‘Pattern gives Pleasure’?

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In the first of our new series highlighting research in University of Brighton Design Archives, third year History of Art and Design student Lizzie Collinson reviews Elizabeth Wilhide’s book Pattern Design

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Fig. 1 Cover of Pattern Design with Anna Hayman’s ‘Palmprint’ pattern.

When one first looks at Pattern Design by Elizabeth Wilhide (Thames & Hudson, 2018), the use of Anna Hayman’s ‘Palmprint’ pattern on the cover (Fig. 1), gives a clue to the splendour inside. From the concise yet poetic introduction, Wilhide’s passion for patterns is evident, leaving a lasting impression on the reader as they continue on through this new publication. She notes patterns’ importance: ‘a pattern’s repeat may be so simple as a regular grid of evenly spaced dots, or as elaborate as a branching design whose diverse elements take time to tease out, where the play of foreground against background is as a complicated as a visual dance…Pattern gives pleasure’. As textile and pattern design is often an overlooked element of design history, her enthusiasm for this genre will undoubtedly influence her audience positively. Pattern Design will certainly interest social historians in addition to art historians, as Wilhide discusses the effects of industrialisation and mechanisation on wallpaper and textiles. The Industrial Revolution conjures images of soot-filled skies and mundane factory work, and so her recognition of the impact of improved technology on pattern production reveals an often overlooked side of this industrialisation.

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Fig. 2 Marianne Straub, 1972. From the Design Council Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives.

Wilhide draws on many collections, including the University of Brighton’s Design Archives (Figs. 2 and 3), in order to create an encyclopaedic guide of over 1,500 patterns, from eighteenth-century India, to modern day Cath Kidston.  Divided into five main chapters – ‘Flora’, ‘Fauna’, ‘Geometric’, ‘Pictorial’ and ‘Abstract’ – the reader, whether an academic or merely someone with an interest in pattern design, is able easily to locate and learn about whatever pattern they choose. The inclusion of non-Western techniques and patterns helps to deconstruct the Western-nature of art and design history discourse that many have become complacent to – the use of an eighteenth-century Sarasa Indian textile produced for the Japanese market is especially interesting, as normally the study of art history focuses on the West’s influence on the non-Western and vice versa, ignoring the interaction between distinctly different ‘non-Western’ nations and cultures.

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Fig. 3 Barbara Brown, 1973. From the Design Council Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives

In addition to specific styles, designs and techniques, art movements such as Art Nouveau and Chinoiserie are described, alongside relevant artists such as William Morris. As a result, Pattern Design is exceedingly accessible, choosing to focus on the skilful artistry and rich history, rather than using the theoretical  language that art and design books and journals tend to fall into to, consequently shrinking their possible audience. The effects of pattern design on societal systems and hierarchies do not go unnoticed by Wilhide. She commends women such as Enid Marx and Sarah Campbell for their works’ influence on contemporary design.

The thematic rather than chronological ordering allows comparisons to be made between the past and present; this approach is rather refreshing considering the chronological categorisation art and design historians are more than accustomed to, particularly in gallery and museum spaces. Pattern Design is, deliberately, primarily visual and neatly ordered so that one can dip in and out at leisure. Although it is clearly factual, it is a highly pleasurable read.

Elizabeth Wilhide’s Pattern Design was published by Thames & Hudson in 2018. Find out more about the University of Brighton Design Archives here.

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Fashioning a Jamaican Identity

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PhD student Elli Michaela Young introduces her research project

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Fig. 1 Barrington and Teresa Young, Whitfield Town, Kingston Jamaica, circa 1950. Photographer unknown.

Jamaicans have often engaged with fashion and textiles in complex ways in order to navigate their complex social landscape. Yet Jamaica’s contribution to global fashion and textile histories and to fashion has often been overlooked, and in some cases forgotten. My PhD project, entitled ‘Fashioning Jamaica 1950-1975’, seeks to uncover hidden histories in order to tell a story about the ways that fashion and textiles have been used in the construction of Jamaican identities, both internally and externally. Part of this looks at how Jamaicans used fashion to navigate their colonial landscape. Another element looks at how the Jamaican government used fashion and textiles to construct an identity for a global fashion market in postcolonial Jamaica. I have encountered numerous difficulties researching under-represented areas such as fashion and textiles in Jamaica, which has meant I have had to redesign my project. Documents relating to the industry have not been kept, documented or have been destroyed, both in Jamaica and outside, making it difficult to fully document their contribution to global fashion. This has resulted in one of my most important research activities becoming identifying and collecting photographs that relate Jamaican fashion and Jamaican designers. This is not always an easy task and particularly when those images are held in archives outside of the UK; either in Jamaica and North America, or stored in personal family photo albums.

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Fig. 2 Barrington Young, passport photograph, circa 1947.

For my project I am drawing on photography, oral histories, and life stories to help me tell the story of Jamaicans’ relationship with fashion. I was fortunate to have a father with an interest in photography and so have a collection of photographs that I have been able to use for my project. Photography was not easily accessible to many Jamaicans during the 1940s and 50s, but photography was an important part of constructing his identity. Many Jamaicans would often have their photographs taken in studios, but my father (figure 1) took photography out of the studio, carefully staging each image in specific locations. The only image I have of my father taken in a studio is his passport photograph (figure 2) taken when he was approximately 18 years of age. Barrington was not the only person in his family to use photography in this way. Figure 3 is of Barrington’s sister, Gloria Young, who was a freehand dressmaker and made all of her own clothes. She made the clothes she wears in this image. Freehand dressmaking was a popular practice in colonial Jamaica. It is a practice that allowed dressmakers creative license, allowing them to create individual one-off designs. An individuality that, for some Jamaicans, was an important part of constructing their identities. Figure 4 is of his sister Theresa, taken in the garden of the family home. The way Barrington and his sisters engaged with photography suggests they had an understanding of the power of photography in documenting their lives and controlling the way they were seen and would be remembered, particularly as these photographs are the only record of their lives during this period.

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Fig.3 Gloria Young, Kingston, Jamaica, circa 1950.

As a Design Star student, I have been fortunate to receive funding for research trips to Jamaica (both from Design Star and the Design History Society), which have allowed me to visit a number of archives in Jamaica. The National Library of Jamaica and The Gleaner Archive in Kingston have been especially important to my project. Researching in locations like Jamaica is a good experience: often you may not find what you are looking for, which can disappoint, but you will find material you didn’t expect that makes you think about your research in a very different way.  What I, as British researcher, thinks of as important is not necessarily viewed in the same way as those who are Jamaican and documenting their own history, a position that has forced me to rethink my approach and to rethink entire sections of my project. Researching in Jamaica has taught me to be open to challenges, to adapt and be willing to make changes to my research in order to allow Jamaicans to speak for themselves.

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Fig.4 Theresa Young, Whitfield Town, Kingston, Jamaica, circa 1950.

Modernism on sea: a visit to Embassy Court

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BA (Hons) History of Art and Design student Graham Walton on a trip to Brighton’s Embassy Court

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Fig. 1 Embassy Court from the south east

Returning for our second year, I was pleased to hear that a course visit was planned to Modernist icon Embassy Court, a building I have always wanted to visit.

On arrival, we were shown into the foyer where an original mural has recently been repainted. This brightly-coloured mural is more or less the same as the original, painted when the building was new, but with odd additions such as the offshore Rampion Wind Farm, recently built off the Sussex coast.

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Fig. 2 The original mural in the entrance to Embassy Court.

We were given a very informative history and tour by one of the residents. The building was designed by the famous modernist architect Wells Coates and built in 1934- 35. This was a luxury block and rich and famous tenants rented flats at a high rent (rather than owning them). The flats employed a considerable number of servants, so owners could drive down from London and a liveried flunky open your door and take your bags to your flat, where a cocktail would await you. Illustrious tenants included Viscount Astor, Max Miller, Rex Harrison and Terence Rattigan.

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Fig. 3 The rear of the building.

The architecture reflects the thinking of Le Corbusier, with the use of reinforced concrete and strong horizontal lines. We were fortunate enough to be shown around one of the larger three-bed flats, which sat on the corner of the fifth floor. The owners had retained much of the original style, especially with the curved door where you enter the lounge although there was naturally a modern bathroom and kitchen. The owner explained some of the politics and problems affecting the building. After the Second World War the building continued to be a high class, luxury block, many of the flats were sold off to individual owners. The servants and the ground floor bank branch were lost and there were renovations in the 1960s. The freehold changed hands and the building was not well maintained, the leasehold association commissioned architects to upgrade the building and the expected cost was £4 million. Nothing happened to the building and it deteriorated. There was a protracted court case between the leaseholders and a company which owned many of the flats. Eventually leaseholders managed to get control of the block in 2003 and a new refurbishment plan was announced involving Sir Terence Conran. A survey showed that the building had deteriorated, originally the building had a communal hot water system, however the iron pipes encased in concrete rotted causing seepage through the concrete. New electrical heating systems were installed and the leaseholders had to pay a considerable amount of money to upgrade their flats.

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Fig. 4 An interior of a corner apartment.

According to the owner we met, currently the block is very well run and has a good contingency fund for maintenance. They had to keep the original Crittal metal windows (to comply with listed building requirements) and there is still much leakage through these windows especially in winter storms. We were taken to the top floor, where there was a store room with a fascinating pictorial history of the building and to the sundeck on the top floor. We were very fortunate in being able to visit this building on such a lovely sunny day and the view from the sundeck was magnificent. The thinking behind Embassy Court was that it was to resemble a luxury ocean liner and this concept is easily imagined from the sundeck.

I thoroughly enjoyed this visit and feel very privileged to be allowed to view one of the flats. Le Corbusier would have been very proud of this building!

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Fig. 5 Enjoying our visit.

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Fig. 6 Enjoying our visit.

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Fig. 7 Are we on an ocean liner?

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Fig. 8 Great views from Embassy Court towards Rampion Wind Farm