Winning the prestigious Design History Society Student Essay Prize 2020 in the postgraduate category

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Karen Fraser MA History of Design and Material Culture graduate (2019) reflects on winning the Design History Society Annual Essay Prize 2020.

Family photographs in the author’s cousin’s home, Vancouver. Personal photograph by the author. 9 Feb. 2016.

In July, I submitted a revised version of my dissertation, “‘That link to life, so to speak’: Older Women’s Expressions of Keeping through Photographs and Jewellery”, to the Design History Society (DHS) postgraduate essay prize, relieved to have made up my mind for the final time about how the sentences should flow. The prize provided the motivation I needed to reduce my 20,000-word dissertation by half and incorporate the feedback I had received from my assessors. I also reflected on comments from other readers – relatives and friends who wanted to know what had consumed my attention for so many months – and edited my work with those in mind as well. I was partial to the section on photographs and ended up leaving out jewellery for my essay prize entry.

In my dissertation, I took an anthropological approach to material culture in later life, studying what women keep and use to construct their homes in seniors housing, formerly known as sheltered housing. I interviewed three residents of a block of flats in Hove and took photographs of some of the objects they spoke about. I listened back to our recorded conversations and pored over the transcripts to identify common objects that held meaning for the women. My supervisor, Louise Purbrick, encouraged me to focus on photographs to start with and then to consider another set of objects, such as jewellery. I became very interested in how these objects emerged in our conversations and how the material forms of photographs and rings embodied the women’s descriptions of their meaning. What was particularly striking to me was the power these objects had in communicating the presence of close family members, especially during a time in the women’s lives when loss was a common experience.

My interest in the movement of objects in families and what happens when people make decisions about what to keep, gift to someone else, or throw away stretches back to when I was living with an older cousin of mine and her husband in Vancouver, Canada. They were in their late seventies when I took up residence in one of the basement suites in their Arts and Crafts-style home. So many objects there held family history and were rich with personal and shared memory. When it came time for my cousins to move into a residence with more care, it became important to decide which objects would help them create a meaningful new space in which to live. I took part in this difficult, emotional experience and ended up being the recipient of many items. Later, engaging with anthropological theories related to gift exchange for my dissertation, I developed an understanding of how things circulate when we are sensitive to the ways that objects and people are interconnected.

Though my research interests have their roots in Canada, they really developed in Brighton. I am grateful to my landlady’s mother, who generously offered to be my first participant and share stories over tea in her flat. She connected me with the two other women in my study who also shared their stories with me. Now, I hear little clips from the interviews in my head when I look at everyday objects, especially photographs. I am currently teaching an undergraduate course for the first time, and as I experience the pressures of the job and facilitate classes from home, I find comfort in the meaning I know to be in the things that surround me.

Karen Fraser in the garden at Charleston. Photograph by Natalie Carman. 28 Aug. 2019.

I am also grateful to the students, academics, and staff on the MA History of Design and Material Culture programme at the University of Brighton. It was rewarding to work with people who are engaged in furthering our understanding of design history and material culture. The opportunities I had to share my work-in-progress, whether through informal conversations or at the Brighton Postgraduate Design History Society symposium, expanded my ideas and improved my work. Finally, it was wonderful to connect with members of the DHS on Zoom at their AGM in early September. I am thankful to the Society for facilitating this annual prize and generously supporting students.

Winning a Breakthrough Award: Susanna Connolly reflects

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Susanna Connolly won the Anne Clements Breakthrough Award in 2019-2020. She is currently in her Third Year of study on BA History of Art and Design.

Furniture: Japan. Two easy chairs with bamboo frames and woven or strip seating, 1949.
Design Council Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives

Earlier this year I was shocked and honoured to have won the Anne Clements Breakthrough Award. Having been unaware of the award beforehand, I was surprised to have received the news and have been asked to share my experience about it on this blog.

The Anne Clements Breakthrough Award is a £500 cash prize, generously donated by Anne Clements herself, who previously had a career in design history. It is given to well-performing second year students to provide motivation as the course enters a more challenging and rigorous stages. The Award also serves to celebrate the student’s progress and offer recognition of hard work.

The Award is organised through University of Brighton’s Philanthropy service and is part of a broader university-wide scheme to encourage students through their second year of study. A celebration ceremony is usually held in December to invite donors and students to meet each other and others across the university. Sadly, due to the current climate it is unknown if this year’s ceremony will be taking place.

Winning the Award has helped boost my confidence dramatically and made me feel more secure in my choice to pursue a career in the arts industry. I have been enjoying the course immensely so far and am very grateful for Anne Clements’s generosity in supporting careers in art and design history. I thoroughly enjoyed the second year of study as the course began to focus on the art movements of the 20th century. A key reason for me choosing the Art and Design History course at Brighton was its focus on modern art and I found the core module, Modernism, Ideology and the Avant Garde, fascinating. An aspect I really appreciated was how we explored Modernism across the globe and not solely about its impacts in Europe. I did my presentation on Modernism in Japan, specifically in advertising, a subject I doubt I would have come across had I not been on the course.

I plan to use the prize money to help continue my studies and pursue a Master’s degree. In these uncertain times, it has become increasingly important to demonstrate solidarity with the arts and education industries which have been especially vulnerable due to the current global crisis. I am inspired by Clements’s support to those in her field and am once more thankful for the opportunity to study a subject that interests me deeply.

 

“Folkestone in a Crab”: A Photographic Souvenir

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PhD student Jayne Knight reflects on a curious find on a trip to a seaside town.

Folkestone in a Crab, unfolded. Photograph by Jayne Knight.

I first spotted Folkestone in a Crab in the shop window of Rennies Seaside Modern, in the Kentish town of Folkestone. At first glance it was hard to determine what it was; the crab shaped object lay flat and its interior was hidden, presented in the window display alongside other curious collectables for sale. What exactly was Folkestone in a Crab?

Opening the crab and pulling on its tab, a series of folded photographic images were revealed. Small enough at 13 x 8cm to be posted in an envelope or kept as a small memento of a trip to Folkestone, the fold-out photo souvenir would have been purchased at desirable Victorian and Edwardian seaside locations, sold alongside more standardised picture postcards during their ‘golden age’.

The crab was made by Edward Thomas West Dennis (E.T.W.D., Ltd), a well-known postcard printer and publisher based in Scarborough, and later London. Dennis sold his first picture postcard in 1894, becoming the first to privately publish postcards, a commercial venture made possible by changes in Post Office regulations. At the printworks in Scarborough, Dennis who founded his stationery and printing business in 1870, began printing postcards, both illustrated and photographic, capturing the landmarks and popular views of seaside destinations. Dennis expanded his family business to publish view-books and novelty items and later exported postcards internationally. The company closed in 2000 after 130 years of business.

The crab design was registered by E.T.W.D in 1908, and used as a template for different seaside towns. A second example, Margate in a Crab, identical in format, presented photographic images of another Kent harbour town, both were historically popular with tourists and those seeking the advertised health benefits of seawater bathing. The crab was a design suitable for harbour towns with strong fishing identities, representing one of the town’s main industries and a popular pastime of tourists.

Folkestone in a Crab, close-up of contents. Photograph by Jayne Knight.

Folkestone’s popularity soared with the Victorians and Edwardians, the grand Victoria Pier, harbour, Leas Lift and the elegant Leas promenade walk that offered views of France on a clear day, were all recognised landmarks of the town. These sights provided postcard publishers with desirable images to be used on their products, ideal for customers wishing to keep such images as souvenirs or to post in an envelope, sharing what Folkestone had to offer as a leisure destination. Many of the landmarks remain unchanged today, with the exception of the pier, having been defined by turn of the century popularity and cultural significance, contributed to by the sharing of popular imagery through postcards and novelty objects such as the crab.

The twelve black and white photographic images folded inside the crab use the more unusual format of the novelty cover to present Folkestone’s landmarks, differing from the more common two-dimensional singular image postcards. The series of images featured were company stock photos, used by postcard publishers to mass produce inexpensive postcards for sale. Unlike postcards, these novelty fold-outs did not have a designated writing space, although blank space was given on the inside cover, instead they relied on the photographs and their presentation as a form of visual communication.

A fascinating object, these mass produced souvenirs are scarcely found in comparison to the number of picture postcards for sale in the realms of online auctions, collectibles shops and flea markets. In part, it can be assumed that they cost more to produce and purchase, resulting in fewer in circulation or because as an object that required physical handling, folding its image component in and out for viewing resulted in wear and tear, and disposal. This example was a gift “from aunty,” as written on the inside cover, its broken paper clasp reattached with tape, perhaps kept in a scrapbook or family collection, a treasured memory of a great day out. Over one-hundred years in age, the crab’s value as an object for exploring photographic souvenir culture is intriguing. This unusually designed photographic souvenir captures Folkestone’s seaside charm and Edwardian culture in one little crab.