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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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).

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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. 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. 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.


Fig. 2.

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.

Ireland’s Fashion Radicals Exhibition

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BA Fashion and Dress History graduate Emma Kelly reviews an exhibition at The Little Museum of Dublin

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Fig. 1 The exhibition space.

Back in September 2017, following an insightful lecture on the life and career of Carmel Snow, Editor and Chief of Harpers Bazaar at The Little Museum of Dublin, it was announced the museum would host a fashion exhibition in the new year. The exhibition: Ireland’s Fashion Radicals, continuing the museum’s focus on objects telling the story of Dublin, would be dedicated to Irish fashion and the radicals of the industry during the twentieth century.

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Fig.2 Image of the section dedicated to Mary O’Donnell.

The exhibition opened in January 2018 and I had no idea what to expect. How would the topic of fashion radicals be tackled? Would it be designer-focused or wearer-focused? Would the stereotypical Aran-knit jumper make an appearance? It definitely didn’t disappoint. Curated by historian Robert O’Byrne, it focused on the careers and creations of Irish fashion designers of the 50s, 60s and 70s: Sybil Connolly, Irene Gilbert, Ib Jorgensen, Clodagh, Michelina Stacpoole, Mary O’Donnell and Neillí Mulcahy. In Ireland these decades were defined by social and political turmoil. Yet several designers initiated their careers, striking out into the Irish fashion industry, seeking to make names for themselves.

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Fig. 3 Image of the green pleated linen gown by Sybil Connolly circa 1960’s.

The exhibition wasn’t laid out in the traditional way of mannequins behind glass, organised into rows, with text panels located under or beside the displays. Spread out across two small adjoining rooms, the exhibition was laid out in a more approachable way (Fig. 1), making use of the limited space. Each designer had dedicated wall space, with text and images including photos of the designers, promotional material and sketches. Examples of their work were on mannequins close by, such as the case of Mary O’Donnell (Fig. 2).  You could walk right up to the garments.

Walking round the room I was fascinated by the use of Irish textiles. It really added to the celebratory tone of the exhibition as not only was it celebrating Irish talent, many of whom have been largely forgotten, but the use of Irish textiles. Irish textiles are often discussed in relation to industries such as lace, linen and wool. The examples on show were more contemporary in style, examples of the adaption of Irish textiles for a new, international audience. For me they were emblematic of the Irish fashion industry moving forward, taking influence from international fashion but supporting industries in Ireland, without an Aran knit jumper in sight.

One of my personal highlights was a green pleated linen Sybil Connolly gown circa 1960’s. It was the piece I kept coming back to (Fig 3). Emblematic of Connolly’s work, it was romantic and feminine, created with Irish textiles. Pleated linen was her trademark, used time and time again in her designs. The Costume Institute at the Met Museum houses several pieces by Connolly, many  of which are of pleated linen. To see such a piece up close was phenomenal. Another Connolly highlight was a promotional photo, reminiscent of the works of Richard Avedon, who took fashion photography out of the studio and into the streets, showing fashion in action. Far from the streets of Paris Connolly’s model found herself  in Ireland on a typically cloudy day. I can only imagine what the reaction of passers-by would have been to such a glamorous (bare-shouldered) figure.

I love finding, through exhibitions, that there is more to a familiar object than meets the eye. In this one it was a photo by Cecil Beaton that took pride of place on the wall beside the works of Irene Gilbert. The image, printed onto the wall, is one of his most famous “Fashion is Indestructible” from Vogue 1941 showing a couture  model amongst the ruins of a building (Fig. 4). Her outfit was by Irish born designer Digby Morton, born in Dublin in 1906. I wasn’t ever aware of the Irish connection the photo had. The text also mentioned another designer, John Cavanagh, born in 1914 in Mayo and worked with Balmain and Molyneux before setting up his own label. The inclusion of Morton and Cavanagh, as well more recent designers such as Simone Rocha, shows the other side of the Irish industry, those who left Ireland to establish careers in other countries. Emigration is an integral part of the Irish story and it was very fitting that such designers be included alongside Irish born designers who set up their labels in Ireland as well as designers who made their homes and livelihoods in Ireland.

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Fig. 4 “Fashion is Indestructible “ photo by Cecil Beaton 1941.

Amongst the designer-wear on show was one ensemble with incredible provenance. The red woollen suit (Fig. 5) was made by Anne, Countess of Rosse née Messel. The unassuming suit has links to Ireland as well to my University town of Brighton. Many of Anne and her family’s garments are housed at Brighton Museum. You couldn’t study Fashion and Dress History at Brighton and not know of the Messels and their long and illustrious love affair with fashion and the crème de la crème of the industry over the decades. The inclusion of the suit was an interesting choice: an ensemble created by a woman who wore garments by some of the designers on show, including Gilbert and Jorgensen. Only steps away was the Irene Gilbert gown Anne Messel wore to Buckingham Palace.

It was amazing to walk round the space and see Irish fashion on show; fashion that wasn’t stereotypical, fashion that could stand amongst the fashion of the world’s fashion capitals, and yet still tipped its cap to Ireland and its culture, from the use of its textiles to the motifs of its culture. The radicals on show in the room were radicals in their own way. In the early years of the new state (from 1922), they forged careers in uncertain times. They took the road less travelled, creating fashion for their Ireland and countries around the world, creations that worked to celebrate the textiles and crafts we have.

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Fig. 5 Red woollen suit made by Anne, Countess of Rosse circa 1950’s.

Though the exhibition was small, at the end I felt reinvigorated to push on in my choice to focus on Irish dress history. For me, the garments in the room stood as testament to the fact that we did have a fashion industry and that we do have a story in tell.

A version of this post first appeared on the Costume Society‘s website in August 2018.

Object of the Month: September 2018

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MA History of Design and Material Culture student Emmy Sale on an unknown photo album from the University of Brighton Dress History teaching collection

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Fig 1: Photo album with photographs dating between 1936 and 1949. University of Brighton Dress History Teaching Collection. Photograph by author.

The Dress History teaching collection is home to a number of photo albums with unknown provenance. This album (Figure 1) has a faux leather cover with an embossed black border. The pages are thick brown paper, photographs mounted with corner tabs. It contains images dating from 1936 to 1949, with locations around Britain and abroad, showing that the family who made it travelled regularly.

When analysing the album I had the feeling, described by photography curator Verna Curtis, that ‘when you hold a photo album, you sense that you are in possession of something unique, intimate and meant to be saved for a long time. As you turn the pages and look at the images, you imbibe the maker’s experience, invoking your imagination and promoting personal memories’.[i] Inside the album are images of the family’s holiday to Clovelly, Devon. The village is near my hometown so these created an immediate connection between me and this unknown family’s past.

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Fig 2: Woman riding a Donkey at the Clovelly estate, Devon. Undated. University of Brighton Dress History Teaching Collection. Photograph by author.

In one of the Clovelly images (Figure 2) there is a woman in the side of the shot passing a Box Brownie to someone. Although the first amateur cameras available were the Kodak No.1 roll film cameras in 1888, these were expensive and often only a toy for the upper and middle classes. It was not until the 1920s that lower class families were able to purchase photography equipment such as the Box Brownie, which cost 5 shillings in 1900. The original Brownie took images of a 57 millimetre square but the Brownie No.2 took photos sizing 57 by 83 millimetres, the proportions of the images in this album. Therefore, it is likely that a Box Brownie 2 was used to take the photographs whilst revealing that this camera was an affordable option for many lower class families in the 1930s, to capture images of day trips and holidays.

Fig 3

Fig 3: Three women sitting on Clacton Beach. 1936. University of Brighton Dress History Teaching Collection. Photograph by author.

The photographs from this album can be used as a source in dress history research. The images provide evidence of what people wore for special occasions or vacations, they show how garments were worn and what they were paired with. For example, images can be used to make sense of isolated garments in archives or even see garments that have not survived. However, the image of three young women on Clacton beach in 1936 (Figure 3), proves how difficult it can be to identify class differences in photographs due to the widespread mass consumption of clothing. It is difficult to tell from the photograph whether the bathing suits worn are expensive Jantzen suits that cost at least fifteen shillings in 1936 or a garment knitted at home with the use of patterns provided in two-penny papers. The exact details of the garments’ manufacture are locked within the photograph and would need the use of oral testimony from one of those photographed to identify them.

Although the use of unknown photographs in dress history can be down to interpretation, with persistence it can lead to the discovery of an aspect of the photograph’s narrative.  This can be about the sitters’ lifestyle, their dress, or simply how the photograph was made. In my own research on knitted bathing suits in the 1930s, they have provided insight by showing how bathing suits were worn on the body and the ways in which wearers would imitate poses of glamorous images they saw in magazines. Such readings have lead to a questioning of how young women regarded their bathing suits and its role in the social aspects of beach leisure. The survival of these images is pivotal to this research because there are only a few hand-knitted garments that have survived and video recordings of beach scenes only show those wealthy enough to afford it. Although the Box Brownie camera was still a luxury to some, it was an increasingly accessible mode of photography and therefore the images provide a source that shows the ordinary life of people and what they wore.

[i]Posever Verna Curtis, Photographic Memory: The Album in the Age of Photography(New York: Aperture, 2011) 7.

On winning the Design History Society Undergraduate Student Essay Prize and cultural adventures in New York City

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Emmy SaleBA Fashion and Dress History graduate 2018 – on visiting New York for the Design History Society conference

Fig 1.

Fig 1. University of Brighton delegates Harriet Atkinson, Emmy Sale and Megha Rajguru

In June, I was thrilled to receive news that my dissertation (supervised by Dr Charlotte Nicklas) had been nominated for the Design History Society Undergraduate Essay Prize. A few weeks later I found out it had won. The essay looked at hand-knitted bathing suits in the 1930s, with a focus on their making and wearing for the leisure and lifestyle of young working women. In their comments, the Prize’s reviewers said the essay contained new research that explored aspects of working class dress, alongside excellent theoretical arguments. An important aspect of my research was the acknowledgement that working class dress, women’s craft and the home-making of garments is often overlooked in dress history and sometimes, also, by museums. Winning a prize for this work underlines the value of such histories and gives me confidence to continue investigating beachwear worn by young women in the interwar period.

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Fig. 2 Jeremy Aynsley announcing the winners of the Student Essay Prize.

Part of the Essay Prize was a free place at the Design History Society(DHS)’s conference held this year at Parsons The New School of Design in New York City. With help towards travel costs as part of the award, I was delighted to be able to travel to New York. The conference theme was “Design and Displacement”, a historically and contemporarily relevant theme. The first parallel session I attended was “Objects and Meaning”, a discussion of the role of objects and design and their subsequent meanings to individuals and groups in situations of displacement and unsettlement. A quote from speaker Penny Wolfson summarised this: “Things are to be taken seriously. They matter. We save them and sometimes they save us.”

Fig 3.

Fig. 3 Celebrations in front of the Statue of Liberty at the Design History Society Gala Dinner.

During the conference, DHS held two social events for conference delegates to network and celebrate design history. The first was an opening reception in the Great Hall at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. It was here that DHS chairman Professor Jeremy Aynsley formally announced the winners of the Student Essay Prize and Design Writing Prize. He spoke of how the Prize is one of the ways the Society supports and encourages the student research of design history. The second was the Gala Dinner, which took place aboard a dinner boat for an evening cruise to enjoy the sights of New York from dusk to dark.

Over the three days of the conference, I attended sessions examining Meet me in St. Louis (1944), American Modernism, Museology, émigré designers’ clothing and displacement. These sessions were close to my interests in dress, textiles and material culture but they also explored aspects of design history that were new to me. I was particularly intrigued by Selene States’ paper “Delineating Fashions Beyond the Bauhaus: Patterning Die Neue Linie After Politics in the Weimar and Nazi Periods,” which examined the shifting design of fashion illustrations in the Bauhaus Ladies’ Journal through the Weimar and Nazi periods. Her primary research compared the illustrated designs in the journal with international journals and dress patterns; a methodology I was intrigued by and had attempted within my own research.

Fig 4.

Fig. 4 “Mended and Altered” section at Fashion Unravelled, The Museum at FIT.

In the museology session, Colleen Hill, curator at The Museum at FIT, gave a paper examining the repurposed garments within the museums current exhibition Fashion Unravelled. Luckily, the museum was my next stop after the conference.  The Fashion Unravelled exhibition looked at garments that have altered, unfinished, repurposed, distressed and deconstructed. Each garment displayed had an intriguing history relating to their wearers or makers. Whilst I was in New York, FIT opened a second exhibition, PINK: The History of Punk, Pretty, Powerful color, which explored the meanings and definitions of pink clothing. It was an explosion of garments in every shade of pink fabrics imaginable in Euro-American fashion from 1850 to present. It did not just feature pink frocks, as one might have expected, but also lingerie, menswear, childrenswear and contemporary garments that use pink for conceptual or political meaning.

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Fig. 5: PINK: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color. Images features the juxtaposition of a 1750s Silk robe à la française and a pleather garment from Rei Kawakubo’s famous “18th century Punk” collection.

During fashion and dress history seminars at Brighton we often discussed the place of fashion in museums all over the world. Central to these discussions were the Museum at FIT and The Met. So an opportunity to go to New York was also a chance to experience museums I have only read about.  The Met’s latest blockbuster exhibition Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination. featured the works of designers who, for the most part, were raised within the traditions of Roman Catholicism, suggesting how their relationships with religion influenced their work. Dolce and Gabanna, Yves Saint Laurent, House of Givenchy and Alexander McQueen were placed within the Medieval Sculpture Hall designed to resemble a Western church for an “Ecclesiastical Fashion Show.”

Fig 6.

Fig. 6: Dolce and Gabbana Evening dresses from A/W13-14 collection displayed at Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and The Catholic Imagination, The Met 5th Avenue.

When I began my dissertation research I would never have expected it to be the start of an adventure, which would end up in New York.

Emmy starts on the MA History of Design and Material Culture this month.

Barbie – The Icon at The National Museum of Finland, Helsinki

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BA Fashion and Dress History student Charlotta Ruotanen visits an exhibition about a popular – but contested – children’s toy

Fig 1.

Fig.1: National History Museum of Finland. 23.07.2018. Personal photograph by author.

Love it or hate it, Barbie is one of the best known toys of the last sixty years and perhaps it’s for that reason that the exhibition Barbie – The Icon has been a hit. The exhibition, which was curated by Professor Massimiliano Capella and developed with toy manufacturer Mattel, originated in Milan and travelled to Rome, Bologna and Madrid before coming to Helsinki, where I saw it (Fig 1). It explores the history of Barbie from the late fifties to today.

Inside the Museum there were opportunities to pose with images of Barbie before entering the first room, which was dedicated to how the image of Barbie has changed over the years. There was a separate case for the original Teen-age Fashion Model Barbie Doll. This, the first ever Barbie, was introduced at the 1959 Toy Fair in New York. It looked sophisticated and was wearing a black and white bathing suit (Fig 2).

Fig 2.

Fig.2: Teen-age Fashion Model Barbie Doll. Press Photograph for Barbie – the Icon exhibition. Web. 23.8.2018. Mattel.

Looking at how Barbie had changed over seven decades prompted me to think about how the world and fashion have changed since the late 1950s. Even Barbie’s body and face have changed to comply with fashionable beauty standards. The original Barbie had strong cat-eye makeup with blue eyeshadow, hoop earrings and a tiny waist. This look stayed the same during most of the 1960s and Barbie had multiple different hair colours too. In the seventies Barbie’s hair changed to that long, blond, iconic hair that she still has. Also Barbie’s skin colour changed to become more tan as was fashionable and her face had a complete makeover. In recent years Barbie has been given even more makeovers and now there are even Barbies with different body-types to fit with campaigns about body positivity.

Fig 3.

Fig.3: Career Barbies. Press Photograph for Barbie – the Icon exhibition. Web. 23.8.2018. Mattel.

One exhibition room was dedicated to all the different careers Barbie has had. The first Barbie was a fashion model but since the 1960s Barbie has been an astronaut, doctor, veterinarian, air hostess, athlete and a lot more (Fig 3). The next room was about Barbie’s house and her family and friends, the next few rooms were about collectable Barbies. For example “Silkstone Barbies” were made to be glamorous and to have the face of the first Barbie despite being made in the twenty-first century. In the same room there were Barbies that had clothes inspired by famous artworks and, of course, there were also celebrity look-a-like Barbies. Some of these were characters from movies and some wore iconic outfits from celebrities like Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Cher (Fig 4).

Fig 4.

Fig.4: Marilyn Monroe Barbies. Barbie – The Icon exhibition. 23.7.2018. Personal photograph by author.

The exhibition ended with a room full of Barbies that represented different countries and cultures. This was clearly the curator’s attempt to end the exhibition with a sense of unity, but was problematic as most of the dolls were heavily stereotyped and their costumes depended on cultural appropriation. This was a disappointing end to what was otherwise an excellent exhibition.