exploration of wallpaper samples from MoDA's collections.  Sound artist Dr Felicity Ford created sound-pieces based on interviews and field recordings.  Her work expands the way we think about wallpaper, drawing our ears into a context which has historically been discussed in purely visual terms. At Alexandra Palace we invited visitors to scan QR codes with their mobile phones in order to hear the sound pieces connected to a selection of ten wallpapers.

The annual Knitting & Stitching Show is a well attended event, attracting on average 10,000 visitors per day over 4 days.  There's a lot of hustle and bustle; many visitors found that MoDA's Sonic Wallpapers exhibition provided a welcome oasis of calm amid the busy crowds.

Sonic Wallpapers attracted a wide range of visitors including groups of younger people who were part of school or college parties.

Visitors were very interested in the exhibition and so we were very fortunate to have Dr Felicity Ford in attendance during the first three days of the show to answer the public's questions about the project.

Most visitors were impressed by the way that Sonic Wallpapers  asked them to think differently about an apparently ordinary subject - wallpaper.  Those who were able to listen to Felicity's sound pieces enjoyed the way that the sounds interacted with the wallpapers in front of them.

Using QR codes was something of an experiment.  We decided to use them as a cost effective way of enabling visitors to experience a different dimension (sound) using their own phones, thus removing the need for specialist sound equipment.  Visitors were generally positive about the experience of using QR codes, despite the difficulties of getting network access in some cases.  But we are aware that it didn't suit everyone, and this is something we'll bear in mind for next time.

For those visitors without a smart phone or one with poor connectivity, we were able to provide alternative listening facilities via the CD.  This contains all the soundpieces and is included free with the Sonic Wallpapers book that accompanies the exhibition.  If you would like to purchase the Sonic Wallpapers book from our online shop then please click here

Sonic Wallpapers will tour to other venues in the coming year.  If you are interested in hiring Sonic Wallpapers for your own venue please contact Sara at Expositionis for more information.  In the meantime you can see a larger version of the exhibition on the MoDA website.  Do let us know what you think!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Inspiring the next generation

In the last six weeks we've had over 200 visitors pass through the study room, the majority of whom are first year Middlesex University Art and Design students. It will continue to be a busy time for MoDA in the lead up to Christmas but we thought today we'd take a breather and fill you in on what's been happening here in Beaufort Park. .

BA (Hons) Fashion, Design, Styling and Photography students (FDSP) were some of the first visitors this term. They made their way down from Hendon campus in groups of 16 to look through a selection of objects in our collection and gather ideas for a still-life composition project.

Hot on their heels were Fashion students who were given a brief introduction to the collection and set to work analysing a specific object. In groups of twos or threes they had to interrogate their object and find out key facts. What is it? Who made it? When was it made? Where was it made and what was it used for? The task drew out some interesting ideas and was an fascinating exploration of the assumptions, speculations and analytical skills we employ to make sense of objects.

MA/MSC Creative Technologies students paid a visit last month and were introduced to some of the highlights of the collection by our curator, Zoe Hendon. The students have been given a brief to develop a site-specific 'digital intervention', enabling users at Hendon campus to gain access to and engage with MoDA's collection. It's not often that we get the opportunity to work with science and technology students. We look forward to sharing some of their ideas with you at a later date.

Second and third year Illustration students have been visiting the study room each Friday in groups of five. They are working on a specific project to study one box selected at random and develop a creative piece inspired from its contents. This work will form the basis of their Arthur Silver Award entries for 2013.

It hasn't all been group visits. Individual researchers, students and design professionals have continued to book in to see the collection (and are welcome to do so, please contact us to make an appointment).

Nearly all the visitors to MoDA's study room, be they students or professional researchers, come armed with cameras. They snap away, gathering images of objects to use as reference for their work later on. This month it was a delight to have one student arrive with their (make-shift) pencil box, pull out a range of coloured pencils and start sketching from sight. Subsequently we have noticed some Illustration students doing the same. I'm sure there are benefits to drawing directly from the source. What do you think? 

Friday, 9 November 2012

Arthur Silver Award 2013

Announcing the launch of MoDA's Arthur Silver Award for 2013 - our annual competition for Middlesex University undergraduates studying Art & Design and Media.

As regular readers of this blog will know, the Arthur Silver Award was set up to encourage Middlesex University Final Year Art & Design students to engage with the museum's collections.  Entrants to the award are required to use the MoDA collections as inspiration in the development of a piece of studio work.  The winner receives a cash prize of £1000.  From this year the award will also be open to entries from 2nd Year students.  

Publicity for this year's Award is launched this week and we hope that entries will be of similarly high standard to previous years.  You can see the winning entries of previous winners of the award in a display at Middlesex University on the ground floor of the Sheppard Library on the Hendon campus. The display will be up until Friday 30th November.  Alternatively you can refer to previous blog posts.

Hair necklace design by Kerry Howley, 2011 winner

To download an application form please click here.  The deadline for entries for this year's award is Friday 17th May 2013.

For more information about the Arthur Silver Award please see previous blog posts or contact Richard Lumb, MoDA's Learning Officer, on 020 8411 4380 or email

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness...

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel ; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells. 

Over the last few months, we've been blogging about famous artists and writers on their birthday. It is hard to find a more tragic figure than today's: John Keats, born on this day in 1795. To Autumn, from which the above verses are taken, was written by Keats in 1818. Literary scholars also refer to this time as 'The Great Year', where Keats produced his most critically acclaimed work for which he is now recognised as one of the most famous English Romantic poets.

'Poems by John Keats', illustrated by Robert Anning-Bell and introduction by Walter Raleigh. London Chiswick Press, 1898  (BADDA3025, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

In that auspicious year Keat's was living in obscurity not far from MoDA in Hampstead, North London (the house is now preserved as a Museum and open to the public). Over the three years he was in Hampstead, Keats battled with poor health, struggled to make his way as a writer and fell in love with the girl-next-door, Fanny Brawne to whom he had no prospect of marrying until his economic situation picked up.The story of Brawne and Keats was recently the subject of a film, Bright Star (2009).

But theirs was no "Happy Ever After" love story. On advice from doctors, Keats moved to Rome in seek of a warmer climate and in 1821, at the tender age of 25, died from tuberculosis in the arms of his friend Joseph Severn. Severn was a painter who captured this portrait of his friend on his death bed.

John Keats on his deathbed by Joseph Severn, 1922 (Image courtesy of The Keats Shelley Memorial House)

MoDA holds two books of Keats' poetry which are both beautifully illustrated by Robert Anning Bell; a British designer and artist who was part of the Arts and Crafts scene in London. We wrote about Anning Bell earlier this year in regards to some of our illustrated Shakespeare books.

Details from Poems by John Keats, illustrated by Robert Anning Bell and introduction by Walter Raleigh. London: Chiswick Press, 1898  (BADDA3025, MoDA)

Details from The Odes of John Keats, illustrated by by Robert Anning Bell. London: George Bell & Sons, 1901. (BADDA3049, MoDA)

Though at opposite ends of the nineteenth century, the poems of Keats and the illustrations of Anning Bell seem very well suited. Perhaps it is some of the shared values from the cultural movements by which they were influenced. The early nineteenth-century Romantic movement was a reaction against scientific rationalisation whilst the late-nineteenth century/early-twentieth century Arts and Crafts movement was a reaction against industrialisation. Both shared a similar fascination with nature, and a longing for the apparent simplicity of the past.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Decline & Fall by Evelyn Waugh

Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh, more commonly known as Evelyn Waugh, was born on this day in 1903. A writer of novels, biographies and travel books, he was also a prolific journalist and reviewer. Waugh's best-known works include Decline & Fall (1928), A Handful of Dust (1934) and Sword of Honour (1952–61) - a series of novels set during the Second World War. Modern day audiences are probably best acquainted with Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited (1945) which was turned into television series in 1981 staring Jeremy Irons, and in 2008, a film staring Emma Thompson. 

Image courtesey of National Portrait Gallery © Cecil Beaton Studio Archive, Sotheby's London

We have several of Waugh's books in our collection, including one of his first publications, Decline & Fall' which was released in 1928. It is a satirical novel, dripping with black humour and based on the author's experience both as a student at Oxford and as a teacher in Wales. Waugh was asked to suppress some words and phrases from the first publication and these were not reinstated until the 1962 edition. It may be a somewhat controversial and challenging novel, but when we picked up our copy of the Decline and Fall, we were first struck with the rather fetching patterned jacket, and illustrations done by Waugh himself.  We recommend you read it, but failing that then just read the introduction which has an extensive disclaimer by Waugh ending with the immortal, statement "IT'S MEANT TO BE FUNNY.".

Evelyn Waugh, Decline & Fall:  an illustrated novelette, London: Chapman & Hall Ltd., 1931(JMR1008, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

To find out more about Evelyn Waugh, we recommend the Ransom Centre at the University of Texas which holds his art collection, including portraits of the man himself. To see other books in MoDA's collection, click here

Friday, 19 October 2012

Arigato Japan! MoDA 'Katagami Style' objects come home

Back in March we mentioned ten objects from MoDA's collection were on their way to Japan for Katagami Style: an exhibition about a type of Japanese paper stencil (Katagami) and the profound influence it had on Western decorative arts from the mid-nineteenth century.

Katagami Style was organised by Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Tokyo and Nikkei Inc. It was shown in three venues: Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum in Tokyo, The National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto and Mie Prefectural Art Museum in Tsu-shi. Visitor numbers and Twitter comments testify to how well the exhibition was received over the six months. Last week it finally came to a close and I flew to Tsu to bring the loaned MoDA objects home.

Moving crates beside some Silver Studio designs in the Mie Prefectural Art Museum as Katagami Style prepares to come down (Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)
Precious items from a range of international collections were included in Katagami Style. As I walked up the hill to Mie Prefectural Art Museum I wondered how such a complicated exhibition was to be dismantled. This question was answered in the efficiency and skill of the technicians and conservators working in the gallery. In no time, everything was checked and I was left with several days in Tokyo awaiting the flight home to London.

Maybe it was a case of ''Katagami on the brain' but in the last few days exploring Tokyo,  I spotted numerous references to the stencil art. It's clear Katagami has an enduring influence on Japanese design. This was actually something they touched on in the exhibition by displaying Unimo Sushi shop's laser etched sushi.

Wall panels in the Tokyo station subway tunnels (MoDA)

On my last day, I met Miya Suwa, who is a designer. Miya had seen Katagami Style when it was on in Tokyo, after finding out about it through an iphone app called 'Museum Cafe' which showcases the latest exhibitions in the city. She said, 'The exhibition was good for my work, for getting inspiration for what I do next: I'm always looking for my style'.

Miya took me along to see the Interior Lifestyle Living Trade Fair which showcases current Japanese designers working on products for the home. Again, I couldn't help spotting Katagami influences as we walked into the trade hall, for example some ceramics by Miyama with a patterned design inspired by Kimono (a traditional Japanese garment which was decorated using Katagami stencils) and Yuugi Isegata which uses traditional Katagami designs and enlarges them for furnishing fabrics.

Homeware by Miyama (MoDA)
Furnishing fabrics by Yuugi (MoDA)
If you're interested in seeing the Katagami stencils in MoDA's collection, you are welcome to book a visit to the study room (I'll be back next week!).  Until then, I'll sign off with a Tokyo travel recommendation: the Japanese Folk Craft Museum is a treat, nestled off the main tourist route and well worth a visit.