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

Fig 1.

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.

Fig 2.

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.

Fig 3.

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.

Fig 4.

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!

Fig 5.

Fig. 5 Enjoying our visit.

Fig 6.

Fig. 6 Enjoying our visit.

Fig. 7

Fig. 7 Are we on an ocean liner?

Fig 8.

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

On Anni Albers (1899-1994): an exhibition at Tate Modern

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BA (Hons) History of Art & Design student Kitty Symington reports on a course visit to Tate Modern

This winter sees the Tate Modern holding an extensive exhibition through eleven rooms consisting of Albers’ work throughout her career, from her beginnings at the Bauhaus, to her experimental pictorial weavings, through to her metaphorical ideas about material and craft. It’s a well-deserved and beautiful commemoration to such a highly influential figure in the world of textile design and modern art, and the second year History of Art & Design students were lucky enough to visit it during our Modernism module. As we entered the first room of her stimulating exhibition we were immediately confronted with Anni Albers’ giant creature of a loom. As one of the leading innovators of the Bauhaus school of the early twentieth-century, she set out to combine the ancient technique of traditional hand weaving with the abstract language of Modern design.

Fig.1.

Fig.1. Anni Albers, Black White Yellow ,1926, re-woven 1965, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Joseph and Anni Albers Foundation, Tate.

A design of Albers’ that particularly interested me was one she first produced in her early Bauhaus career in 1926; it is the large wall hanging called Black White Yellow (fig.1). Here, Albers used only black, white and yellow threads, despite the appearance of multiple hues in the piece. This technique – one that she continued to use throughout her life – consisted of using different combinations of each of the colours on the warp and the weft of the loom to produce a complicated but complementary language of a variation of colours.

Albers’ initial watercolour drawings displayed in the exhibition allowed us to understand the development of her ideas: from the complex mathematical preparations on paper, through to the incredible finished products hung on the walls. Her work is, arguably, easier to appreciate once we are aware of her extensive processes; personally, I admired Black White Yellow more after considering the intellectual methods behind its alluring designs.

Fig 2.

Fig.2. Anni Albers, panel from Six Prayers, 1966-7, The Joseph and Anni Albers Foundation, The Jewish Museum, New York.

After Black White Yellow, Anni produced a considerable collection of intricate experimental weavings. We were shown a vast sensual array of colours, textures, materials, free-flowing patterns and extravagant techniques involving the play of light and transparency. A project that was exceptionally striking was a piece called Six Prayers  from 1966-7. The Tate describes it as Albers’ most ambitious pictorial weaving, both for its metaphorical emphasis and its technical advance. Albers was commissioned by the Jewish Museum in New York to create this memorial piece to the six million Jews that died in the Holocaust. We learned that the six panels represented the six million and that, as Albers herself was from a Jewish family, the commission must have struck deep with her (fig.2 shows one panel of six). The form of the panels visually takes on the form of Torah scrolls; the complex woven patterns of the threads sculpting the delicate appearance of Hebrew scripture in a sombre manner.

Fig 3.

Fig.3. Anni Albers, Intersecting, 1962, The Joseph and Anni Albers Foundation, New York, Tate Modern, London.

This piece illustrates the incredible affect that Albers’ designs have had on their viewers throughout the twentieth-century, and certainly the Tate’s glorifying exhibition of her career provokes such feelings today. All-in-all this exhibition was an inspirational one, and one that teased the senses; possibly the only drawback of the Tate was that we were unable to touch the beautiful textures with our grubby fingertips.

Anni Albers continues at Tate Modern until 27th January 2019.

“Fashion is not frivolous; it is a part of being alive today”

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PhD student Jenny Roberts on working on the V&A’s forthcoming Mary Quant show

Ever since studying dress history for my BA in History of Art and Design at the University of Brighton I have dreamt of working at the V&A in the Fashion and Textile department. Many years later, as a PhD student, I finally achieved this ambition as part of a funded internship courtesy of my AHRC funders, Design Star and University of Brighton. It was everything I had hoped for and more. 

Fig 2

Fig. 1 Daily Mirror – Wednesday 17th March 1965, p.1

For six months I worked exclusively on researching and planning the Mary Quant exhibition, due to open on 6th April 2019. Jenny Lister, one of the exhibition’s curators, has been wanting to hold a Quant retrospective for many years. The previous lack of attention is astonishing considering her market presence from the mid 1960s to the late 1970s. Although the Museum of London held ‘Mary Quant’s London’ in 1973, a full assessment of her work is timely.  The V&A’s exhibition will trace the journey of the Mary Quant brand from her original shop to a worldwide market where her name featured on clothing, hosiery, hats, spectacle frames, umbrellas, jewellery and make-up homeware, home furnishings, carpets, paints and wallpapers, and beds. Mary Quant was even used to promote Hotpoint washing machines!

From the beginning of the exhibition process, the curators wanted to steer away from preconceptions of 1960s psychedelia and to articulate a more measured appraisal of Mary Quant’s work and output. It is this narrative which will surprise and interest visitors to the exhibition when it opens.

Fig 3

Fig. 2 J. C. Penney’s Catalogue 1966

The Mary Quant business began as a single boutique in Chelsea, London in 1955, which had transformed into a worldwide brand by the mid-sixties. Quant recalled in her autobiography that: ‘It was utterly impossible…to envisage that within seven years the business would go well over the million mark and the clothes I was to design would be in 150 shops in Britain, 320 stores throughout America and also on sale in France, Italy, Switzerland, Kenya, South Africa, Australia, Canada and, in fact, in just about every country in the western world’.[1]

Fig 4.

Fig. 3 Wool Jersey dress V&A T.352-1974

In 1953 Mary Quant graduated with an Art Teacher’s Diploma from Goldsmiths College, where she met her future husband, Alexander Plunkett Greene.[2] Archie McNair, who made up the team, was a qualified lawyer and photographer and owned a café in Chelsea. His legal acumen was used to their advantage when negotiating branding deals. Together they invested £10,000, a substantial amount of money in 1955, opening a boutique shop in the Kings Road. Bazaar, as the shop was named, became renowned for its playful and amusing shop window displays and became a destination shop for a growing affluent younger market. Another Bazaar opened in Knightsbridge in 1957. In 1962 Mary Quant visited America and, as a result of this visit, she began considering mass production techniques in her designs. Her involvement with American department store J.C. Penney’s was marketed to the American audience emphasising Mary Quant’s pivotal role in ‘Swinging London’ at a time when London considered ‘cool’.

Fig 5.

Fig. 4 Mary Quant pictured wearing a jersey dress from her own collection at Buckingham Palace with her OBE award, 1966. © Getty Images

In 1963 Mary Quant launched her more affordable range under the label ‘The Ginger Group’. This range of clothing incorporated some of the mass production techniques she had learnt from her travels to America and was reflected in the design and the fabrics chosen. A film clip reveals Mary Quant’s thoughts on what she considered the time-consuming and expensive nature of haute couture. She felt that “clothes should be made by mass-production when we live in a mass-production age.”[1]There were multiple derivations of a design, like for example her ‘Banana Split’ dress made in a black jersey fabric.

These jersey dresses were easy to wear and care for, available in a rainbow of colours as well as variations of the original design. The success of the Mary Quant brand was equally due to her and Alexander’s imaginative and playful marketing as much as it was due to the circles in which they mixed. For example, before he became the Rolling Stones’ manager Andrew Loog Oldham was employed to dress Bazaar’s windows.[1] Crucially, whenever Mary Quant featured in articles or in public, she was dressed in her own designs. In 1966 Mary Quant received her OBE for services to the British fashion industry at Buckingham Palace. She was pictured in newspaper articles holding her award wearing one of her Ginger label jersey dresses. She implemented this marketing strategy even when advertising her collaborations with other manufacturers. In the advertisement for Mary Quant berets made by Kangol all the models wore jersey dresses from the Ginger Group label. Similarly, when her shoe range Quant Afoot was launched the models all wore her designs.

Fig. 5

Fig. 5 Advert for Mary Quant’s collaboration with Kangol

I started my V&A internship when the museum had just taken delivery of the Plunkett Greene archive, which included private papers, marketing material, Daisy Dolls, Daisy Dolls’ outfits, fashion photographs and garments worn by and designed by Mary Quant. The first few weeks were spent on cold, November days in the Cloth Workers Guild at the V&A’s Blythe House photographing, dating and cataloging the previously unseen contents of the archive. From there we moved on to creating boards documenting the items held by various institutions throughout the world.

These boards were an essential visible aid in the formulation of the story of the exhibition. Thematic boards were then created and once the ‘story’ had been agreed consideration moved onto the restrictions imposed by the physical layout of the exhibition space and the display cases. One of the first problems facing all curators staging an exhibition in the V&A’s fashion galleries, is navigating display cases and available space. Without giving anything away, I feel that what is sometimes considered a problematic space has actually lent itself to the narrative of Mary Quant’s journey, from a single boutique shop to global brand.

Fig 7

Fig. 6 Mary Quant and models at the Quant Afoot footwear collection launch, 1967 (© PA Prints 2008)

The whole process of designing the exhibition was extremely collaborative. The team presented their ideas on the direction of the exhibition’s narrative not only to colleagues within the V&A, but also to external practitioners and academics. These meetings were constructive, with warm exchanges of ideas and knowledge. At the same time, part of the ‘Mary Quant Team’, as we had become known, researched contextual images, advertisements, stockists and articles featuring the designer in the National Arts Library’s magazine collections. Unusually, the curators Jenny Lister and Stephanie Wood decided to announce an earlier than usual call-out for the exhibition as they wanted to include stories of the impact Mary Quant had had on her generation. In particular they wanted to hear from debutantes, who had been some of Mary Quant’s early clients as this market has been overlooked in previous Mary Quant narratives. But crucially the curators wanted to understand the impact of Mary Quant’s design brand whether clothes, make-up, tights, hats or interior furnishings. The range and extent of her designs were far-reaching, and markets opened up in America, Australia, Europe and China.

My experience taught me a great deal about how to plan and carry out exhibitions. The process is similar to the PhD journey in that to begin with there is an enormous amount of what seems disparate material, which needs to be sifted through to assist in the telling of a story. This material is then edited down to form a focused narrative. Unfortunately, my internship ended before I could get heavily involved in the design of the exhibition space. Even so, I am excited to see the finished exhibition, knowing that I played a tiny part in a long over-due appraisal of the work of a designer who was responsible for disseminating the ‘London Look’ around the British Isles and across the world.

The V&A Mary Quant exhibition opens Saturday 6thApril, 2019. The book that accompanies the exhibition, Mary Quant by Jenny Lister (London: V&A), will be published on 25th March 2019.

 

Bibliography

Beatrice Behlen, A Fashionable History of the King’s Road. London: Unicorn, 2017. Print.

Breward, Christopher, Fashioning London: Clothing and the Modern Metropolis. London: Berg, 2004. Print.

— David Gilbert and Jenny Lister (eds), Swinging Sixties.London: V&A Publications, 2006. Print.

Booker, Christopher, The Neophiliacs: Revolution in English Life in the Fifties and Sixties. London: London: Collins, 1992. Print

Buckley, Cheryl & Hazel Clark, Fashion and everyday life: London and New York. London: Bloomsbury, 2017. Print.

— and Hilary Fawcett, Fashioning the Feminine. Representation and Women’s Fashion from the Fin de Siecle to the Present. London:I.B.Tauris, 2002. Print.

Donnelly, Mark, Sixties Britain. London: Routledge 2005

Fogg, Marnie, Boutique: a ‘60s cultural phenomenon. London: Mitchell Beazley. Print.

Green, Felicity, “The mini-skirt makes its debut at Ascot….and it’s a winner”, Daily Mirror, 15 June 1966.

Kynaston, David, Austerity Britain 1945-51.London: Bloomsbury, 2007. Print.

McRobbie, Angela (ed.), Zoot Suits and Secondhand Dresses: Anthology of Fashion and Music. London: MacMillan. 1989.

Morris, Brian, An Introduction to Mary Quant’s London.London: London Museum, 1973.

O’Neill, Alistair, London – after a fashion. London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 2007. Print.

Quant, Mary. Quant by Quant: The Autobiography of Mary Quant. London: Headline, 2012

Wilson, Elizabeth, Adorned in dreams: fashion and modernity. London: Virago, 1985. Print

https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/introducing-mary-quant

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2096184/Mary-Quant-swing-60s-gave-iconic-bob-cut–hallelujah–invented-waterproof-mascara.html

https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/0QKSHn4SqTdrLw

 

 

[1]Donnelly, Mark, Sixties Britain. London: Routledge, 2005. Print. p.92

[1]https://youtu.be/cyLa5WZ8VO4Accessed 10.10.18

[1]Ibid Locations 675-678

[2]Ibid Location 90

Sepia Tint, Sepia Cloth

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BA (Hons) Fashion and Dress History student Olivia Terry on the allure of old photographs

Fig 1.

Fig.1: Found photograph that epitomises the mystery observed in old photos. Author’s collection.

There is something wildly intriguing about old photographs. A singular moment, caught by chance, is suddenly trapped in time, and is immortalized by the sepia tint that encases it. The people caught in the photographs go on to live their lives, but eventually fall victim to time like everyone else, and soon a lifetime has passed, and their memory has been forgotten by those around them. Their photograph is put away in a box, and begins to collect dust and soon fades with an aged yellow, and darkness surrounds the image. But suddenly, light and air overwhelm the photograph, and it has been rediscovered. I delight in this rediscovery; I find my inspiration in everyday people from the past, found in these images. 

Fig 2.

Fig.2: Olivia Terry. Young and Marry. C. 2018. Watercolour, pen, and colored pencil. 5.5 x 3.5 in. Brighton.

It all began when I was digging through my grandmother’s collection of books, when I found a dusty scrapbook hidden on the bottom left corner of her bookshelf. Inside was a collection of photos of her and her family dating back to her birth in 1940. A brunette baby girl held by smiling parents on one page, was replaced by a chubby toddler on the next. The further one progressed in the photo album, the older the child got, soon turning into a young woman. But what really held my interest were the tales behind each photograph, and the people that were frozen in them. My grandmother connected each photograph with some fragmented yarn of a story, but other times, when her memory failed her, I made ones up.    

Fig 3.

Fig. 3: Untitled. Author’s collection.

Before I knew it, I was looking beyond my family’s photographs, and discovered the treasures that lie in antiques stores. I was able to spend hours in them sifting through faded photographs of individuals, couples, families, pondering the mystery that lies behind their eyes, and the story they each possess. What were the events that preceded the photograph being taken? Who were they? Where were they headed after the picture was taken? It was these sorts of questions that fed my creative mind in game playing, story writing and art creating. Sepia tinted photographs of woman donning calico and bonnets led me to pretend I was a pioneer woman navigating her way through the vast wilderness by a nearby copper-colored creek. A hint of a smile could inspire an entire story. Their mystery has always been my muse.

Fig 4.

Fig. 4: Olivia Terry. Lost in Deep Thought. C. 2018. Watercolour and pen. 5.5 x 3.5 in. Brighton.

When I attended events at my high school in Boise, Idaho, I made a point to pass the framed senior portraits of 1917, and allow my mind to wander, and consider each person’s place at the school; their social hierarchy, what clubs they may have belonged to, and possible personality traits. I am fascinated by the unknown of each person, and delight in deciphering the hints present in photographs: the expression on their faces, the chosen objects featured, the settings, and most importantly, the clothing they wore.  

High collars, meticulously pleated skirts, and mutton-chop sleeves caught my attention like a snagged thread. I fell in love with the whole aesthetic of women in big skirts in colorless photos, and soon my inspiration in the photographs was found in something more tangible than just my thoughts, when I began to draw them. I loved the way my fingers felt when I drew the creases and folds of fabric, and how my mind produced romanticized thoughts when I gave the women rosy cheeks, bringing life to the original eeriness. I am able to imagine the bright, cheery nature behind silk taffeta evening gowns and I can fathom the darkness found in black silk-crepe mourning dresses. It is expressed through the intensity of my pen strokes, the colors I choose, and the amount of contrast between light and dark. Drawing their clothing inspires a connective feeling in me, and with each mark of my pen, I feel as if some bit of their mystery is solved.  

Fig 5.

Fig. 5: Untitled. Author’s collection.

Clothing is a powerful tool. Something as simple as a shade of black, a cut in style, or the placement of a patch, has the rare capability to communicate a profound amount about a person — their culture, their time period, their social status, their personality and interests, their religious beliefs, their nationality, their occupation — all without really muttering a word. It can bring life back into bygone stories, because it speaks so personally about the people who wore it. Putting the spotlight on clothing from the past, by studying and restoring it, is what I long to do. I get excited thinking about the way a person’s identity shows through their clothing through the choices made: the color palette, the social connotations, and how the materials varied depending on the resources available to that person. A person’s character shows through their clothing, whether they intend it to or not. Each garment has an individual narrative; and to comprehend that story means to consider everything from the inspiration, to the construction, to the context. Each part makes up a story I am dying to read.

Fig 6.

Fig. 6: Olivia Terry. a Change in Season. C. 2018. Acrylic, colored pencil, and ink. 16.75 x 23.25 in. Brighton.

There are so many narratives that go untold. Lifetimes pass by, and words and memories yellow like paper, and soon, not much can be said or remembered about a person. New stories take the spotlight over the old, until they too are replaced and stored away in old hat boxes and photo albums. But when an old photograph re-surfaces, there is nothing that provides greater insight into the lives of the people pictured than their attire. Because that’s the thing; there is a beauty in historical dress that remains true and constant. A beauty that cannot be muted by the dust it may have collected, or the decades that have passed. It says something deeply intimate about an individual. With the help of studying historical fashion, I want to uncover the stories packed away, and bring light to the ordinary people of years gone by, because quite often, their story is not ordinary at all.

Banksy in Mayfair

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BA (Hons) History of Art and Design student Sarahlouise Newman on the exhibition Banksy, Greatest Hits 2002-2008

Banksy 1

Figure 1.

In July, I was volunteering in London when I discovered there was a Banksy exhibition nearby at Lazinc Sackville, Mayfair.  The show, entitled Banksy, Greatest Hits 2002-2008 – a sly dig at the music industry and its cult of celebrity from the artist whose true identity is still unknown – showcased his work during that period. Looming overhead on a balcony as I entered the building, stood a mannequin in a tightened hoodie and fishing rod.  Not something you expect to see down a street in Mayfair. Could this be a physical interpretation of reeling people in by someone who is hidden?

Inside, the work was showcased in a formal art gallery setting, quite a contrast to the streets in which you normally find the originals.  The story behind this exhibition is that co-founder Steve Lazarides, met the anonymous artist in 1997 when he took his portrait for Sleaze Nation magazine. Soon after, Steve Lazarides became Banksy’s official photographer and gallerist, they stayed good friends and decided to create an exhibition of the work that they were linked on.

Banksy 2

Figure 2

Banksy is known for satirical street art, which has a dig at everything from politics and the monarchy to pollution and popular culture.  With that in mind, the first thing I noticed when I walked in was a wall-size picture of a child clutching a teddy bear in a war zone, while people film her, instead of helping her.  Everything from the facial expression, to the location, drew the viewer in and made me feel uncomfortable. It appeared to represent how we, as humans, sensationalise war. Something that Banksy has been said to be against.

Next to it was the popular two policeman kissing image. This street art first appeared in Brighton along with another called the ice cream bomb. This stencil has been turned into canvases and paintings, which can now be purchased worldwide, and the original is still on the outside wall of the Prince Albert pub, down by Brighton Station. Banksy was not only mocking the police with this stencil, but also mocking homophobic people. According to the press, the picture represents the fact that being gay was part of society and love is all that mattered.

Banksy 3

Figure 3

In the middle of the room was a statue of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, given a Banksy makeover as Chavphrodite. The statue had been given a blanket, a plaster on her face and a baseball cap; hiding her real beauty with materialistic possessions. Walking through the exhibition, the music of Massive Attack played quietly, perhaps another sly dig as the rumour that Banksy is, in fact, a member of the group has circulated since he became popular in the public sphere. The paintings were neatly hung on walls all on the two floors. There were the two grandmas knitting blankets with the words ‘thug life’ and ‘punk is not dead’ written into them, a popular stencil of the thug throwing flowers, monkeys with placards across their chests saying they will inherit the earth, Monet’s lily pads with a Tesco’s shopping trolley added in to make it look more like a pond in the local park and several Banksy rats.  There were so many good pieces it was hard to choose a few to write about.

The most notable was the girl with the balloon titled ‘There is Hope’.  This piece recently became news, in typical Banksy fashion. It was sold at auction in Sotheby’s for £860,000 and as the painting was removed from the wall, it began to shred itself. Now renamed ‘Love is in the Bin’, its estimated worth is over £1 million. However, Banksy has also admitted the stunt went wrong as the painting was meant to shred the artwork completely, not get three quarters of the way through the painting and stop (follow this link for the full video of the selling of the painting and the making of the “Shred the Love” frame).  This became one of the most memorable art sales ever recorded at Sotheby’s.

The exhibition has now closed its doors, but there is a possibility Banksy is working on something new for the gallery, according to their website.  The majority of the art work on exhibition could be bought and the proceeds went to a homeless charity in Bristol, Banksy’s home town. The exhibition was a very well thought-out retrospective, rather than an art installation like his Dismaland exhibition, which was also a sell-out.  Next time there is a Banksy exhibition or art installation on, I recommend going to it: Banksy creates art that makes you think. And, in his own words, “You may like it, you may hate it, you may not even care about it, but you will always remember it.”

Working with James Henry Green’s collection at Brighton Museum

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MA Curating Collections and Heritage student Lisa Hinkins on working at Brighton Museum

Fig 1.

Fig. 1. James Henry Green. 0010, Self, looking down valley. c.1920s. B&W photograph. James Henry Green Collection. Courtesy of Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove and the James Henry Green Charitable Trust.

My initial introduction to the James Henry Green Collection was whilst on a 12-week Work Force Development Placement in the World Art department of Brighton Museum & Art Gallery (BMAG). Once my placement ended in November 2017, I was asked to continue with the uploading of 1600 hi-resolution black and white photographic images onto Digital Asset Media, the public facing website which allows Royal Pavilion and Museum staff and the public to access digital images and information from the museum’s collections.

Fig 2.

Fig. 2. James Henry Green. 0317, Hkahku woman. c1920s. B&W photograph. James Henry Green Collection. Courtesy of Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove and the James Henry Green Charitable Trust.

James Henry Green (1893-1975) (Fig. 1) served as a recruitment officer for the Burma Rifles during 1918-1935, based mainly in the north of the country. Like many serving officers of the time he was also an amateur photographer, an entertaining pastime originally endorsed for military officers in India. One of the first noted texts for the use of photography in the compilation of archives of visual material for the extension of knowledge of Britain’s overseas territories was written in 1856 by the East India Company Surgeon John McCosh.  Green’s images and writing recorded the minority tribes and culture of northern Burma, before their lives completely disappeared (Fig.2).

Fig 3.

Fig. 3. Francis R Hinkins. Life’s Eventide. c1915. B&W photograph.

Green’s photographs piqued my interest, as I was researching and writing my degree dissertation based upon a book published in 1915, Romany Life: (experienced and observed during many years of friendly intercourse with Gypsies) written by my great, great-grandfather Frank Hinkins. His anthropological images and accompanying written observations detailed the rapidly disappearing nomadic culture of the English Romany Gypsies in the New Forest, Hampshire (Fig. 3). There appeared to be many similarities in these two men’s recordings, along with a sincerity to understand peoples and cultures different to their own.

During the summer I was invited to present a Bite Size talk at BMAG on anything in the collections that interested me. This gave me the opportunity to present a 30-minute PowerPoint talk in September in BMAG’s Museum Lab about the James Henry Green Collection. It was important that my talk was pitched correctly to a wider public, where there would be a mixture of art and design knowledge. Through my experience of working as a Gallery Explainer at BMAG, I understood that you must neither patronise nor underestimate your audience.

Fig.4

Fig. 4. Two of four views of a South Australian aboriginal female (‘Ellen’ aged twenty-two) according to Huxley’s ‘photometric instructions, c1870. b/w photo. Photographer unknown. (RAI 2116, 2117).

Research included watching BBC2 documentary Burma with Simon Reeve, which gave a hard-hitting account of the continued terrible violence in the country, as well as touching on Burma’s history. I also referred to the book, Burma: Frontier Photographs 1918-1935, edited by Elizabeth Dell. The text gave invaluable understanding of Green’s photographic and written work. Helen Mears, Keeper of World Art at BMAG provided me with very useful background information to how the collection came to be held at the museum and I also referred to my own dissertation.

The basis of the talk was a series of images showing the spectrum of Green’s work. This led me into comparing a few of his images with Frank Hinkins’, as well as allowing me to discuss the use of photography as a means of recording the ‘Other.’ I spoke about how photographs circulated through newspapers and via postcards during the 1880s, became a vehicle for reinforcing racial stereotypes. I also touched on how the collection feeds into the World Art Gallery at BMAG and explained how to access the Collection on-line.

Fig.5

Fig. 5. James Henry Green. 1556 A leg rower, Lake Inle. c1920s. B&W photograph. James Henry Green Collection. Courtesy of Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove and the James Henry Green Charitable Trust.

When writing the talk, it was imperative to me that the audience understood important issues such as Thomas Henry Huxley’s ‘photometric instructions,’ and theory of physical differences between groups of humans conceptualized as racial (Fig.4). Terms such as ‘subaltern’ and ‘taxonomic’ were either replaced or clearly explained. The worst thing you can do is distance your audience with the use of opaque academic language.

To accompany the talk, I brought in the book, Burma: Frontier Photographs 1918-1935 and a modern copy of Frank Hinkins’ book for the audience to peruse afterwards. It was a useful device for striking up conversations with people. My managers at BMAG gave positive feedback, informing me that audience questionnaires rated the talk, ‘Good,’ or ‘Amazing.’ The experience is something I’ve carried forward into my current studies on the MA Curating Collections and Heritage. I have also been asked to present another talk at BMAG in the new year, so will have fun delving further into the museum’s collections for inspiration.

Max Gill at Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft

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BA (Hons) History of Art and Design student Sally Lawrence on the exhibition Max Gill: Wonderground Man

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Figure 1: MacDonald Gill. Highways of Empire. 1927. Printed Poster. Private Collection. Authors own Photograph.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the private view of Max Gill: Wonderground Man at Ditchling Museum of Art+ Craft. I was instantly enthralled by the incredible work of MacDonald (Max) Gill (1884-1947). The cartographer, architect, letterer, decorative artist and illustrator is often overshadowed by both the remarkable work and scandalous behaviours of older brother Eric. But this exhibition clearly demonstrates that Max Gill deserves not only our attention but also our profound admiration and appreciation for capturing his world so beautifully and with a humour that is sometimes topical, but often timeless (see fig.2).

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Figure 2: MacDonald Gill. Detail of The Wonderground Map of London Town. 1913. Original Pen and Ink. Private Collection. Authors own Photograph.

Gill, famously, produced maps for the International Tea Market Expansion Board, the Empire Marketing Board and most memorably for the London Underground. My favourite was his 1923 creation Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (see figs. 3-4). This bold and vibrant yet incredibly detailed and intricate piece is a wonderful example of Gill’s exuberant style. It is so engaging that the map even includes a little message stating that ‘The Underground Railway Company would simply love to hear that by losing your train you did also lose your heart’. I most certainly did.

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Figure 3: MacDonald Gill. Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. 1923. Printed Poster. Private Collection. Authors own Photograph.

Gill’s work stretches far beyond map-making. He designed the General Post Office’s Greetings Telegram in 1937; featuring Edward VIII’s crest, which would have been used had he not abdicated. Gill designed numerous book covers and most notably he was commissioned by the Imperial War Graves Commission to design the lettering for all military headstones since WW1; as well the lettering for the Cenotaph.

Tucked away, intimately behind the main gallery’s feature wall, visitors can engage with a much more personal history (see fig.5). With examples of hand-me-down shoes, family photographs and even Gill’s earliest surviving map, produced for his brother Vernon (see fig. 6).

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Figure 4: MacDonald Gill. Detail of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. 1923. Printed Poster. Private Collection. Authors own Photograph.

Max Gill: Wonderground Man is a thought-provoking, interesting and exciting look into the life and works of Max Gill. It is stunningly beautiful and incredibly informative; featuring works that document key moments in twentieth century history. It was curated with love and passion by guest curators Caroline Walker (great niece of Max) and Angela and Andrew Johnston (Andrew is Edward Johnston’s grandson, Edward was father of Max’s second wife Priscilla). Much of the work featured in the exhibition was stored away impeccably well by Priscilla and was then inherited by Angela and Andrew Johnston. The show features numerous maps, architectural designs, graphic designs, personal artefacts and an Imperial War Grave Commission headstone. As well as completed works, visitors can also see some of Gill’s original plans for his most famous works.

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Figure 5: Display case Max Gill: Wonderground Man, Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft. 10/2018. Authors own Photograph.

 

I urge everyone to come and visit this incredible exhibition before it closes on 28th April 2019. Visitors can also see Changing Lives: Ditchling Artists in WW1, Wonder Craft- Local Makers for Christmas (until 1st January 2019) and Jane Pitt: Maunder Maps (from 5th January until 28th April 2019).

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Figure 6: Macdonald Gill. Letter to Vernon. Letter with pen, ink and watercolour map. Authors own Photograph.

Seminar Style

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In the latest in our series Seminar Style: sartorial snapshots from University of Brighton we report on trends spotted on the University’s campuses

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Eden Gasson

Who? Eden Gasson

Where? Outside Edward Street

Course? Photography

Clothes from? Jumpsuit – Collectif; jacket – Dolls kill, shoes – Primark

Style inspiration? 60s,70s, Bratz dolls, a rainbow version of my mum’s ’80s Goth look

Instagram? @edensadventure

Working your way into heritage

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BA (Hons) Museum and Heritage Studies graduate (2017) Lindsay Lawrence on working at Michelham Priory

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When I began studying for my degree in Museum and Heritage Studies at University of Brighton I had been working as a nursery practitioner in a children’s nursery for seven years. I was growing tired of the job and had started volunteering at a local heritage site, Michelham Priory. I helped in their Education Department, teaching school children about history in an interactive way, in a beautiful environment.

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I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the heritage sector, which is notoriously hard to get into, so I gave up my job and decided to get some qualifications. I was lucky because through volunteering and showing my commitment to the Priory I had become part of the team and they offered me casual hours to help me get through university. Being a single mum with two children, going to university at the age of 35 was not an easy thing to do, but the staff and other students were really supportive.

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As I worked my way through my course so much changed. Gradually I saw I was basing a lot of my coursework around the Priory, which helped me get to know the history of the site better, but the university work was also showing me how to look at things around me. One of our modules was ‘Interpreting Objects’, this was fantastic, it showed us how to look beyond the object you have in front of you and to think about histories that object has been involved with. This has been invaluable to me in my work, for a variety of reasons. The trips we went on at university also contributed to making me look at things differently: we talked about how museums work, how they are constructed to lead visitors around a particular route so they view exhibitions in the way that is intended. We also talked a lot about what worked (or not) in museums we visited. This made me look at Michelham in a new way; what did I want to highlight, what did I want to make sure visitors paid attention to? I fed information about what I was learning back to the Property Manager, who was supportive in every aspect of my learning. Towards the end of the course I had taken over running the gift shop and helping with a few weddings. I also started helping to market the Priory on social media. By discussing museums and heritage properties at university it helped me think about what potential visitors would want to see.

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My manager was keen for me to put into practice what I had learnt at university, tasking me with revamping our Rope Museum and making it a more practical visitor-friendly area of the site. This went well and the room is now much brighter, laid out to make sense of the displays, with much nicer descriptive labels.

After this I asked for a new project: I wanted to create a secondhand bookshop to raise more money for the Priory. The confidence I had gained at university encouraged me to push my ideas forward! I was given the go ahead and I worked with three other staff members to decorate and renovate our old nature room into a beautiful bookshop. This has gone so well that the money raised has paid for the Priory buildings to be 3D scanned, to become an interactive tool for visitors who can’t make it upstairs in the buildings, ensuring improved access for all.

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For my dissertation I decided, yet again, to incorporate the Priory and write about my favourite era there: World War Two. I learnt a massive amount about the Priory during this time in my research, which has then enabled me to be able to talk to visitors in detail about this period. I have had many requests from volunteers to read my dissertation, which is helping to share that knowledge. The research skills I learnt at University have come in handy recently, as a family that used to live at the Priory in the 1950s came to visit. I interviewed them and it gave us all a real insight into the Priory as a family home. One part of my job I really enjoy is taking photographs  around the site to advertise events, create interest in the site on social media and to create items to sell in the shop.

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After I finished university I was taken on full-time as Visitor Services and Retail Supervisor. I am now in charge of retail on the site, ensuring the shop is presented beautifully, buying stock and managing volunteers, I also work in the ticket office and I organise a lot of the events such as Wildlife Wednesday, Homefront Weekend, Archaeology Day and I have created two new events so far: Superhero Day and Christmas in the Courtyard.

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I absolutely love my job and I adore the Priory. I am given lots of responsibility and I am now part of the Duty Manager team. Every day is different, which is what I enjoy: most recently I have been filming with ITV and a US production company. If you had told me four years ago I would be in this position I would never have believed it. Hard work, a supportive manager and senior staff within the Society and an incredible three-year experience at university have helped me achieve my goals. Going to university was the best decision I could have made; the knowledge I have gained will stick with me and the support from the tutors was invaluable. I was given a piece of advice a few years ago from an ex colleague “Never stop learning, always have a go at everything, that will take you far”. It proved right for me, hard work, enthusiasm and commitment is what you need in this industry.

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Virginia Woolf at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester

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MA History of Design and Material Culture student Paulina Kulacz reviews Pallant House Gallery’s recent Virginia Woolf: an exhibition inspired by her writings

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Fig. 1: Paintings by Laura Knight and Nina Hamnett.

This year marks the centenary of women’s suffrage and thinking through the lens of feminism has been at the forefront for many arts and heritage institutions. All over the country, exhibitions and programmes have tapped into the ethos of women’s rights. So it is perhaps no surprise that this has included exploring the work of Virginia Woolf, whose 1929 book A Room of One’s Own helped shape a voice for creative women, seeking to place them on equal ground with their artistic male counterparts. In A Room of One’s Own, Woolf indicated how women must always keep creating, that in ‘another hundred years … give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind … and she will write a better book one of these days. She will be a poet’[1]. And almost one hundred years later a new exhibition Virginia Woolf: an exhibition inspired by her writings explored exactly how far female creatives have come and how Woolf’s ideas on feminism have remained relevant to people working across a vast array of media. 

The exhibition, curated by Laura Smith, Exhibitions & Displays Curator, Tate St Ives, was a partnership between Tate St. Ives in Cornwall, Pallant House Art Gallery in Chichester and the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge, three locations that were important to Woolf and her writing. Throughout the summer months, the exhibition was at its stop at Pallant House, where I had a chance to see it and to reflect both on my experiences working as a conservation assistant at Monk’s House National Trust and the ways in which one can curate an exhibition around an individual whose work is in a medium that is not often associated with art galleries directly.

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Fig. 2: Still Life, The Home and ‘A Room of One’s Own’ section at the Pallant House Art Gallery, including textile art titled Interpret my Dreams by Emma Talbot.

As executive director of the Pallant House Gallery, Simon Martin, stated, ‘rather than it being a biographical exhibition about Virginia Woolf, the show takes her ideas as a structure within which to explore feminist perspectives’[2].Virginia Woolf featured over 80 female artists from 1854 to the present day and tapped into themes present in A Room of One’s Own. One theme I found especially interesting related to one of my favourite quotes from the book, where Woolf indicates that ‘Masterpieces are no single and solitary births; they are the outcome of many years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the people, so that the experience of the mass is behind the single voice’[3]Woolf’s words capture the importance of communal solidarity and thinking through history, but they also capture the importance of fostering relationships, and in Woolf’s case particularly, those amongst women. Virginia Woolf herself cultivated many influential relationships with different women throughout her life, most intimately with her sister the painter Vanessa Bell, but also others such as Dorothy Brett, Dora Carrington, Nina Hamnett, Katherine Mansfield, Gwen Raverat, Vita Sackville-West and Ethel Sands. Pieces by all these women were in the exhibition, and they speak to one another both directly and indirectly about shared ideas and passions.

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Fig. 3: Abstract bodies painted directly on the gallery walls by France-Lise McGurn at the Pallant House Art Gallery.

Juxtaposing these pieces were works by contemporary artists such as Judy Chicago, Carol Bove, Linder, Louise Bourgeois, and newly commissioned works by France-Lise McGurn, who painted abstract figures directly onto the walls of the gallery – a homage to the Bloomsbury spirit of painting on things. Together, all these works drew on Woolf’s feminist perspectives. They connected tangibly, anecdotally, geographically or even conceptually to her. They depicted how the themes present in Woolf’s work, such as identity, domesticity and landscape, have resonated with artists across time through their shared experience; how, like Woolf, these artists have also explored notions of gender and different ways of experiencing and identifying as female.

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Fig. 4: Study for Virginia Woolf – from ‘The Dinner Party’ by Judy Chicago at the entrance of the exhibition Virginia Woolf: an exhibition inspired by her writings.

Divided into eight rooms the exhibition featured over fifty works of photography, film, painting, sculpture, wood carving, letters, books, and even material culture, such as a tea set used by Virginia herself and painted by her sister. It also featured objects such as Suffragette memorabilia and letters from Eleanor Marx, pieces extremely interesting on their own, but lost in a whirlwind of many other works that had a more dominating effect and a more direct link to the themes and to Woolf herself. At times it seemed there were too many pieces, too many artists, too many directions and links attempted in the themes explored. It made the exhibition slightly overwhelming. Perhaps one could argue this is how one feels when reading a work by Virginia Woolf – where words, metaphors and the images evoked fold into one another with little room to breath – and that this was reiterated in the exhibition. Still, the experience of reading an overwhelming book is different from stepping into an overwhelming gallery space. Time moves differently in galleries and the multi-sensory experiences are more complicatedly haphazard. There simply is more is at stake and this is where Virginia Woolf potentially misses the mark. It was an interesting exhibition to see, and one I enjoyed, but it could have been just as strong with a little less to take in. 

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Fig. 5: Section of the exhibition featuring Nicola L’s plastic eye and lip lamps and Birgit Jürgenssen’s 10 days – 100 photos composition.

Virginia Woolf: an exhibition inspired by her writings is currently showing at its final stop at The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge until 9th December 2018.

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Fig. 6: Still Life, The Home and ‘A Room of One’s Own’ section at the Pallant House Art Gallery, featuring work by Vanessa Bell and Jane Simone Bussy.


[1]Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (London: Granada Publishing Limited, 1977) 89-90.

[2] Simon Martin, “Director’s Statement,” Pallant House Gallery Guidebook (Number 45, May-October 2018) 7.

[3]Woolf, A Room of One’s Own,63.