Friday, 24 April 2015

To Liberty and Beyond

MoDA Curator, Sim Panaser takes a closer look at some of the the designs of the Silver Studio...

Liberty is my favourite department store, so I was especially excited to find out more about the connections between the iconic store and the Silver Studio, whose collection is here at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture.

Liberty was founded by Arthur Lasenby Liberty in 1875 initially under the name East India House.  A hotbed for fashion, good taste and the Pre-Raphelites, it became renowned for its imported silk, in single colours and subtle hues of blues, greens and terracotta, which became known as Liberty Art Fabrics, alongside selling imported goods from what was then considered the Far East. 

Arthur Liberty understood the appetite for pattern in the late 1880s. An increasing interest in interior design, coupled with increased prosperity for the middle classes and the burgeoning popularity for what we know term the Art Nouveau style, which followed Aestheticism, saw Liberty art fabrics pop with patterns. 

Patterns for textiles were bought by Liberty from the Silver Studio.  The Silver Studio was established by Arthur Silver in 1880 in Brook Green, Hammersmith. The timing of the Studio was perfect; patterns for wallpapers and textiles were in high demand and between 1880 and 1910 the Silver Studio sold hundreds of designs in the Art Nouveau style to various clients across the world.      

Silver Studio Designs dating from late 1800s, SD3514, SD3597, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture.  

Arthur Silver is widely attributed as designing Liberty’s famous peacock print, Hera (below) in 1887.  However although Arthur Silver is attributed as the designer, subsequent research has questioned whether this is in fact the case or whether Arthur Silver adapted the design from another peacock pattern registered in 1876.  

Sketch of Peacock Feather, Silver Studio, SD9230 and Liberty Hera Fabric, ST3935b, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture 

The day books of the Silver Studio here at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture show that in 1891 the Silver Studio provided Liberty with 19 designs.  The relationship between the Studio and Liberty continued into the 1900s with female designers working for the Silver Studio providing Liberty with floral patterns for dress fabrics.

Cotton dress fabric known as  'Runis' Crepe designed by  Madeleine Lawrence of the Silver  Studio and sold by Liberty in the early 1930s for 2 shillings  and 11 pence per yard, ST3505, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture

In addition to textile designs, the Silver Studio also provided Liberty with designs for their Tudric Pewter and Cymric Silver ranges.  We have a large collection of drawings for items including clocks, mirrors and jewellery for these Liberty ranges.  Not only did the Silver Studio maintain the anonymity of its designers, but Liberty did too, in order to protect the idea of Liberty as a brand.  This makes it particularly problematic when trying to trace provenance of a design. 

         Design for silver powder box, SD8326, Design for label or stamp, SD8344, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture 

Liberty patterns have an enduring legacy; Liberty regularly re-issues designs from its archive, often re-working them for today.  One of its most recent is a twist on its Art Nouveu Ianthe pattern from the 1900s.   

As well as Silver Studio textile designs for Liberty, we hold a collection of Liberty catalogues and Liberty Art Fabric swatches.  If you would like to visit us to see the collection up close or have any questions a then please contact us.  We are open by appointment Monday to Friday and look forward to seeing you.  In addition to individual appointments we can arrange group visits too, so do get in touch! 


Friday, 17 April 2015

Curator of the Future Conference

MoDA's Collections Assistant Jacqueline Winston-Silk @_jsws discusses a thought-provoking conference at the British Museum. 

This week I went to The Curator of the Future Conference at the British Museum.  I was joined by around 100 other delegates; a mix of early career professionals, postgraduate students and Heads of Departments - we discussed and debated the nature of the curatorial role today, asking where it’s come from, where it’s going and where it needs to go.

The conference was opened by John Williams, Deputy Director of the British Museum who gave an overview of the museum’s National Programme activity.  The British Museum has 2,700 objects on loan to other museums in the UK, reminding us of the importance of partnerships in curatorial practice – a theme that re-emerged throughout the day.

Here’s a handy executive summary of what I learnt! If you want to read more, I've shared a handful of the speakers' discussions below:

·         Digital is an ongoing interactive process
·         39% of Generation Z  (those born after 1996) think museums are irrelevant
·         American actress Hedy Lamarr was granted US Patent no. 2292387 in the 1930s for an early system of Wi-Fi
·         All 700 UK cultural institutions combined receive only 0.08% of all UK web traffic – the equivalent of B&Q!

Curatorial survival kit

Maurice Davies of the Museum Consultancy discussed the myriad skills (collections management, conservation, engagement etc.) which are now enveloped under the umbrella title of ‘the curator’. He described how the role has evolved from a previous connotation of the curator as ‘priest’ of a cathedral of objects with privileged access, to the curator as a ‘market trader’ in the agora; a person who sells and negotiates in an open forum. Perhaps Maurice’s biggest message was his belief that a curator’s ability to communicate is today more important than their subject-specialist knowledge. This really got me thinking, as without subject-specialist knowledge; what do you communicate? However, as a regular exhibition-goer I can understand that being able to successfully communicate an idea or a narrative is paramount, and even more so, being able to communicate that information across a variety of media - and pitched to a specific audience(s). What do you think, is communication key? 

Bill Seaman of Colchester & Ipswich Museum Service shared the concerns of many people in the room. Due to budget cuts, the current operating model we have is unsustainable - leaving museums with a ragged service and lack of diversity in their workforce.  To combat this, Bill invited a new professionalism model based on partnerships and new technologies. Bill promoted peer to peer learning and advocated social media – with its innate ability to know instantly what our audiences think and like. Bill suggested that technology frees us from merely imparting facts and offers a democratisation of information – allowing new perspectives on collections to be eked out. As a museum studies graduate with 4 years of professional experience, I can very much see Bill's point and have been equally frustration at the lack of diversity in museum recruitment, let's not get started on the unpaid internship issue..

Getting your game on

The conference programme was full to the brim, and so a few events were squeezed in during the lunch break. I managed to attend a workshop led by @tl_gould and @martadabrowka of National Galleries of Scotland, on developing audience engagement for digital collections. I took away some valuable insight into the profile of potential younger audiences. Generation Z (those born after 1996) are surrounded and comfortable with technology, they like information presented visually and believe learning should be a two-way dynamic – wanting to discover, as opposed to being told. Generation Z are creative and entrepreneurial, however they have shorter attention spans and believe interactivity should come as standard. This is interesting stuff, and I think it should be in the forefront of our minds when sharing collections digitally. Perhaps even more so because 39% of the Generation Z audience think museums are irrelevant in today’s digital age - quite a worrying stat! 

Brave New Words

Chris Michaels of the British Museum explored curatorial practice, using objects (some from the collection) to illustrate the shifting opportunities and responsibilities within a curator’s transforming role. I thought this was the highlight of the conference, not least for originality in presentation style. There were too many to mention here, but my favourites were:
  • The Gebelein Man (3,400 BC) tells the fundamental story of humankind, of living and dying. Communicating this ubiquitous narrative is a central aspect of a curator’s role
  • Flood Tablet (650 BC). Discovering knowledge anew. Discovering something new about the past and making that knowledge available for the present is fundamental to a curator’s role.
  • Admission Ticket (c. 1759). 17th and 18th century enlightenment values of sharing knowledge for free and with free public access, underpin the museum. With external pressures to privatise museums, part of a curator’s role should be to facilitate, protect and defend access.
  • iPhone. Digital platforms make it possible to communicate fundamental knowledge to a wider global audience. With the development of personal mobile devices the boundaries have collapsed between what can be seen within and outside the museum. Content can now live on external media not just in the doors of the museum.  
  • Lester Wisbrod Selfie Collection. Individuals are now curating the present at all times, and telling the world they’re doing so. This shift represents a re-triangulation between people, objects and the new media space. As a result, curators need to ask what curating in the present means.

Anra Kennedy of Culture24  gave some helpful advice on what museum content needs to be in order to be engaging on a digital platform. She advised high resolution, high quality images. For catalogue records to be labelled and tagged with correct and up-to-date information. For content to be usable, re-usable and share-able, and that objects be contextualised and interpreted. As we continually add records online and improve our collections documentation at MoDA, this is a good benchmark to work towards. 

The Next Generation

Rachel Souhami discussed the The Future of Museums conference held in 2014 and reflected on the outcomes, including the subsequent manifesto. The manifesto was a call to arms by the conference delegates (all of whom within the first 6 years of their careers) to imagine the museum landscape in twenty years’ time; and we were encouraged to be idealistic about what we'd like to see. To support these young professionals, Rachel urged us to stop using the murky phrase “the museum sector” as it gives a false sense of homogeneity, denying diversity and differing agendas. I have to admit, I often fall into the trap of using the phrase and have had to edit myself in this blog post as a result... so Rachel... I'm trying! In a bid to support future curators in their careers Rachel urged us to ensure cogent, collective leadership. To engage with emerging museum professionals themselves and to remind those emerging museum professionals to be proactive. I took part in The Future of Museums conference and was a contributing author to the manifesto, and so it was really interesting to hear Rachel draw some conclusions and recommendations from the event.

I found the conference to be really useful in corralling and synthesizing current debate and ideas about the role of the curator, at a time when museums face budget restrictions and become ever more digital. The digital aspect of sharing collections is certainly something that the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture is striving to engage and innovate within, and so I left a happy delegate with a head full of helpful resources. Watch this space. 

Friday, 10 April 2015

Bringing You Better Living

MoDA's Collections Assistant Jacqueline Winston-Silk @_jsws discusses the new exhibition at The Hasler Gallery.

Bringing You Better Living is a site-specific installation at Ten Grand Arcade by Aviva Leeman. The work is inspired by the Charles Hasler collection at MoDA.

Now open at The Hasler Gallery, the commission is a collaborative project which was informed by the site and character of the gallery itself. The Hasler Gallery is located in a retail unit in a 1930’s arcade – an architectural construct in the history of the development of modern shopping.

Bringing You Better Living at The Hasler Gallery. Photo courtesy of Aviva Leeman. 

View of the Grand Arcade, 1980. Courtesy of the Friern Barnet & District Local History Society. Photographer Doug Rose.

The Charles Hasler Collection at MoDA

The project was born out of an investigation into language during developments in the retail industry. Aviva’s research focused on publications of the time - in particular Shelf Appeal (1934-38), a trade magazine for the emerging packaging industry, as well as contemporaneous printed advertisements. Aviva also consulted Charles Hasler’s specimens of display letters produced for the Festival of Britain

CH/5/2/5, Shelf Appeal magazine October 1935.

CH/5/2/5 Shelf Appeal April 1938

Shelf Appeal was a magazine aimed at the newly emerging professional designers of packaging and promotional material. It considered typography, illustration and graphics to explore how products (especially in new materials such as plastics, Bakelite, aluminium etc.) might be marketed to consumers through the development of a ‘brand image’.

MJ174, Detail of advertisements in Homes and Gardens magazine, June 1951. 

Examples of advertisements from Homes and Gardens magazine, similar to the items consulted at MoDA. The aesthetic and language of the period advertising is interrogated in Aviva's installation. 

CH/1/1 specimen of display letters.


Charles Hasler was chairman of the Typography Panel of the Festival of Britain. This Panel oversaw the visual identity of the exhibition.  It drew up specimens of display letters, and developed guidelines on how the logo should be used on Festival-related publications and publicity.

The installation at The Hasler Gallery

Aviva Leeman, The Silent Salesman, 2015. Photo courtesy of Aviva Leeman. 

The Silent Salesman lays bare product packaging and the display system as sites and channels of communication in the context of the shop. The texts are extracted from industry adverts aimed at designers and manufacturers, extolling the abilities of the new packaging materials and technologies to sell. Between the wars, the package, shelf and counter display became objects of intense imaginative interest, the bearers of a new commercial aesthetic, and the language used reveals the optimism felt.

Aviva Leeman, We Women All Agree, 2015. Photo courtesy of Aviva Leeman. 

We Women All Agree is a suspended window display of women’s heads gathered together from magazine advertisements from the 1930s – 1950s, reworked and scaled-up to life-size. The cut-out aesthetic recalls early window displays but also comments on how the dimensionality of how the shopper, typically the housewife, was imagined in the early days of retail psychology, and which to some extent prevails today. To the left is a key identifying each character by an extract from the advert in which they featured, in many cases an attribute that could interchangeably apply to the product being promoted or the woman presented as an embodiment of the brand.

Exhibition3rd April - 30th April 2015

Gallery Opening times:
Thursday & Friday 12-6pm
Saturday 12-4pm
Or by appointment:


Address: The Hasler Gallery, Grand Arcade, North Finchley, N12 0EH

Aviva Leeman trained in Graphic Design and Visual Communication and has practiced as an installation artist since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2002. She has shown work and developed commissions for galleries and non-gallery contexts including the Museum of St Albans, Hatfield House, Battersea Pump House Gallery, Aldgate Station, County Hall, the Royal Festival Hall and Norwich Castle Museum. A local resident since 2010, she recently completed a commission to celebrate the tenth anniversary of artsdepot. She has worked on residencies for community organizations and schools, and also runs a fledgling press, designing and producing bespoke short-run letterpress. Aviva is currently researching a PhD at Central Saint Martins on how the materiality of text affects our construction of meaning.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Kitchen Politics

Join MoDA's Curator Sim Panaser in the kitchen....

This week the general election campaigns have begun with a vengeance, we've heard fighting talk, sound bites and the occasional policy issue thrown in for good measure. 

The photo-op, a vital tool in every party’s election arsenal provokes strong responses.  And this year politicians in kitchens seem to be a thing.  From the scrutiny surrounding Ed Miliband’s kitchenette to David Cameron’s announcement that he doesn't want to stand for a third term, which was accompanied by photographs of him in the kitchen of his constituency home.  It appears the kitchen is where politicians want to be seen and heard. 

Considered the heart of the home, the kitchen is seen as nourishing and warm together with being commonplace, whilst not everyone has a dining room in the main they will have a kitchen or kitchenette.  The kitchen is a highly charged space.  It is aspirational, we are sold dream kitchens and kitchens reportedly increase the value of homes.  It is a space for family and friends, eating, entertaining, domesticity and at times drudgery.

Here at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture we have a collection of books and ephemera on kitchen design dating from 1930s to 1970s.  From labour saving to saving face, these designs demonstrate the minutia of detail which according to manufacturers and taste-makers needed to be considered when designing a kitchen.

Watch Your Step, Kitchen Planning circa 1945, BADDA 4226, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture

In the illustrations below, the kitchen appears to be the domain of the female.  Much of post-war kitchen design was marketed as improving conditions for women, a more efficient kitchen purported to an increased leisure time for women.  The kitchens depicted below also appear sparse, nearly everything is packed away into cupboards, leaving work surfaces clear and ready for action. In the 1940s and 1950s the kitchen hatch connected the kitchen to the dining area, enabling food to be presented without witness to the cooking or being taken to the table. 

A place for everything and everything has its place, BADDA 4677, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture

Kitchen Dining Room in a Family Flat, BADDA, 4226, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture 

1940s Service Hatch in Choose Your Kitchen by Adie Ballantyne, BADDA 4563, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture

Today kitchens are seen very much part of leisure time, we like to cook or at least buy cookery books. We leave things out and 'on show'.  The kitchen is both private and public and perhaps the room that people can most readily identify with, from a place where we make a cup of tea after a long day to entertaining from the ever desirable kitchen island, it is both a space to relax and to perform. Maybe this is why politicians have taken to their kitchens to communicate their message and why the analysis of their kitchens has garnered so much attention.

Please get in touch with us if you would like further information on our collections or to view our collection of books and ephemera related to design for the home.  We welcome visits from groups and individuals and look forward to seeing you!      

For collection enquiries or to book an appointment to visit MoDA's Collections Centre please email