Wednesday, 18 December 2013

layers of inspiration

MoDA's Head of Museum Collections, Zoe Hendon, looks forward to a project starting in the New Year

Like many museums, at the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (MoDA) we often talk about the ‘inspirational’ nature of our collections.  Our annual ArthurSilver Award for students, for example, requires students to use MoDA’s collections as the basis of their inspiration for a piece of studio work.  But having run this Award for a number of years, we’ve observed that – whatever the quality of the students' final work – students often find it hard to explain the process by which they have moved from initial inspiration to final finished piece.

We began to realise that we were making a lot of assumptions about inspiration and the creative process.  So we’re about to embark on an exciting project which will ask students to articulate what’s going on for them.  Work in this area has tended to focus on the visual aspect of ‘influence’, or how history informs current creative practices, but the process by which this occurs has not so far been articulated. 

We’re delighted to have received some funding from the London Museums Group’s Share Academy project.  I will be working with Linda Sandino from Universityof the Arts (UAL); we're inviting students from the MA Textiles course at ChelseaCollege of Art to visit MoDA to explore its holdings, and attempt to articulate the process of ‘inspiration’. We’ll be using qualitative interviewing as the means to articulate and make manifest how designers use museum collections. I'll be blogging about this more as the project develops.

Layers of Learning

One of the really interesting things about this project will be the different layers of learning that are going on at the same time.  For students, the priority will be learning from objects, creating new work, and developing their practice. 

But for Linda and I this won’t be our main concern.  Of course we hope that students produce great work, and we look forward to seeing some of it at the Chelsea MA Textiles Degree Show in September 2014.  But the quality of the final work is less interesting to us than the students’ ability to help us understand the process of inspiration.  What is it that happens when a creative person encounters something that sparks their imagination, gets their creative juices flowing, or takes them in an entirely different direction to the one they would have anticipated?  And by implication, how can we help this to happen for students for whom it all seems like something that happens to 'other people'? 

And interestingly, yet another kind of learning will also be in play.  The project is funded by London Museums Group (LMG), who have in turn received their funding from Arts CouncilEngland (ACE).  For LMG, the aim is to find out more about how people from museums and Higher Education Institutions (HEI) can work together, and to see if it’s possible to draw up any kind of model or guidelines for similar collaborations in future.  So again, LMG is less interested in the ostensible outcomes achieved by MoDA and UAL, and much more concerned with the process by which we get there.  They want to find out what the barriers are (bureaucracy? inertia? workload?) to collaboration between museums and HEI's, and what can be done to smooth this path.

We're looking forward to getting started in the New Year - watch this space for updates on our progress!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

In pursuit of Beauty

Back in 2011, the V&A's exhibition The Cult of Beauty explored the rise of the Aesthetic movement in Britain.  Members of the Aesthetic movement - including artists such as Whistler, Rossetti and Leighton - wished to escape the ugliness they saw resulting from Britain's Industrial Revolution; and wanted instead to create an escapist world of 'Beauty'.

At the time, the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture lent a number of objects to that exhibition, drawn from the Silver Studio collection.  The original exhibition toured to the Musee D'Orsay in Paris, and then to the Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco.  Now a revised version of the exhibition is to be shown in Tokyo, with the title Art for Art's Sake, and two objects from MoDA's collections will again be on show.

The exhibition explores the way in which the traditional boundaries between the 'fine arts' and 'design' were blurred by the Aesthetes, as they sought to transform not just paintings, but their whole domestic environments.  Thus interior design, furnishings and dress were just as much of interest to the Aesthetic movement as were traditional oil paintings.

Design for decoration of door and wall, Arthur Silver for the Silver Studio, around 1885
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (SD3)
Design for a drawing room, by Arthur Silver of the Silver Studio, around 1885
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (SD4)

These two designs for interiors are unusual within the Silver Studio collection in that they depict decorative schemes for rooms, rather than the designs for flat patterns - wallpapers and textiles -which form the bulk of the collection.  They show the way that Aesthetic movement ideas were borrowed by designers and adapted for a mass market.  By the 1880s, when these were created, the Aesthetic movement motifs of peacock feathers, fans etc, had become commonplace within the wider market, not just among a small elite.

The exhibition Art for Art's Sake will be on show at the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum in Tokyo from January until May 2014.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Kremena Dimitrova receives the Arthur Silver Award for 2013

Last week, MoDA staff were present to see Kremena Dimitrova receive MoDA's Arthur Silver Award for 2013 at Middlesex University's annual awards ceremony.   During the evening we managed to have a chat with Kremena in order to find out what she has been up to since winning the award last summer.  Kremena had some exciting news.

Kremena receiving her award from Janet Ritterman, Chancellor of Middlesex University

Kremena with her award and Richard Lumb, MoDA staff
Kremena is continuing with her teaching career, completing a successful teaching stint on the Foundation in Art & Design course at Middlesex University at the end of the summer. She is currently teaching the National Art & Design Saturday club also at Middlesex.

Kremena has been working as a freelance illustrator at Bishops Stortford Museum, designing and illustrating real life stories from the First World War in the form of a graphic novel.   The novel will be published next year as part of the museum's commemoration of the 100th year anniversary since the start of WW1. There will also be an accompanying exhibition. Kremena has also been exhibiting her work at a number of venues across London, details of which you can find on her website along with more information about her work.

Kremena's exciting news is that she has been awarded a commission to design and illustrate the artworks for the interior of a new fine dining restaurant in London.  The new restaurant,'Canvas', will be opening to the public early in the New Year. We obviously wish Kremena every success with this new venture.

Arthur Silver Award poster 2014, featuring a still from Kremena's award-winning animation

Regular readers of this blog will know that we have just launched the 2014 award and interested parties can get information about the application process on the MoDA website.  You can also find out more about the work of previous Arthur Silver Award entrants in past MoDA blog posts.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Moustaches of the Silver Studio

We are now in the last week of Movember 2013. Many participants' facial hair will be at the stage where they need to start maintaining, trimming and styling. Perhaps some are even considering keeping the look beyond this month.

Today we have found images from the Silver Studio collection to inspire Movember participants. All of these photographs are from the Silver's family album (Badda4302). For moustache grooming ideas, we felt there was no better place to look than the album of a late Victorian/Edwardian family, full of predominantly designers, and style-conscious men. 

The head of the family business, Arthur Silver (1853-1896), spent most of his life with the beard/ moustache combination. Two of his sons Harry (1881-1972) and Rex (1879-1965) joined the family business and also sported stylish moustaches for much of their lives.
Arthur Silver

Harry Silver
Rex Silver

Rex appeared to take a keen interest in varying the style of his facial hair- as evidenced in this album page.

A cousin of Rex and Harry also kept a well maintained moustache, complemented with a fine bow tie. 

Walter Crane (1854-1915) was a good friend of Arthur Silver and his family. In this picture from the family album he pairs his moustache with a fine hat and coat.

Walter Crane

The best of all (perhaps even eclipsing Rex Silver's moustaches) was that of the Silver Studio designer Harry Napper (d.1930). From a young age Napper cultivated his upper lip, but it was later in life that his moustache appears to have reached it's full potential. You can see some of Napper's design work for the Silver Studio here.

Harry Napper
I'm sure the men of the Silver Studio would have been in support of Movember - a wonderful charitable initiative to raise funds and awareness of prostate and testicular cancer and mental health issues. You can donate towards the cause on the Movember website.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Award winning animation

As regular readers of this blog will know, Kremena Dimitrova, won this year's MoDA annual student competition, the Arthur Silver Award.  Entrants to the award are required to use the museum's collections as inspiration in the development of a piece of studio work, and Kremena did this by using a series of postcards from MoDA's ephemera collection to create a wallpaper design, a children's picture book and an animation.

One of a series of detailed silhouette-style postcards depicting courtship scenes that inspired Kremena's work
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SM32.2)
According to Kremena, the postcards inspired her to create the animation first.  So when Kremena considered entering for the award she realised that she would not be able to submit her animation as the required format stipulated that all entries must be submitted on three A3 sized boards. To overcome this problem Kremena used stills from the animation to create the wallpaper design and children's picture book. Kremena has now added the finishing touches to her piece of animation and we are happy to share it with you here. The animation is based on the 'Miller's Tale' from the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. It lasts just under seven minutes and if you are interested either in Kremena's work or how creative people are inspired by our collections - I am sure you will enjoy it.

To see more of Kremena's work please visit her website. We have just launched the 2014 award and you can get information about the application process on the MoDA website.  You can also find out more about the work of previous Arthur Silver Award entrants in past MoDA blog posts.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Student style and a wallpaper sandwich

Louisa Knight, Assistant Curator of the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, finds out more about an unusual wallpaper 'sandwich': 

In November 2003, wallpaper fragments from Peterhouse Cambridge were given to the museum. They were discovered during renovations of the college's dorm rooms and gifted to the museum as a large slab of papers stuck together and scraped off a wall. As the museum's conservator began work on the slab, 12 separate layers of papers were revealed which represented over 200 hundred years of wall decoration in the dorm room.

Petershouse Cambridge (source: Petershouse)

Peterhouse Cambridge is the oldest college of the university and was founded in 1284 by the Bishop of Ely. It had many eminent past students including Frank Whittle, James Mason and Michel Portillo.

For many years, Cambridge students were able to decorate their own rooms. The variety of patterns in the wallpaper sandwich reflects the choices and style of past students whilst the plainer and more modern fragments is the kind of wall covering more familiar to students of today (plain white woodchip paper!). The graphic below reveals how the layers were built up on top of each other over 200 years.

All layers of the wallpaper sandwich from a dormitory in the university college, Peterhouse, Cambridge, salvaged ca.1999, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (Badda4869)
Soon after the sandwich came to MoDA, a conservator separated part of it into individual layers, thus allowing us to identify and date each paper by it's printing or paper-manufacturing techniques, paper quality and pattern style. A piece of newspaper, which was also plastered to the wall, has also helped with dating it.

wallpaper fragment, 'Mallow’designed by Kate Faulkener for William Morris  & Co and printed by Jeffery & Co. 1879. Reg: GJ.9659 Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (Badda4689.3)
Wallpaper fragment with a pattern of white vertical and horizontal lines on a brown ground, 1930s,
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (Badda4689.10)

Wallpaper fragment of ivy leaves forming a lattice on a grey and cream ground, machine printed and manufactured from 1905-1920, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, (Badda4689.7)

In the act of conserving each layer, we felt it was important to preserve its original condition as a sandwich of wallpapers. Part of it was therefore left intact, allowing the observer to appreciate the context and place for each individual layer which together says much about student style choices over time, from the late eighteenth to the twentieth century.

If you would like to see more of the wallpaper sandwich or other wallpaper samples at MoDA, please contact us to book a study room appointment.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Highlights of Hasler: brands and packaging

As regular readers of this blog will know, we've recently been doing a lot of work to make the material in our Charles Hasler collection more accessible to students and researchers.  We've discovered some interesting foreign banknotes, a whole mass of stuff relating to Rye and other English market towns, and quite a lot of material about the Great Exhibition of 1851.

At first glance these might seem unrelated topics, but what binds them together is Hasler's interest in all aspects of lettering, typography and graphic design.  He was an avid collector of packaging, and his interest seems to have been in the way that the outside of a packet could be designed in order to 'sell' its contents.

packaging material from the Charles Hasler Collection, 
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, CH5/4/1

This idea was presumably part of the reason for his interest in wine labels and book jackets.  In both cases, the external appearance of the item has to attract the buyer's attention before they have the opportunity to sample the contents.  More than that, a wine label or book jacket possibly even subtly influences the purchaser's experience of the product; hence the importance of getting it right. 

All of this seems to have related to Hasler's interest in the psychology of branding, which was emerging in the 1930s and 40s, and which was explored in new publications like Shelf Appeal magazine.

Shelf Appeal magazine, October 1935,
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, CH5/2/5

Published in the 1930s, Shelf Appeal explored the  - then relatively new - idea that products could have a 'brand identity'; so that consumers could be persuaded to buy a particular brand of soap, for example, rather than seeing soap as a boring commodity.  We're now so familiar with the idea that certain colours and letters represent specific companies (think of a large golden 'M' and you'll know what I mean), that this seems like a commonplace.  But the material in Hasler's collection is a reminder of the power of typography and lettering in the development of brand identity - worth thinking about if, like me, you tend to choose wine because of the attractive labels.

More of the material from Charles Hasler's collection will be featured here soon, or you can check out the ephemera section of our website.  If you would like to make an appointment to see anything from the collections for your own research please contact Maggie Wood at the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Jean de Brunhoff and Babar the Elephant

On this day in 1937 Jean de Brunhoff, creator of the beloved childhood character Babar the Elephant, died at the age of 37 from tuberculosis.

De Brunhoff was an French artist and illustrator who found fame through his six books about Babar the Elephant. It was de Brunhoff's wife, Cécile who recounted the first tales of the elephant and his adventures in Paris. In a 2003 interview with CNNLaurent de Brunhoff (son of Cécile and Jean) described how his mother's stories inspired his father's work:
The start, very start of Babar was a bed story from my mother. And my brother and I, we loved the story. We went to my father's studio and told him about it. He started to make a book for us. After the first book he made another one and another one. And he -- he just discovered himself, I think. 
Babar the Elephant's popularity continued on after his maker's death, with his son picking up the tale and going on to write numerous stories about him.

Like other children's book characters, Babar quickly leapt from the pages of books into merchandise items like clothing and homeware. We've mentioned other fictional characters that have inspired interior decoration like Mickey Mouse, Winnie the PoohAlice in Wonderland and Peter Pan or, more generally, adorable animals like Pandas  or Teddy bears. I imagine it will come as no surprise to hear that Babar also found himself on furnishing fabrics in the 1930s, as shown by this curtain pelmet textile in our collection:
Curtain pelmet with Babar the Elephant decoration, 1930s, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (Badda2052)
This year Babar  was picked up by a fashion label to grace the shirts and shorts of a menswear range. If on a pelmet or a jacket, today is a good day to remember the gentlemanly elephant Barbar and his creator de Brunhoff.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Highlights of Hasler: English market towns

A tranche of MoDA's work this year has focused on the graphic designer Charles Hasler and his collection of reference material. As we've studied this collection, we've realised its detailed, multi-faceted nature is what makes it both significant and somewhat problematic. It's full of so much interesting stuff! But the sheer quantity and variety can create a barrier to engagement. We hope that our recent project will go some way to making it accessible. To aid this, we are taking a month on the blog to draw attention to some Hasler highlights. This week we begin with Hasler's papers on English market towns.

Three folders in Hasler's collection are marked as 'Rye reference material' (the small East Sussex town, rather than the cereal). On closer investigation, it seems there is more than one town in the box, but lots of different papers on several English market towns - namely, Rye, Stourbridge and Hawes.

It's a strange collection of nineteenth and early twentieth century papers, ranging from ballots for local elections to clippings, packaging and office labels from local businesses. There are as many official looking documents like this 1858 voting paper for Councillors to the Borough of Rye as there are ephemeral items likes these 'POISON' labels from O.R. Bowe - a Hawes chemist and druggist.

Further research into the collection will likely reveal Hasler's thinking behind this group of papers; perhaps they were acquired through a friend or picked up as research for a particular job. I think we can be certain that with his keen interest in typography, Hasler would have found the fonts and graphics a great source of inspiration. Here are just a few examples:


These English market town papers are now accessible to MoDA study room visitors and we hope that graphic design students in particular will find these of interest. Perhaps with a bit more documentation work they will also be something local historians can make use of.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Inspirational Objects: Inspiring Creativity in Art & Design Undergraduates

MoDA’s Assistant Curator Maggie Wood and I were invited to run a workshop at a recent event organised by the Design HistorySociety. The Teaching Design History Workshops take place annually, and provide an excellent forum in which to showcase new approaches and share ideas.  The majority of participants tend to be those teaching design history to art and design undergraduates in UK universities. However the workshops are also open to students who might be considering a teaching career in this field, as well as those working in museums and archives which support teaching and learning at HE level.

There is a long tradition of art & design students ‘learning’ from museum objects, and a belief that this type of engagement has the potential to enrich and add depth to a student’s work. But it is also a process which we know is a struggle for many students, and which does not appear to come as ‘naturally’ to many of them as we might initially believe.  MoDA’s collections are used by Middlesex University students from a broad range of art and design disciplines. At the heart of our work with these students is the Arthur Silver Award; an annual prize offered by MoDA to 2nd & Final Year art, design & media undergraduates whose work has been ‘inspired’ by our collections.  

The approaches we demonstrated in this workshop stem from our attempts to unpick what it means for art & design students to ‘be inspired’ by museum collections:  how might we start to break down this process in order to help students not only to find inspiration in our collections, but also be able to articulate how that moment of inspiration has developed and informed their creative practice?

We asked participants to ‘road-test’ a number of different object analysis approaches, using real objects from MoDA’s collections.  Our aim was to recreate as much as possible the type of object handling sessions we offer at MoDA, and to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the strategies we’re currently developing.

Overall we received positive feedback from participants and as a result we will be looking to incorporate these approaches into future student sessions in the MoDA Study Room.  It is also worth noting that the use of MoDA objects in the workshop represented the first time that objects had been used in this way outside of the museum.  Consequently we will be looking to explore other opportunities to introduce Middlesex students to MoDA’s collections beyond our Collections Centre in Beaufort Park, including on the University's main campus at Hendon.

For more information about our approaches to working with objects, please contact Maggie Wood or myself at MoDA.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Art Nouveau on the Beeb

I've been enjoying BBC4's current programme about Art Nouveau. Last week saw presenter Stephen Smith exploring the seamy Parisian underworld where Art Nouveau originated; it was all about sex, death and decadence.This week the focus was on the British version of the style, with Aubrey Beardsley and William Morris making an appearance.

As is often the case with television, the programme concentrated on big-name designers, those who set the trends rather than followed them. There was not much mention of how, or indeed whether, Art Nouveau filtered out to the massmarket. Here at MoDA, the Silver Studio collection provides evidence of the attempt to reinterpret ideas and motifs derived from Art Nouveau, and make them acceptable for a wider audience. Clearly, a style that had its roots in the bordellos of Paris was going to require some watering down before it became acceptable for English drawing rooms...

This curtain fabric was designed by the Silver Studio in 1897. It features the flowing sinuous lines and stylised floral motifs of Art Nouveau, but given a slightly more naturalistic feel, and without the overtones of sex and decay...
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (ST4298)

The Silver Studio became adept at producing designs for wallpapers and textiles which hinted at Art Nouveau, but which were less sexual and subversive, and therefore more 'mainstream', than the work of the designers featured on the BBC4 programme.(Much more of the bower than the bordello, one might say!). They were catering for the sort of customers who wanted to show they were aware of fashionable trends, but who didn't want to embrace them in their entirety.

It's interesting to consider how the designers who worked at the Silver Studio got access to these new and exciting ideas. After all, if Art Nouveau ideas originated in France, how did they filter across the channel, to a small design studio based in Hammersmith?

The Silver Studio's designers seem to have been avid collectors of visual source material, and this aspect of the collection is something that we have only recently begun to explore.

Image from a publication called 'Style Nouveau: fantasies florales'
published in Paris, probably at the turn of the century
(Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, SM175-1)

The Silver Studio's collection of portfolios include many French and German volumes. They contain wonderful illustrations which embody the new spirit of Art Nouveau including flowing lines, and stylised flowers and other natural forms. These volumes must have seemed fantastically exotic and exciting when they were first seen by the Silver Studio designers. I like to imagine designers receiving new books with eager anticipation, perhaps tearing the wrappers off the parcels sent by the book dealer. I hope they would have been excited about the new visual ideas embodied within them, and keen to incorporate these ideas into their own work.

I've only just begun to map this fascinating 'collection within a collection', but it seems to me to that these volumes, and the many others like them were an important part of the means by which Silver Studio designers familiarised themselves with new ideas. By doing so, they were able to interpret fashionable trends for designs for wallpapers and textiles for the wider market.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Underfoot in the 1930s.

Bank Holiday weekends are always good for some museum-going. This weekend I found my way over to Eltham Palace in South East London.

Eltham Palace is an English Heritage house well worth a visit. It started out as a royal residency under Edward the II in the fourteenth century but was in ruins by the seventeenth century. In 1936 the place was leased to Stephen Courtauld and his wife Ginny.  They restored and added to the building then turned the interior into an Art Deco masterpiece. Eltham Palace is the perfect kind of heritage site to visit with a mix of interesting architecture, interiors and objects overlaid by fascinating stories of people and curious tales (such as that of Mah Jong, the Courtauld's pet lemur who was known to nip at the heels of disagreeable guests).

One of the first things you notice upon entering Etham is the incredible rug in the grand entrance hall.

Grand Entrance at Eltham Palace (Photo credit: English Heritage Photograph Library, Jonathan Bailey)
This geometric patterned rug in shades of brown was commissioned by the Courtaulds. It was designed by Marion Dorn, an American artist who found acclaim in the UK as a freelance textile designer. She also designed floor coverings for places like the Savoy and Claridges. The rug at Eltham is a replica and you can see the real one at the Victoria & Albert Museum. You can read more about it on the V&A's online object record and see some other Marion Dorm rugs in their collection.

Because of all the things we put on top of them, sometimes it's easy to overlook floor coverings. We can fail to value them as interesting examples of pattern design. The Eltham Palace audio guide (well worth listening to!) made a good deal of Dorn's rug and  as I walked through the rest of the house I was careful to pay more attention to what was under my feet.

At the same time as people like Dorn were working for high-end hotels and residences like Eltham Palace, the designers who worked for the Silver Studio were also making rug designs for the mass market. John Churton and Edwin Parker worked for the Studio in the 1930s and were known for their rug designs; producing bold, geometric patterns in the Art Deco style.

Design for a carpet, 1930s by John Churton for the Silver Studio, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SD15544)

Design for a rug by Edwin Parker for the Silver Studio in 1934, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SD455)
If you are starting to think more about pattern designs underfoot, or if it's a topic you are already interested in, you might also like to visit the Musee D'Art Moderne in Paris which is running an exhibition over the autumn on modern carpet design called Decorum: Carpets and Tapestries by Artists. 

Are floor covering designs catching your eye? Where have you seen a particularly good one?

Friday, 23 August 2013

MoDA Art Nouveau objects on Culture Grid

One of the best represented styles in MoDA's collection is Art Nouveau. A sometimes contested term used to define a turn of the century decorative art aesthetic, Art Nouveau is characterised by curvey and flowing lines, tall and thin elements within the design, stylised flowers and leaves. It is seen as one of the first truly modern styles of the twentieth century.

MoDA's Silver Studio collection holds many examples of Art Nouveau designs for wallpapers, textiles, metalwork and book jackets. It was a great pleasure to be invited by Culture Grid to take part in the Partage Project which is a European wide heritage initiative aiming to digitise Art Nouveau objects in collections across Europe. Their aim is to digitise more than 75,000 objects and make them accessible via the cultural portal

Culture Grid is the UK based partner for Partage. They are a part of Collections Trust, and their aim is to amplify the impact of UK collections by making them more accessible. Culture Grid comprises 3.2 million records of museum collections in the UK. This week we gave them some of our Art Nouveau objects to put up including the two below.

A design for a textile by the Silver Studio for Lebogne in 1897, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SD9249)

Book cover for 'Our Little Nan' designed by the Silver Studio for Blackie & Sons Ltd in 1897, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (SD466)
You can now see some of MoDA's Art Nouveau objects on the Culture Grid website. Soon, you will be able to access them through Europeana and also other online resources like, which is linked with Culture Grid. If you are interested in this style of design, we encourage you to search on Europeana and also visit the V&A website which provides some interesting articles on the subject. If you would like to book in to see more Art Nouveau objects in MoDA's collection, please contact us.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Arthur Silver Award Winners - Where are they now? - Part 2

In a previous post about past winners of MoDA's Arthur Silver Award we concentrated on two recent winners. In this post we turn our attention to the winners from 2010 and 2009:

Annie Skipper (BA Applied Print) was our 2010 winner.  After graduating from Middlesex University in 2010, Annie spent a period of time travelling around South America, before returning  to the UK to work as a Buyers Assistant with Laura Ashley, a company she had worked for when studying at Middlesex.  After a year or so she left and joined Clinton's Cards again as Buying Assistant.  At Clinton's she looked after seasonal gifts but due to the company falling into administration she left to join John Lewis, which is where she currently works as a Buyers Assistant in the rugs department.

Talking about her work at John Lewis, Annie commented, "Over the last year I have also looked after the bed linens, children's ranges and and branded assortments.  It is a diverse company and I have the option to get involved with a multitude of tasks.  I work with an international supply base, develop product assortments for the forthcoming seasons from concept to reality, visit trade shows and exhibitions - all whilst working with various stakeholders in the company".

Annie pictured back in 2010, and the furniture
with which she won MoDA's Arthur Silver Award

As Annie is so busy at work she finds it difficult to spend time in the studio on her own practice. When she does have a moment she likes to make her own cards, stationery and small textile gifts - some of which she is hoping to exhibit in November in Theydon Bois.  Annie is also hoping to find time to create her own website where she can promote her artistic work

Our first award winner in 2009 was Elena Picone, BA Fashion Design.  After graduating Elena spent short spells interning for brands such as New Power Studio and Christopher Raeburn, before getting a job as a Design Assistant for a start-up menswear company called UVU.  The brand specialises in running wear for extreme environments for ultra long distance running, in places such as the Amazon jungle or the North Pole. After a year, Elena was promoted to the post of Junior Designer.  Unfortunately after two years with the company, the UK office was closed down.  Elena soon found employment as a Multi-Product Designer at a company called Rhythm, who design and manufacture womenswear for some of the high street's biggest brands such as Topshop and River Island. Elena has found the change to designing womenswear a refreshing challenge after concentrating on menswear since graduating.  Elena commented,"I have been designing for the high street for about six months now and whilst it is extremely fast paced I do enjoy the work and it certainly keeps me on my toes".

An example of Elena's menswear collection
with which she won MoDA's Arthur Silver Award back in 2009
Despite only graduating three and four years ago respectively, the difficult economic climate has had an inevitable impact on both Annie and Elena's early careers, as the companies they had been working  for were either forced to downsize, or (in the case of Clinton's Cards) close completely.  Moving forwards after these sorts of setbacks is never easy, and it is a testament to both of them that despite these problems, they have gone on to new roles which allow them to use the creative skills they developed while they were undergraduates.

Hopefully any art and design students reading this and the previous post will take heart from these positive stories. Trying to make a living hasn't been easy or straightforward for any of our previous Arthur Silver Award winners, and all have faced setbacks and challenges. But whether working for a company or trying to make it on their own, our winners are all working hard to succeed in their chosen fields. We'll be staying in touch with all of them, and who knows what exciting developments we'll be able to report over the coming months and years, as they all strive for further success.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Notgeld in the Charles Hasler collection

MoDA's conservation and documentation project work on the Charles Hasler collection is drawing to an end. We have finished re-ordering and re-housing this rich assortment of illustrated books, ephemera and packaging material. Now the focus turns to data entry and making some of the information and images about objects in this collection available online.

Over the last few months, we have highlighted some of the interesting finds in this collection which was used by Hasler as reference for his work as a graphic designer. We told you about 1851 exhibition ephemera and also drew your attention to some interesting books. Today some currency takes the stage: introducing Hasler's collection of 60 unusual, highly decorative and historically significant 'Notgeld' (emergency money).

Notgeld means money issued by an unauthorized source (ie., not a bank). The German term is used because the most famous notgeld were those produced by German towns, villages and municipalities from the end of the First World War until the mid 1920s, when the state bank (the Reichsbank), struggled with wartime metal shortages and post-war hyperinflation.

Aside from some metal and fabric notgeld, the majority produced were paper notes. The highly decorative notes soon became collectors items - and still remain to this day. They are double-sided and printed with their monetary value, information about the village, town or province of issue and some wonderful, colourful illustration. Here are examples of the front and back of 1/2 mark, 1 mark and 2 mark notes released by the town of Strausberg in 1921. These are examples of notgeld from sets: 'serienscheine', which were produced mainly to respond to the growing collectors' market for these notes and were often illustrated with scenes which made light of the dire economic situation.

Three Strausberg notgeld, 1921, from the Charles Hasler collection (Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, CH5/4/2/5/4)

Here are a few others...
Three notgeld in the Charles Hasler Collection (Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, CH/5/4/2/5/4)

MoDA staff are not experts in numismatic collections, and nor was Hasler himself, since his reasons for collecting them were to do with his interest in paper ephemera and printed design.  (If you want to find out more about the historic value of these items, contact the British Museum as they have a vast array of Notgeld in their collection). Like Hasler, staff at the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (MoDA) are aware of the great value of these items as design work and hope that designers might find them as good reference material and a source of inspiration. If you want to book an appointment to view these or other items in our collections, there is further information about this on our website.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

preparations for Knox anniversary

Next year sees the 150th anniversary of the birth of the designer Archibald Knox.  Knox was born in 1864 on the Isle of Man, and became an acclaimed designer of silver and pewterware for Liberty & Co, around the beginning of the twentieth century.

Knox is known for his Celtic-inspired Art Nouveau patterns, and it seems likely that he worked for the Silver Studio around that time - although the records are a little unclear.

textile design by Archibald Knox, ST417, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture
textile design by Archibald Knox,
Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, ST417
The exact nature of the relationship between the Silver Studio, its employees (including Knox) and its customers (such as Liberty & Co) is difficult to determine, particularly for that period, as some of the crucial records have not survived; it will probably be the subject of debate by scholars for many years to come. Either way MoDA's  Silver Studio collection contains a number of designs for wallpapers and textiles which are thought to be by Knox, and you can see these on our website.  (We also have a number of designs for metalwork, attributed to Knox, but these are not yet available online).  It's likely we'll be lending some of them to an exhibition at the Manx Museum next year - watch this space for further details!

Friday, 19 July 2013

Past winners of the Arthur Silver Award - How are they getting on?

Regular readers of this blog will know that last month we presented this year's Arthur Silver Award to Kremena Dimitrova, Final Year BA. Illustration student at Middlesex University.  Kremena was thrilled to win the award and intends to start her own business as a freelance illustrator and animator, using the £1000 prize to set up her own website and purchase materials for her own practice.  As we wish Kremena lots of success with her new venture, we thought you might be interested to know how our previous winners  are getting on. In this post we feature our two most recent past winners from 2012 and 2011:

Our 2012 winner was Elsa Sandy, BA Design, Interior & Applied Arts graduate.  Like Kremena she chose to invest her prize money into her own practice, purchasing materials and renting a studio space. In January Elsa was delighted to exhibit her Arthur Silver Award-winning Love Lace light (pictured below) and her Laceum table at Interiors UK following her selection as a New Design Britain Finalist. As a result several merchandisers expressed interest including Mulberry and River Island.  Elsa has also had interest from John Lewis in her table designs, and so she is busy preparing new samples prior to a meeting to discuss how this might progress.  She also has a large garden design commission, with construction due to commence in August, and looking further ahead there is interest in her award winning lighting design being used in a north London high street.

Elsa with her award winning Love Lace light

According to Elsa, 'finding paid employment within the design world is proving impossible without CAD (computer aided design) skills, so in order to gain these I have been volunteering at a Homebase Kitchen, Bathroom and Bedroom showroom'.

Kerry Howley, BA Jewellery graduate, was our 2011 winner.  Kerry was inspired by wallpapers in the collection to create an amazing series of  necklaces made from human hair.  Her necklaces were featured in the national press, helping to generate a massive wave of interest in her work which resulted in further press activity, commissions and exhibitions. Kerry was also chosen by Craft magazine as one of their six favourite graduates for 2011.The necklaces are still in demand and have been to a couple of places in the last year, including a return trip to the Netherlands for their second Dutch design week, this time as part of the Droog Design show. This was particularly exciting for Kerry as she commented 'Droog are consistently at the boundaries of product/craft/interior design, blurring all the lines'. The necklaces also went back to Milan Design week at Castillo Sforzesco. 

Arguably the most recent stand out event for Kerry was appearing in person alongside one of her necklaces on Channel 4's 'Four Rooms'. She was approached last year by researchers from Boundless TV looking for unusual items. Filming was in January, the programme aired last month, and is still available to see for a while on 4od. Kerry commented, 'I agreed to the show as they confirmed that I did not have to sell (I did not want to) and I thought it might be a fun and interesting day out - which it was!'

One of Kerry's award winning hair necklaces featured on Channel 4's 'Four Rooms' 
In terms of employment it hasn't all been plain sailing for Kerry.  Following redundancy from a local goldsmiths, she has now decided to go self employed. Kerry has bought her first jewellers bench and hopes to launch a collection of jewellery inspired by her hair jewellery this year - in silver!   Kerry suggested she may be popping back to MoDA once this project is more established, to seek our further inspiration from the collections.

So as you can see, both our most recent Arthur Silver Award winners have managed to build on their initial success. But like the vast majority of recent graduates, particularly those in Art & Design, they are also facing tough challenges in terms of gaining employment. Elsa has chosen to tackle this by improving her CAD skills, and by putting her design skills to good use in a number of different areas  including both product and garden design. Like many who are made redundant, Kerry has chosen to become self-employed and become master of her own destiny. Both have shown considerable determination and tenacity to get where they are now, on top of their obvious design talent. We'd like to wish them both well as they move forward in their chosen fields, and look forward to sharing their future successes with you over the coming months and years.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Justin: Lights, Camera, Action! Photography at MoDA

It's been over four months since Justin Piperger took on the post of Photographer at MoDA and so it's high time he was introduced. Justin only works part time on Mondays and Tuesdays but I managed to catch up with him for a chat earlier this week. 

What does the job of MoDA Photographer entail?
The job involves photographing elements of the collections which are required for exhibitions, publications and other requests. Once photographed the files are uploaded to the Museum’s database and thereby made more easily accessible to the public via MoDA’s website.

What have you been working on recently?
I have been working on the touring Petal Power exhibition and photographing various items from the collection for image reproduction and licensing.  I also photograph new and recent acquisitions which have included books from the reference library of Charles Hasler and a collection of war time Woman’s Weekly periodicals.  As well as offering interesting knit patterns for funky pullovers, there’s a nice section where troubled young ladies can get advice about love. 

What do you make of the collections so far?
 I’m finding the collections very interesting. I didn't know the collection too well beforehand so I have been quite thrilled to wander through the racks in the store and make discoveries. I've been documenting many of the Silver Studio designs, mainly pencil with watercolour or gouache. I'm particularly drawn to the designs featuring people and landscapes including those of snowy scenes with sheep and farmers, and of children walking along a country lane. Although most of these designs are anonymous, as was the policy of the Studio, one can sense the designers presence with these pictures. I look for marks of angst within the works, such as angry ink splodges and spiky trees  - but they are seldom there. My favourite design so far is a Harem type scene with Hookah and an androgynous couple lounging in loose fitting clothes. The servant offers some choice dish and through the window beyond dhows sail the Arabian Sea.

I'm also enjoying working on the Katagami stencils. These are beautiful, fragile pieces structurally held by lengths of hair, and satisfyingly drenched in persimmon juice. The subjects that I like most are the animal scenes. Carp frolicking in bubbling streams, skinny birds on trees, even frogs waiting in damp patches. The stencils themselves have a brownish tinge so one wonders at the riot of colours on the Kimono silks that the stencils were used to print on. I've experimented with colouring in a couple of the digital files using Photoshop, it's a kind of background doodling and have found a happy bonding with Roy Lichtenstein and Patrick Caulfield.

What do you do the rest of the week?
 The rest of the week I have my own photographic practice, Justin Piperger Photography. I photograph for galleries, artists and collectors (Saatchi Gallery, West End Galleries, the Barbican and others). I also undertake architectural photography, events, people and do anything else that comes along. I am also an artist and have a studio in Shoreditch. I have regular small shows of my paintings around London, and occasionally show in group exhibitions with various organisations including the Stuckists.

For more information about photography at MoDA please contact Justin.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Final Reveal: Interior Design students "Design a Hotel" Project reaches its conclusion

Regular readers of the MoDA blog may remember my previous two posts about the Middlesex University Interior Design student's 'design a hotel' project. Just to recap, the students were asked to design a hotel based in 84 Brook Green, once home to the Silver Studio. They were asked to use the fact that the building had once housed a commercial design studio as the driving force behind their design concept. You can find out more about the brief they were set, and the visits we organised to introduce them to the collections in my previous two blog posts.

In order to complete the project their final task was to stand up and present their ideas; to their tutors, their peers, and to me!

So what ideas did they come up with? I'd imagined that many would focus on one or two of the designs they had found at MoDA, and simply set about reproducing them as wallcoverings or soft furnishings. They were Interior Design students after all, and most of us probably presume that this is what interior design is all about. But no, my misconceptions were rapidly blown out of the water as most of the students went well beyond this type of 'surface decoration' approach, and had clearly thought much more deeply about the history of the building, and the archive material they had encountered.

Rather than try and summarise everyone's ideas, for the purposes of this blog post I thought I'd focus on one of the more intriguing and eye-catching ideas we were presented with by student Mel Wise. As part of the project the students were required to use their ideas as the basis for an Arthur Silver Award entry. This required them to produce three A3 boards detailing their design concept, and focusing specifically on how the collections at MoDA had inspired their ideas.

Mel's first board. The photographs at the bottom left and right show two rooms at 84 Brook Green c.1900 when it was the Silver family home (BADDA 4602). The image in the centre shows the Silver Studio itself in the early 1960s, when the business had relocated round the corner from Brook Green to Haarlem Road, Hammersmith.
(Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

This was the first year that the Award was open to second year Art & Design and Media students at Middlesex, as well as those in their final year. I've included images of Mel's entry, which the judges felt was particularly strong. Although not selected as this year's winner, he did make it to the final four entrants, the only second year to do so. Who knows how far he could go next year if he chooses to enter, which I hope he does!

Like many of the students Mel was drawn to the katagami - Japanese stencils made of mulberry paper and cut by hand in order to print incredibly intricate patterns on to mainly kimono fabric. He explains how his encounter with the stencils inspired one of the key concepts behind his design:

katagami stencil K1.1, featuring a small scale, geometric wheat sheaf pattern.
 It was this stencil that Mel was particularly drawn to
(Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

"Whilst viewing the vast and intriguing collection at MoDA it was the katagami stencil prints which appealed to me most...It immediately sparked my imagination as I began to think of the creative possibilities...Further exploration of ideas led me to look at lighting, shadows and the outcome of a stencil print... I (then) looked at architectural stencilling to create perforations through walls. This would allow light to filter in to the space and as time passes during the course of the day the mottled light would shift and play across the interior, creating a peaceful ever-changing environment."

Mel's second board for the Arthur Silver Award, based on the presentation he gave in front me,
his tutors and fellow students.
(Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

But as he goes on to explain, the history of the Silver Studio itself was also a key element in his proposal:

"I feel that the history of the family home/studio is equally as important as their designs...I wanted to pay homage to the buildings' history  and show people at least a glimpse of what this building once was, through what's left behind."

Part of Mel's concept involved creating a ceramic structure which would form part of the hotel's interior scheme, consisting of many small component parts. Each part would look like a piece of paper, with the structure as a whole  resembling many pieces of paper blown up into the air, as if by a gust of wind. Mel explains the relevance of this structure to the Silver Studio and his hotel concept design:

"The idea was to project light on to the ceramic structure and create shadows on the opposite wall. The structure is symbolic to the overflowing and bursting of (the) Silver Studio's many designs, collated over the years."

The final board Mel entered, explaining his idea for a ceramic structure
representing all the Silver Studio's design work exploding in to the air.
(Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

I was really impressed with how positively and creatively Mel and the other students responded to this project, and the extent to which they engaged with our collections.  For most this was their first experience of visiting an archive, and accessing archive material. They had to get their heads around what this stuff was, where it came from, and form connections with it in a very small space of time. Engaging with real objects is not something most of our undergraduates are used to doing, especially museum objects.When it comes to looking for ideas and inspiration for their work, the internet has taken over as the first, and sometimes only port of call. And why not? It's quick, it's easy, and as we all know the amount of information and images available online is vast.   But being able to access a museum collection means they can not only see the objects in which they're interested, but they also get to explore them through touch and smell (and believe me, it is often the smell of an object which is the first thing to hit you when you open a box!). This is a multi-sensory experience that cannot be replicated on screen, and one which we think is really important to offer art and design students as part of their course.

For MoDA this project was a fantastic opportunity to show the students that museum collections have the possibility to inspire fresh and contemporary ideas. But what did the Interior Design tutors see as special about this project? Jon Mortimer explains:

"The staff wanted this Hotel Design project to be the culmination of the students' study year. The challenges were multi-layered and very ‘real’ - the site, formerly three independent residential properties, required combining to form a single building, yet the students were eager to preserve the dignity or these fine old buildings. [NB, in real life these houses are still residential properties; this project was simply a hypothetical exercise]. The students had to find techniques by which modern spaces could ‘live within’ existing interiors of traditional form and proportion – a fantastic learning experience. But above all the students needed to bring  the work of the Silver Studio to life in a modern context, in a world where decorative wall treatments and soft furnishings are considered something from an earlier time. The project generated excitement in the students, and they took seriously the responsibility of bringing the work of the Silver Studio back into a modern context, making it vital and alive once again."

We will have to wait and see whether or not it will be possible to run this project or something similar next year. But I very much hope that the students we have worked with will feel confident to come back to MoDA in their final year, and explore even more of the fantastic collections at the Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture.