Thursday, June 7, 2012

British Design

Lesley Jackson’s article in the Summer 2012 issue of Modernism presents an assortment of products for the home from the exhibition “British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age,” on view at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London through August 12, 2012 ( Jackson presents a sampling here.

S.M. Slade, Afwillite dress fabric, screen-printed rayon, produced by British Celanese, 1951.

Photograph © Victoria and Albert Museum.
Afwillite Dress Fabric

This biomorphic pattern may suggest cross-fertilization from fine art, recalling the work of artists such as Joan Miró and Hans Arp, yet this dress fabric has a proven scientific source: X-ray crystallography diagrams. It was created for a special project at the Festival of Britain, in which scientific imagery was used as the basis for pattern designs — in this case electron density maps representing the atomic structure of the mineral afwillite. The diagrams were supplied by Dr. Helen Megaw of the world-renowned Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University. It was she who came up with the idea for the project, known as the Festival Pattern Group, and liaised between the scientists and manufacturers. S.M. Slade, who translated this diagram into a dress print, was an in-house designer at British Celanese, a manufacturer specializing in acetate rayon yarn.

Hugh Casson, Cannes tableware pattern for printed and painted Fashion earthenware,
designed by Roy Midwinter and produced by Midwinter Pottery, 1960.

Photograph © Victoria and Albert Museum.
Cannes Tableware Pattern 
Staffordshire-based Midwinter Pottery was the first British ceramics firm to adopt overtly modern styling after the World War II. The exaggerated organic shapes of this tableware, aptly titled Fashion, were developed by Roy Midwinter in 1955. He was strongly influenced by contemporary American tableware, particularly the designs of Eva Zeisel and Russel Wright, which had greatly impressed him during a sales trip to North America in 1952. Hugh Casson was one of the U.K.’s most celebrated postwar architects. As director of architecture at the Festival of Britain, he coordinated the remarkable array of modern buildings erected on London’s South Bank in 1951. Casson was renowned for his artistic dexterity. These drawings derive from his holiday sketches on the French Riviera. 

Robert Welch, Campden candelabra, stainless steel, produced by Old Hall, c. 1957.

Photograph © Victoria and Albert Museum.
Campden Candelabra

Robert Welch was one of three outstanding silversmiths who studied together at the Royal College of Art in the early 1950s, the others being David Mellor and Gerald Benney. This gifted trio revolutionized British postwar metalwork design. Welch was both a craftsman and an industrial designer, equally adept at making one-off ceremonial and ecclesiastical silver pieces and designing mass-produced stainless-steel tableware. His Campden candelabra, named after the village of Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds where he lived, was part of a range manufactured by Old Hall, a firm previously associated with more conservative designs. This elegant candelabra, with its tripartite structure and attenuated stems, reflects the influence of Scandinavian Modern aesthetics but, with its dinky wooden feet, it is down-to-earth and quintessentially English as well. 

Tibor Reich, Flamingo furnishing fabric, screen-printed cotton, produced by Tibor, 1957.

Photograph © Victoria and Albert Museum.
Flamingo Furnishing Fabric

During World War II, the British textile industry was severely disrupted, and government-imposed restrictions remained in place until the end of the 1940s. This perhaps explains why there was such a surge of creativity in the 1950s: textile designers and manufacturers were finally off the leash, and consumers were desperate for new furnishings. Tibor Reich, a Hungarian-born textile designer who had come to Britain in 1937 and established his own company, Tibor, at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1945, was one of the people who led this renaissance. Reich specialized in woven fabrics with what he called “deep textures,” but he also developed an innovative range of screen-printed fabrics with textural abstract patterns, marketed under the name Fotexur. Flamingo derives from a magnified photographic image of straw. The same pattern is repeated in stripes across the cloth in three different colors.

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