Lesbian T-shirts in Lockdown: Winning the Costume Society’s Yarwood Prize

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Eleanor Medhurst, student of MA History of Design and Material Culture, explains how she will use a prestigious prize awarded by the Costume Society.

In March 2020, before we knew what the spring and summer would hold, I applied for the Costume Society’s Yarwood Grant. The Yarwood Grant, as described on their website, is “aimed at helping an MA student engaged in high quality research into the history of dress and/or textiles with expenditure relating to the completion of their dissertation.” My MA dissertation, titled ‘Billboard Bodies: Dyke Theory and the Lesbian T-shirt’ is a study of lesbian activist/slogan T-shirts and their unique position as politically-charged signals. A large part of this study revolves around the close analysis of a number of lesbian T-shirts. I applied for the Yarwood Grant to assist in the cost of visiting the Lesbian Archive in Glasgow Women’s Library and the Bishopsgate Institute in London; at these archives, I planned to look for examples of T-shirts that aren’t posted online, and analyse them as physical objects rather than only the slogans or designs that are the main feature in online archive photographs.

I’ve been to the Lesbian Archives before, albeit briefly and without warning the staff and volunteers in advance, so I know that there are boxes and boxes of T-shirts in the collection to look through as a researcher. When I last visited, some were even out on display, one black, with “The Lesbian Avengers” printed in white, and one white with an inverted pink triangle on the front and the words “Fight 28” (referring to the controversial Section 28 law of 1988 that forbade the “promotion of homosexuality” in educational and local authority contexts). I have included the quick snap that I took of the Lesbian Avengers T-shirt in my dissertation research already, and I know that there’s so much more that my research could gain from the archives.

Fig. 1: Lesbian Avengers T-shirt, black with white text. C.1992-6. Glasgow Women’s Library Lesbian Archive. Glasgow, Scotland. Personal photograph taken by the author, Aug. 2019.

It was, honestly, a surprise to find out that I had won the award at the end of June. Not because I didn’t think my research to be worthy (after working on it for months, I know that it is a valuable study), but because I’d mostly forgotten even applying. This year has been a little bit disruptive, to say the least. Initially, I was thrilled, of course. After that, however, I started to worry. How could I undertake the research I’d initially planned? Archives are still closed, it is still not particularly safe to travel, and on top of that, I’ve already written a large amount of my dissertation, sans archival research.

Writing my dissertation has proved to me how important this topic is, and how much room it has to expand, even after the 18,000-20,000 word count. What I now intend to do is complete my dissertation to the plan I’m already following, but then undertake the archival research afterwards, when it is safe to do so. The grant, then, will still be contributing to my dissertation research, but it will allow it to stretch further. I’ll be using the new research that I’ll gather to rework and build on part of my dissertation, with the goal of submitting it as a proposal for journal publication. This means that the grant will support me not just as a Masters student, but also as a postgraduate researcher. I am very excited to continue.

Selling Wallpaper: An archival history of interwar home decoration

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Lucy Ellis, MA History of Design and Material Culture, provides a fascinating insight into the history of wallpaper. 

I have always had an interest in the history of wallpaper, and I also have a background in retail. When I started my MA in the History of Design and Material Culture at the University of Brighton  in 2017, I was keen to bring these two things together.  So I was delighted to find a publication called The Wallpaper Magazine in the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MODA) collections at Middlesex University. MODA proved to be a fascinating resource for research into wallpaper salesmanship between the wars.

My research made me realise just how much rich history is contained within trade journals and magazines: all the voices of the trade are there, from management through to decorators. We see them at work and at play through the advice features, technical instruction, sports and social reports, jokes and cartoons, all wrapped up in these wonderful ephemeral objects.

Wallpaper Magazine, April-May 1927

Wallpaper Magazine, April-May 1927, Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture collections, Middlesex University.

The Wallpaper Magazine was published in Britain from 1920-1939 by The Wallpaper Manufacturers Ltd (WPM), the dominant wallpaper company of the first half of the twentieth century.  The magazine was an in-house journal that sought to unite the industry. It was a conduit for enthusiastic (and at times intensely didactic) advice on how to maximise wallpaper sales.

When the magazine was launched in 1920 the wallpaper industry was recovering from a slump brought about by war and shortages of raw materials. The wallpaper industry also faced a hostile design climate in which critics, enthused by modernism, advocated abandoning wallpaper for plain painted walls.

In response, WPM used The Wallpaper Magazine to inform, educate and motivate the wallpaper salesman to ‘better business’. It was a means of conveying the new USA-led science of salesmanship to the independent decorator on the high street in order to revive the trade.

The magazines chart the growing importance of branding as a means of selling.  I was intrigued by the changing cover designs and how the tone of the magazine altered over the 1920s and 1930s.  In the 1920s the salesman was encouraged to see his (mainly female) customers as ‘unbelievers’. It was thought that they needed to be ‘educated’ into buying wallpaper. By the 1930s, there was a more moderate and sophisticated assessment of the client based on psychological profiling, a change reflected in the tone and content of these magazines.

I am very grateful to the Wallpaper History Society for awarding me the Merryl Huxtable Prize to support my research into inter-war wallpaper salesmanship.

For more information about Lucy’s research, watch this film made by Middlesex University TV Production students. With thanks to the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture for permission to reblog this content. 

The Importance of Being Serious?* A Stevengraph of William Ewart Gladstone

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Maria Paganopoulou, MA History of Design and Material Culture, shares her research on a Victorian textile political portrait.

As a part of the MA module, Exploring Objects, students are required to select an item from the Dress and Textile History Teaching Collection at the University of Brighton. The task is to uncover its original history and to provide further interpretation. Since my knowledge of dress theory was still scarce at the point I undertook the module, I went for an object for which my background studies in the history of arts and crafts had already prepared me. This object was a framed silk image, a Stevengraph, depicting the British Prime Minister from 1868-1994, William Ewart Gladstone (fig.1)

1. The front of the Stevengraph (left) and its reverse (right). Stevens Company, Right Hn. W. E. Gladstone, Silk Picture, The Dress and Textile History Teaching Collection, University of Brighton, Photograph by Maria Paganopoulou, October 2019.

For the uninitiated, Stevengraphs were popular mid-nineteenth-century silk images, produced on a Jacquard loom which enabled multiple reproduction. Their name derives from their inventor, Thomas Stevens. Due to their mass production, I was able to locate a sibling to the Dress Collection example in Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in Coventry.

The Stevengraph was extremely visually interesting to me as it seemed to combine contradictory elements of seriousness and playfulness. Gladstone’s sombre expression, woven in black and white, was combined with sparkling threads and colourful flowers. These seemed incongruous, even comic.

My mystery object became less mysterious when I explored existing scholarship, such as that of Geoffrey Godden, who has comprehensively investigated the original contexts for Stevengraphs as a specific Victorian category of decorative objects. Stevengraphs were also used as a case study by anthropologist Michael Thompson in his 1979 book, Rubbish Theory: The Creation and Destruction of Value. Thompson amusingly thanks Godden for relieving him ‘of the tedious task of having to collect most of the historical data before analyzing them’.

2. J. Russell & Sons, The Right Hon. William Ewart Gladstone, c. 1880, albumen cabinet card, National Portrait Gallery: Photographs Collection Database, April 2020 © National Portrait Gallery

My first step in Stevengraph data gathering and analysis was to locate my object in space and time. Stevens’ company was based in Coventry and according to Godden’s rigorous dating method, based on fonts and frames, the birth of my object took place in that town between 1889-1891. As the image prepared for the loom was most likely not drawn from life, my next step was to search for its visual source.

After lengthy research in the digitised collections of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG), I was able to locate the original image, a nineteenth-century photographic cabinet card (fig.2). The striking similarity between the photograph and the Stevengraph did not leave much room for doubt and the interplay between the two nineteenth-century technologies, photography and mechanical loom, prompted me to find out more connections between them.

3. William Thomas Brande, Antoine Claudet and Michael Faraday, half plate daguerreotype, c. 1846, National Portrait Gallery: Photographs Collection Database, April 2020 © National Portrait Gallery

After examining previous types of photography in the online catalogue of the NPG and various books dedicated to the subject, I discovered many similarities in the way that photographs and silk images were framed. The bell shape of the frame can be found supporting various kinds of early photographs, including Daguerreotypes and Ambrotypes (fig. 3) and also later cabinet cards.

Furthermore, the way that Stevengraphs were framed has affinities to cabinet cards kept in albums (fig. 4), suggesting a similar use and display. It is evident then, that although made in silk, a luxurious material often associated with fashions to be worn on the body, Stevengraphs were produced and framed to be visually consumed, as with parallel display patterns in photography.

4. Framed Cabinet Cards, Four Reproduction in Asa Briggs, A Victorian Portrait: Victorian Life and Values as seen through the Eyes of the Work of Studio Photographers, London, Cassell, 1989, pp. 18-19 (upper), 82-83 (down). Print

The time had come to investigate my initial excitement about the Stevengraph’s apparent contradictions. I learned that seriousness in the sitter was not surprising in the period. Indeed, it is not usual to find smiles in Victorian photographs. Smiling in photographs is a cultural convention established in the twentieth century due to the popularisation of informal photography by Kodak.

In addition, although politicians today brand themselves as approachable and even light-hearted, in nineteenth-century England seriousness was expected in the political arena. Nevertheless, humour had a distinct place in Victorian politics, with a special class-specific aspect especially reserved for mocking those of a non-aristocratic descent. Gladstone, having mercantile origins, was frequently lampooned by fellow politicians and cartoonists (fig. 5). It has been argued that his political persona was based on being consistent and serious as a way of refuting such attacks. This seriousness was also reflected to the way he styled himself when being photographed.

5. Harry Furniss, William Ewart Gladstone, pen and ink, 1880s-1900s, National Portrait Gallery: Primary Collection Database, April 2020 © National Portrait Gallery

As far as the other side of my seeming paradox is concerned, namely the colorful flowers of the image, they lost some of their playfulness when I learned that they are the official symbols of England (rose) and Scotland (thistle) respectively. Gladstone was half Scottish and had run a successful campaign in the Scottish province of Midlothian. It may even have been that this campaign gave rise to the production of objects depicting Gladstone in the first place.

This brought me to the matter of the object’s consumption. Stevens’ marketing strategy for his silk pictures promoted technological innovation as their main selling point. No explicit reference was made in advertisements to their visual subject matter. As a result, I had to turn to other sources. What emerged from further research was Gladstone’s carefully cultivated popularity, especially in the context of the Midlothian campaign which is considered to be one of the first modern political campaigns.

Popular admiration for Gladstone resulted in the production of an abundance of objects carrying his likeness, from figurines to printed plates (fig. 6). His popularity has been described as equivalent to a cult. This provides a framework for understanding why the Stevengraph might have been purchased and how it might have been used. It may have been bought to express admiration, and may have been placed in a photographic or souvenir album amidst other beloved political and public figures, whose likenesses were also issued.

6. Gladstone Plate, porcelain, in Asa Briggs, “Victorian Images of Gladstone”, in Peter J. Jagger (ed.), Gladstone London, Hambledon Press, 1998, pp. 3. Print

To conclude, the range of research directions that a single object can open up was far more than I had first anticipated. The variety is what made the research fascinating. Stevengraphs existed in a wide network of objects and people, the study of which opened new windows for me into Victorian visual culture, design and politics.

*My title refers to the article by Joseph S. Meisel (1999), ‘The importance of being serious: The unexplored connection between Gladstone and humour’, History 84:274, pp.278-300.

For more information about Stevengraphs, see Herbert  Art Gallery and Museum: https://www.theherbert.org/collections/social_and_industrial_history/18/stevengraphs

Website featuring ‘all known silk bookmarks, silk pictures and silk postcards manufactured since 1862’: http://www.stevengraph-silks.com/

Criticism of the Bauhaus from Within: The Dornburg Workshop

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MA History of Design and Material Culture student, Maria Paganopoulou, reflects on lesser-known aspects of the Bauhaus in its centenary year.

While writing my undergraduate thesis on the Arts and Crafts movement, one of the things I found most frustrating was encountering academic writing that condemned the whole of the movement, considering it a failure in its social purposes, design reform and even in its attempted improvement of women’s rights. Very often those academics regarded the Bauhaus as the successful offspring of Arts and Crafts’, as the place where its ideas fully developed, although these narratives were often coloured by nostalgia. Those academics tended to celebrate Bauhaus’ embrace of the machine and mass production and consider the rejection of them by the Arts and Crafts movement as the ultimate reason behind its failure. Arts and Crafts has tended to be characterized as merely a bourgeois endeavour for the middle and upper-classes.

As a result of these debates and my study of them, I have been  irresistibly drawn to alternative narratives that challenged the authoritative status of the Bauhaus and consider it historically rather than wishing nostalgically for its resurrection. Needless to say, when I discovered an opposition to the turn that Bauhaus had taken towards the machine and machine aesthetics, especially one coming from within the Bauhaus, I was utterly fascinated.

Fig 1. Marcks in the beginning of his position in Dornburg, circa 1920

I made this discovery during my three-month internship at Gerhard-Marcks-Haus in Bremen, Germany, a museum dedicated to Gerhard Marcks, sculptor and also a member of the Bauhaus teaching staff. Gerhard Marcks was in fact one of the first three artists that Walter Gropius invited to teach in his newly merged/ founded institution, along with the infamous Lyonel Feininger and Johannes Itten. Marcks and Gropius knew each other from 1907 through Marcks’ brother Dietrich who, like Gropius, was an architect. The two young artists shared a vision to align art and craft and, according to Marcks, this was why he accepted the position of Professor (Form-Meister) in Bauhaus.

Fig 2. Thomas Gräfin Grote, Renate Riedel, Max Krehan and unknown in front of the workshop

After the news spread about the establishment of the Bauhaus in Weimar, Max Krehan, a local potter who owned a workshop in Thuringia, approached Gropius for a potential collaboration. Gropius and Marcks visited his workshop in Dornburg and came to the conclusion that this was where the ceramics workshop of the Bauhaus should be established. In 1920 the plan was realized and the Dornburg Workshop came to life, 20 miles away from the central Bauhaus premises in Weimar, with Gerhard Marcks as its Form-Meister and Max Krehan as its Werk-Meister (master of technical aspects).

Fig 3. Cup made of burnt clay with a portrait of Johannes Driesch (student), made by Marcks in 1922

The intertwined life and teaching in the workshop were not ideal; on the contrary they were deliberately challenging. In Marcks’ writings, he emphasised the traditional aspects of the work of the workshop, especially in relation to the absence of advanced machinery and the physically demanding nature of the job that its absence caused. The potters’ wheels were operated by foot power rather than electricity. The ovens were wood-fired. However, the use of traditional equipment was perceived in a positive light. As Marcks wrote: “This was the purest nature”.

The learning procedure was long and for the first two years apprentices were allowed to experiment only with their decoration before they were considered ready to experiment “plastically” with the forms. To compensate for the hard work and the restrictions imposed, there were leisure activities, such as swimming and the collective reading of seminal texts. We can see, then, that this autonomous community, developed in the framework of the Bauhaus, functioned a lot more like C. R. Ashbee’s Guild and School of Handicraft in Chipping Camden in Britain, rather than a school dedicated to industrial design. Nature, traditional equipment, common life and the concept of rural escape employed in the Dornburg workshop therefore reflect previous ways of thinking.

Fig 4. Postcard for an exhibition of the Bauhaus, designed by Marcks in 1922

As far as what was happening in the central Bauhaus, Marcks didn’t hesitate to voice his dissatisfaction. In letters to Gropius, Marcks made clear that Bauhaus should be a workshop not a school. He also stressed the need for contact with materials and the making of objects. This differentiated him from other Form-Meisters in the Bauhaus who were more interested in painting or in the intellectual aspects of creation, leaving the teaching of technical skills to the Werk-Meister. Finally, Marcks stood at a clear distance from the mass production shift advocated by Theo van Doesburg. In his words “I cannot identify anymore with Bauhaus. Sooner or later Formalism is taking place. If I was in Weimar I wouldn’t still be in Bauhaus”. The tale of the end of the Dornburg Workshop is a short one. Bauhaus moved to Dessau and Gerhard Marcks wasn’t invited to continue teaching. Max Krehan also died in 1925, around the time of this decision.

Fig. 5. The interior of the workshop

Last year, the Dornburg Workshop opened its gates as a museum as part of the Bauhaus centenary commemorations. Despite this, its story is relatively unknown, even in Germany. The history of the Bauhaus comprises many lesser-known stories that run in parallel with the evolutionary narrative of the heroic modernist school which, it is claimed, came to succeed where previous movements had miserably failed. The dominance of this modernist narrative, it seems to me, is partly informed by the stylistic preferences of those doing the telling. As the case of the Dornburg Workshop shows, however, Bauhaus shared common roots with some earlier Arts and Crafts endeavours instead of overthrowing them entirely.

Fig 6. The interior of the workshop

Kind thanks to Gerhard-Marcks-Haus for providing me with access to their resources and archives.

 

 

Up, Up, and Away: The TWA Hotel

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MA History of Design and Material Culture student Gabriela Schunn introduces a striking new hotel, which she recently appraised for Vintage Women Magazine.

Considered a marvel of neo-futuristic architecture, the TWA Flight Center opened in May of 1962 and was the brainchild of Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, who is best known for designing the St. Louis Gateway Arch. It was commissioned by the Trans World Airlines (TWA) in 1955 to be built as a separate terminal at the John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), which was still known at the time as Idlewild Airport. Idlewild was looking to court TWA, as they were known as a luxury airline in a time when air travel was already considered a luxury, so the expansion seemed eminently profitable. Renowned architect Robert A.M. Stern once referred to the terminal as the “Grand Central of the Jet Age,” as for decades following, passengers traveling out of JFK would lounge in the headhouse.

An outside glimpse of Saarinen’s building.

Unfortunately, after filing for bankruptcy twice in the mid-1990s, TWA sold its assets to American Airlines and officially closed the terminal in October of 2001, unable to sustain maintenance of the structure. The building had a brief life as host to an art exhibition in 2005, but was shut down again after guests began vandalizing the building. After this, the Flight Center was nominated as one of the 11 Most Endangered Places in America (with regards to historic architecture) and was shortly thereafter listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

However, when the JetBlue Terminal was opened behind the old Flight Center in 2008 to reutilize the lost space, restoring Saarinen’s building began to be re-considered. In 2015, it was announced that the TWA Flight Center would be turned into a hotel for airport guests, paying tribute to the era in which it was originally built. In its heyday, the airline was known for being the first choice of celebrities, servicing the likes of the Beatles, but sometimes found itself not reaching the average consumer because of its many indulgent impracticalities. The hotel has attempted to combat aspects of that legacy by working with company MCR Development to bring all hotel guests an accessible experience.

A display crafted by the New York Historical Society.

If you compare photos of the original terminal to photos of the structure at present, it is clear that they are very closely matched in their layouts. MCR kept all of the iconic features of Saarinen’s original structure, a few of which includes the following: the stark white wing-shaped thin-shell roof, the tube-shaped entrance hallways, the massive wall of glass windows facing the runways, the bright red carpeting, the spiral-staircases and thin arched bridge, and, of course, the iconic departures board that still functions, albeit purely for novelty purposes now. Saarinen said that he “wanted the architecture to reveal the terminal not as a static, enclosed place, but as a place of movement and transition,” which is reflected in the intricate winding pathways.

While Saarinen’s building itself contains the hotel lobby, shops, museum, and restaurants, his original tube-like departure corridors grant hotel guests access to the 512 rooms that are split across two attached buildings called the Saarinen Wing and the Hughes Wing, named after the architect and the famous business magnate that once controlled much of the airline’s assets respectively. All of the woodworking was completed by Amish family-run contractors, a testament to the hotel’s dedication to ethical locally-sourced production. The hotel also features a glass-walled pool and is host to the world’s largest hotel gym.

“Connie”.

Perhaps one of the most striking features of the TWA Hotel, however, isn’t located within the building itself. It is the airplane nicknamed “Connie,” known more formally as the Lockheed Constellation L-1649 Starliner airplane, which was transformed into a functioning cocktail bar. This particularly contributes to the sense of nostalgia, as many of the original features within the airplane were kept, like the signature airplane seats and Mario Zamparelli’s murals featured on the inside walls of the plane. The precise attention to details with regard to the TWA brand is notable.

For those more interested in the history of the space, one can visit the in-house museum. Crafted with assistance from the New York Historical Society, the displays scattered across the whole of Saarinen’s building highlight the history of the airline’s branding over the years. Free and open daily to the public, it showcases uniforms designed by a host of recognizable designers: Howard Greer between 1944 and 1955, Oleg Cassini between 1955 and 1960, Pierre Balmain between 1965 and 1968, Valentino between 1971 and 1975, and lastly, Ralph Lauren between 1978 and 2001.

A display of liveries designed by Howard Greer, Oleg Cassini, and Balmain.

MCR acquired over 2,000 artefacts of TWA history, including uniforms and paraphernalia from former TWA staff and their families to create these exhibits, and hope to continue such displays in the future. Some of the current wall texts feature anecdotes about TWA, like the fact that TWA hostesses in 1944 were required to wear victory rolls à la Veronica Lake because of the popularity of the film The Hour Before Dawn, that TWA hostesses were the first to show an in-flight movie in 1961, and that one of the original liveries designers Stan Herman designed the uniforms worn by current hotel staff, drawing upon all of the designs of his predecessors.

Atop Saarinen’s arched bridge in the hotel lobby.

 

In its few short months of tenure, the hotel has already been host to many midcentury-inspired photoshoots by amateurs and professionals alike, several weddings and engagements, a Michael Kors pop-up, the Louis Vuitton Resort 2020 runway fashion show, and is featured in the third season of the Amazon Prime series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. While not every element of the hotel is of the period, it is itself a living landmark to the history of travel. The entirety of the endeavour is testament to the power of nostalgia and the renewed interest within popular culture in the mid-century aesthetic.

All photographs supplied with kind permission of Ming Chen Photography

Instagram: @mingchenphotography

Reaching Out: Being a Student Ambassador

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Emmy Sale, MA History of Design and Material Culture, explains her Student Recruitment and Outreach role.

Throughout my BA and MA degrees I have worked as a Student Recruitment and Outreach (SRO) ambassador. The role has provided me with the opportunity to work at a range of events organised by the Widening Participation (WP) and Outreach teams in the university but also to gain valuable and transferable skills alongside my studies.

One of the first sessions involved creating and planning a student-led taster lesson as form part of City Campus visits aimed at Year 9 students. The aim is to introduce students to subjects that can be studied at university as well as the ways in which they are taught. The taster I created was based on my favourite aspects of my studies, that is, object-based analysis and theories of material culture.

Fashion and Dress History student-led taster lesson designed by Emmy Sale, showing the garments and worksheet given to students for the ‘dress detectives’ activity.

Making the taster accessible to younger students was a challenge but with inspiration from Ingrid Mida and Alexandra Kim’s 2015 book The Dress Detective, I was able to produce an exciting hands-on activity in which the students followed garment clues and examined evidence.

Through a short lecture-style presentation, the students were introduced to Fashion and Dress History at the University of Brighton and its core concepts. They were presented with questions: Why do we study clothes of the past? How can studying clothing artefacts allow us to find out about the people who wore them? In small groups the students were then given a garment to analyse with the help of a worksheet that asks them to think about how it was made and constructed as well as when it was made and worn. For some unfamiliar garments this is tricky. The students are given ‘archival sources’ that help them to find out the answers to their questions. The taster finishes with short presentations from each group and a reflection on the jobs that these skills might lead to.

Political T-shirt activity created by Emmy Sale for Primary School Mentoring scheme.

The primary school mentoring scheme is another regular event organized by the Widening Participation team, where ambassadors go into a primary school with Year 6 students, once a week. Each week, we provided activities that helped the students to think about their futures and to learn about university. As part of this, I created an activity based on political T-shirts, thinking about their impact and letting the students design their own, inspired by issues that they are passionate about. Equality and homelessness were two of the issues that the students chose, but the activity also created thoughtful and important conversations about broader issues in society.

More recently, I was chosen to be part of a team of SRO ambassadors to support the Humanities Summer School. We were working with mostly Year 12 students, to support them through the timetabled days of taster lessons and activities with academics, such as a visit to the Bloomsbury set’s Sussex country home, Charleston Farmhouse, with History of Art and Design lecturer Megha Rajguru. The visit involved a tour of the house, which was exciting to many of the students who had not previously been, and then a reflective and creative activity thinking about the way stories of the people who lived there can be constructed through space and objects. In the evenings, we supported a range of residential activities to show the students university life in halls, what Falmer Campus has to offer and Brighton’s seafront.

Trip to Charleston Farmhouse as part of the Humanities Summer School (Emmy Sale in Student Ambassador T-shirt).

Overall, the SRO role, and my contribution to related events, has been a greatly rewarding experience alongside my studies. I have gained important skills in leadership, adaptability and confidence in public speaking. It has also encouraged me to extend my post-university job search to include Widening Participation and Outreach roles.

The Widening Participation team usually recruit new SRO Ambassadors twice a year. Ambassadors receive training and are paid for the work they do. For more information: https://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/sroambassadors/ 

Victor Papanek’s Social Design Legacy: A Book Review

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Karen Fraser, MA History of Design and Material Culture, reviews a new book that explores pioneering ideas and practices in global social design.

Victor Papanek [1923-1998] was an Austrian-American designer, author and activist who was concerned with design and its social, environmental and ecological consequences.  His pioneering attempts to disseminate the word of social design meant he led a peripatetic lifestyle, and as a result he left traces in institutions around the world. Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design is a 400-page catalogue published to accompany the exhibition of the same name held at the Vitra Design Museum from 29 September 2018 to 10 March 2019. The catalogue could be said to animate the archives; it seeks connections amongst the photographs, drawings, documents, and objects that Papanek created or in some way left his mark upon over a career beginning in the 1940s and continuing through the 1990s. Through essays, interviews and a series of provocations offered by contemporary designers, the catalogue aims to answer the question: what is Victor Papanek’s legacy for the twenty-first century?

Fig. 1: Daniel Streat. Cover of Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design. 2018. First published by Vitra Design Museum and Victor J. Papanek Foundation, University of Applied Arts Vienna.

The front and back covers offer an ambiguous visual introduction. White shapes appear to refer to things in the real world, but it is not immediately clear what those things are. Through five themed sections, it is revealed that some refer to objects designed by his students, some to things he has collected, and others to diagrammatic visualisations made in his notebooks. Further still, one points to a contemporary designed object, the Nike Pro Hijab, which was launched in 2017 and carries functional and symbolic significance for its intended wearers, female Muslim athletes. This inclusion addresses a gap in Papanek’s legacy: for all his merits, he paid little attention to the intersection of design and gender. As curator Amelie Klein notes in the catalogue’s opening essay, there are five contemporary design projects included in the exhibition that expose assumptions about gender, but they stand apart from the works by Papanek and his contemporaries. However, in exposing the Nike Pro Hijab’s potential for becoming a lucrative commodity, the curators link it to an aspect of Papanek’s record that is surer footed, that of his critique of consumerism. Contributor Dr Garnet Hertz identifies that Papanek’s work to ‘shift design from a type of marketing into a type of public service’ is deeply relevant to the late capitalist moment we are in now. As such, the catalogue contextualizes Papanek’s life and career in a way that recognizes its strengths and reckons with its failures.

Fig. 2: Nike Pro Hijab. Advertisement. 2017. Nike News. 30 May 2019. https://news.nike.com/news/nike-pro-hijab. JPEG File.

One aspect of Papanek’s work that offers much to reckon with today is his role with the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID), established in 1957 by European and American designers who aimed to professionalise design through the development of international standards and design education across political and economic boundaries. Among its contributions, The University of Brighton Design Archives provided an image of the Ahmedabad Declaration on Industrial Design for Development, presented at the 1979 United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)/ICSID Design for Development Congress. Professor Alison J. Clarke, who is the Papanek Foundation’s current director and who previously taught at the University of Brighton for several years, acknowledges that Papanek’s contribution to the congress reflected the way socially responsible design was thought of at the time, where the Global South provided ‘fresh fodder for design’.

Fig. 3: Ahmedabad Declaration on Industrial Design for Development. January 1979. ICD-6-4-4-3. ICSID Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives.

Thoughtful treatment of controversial topics such as this one characterises the catalogue and, as Vitra Design Museum director Dr Mateo Kries writes in his foreword, ensures that Papanek’s significance within the history of design is developed in a manner that is detailed and academically sound. Alongside many contributors who reside globally, two University of Brighton researchers lent their expertise to the exhibition and catalogue: Dr Tania Messell, who drew heavily on the ICSID Archive for her PhD in the School of Humanities, co-supervised by Dr Lesley Whitworth, Design Archives Deputy Curator, and Professor Jeremy Aynsley; and Dr Leah Armstrong, current head of archive at the Papanek Foundation, whose collaborative doctoral project was based in the Design Archives and was supervised by its former director, Professor Catherine Moriarty. These connections reveal some of the local, national and international networks of researchers whose insights made Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design possible.

This catalogue stands solidly on its own and will be of interest to those familiar and unfamiliar with Papanek’s legacy. Students and practitioners of design and its social, political and global history will find many points of connection to make between the complex issues that concerned Papanek and his collaborators and those that confront us today.

 

 

Outlandish millinery fit for a king in Brighton’s pleasure palace

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Wendy Fraser, volunteer at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery and MA History of Design and Material Culture student, shares her insider insights on an innovative new display at the Royal Pavilion.

Stephen Jones Hats, the exhibition at the Royal Pavilion that opened on 7 February 2019 and runs until 9 June 2019, celebrates over 150 hat creations designed by the milliner Stephen Jones OBE. After studying millinery at Central St Martins (and being taught dress history by University of Brighton’s Professor Lou Taylor), Jones opened his first shop in Covent Garden in 1980 and just two years later one of his hats was bought by the V&A for their collection. He has designed hats for celebrities and royalty and has collaborated with fashion houses and couturiers including Dior, Thom Browne and Giles Deacon. The hats in the exhibition have been garnered from private lenders, designers and Jones’s own archive.

Figure 1 3D printed bust of Stephen Jones wearing a specially made top hat in the Octagon Hall of the Pavilion. Photograph by Tessa Hallman, 2019. Image courtesy of Brighton Museum.

Co-curated by Stephen Jones and Martin Pel, the curator of Fashion and Textiles at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, the exhibition has been designed as a tour through the Royal Pavilion with the hats, grouped by theme, ‘peopling’ the rooms. The visitor is greeted in the Octagon Hall by two gilded busts of George IV and Stephen Jones commissioned especially for the exhibition and wearing oversized hats: a velvet bicorne hat from Galliano’s Spring/Summer 2009 show for the Prince Regent and a crimson velvet top hat upon Jones’s head (Figure 1). Jones has made headwear for George IV before: his statue in Trafalgar Square was adorned with a gold hat in the shape of one of the Pavilion’s domes and topped with a rounded minaret (the hat is displayed on the bed in the Yellow Bow Room) while the horse he sat astride sported a smaller version. Both hats were designed for  the millinery showcase Hatwalk when some of London’s most famous statues were behatted as part of the celebrations for the London Olympics in 2012.

The Pavilion provides a fitting background for Jones’s hats which are as dramatic and fantastical as the opulent interiors of the royal palace.  Jones has links to Brighton; his Spring/Summer 2012 collection Chinoiserie-on-Sea was inspired by the Pavilion and he has carried out research for his work in the costume store at Brighton Museum which is where the idea for this exhibition was first proposed. It is this collection of Brighton-themed hats, connecting to the architecture and seaside location of the city, which visitors first encounter in the entrance hall.

Figure 2 Stephen Jones’s hats on display in the Great Kitchen, Brighton Pavilion. Photograph by Tessa Hallman, 2019. Image courtesy of Brighton Museum.

In the banqueting room the table is set for 26 hats worn by some of Jones’s most famous clients including Lady Gaga, Mick Jagger, Kylie Minogue and Boy George. The two wider, most prestigious chairs at the star-studded dinner party are reserved for a top hat from the 1920s which belonged to Jones’s grandfather and a hat that he has replicated for George IV from a portrait painted in 1782, demonstrating that hats have always been ‘an important social and historical item of dress.’ [1] The great kitchen has a whimsical display of hats themed around food, the underwater world and birds (Figure 2). A seagull hat designed for the New York brand, Thom Browne, is displayed high up in the kitchen as though ready to sweep down and steal chips – a witty nod to Brighton’s beach menaces.

I have been volunteering at the museum with Martin Pel since Autumn 2017 and have been involved in the behind-the-scenes preparation for the show. It’s been a fascinating experience, and has included visiting the studio of Zenzie Tinker Textile Conservation (where individual mounts have been made for each hat to enable their display on metal stands) and helping to measuring the heights for the hat stands in their different display configurations. I assisted on a shoot where each hat was individually photographed for the guide panels, I met the artist who has gilded the 3D printed busts in her studio, and when it came to the installation of the exhibition, I helped to put hats into their locations. There are entire outfits by Giles Deacon, Thom Browne, John Galliano for Dior and Maria Grazia Chiuri for Dior on display, with the hats that Jones made to accessorise them.  During the installation a team from Dior came to the Pavilion to dress the Dior mannequins but I was able to assist by dressing some of the mannequins with the Giles Deacon outfits and moving them into position with Martin (Figure 3). This was thrilling but also quite nerve-wracking!

Figure 3 Giles Deacon outfits with Stephen Jones runway headpieces. Photograph by Tessa Hallman, 2019. Image courtesy of Brighton Museum.

During his speech at the private view, Jones spoke about the exhibition and observed that ‘hats tell a story’. The hats worn by the glitterati of our times exhibited in the Royal Pavilion help to remind the visitor that the Pavilion was a pleasure palace – a venue for lively parties attended by glamorous aristocratic guests. The interaction between the hats and the architecture and furnishings of the Pavilion allows the hats to transcend their function as headwear. Depending on where they are positioned, they appear as sculptural objects of art in their own right, at times complimenting the colours and style of the sumptuous interiors, at others arresting the eye with their incongruous shapes and materials. Clair Hughes describes the wild nature of millinery in a way that surely the hedonistic George IV would approve of: ‘a hat has the license to be what it wants’, she writes, ‘it can take off in any direction in almost any material and much can happen as it leaps into the void. Hats, like the best pleasures, are risky.’ [2]

[1] Oriole Cullen, Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones, (London: V&A Publishing, 2009) 11.

[2] Clair Hughes, Hats (London: Bloomsbury, 2017) 14.

Political history and popular culture: Researching Baltic design

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Triin Jerlei, a postdoctoral researcher at Vilnius University, Lithuania, and graduate of University of Brighton, shares her new research project in the history of design. 

I received my doctorate from Brighton University in 2016, following my MA in History and Design and Culture, for research on Soviet Estonian industrial designers from the 1960s until the 1980s. Until recently most of my research focused on Estonian local design under the Soviet power as a case study in the development of a ‘Western Soviet’ design system. However, in my research I noticed that too often I was comparing Soviet Estonian regional design systems and processes with those taking place in capitalist countries or in Moscow as the ‘centre’, instead of other so-called ‘peripheral’ Soviet states. Therefore it became my dream to conduct a transnational comparative study between the design systems of two former Soviet states.

In general there is not a lot of research on Soviet design systems, especially in the late Socialist period. While Stalinism and the Thaw are easier to define both in their political tendencies and their chronological span, Late Socialism, often also called Stagnation, is a complex era characterized by different processes of globalization and regionalization throughout the vast Soviet Union. As remaining isolated was not sustainable, foreign trade and tourists played an increasing role in the economy, facilitating  the spread of global trends especially in the Western Soviet regions. A complex combination of various political, economical and cultural processes shaped the development of regional design cultures, which is the topic of my research.

The delivery of a transnational project on the history of several former Soviet republics was complicated by political factors, as archives are not fully accessible in many former Asian Soviet republics. Additionally it was important that I could read the local language relatively quickly, which is easiest with a language that uses Latin script. For these reasons I chose Lithuania as my second country of comparison and I decided to focus on the construction known as ‘Baltic design’. While Estonia and Lithuania were similarly situated on the Western border of the Soviet Union and had close historical and cultural connections, there are still significant differences between the two countries, which this research will clarify to provide a better understanding of the interrelations between different ‘peripheries’.

I was incredibly lucky to receive funding from the Lithuanian Council of Sciences. Thanks for this, I have been able to take up a two-year postdoctoral position at the Kaunas faculty of Vilnius University, supervised by Professor Virginija Jurėnienė. The decision to move to Lithuania instead of working in Estonia was deliberate, not only to learn about the history of Lithuanian design, but also to understand its present state and its situation in the wider culture. Additionally it has been exciting to get to know a new local research environment and to discover more about the general cultural scene.

So far, I have discovered that in spite of close connections between the Baltic states in the Soviet Union, the design systems differ in some key aspects. These variations are largely caused by differences in local design traditions. A good illustration is souvenir production. Both countries used wood as a locally available material, but where Estonian souvenirs were often useful objects (or replicas of objects that had once served a function), in Lithuania one finds numerous small wooden figurines, often based on folklore. This difference between minimalism in Estonia and rich ornament in Lithuania can also be seen in other fields of design. In terms of the organization of design systems, the design institutions of the two states were connected and cooperated closely, but had different structures.

I hope that this research will contribute to global design history by diversifying the understanding of different local stories of design. The ‘mundane’ fields of design and the systems behind everyday material culture are often at risk of being forgotten. One of the most exciting aspects of working with the materials from the 1970s and 1980s has been the role that these objects still play in living memories and environments, thanks to their ordinariness and ubiquity.

P.S. As a part of my Fellowship I am organizing a symposium in Kaunas, on the subject of design and creative economies. Details can be found here: http://www.knf.vu.lt/en/making-and-shaping-things-in-creative-economies