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.

Monday, 8 October 2012

My Home magazine: a diverting read

Mondays can be tough for some, so we thought we'd help ease you into the week by introducing the newest addition to MoDA's collection: A magazine series called My Home which makes for a fantastic and distractingly good read.

My Home is a typical woman's consumer magazine of the period with articles on cooking, household management, beauty, fashion and the latest news on film and theatre stars. What may be particularly interesting to MoDA researchers is the home interiors section. This is the only part of the magazine with colour printed pages and it showcases the latest fashions in home decorating with information about cost and suppliers.

My Home was a monthly publication that ran from the 1920s. In 1965 it's name changed to My Home 
and Family. Eventually it went out of print, but it's sister magazine, Woman and Home continues today. MoDA has been generously donated seventeen bound volumes of My Home covering the period December 1939 to December 1956.

Other regular features in each edition include knitting patterns, advice columns, fashion pages and of course, the fiction serial. The latter is always a love story, with beautiful heroines and a steady rotation of beaus: soldiers, sailors, vicars and of course  - a dashing doctor.

My Home is going to be a valuable resource for visitors to our study room. However, researchers be warned that you have to be very disciplined if you are going to use this magazine as primary source material: the content is very diverting and you will easily find yourself poring over text and images completely off-topic from what you came to study. If you have the self-discipline to thumb past the monthly romance series most likely you will come undone on the advertisements. Here is a selection::


We're pleased to add My Home to MoDA's collection. To see other magazine and journal titles we hold, click here.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

What does wallpaper sound like?

As regular readers of this blog will already be aware, MoDA relaunched as a new kind of museum about a year ago, with a new strapline: Online, On Tour and On Request.  The thinking behind this was that we would make better use of new technologies to enable researchers, students and members of the public to engage with the museum’s collections in different ways. 

Our latest project, Sonic Wallpapers, is both an online exhibition and a ‘real life’ exhibition touring to physical venues.  Over the past year, we’ve been working with sound artist, Dr Felicity Ford, of Oxford Brookes University.  We commissioned her to create audio pieces inspired by a selection of wallpapers from the museum’s collections. 

 You can hear the first few of these pieces by going to the online exhibition on MoDA’s website.  More wallpapers and accompanying sound pieces will be added to the online version over the coming week as we build up to taking this to its first real life venue: this year’s Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace (11th-14th October). 
At Alexandra Palace we’ll be inviting visitors to scan QR codes with their mobile phones in order to hear the sound pieces.  You can do this too by scanning here:

‘Gothic’, wallpaper, 1955 (BADDA 2298

What does this wallpaper sound like to you?

This project is an example of MoDA fulfilling its remit to make the collections accessible in new ways, and to support innovative research in practice.  Using QR codes is something of an experiment in itself; if you have any comments about Sonic Wallpapers (either about the content, the concept, or the delivery) please leave a comment, tweet us: (#Sonicwallpapers) or email

A book and accompanying CD containing all the sound pieces will be published shortly, and will be available from MoDA’s online shop within the next week or so.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Geese, Lace and an industrial city

This weeks spotlight is on Nottingham and in particular the Nottingham Goose Fair which takes place annually in the first week of October.  It is one of the largest and oldest (first mentioned in 1541 but possibly even older) fairs in Europe.  No one knows where the fair got its name.  Legend has it that its name is derived from the thousands of of geese that were driven from Lincolnshire and Norfolk to be sold in Nottingham.  Imagine the logistics of driving 20,000 geese that kind of distance - imagine the mess!

Like most other fairs, the original purpose of Nottingham's Autumn fair was trade and for many years it enjoyed a reputation for, of all things, cheese!  During the nineteenth century the character of the fair changed considerably.  With the coming of the railways, transport became easier and people no longer had to stock up with goods in the autumn against the risk of isolation during the dark days of winter. Distribution and retailing also improved with shops stocking items all the year round which previously had only been available once a year from travelling merchants at fairs.

The painting below by Arthur Spooner shows the Goose Fair when it was held in the market square in the middle of the city.  Nowadays the Fair takes place in a much larger site on the outskirts of the city. The painting is on show at the Nottingham Castle gallery & museum.

'The Goose Fair' by Arthur Spooner, 1926 (The Goose Fair' is presently on long term loan to the Nottingham Castle gallery from the private collection of Sir Harry Djanogly © The Artists Estate. Photograph credit: BBC Nottingham.)

The Nottingham Castle gallery & museum also houses historic lace collections reflecting Nottingham's  industrial heritage. Whilst we do not hold examples of fine lace artistry like Nottingham Castle,  MoDA's collections of pamphlets and trade catalogues includes a wealth of  promotional and advertising material for the lace industry.  One example is this trade catalogue, Spring Curtains Illustrated 1909, which promotes curtains manufactured from Nottingham lace.

Spring Curtains Illustrated 1909, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, BADDA1820.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, lace was Nottingham's dominant industry, employing over 40,000 people.  Nowadays there is just one lace factory remaining in the city, Fewkes, who played a small part in creating one of the most famous dresses of all time. Along with with local lace companies Roger Watson and Huntbachs, they created the lace for Princess Diana's wedding dress.
Princess Diana in her wedding dress

Monday, 1 October 2012

The calm before the storm

Today is Induction Day for Middlesex University students. As the university's museum, it feels a little bit like the calm before the storm because from next week we'll begin hosting groups from various Art and Design courses here at Beaufort Park : introducing them to the Museum and giving them an insight into how MoDA's collection can support and enhance their learning experience.

The last few months have revolved around preparation for the academic year but it's also been business as usual in the study room, as we continue to make the collection available to researchers.

We've seen some big name fashion labels who have come to draw inspiration from the collection as well as other design companies who have been investigating licensing Silver Studio designs. Of all the professional designers, we particularly enjoyed meeting Marika Giacinti who travelled all the way from Paris. She was researching for a new line and you can see examples of her work here.

Marika Giacinti in the MoDA study room

The range of private and academic researchers to MoDA in the last months has made for interesting study-room table conversations. Discussions have been had about the attribution mystery of a certain peacock feather textile design, retro-style in the form of Neo-Adam and Neo-Georgian patterns, 1970s style, the Liberty's-Silver Studio connection and home interiors on the silver screen. A good friend of MoDA's, Keren Protheroe, was back in to tie up some loose ends for her PhD. Keren is the author of Petal Power (you can buy it online here) and her PhD is a fascinating study into textile design in the period 1910-1930.

Prior to the term starting, we spent time with Middlesex university lecturers from Fashion Design, Styling and Promotion, Illustration and Fashion Textiles discussing plans to incorporate aspects of MoDA's collection into their student's course work. A curious mix of objects have been selected by these lecturers - like typographic samples and cigarette cards. We are looking forward to sharing with you some of the work the students will produce from these modules.

A box of photographs and ephemera relating to typography at the Festival of Britain, 1951. (CH1/1, Charles Hasler Collection, MoDA)
Cigarette cards (Silver Studio archive, MoDA)

And lastly, we're not allowed to tell you the name of the show quite yet, but the film company Raise the Roof Productions have been in at MoDA and filming some objects from our collection in preparation for a new television series earmarked for the autumn. Watch this space!