Selling Wallpaper: An archival history of interwar home decoration

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

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

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

Wallpaper Magazine, April-May 1927

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Criticism of the Bauhaus from Within: The Dornburg Workshop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fig. 5. The interior of the workshop

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

Fig 6. The interior of the workshop

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

 

 

How my dissertation on Alison Settle, editor of British Vogue, became an article in Fashion Theory

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History of Design and Material Culture MA graduate (2014) Ilaria Coser on being published in academic journal Fashion Theory

 

"Alison Settle, Editor of Vogue, early 1930s. Handwritten note at the back of the photograph states: “Alison at her desk, Editor’s room, Vogue, with dolls house in background”

Alison Settle, Editor of Vogue, early 1930s. Handwritten note at the back of the photograph states: “Alison at her desk, Editor’s room, Vogue, with dolls house in background”. (courtesy of Alison Settle Archive, University of Brighton Design Archives).

A few months ago my article on the diaries of Alison Settle was published in Fashion Theory. It felt like a great accomplishment, fulfilling an aspiration I had held since the completion of my dissertation on the great British journalist and editor of British Vogue. Today, Alison Settle is virtually unknown outside fashion circles, with no auto/biography or other literature about her life and her achievements in fashion journalism. Settle reported on “women’s topics” for over 50 years, mostly in British magazines and newspapers. She was an advisor to the British textile and retail industries, and was a member of government bodies tasked with improving post-war British design. For nearly a decade between the Wars, Settle was also the editor of British Vogue, a position which required her to be actively involved with the smart set of London Society.

"“Alison Off on a Jaunt,” 1915. Private photograph from the Charles Wakefield Private Archive

“Alison Off on a Jaunt,” 1915. Private photograph from the Charles Wakefield Private Archive. Permission obtained from Charles Wakefield.

My dissertation focused on the personal diaries written by Settle in the early 1930s, during the last four years of her Vogue editorship. The diaries had been preserved and cared for by Settle’s descendants, particularly by her grandson Charles, who lives in Canada. Charles was incredibly supportive and generous in sharing material and information, and I corresponded frequently with him and established a friendly collaboration. I also drew on material held in Settle’s collection at the University of Brighton Design Archives. As my research progressed, I grew increasingly invested in making Alison Settle’s name more widely known in the public domain – not only because her stature deserves recognition, but also because this would mean a lot to her family.

Fashion Theory’s theoretical and critical approach to fashion has made it my favourite academic journal throughout my studies in dress history. When my tutor, Professor Lou Taylor, mentioned that my MA dissertation had the potential to be published, Fashion Theory was my first choice. I knew that my research was a good fit for the journal, as it focused on Settle’s bodily presence as a key to access the knowledge required of her to be the editor of Vogue.

The process for publication was straightforward. Firstly, I searched online the requirements for submission. Fashion Theory is now published by Taylor & Francis, and their website hosts a very clear section for authors, detailing all the key steps. Having gathered all the practical information – word count, referencing style, recommended font, and so on – I identified a few published articles with similar characteristics to my research. Reading them provided a compass to establish which parts should be kept and which should be discarded, given that my dissertation would have to be reduced to a third of its original word count.

"Alison Settle with husband Alfred and daughter Maggie, 1921. Private photograph from the Charles Wakefield Private Archive.

Alison Settle with husband Alfred and daughter Maggie, 1921. Private photograph from the Charles Wakefield Private Archive. Permission obtained from Charles Wakefield.

The re-writing of my text took longer than I expected. I had done a huge amount of detailed research on Settle’s life and I had been very selective on which parts should be included in my dissertation; for the article, I had to focus even more on the theoretical and critical aspects. Once I felt satisfied with the final draft, Professor Lou Taylor was kind enough to read it and confirm it was ready, as well as following up my submission by writing to Valerie Steele (the editor-in-chief of Fashion Theory) to introduce me and my research.

Articles are subject to peer review, and I was surprised at how quickly I received feedback. I made most of the changes recommended by the reviewer and submitted my new draft, together with a point-by-point explanation of the suggestions I had implemented and those I had opted not to apply. For example, the reviewer had suggested cutting out Settle’s biography. However, I strongly believed that it would be important to keep it, because of the complete lack of information published on her life. So, although reduced, the chapter remained.

The article was approved for publication, which happened very quickly. I was contacted by a team who supervised the proofreading and editing, requiring me to revise the text in detail and authorise further changes – changes related to syntax and grammar rather than content. And a couple of days after approving the final proof, I received confirmation that the article was published, with tips on how to broadcast the information as widely as possible.

Overall, I feel that an essential aspect of getting published was the support I received from my tutor – first hearing that my work was worthy of publication, and then her advocacy on my behalf when I submitted it to the journal. It is very satisfying to know that now there is research published on Alison Settle. Through the laborious task of transcribing her journals, I had looked into names and places and events that made it possible for me to understand the complex web of relationships in her life, and through those, her personality and values. Of course I retain my research notes and findings, and the idea of one day writing, or contributing to the writing of her biography remains my ambition.

Link to article: Ilaria Coser (2017) ‘Alison Settle, Editor of British Vogue (1926–1935): Habitus and the Acquisition of Cultural, Social, and Symbolic Capital in the Private Diaries of Alison Settle’, Fashion Theory, DOI: 10.1080/1362704X.2017.1371982

 

Object of the Month: March 2018

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How did a Rwandan doll end up in a Brighton teaching collection? Final year Fashion and Dress History student Emmy Sale investigates

Figure 1 Front view Doll made in Kigali, Rwanda.

Figure 1. Front view Doll made in Kigali, Rwanda, 2008-2009. Cotton fabrics, stuffed with waste-rice stuffing and embroidery detailing. Handmade by a young boy as part of a Tailoring project run by the Kinamba Project. Purchased from Charity Shop in Brighton. University of Brighton Teaching Collection

Ever wondered how objects can travel around the world? Or what happens to souvenirs when they are discarded? This doll from the University of Brighton Dress and Textiles Teaching Collection has made a fascinating journey from Rwanda to Brighton. The doll was purchased by Professor Lou Taylor for just £3 from a Brighton charity shop. The use of African wax print fabric in its construction suggested the doll to be from West African, but research proved otherwise. Instagram posts of similar souvenir dolls posted by tourists suggested Rwandan origins. However, when the dolls were found on www.africanbags.org, this provenance was confirmed. Significantly, the website attributed the doll to the “Kinamba Project” in Kigali, Rwanda.

Figure 2 Back View of Doll made in Kigali, Rwanda.

Figure 2. Back View of Doll.

The Kinamba Project was set up in 2005, aiming to help the poor and vulnerable in Kigali, after the community’s devastation following the 1994 genocide. One way the project helps children and adults is through a tailoring project, which teaches sewing skills to individuals to create a source of income. The Project’s founder, Meg Fletcher, was able to shed more light on the significance of the doll’s manufacture. She explained that the object was made by a young orphan who was looking after a disabled man in exchange for food and a place to sleep. The ‘orphan’ is now a successful and enterprising young man. Today he produces stuffed animals, mobiles and bags, all made from fabrics purchased from local wholesale outlets, and stuffed with waste-rice sacking. From those small beginnings, he was able to employ three people, to purchase a piece of land and to build a house. With the support of the Kinamba Project, the benefits for the people of Kigali of manufacturing these souvenir dolls can be comprehended.

This doll has undergone a journey: from something made to help an individual’s life in Rwanda, bought as a tourist souvenir, later donated to a British charity shop and purchased by a professor for use in dress history research. The research was conducted for a case-study project entitled “Not Just a Souvenir: Dolls of the World.” The teaching collection holds many other dolls from around the world and it is hoped that their narratives will also be researched and revealed by students in the future.

E.Sale1@uni.brighton.ac.uk

Object of the Month: February 2018

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What do a cigarette packet and a rubber duck have in common? MA History of Design and Material Culture student Sarah-Mary Geissler explains

1: FLOAT: Atlas of the World by Andrew Ward, 1997

1: FLOAT: Atlas of the World by Andrew Ward, 1997, and This is to announce the publication of Liver & Lights nos. 16, 17 & 18 to be collectively known as Triptych by Liver & Lights, 1994.
St. Peter’s House Library Special Collection, University of Brighton.

One is an innocent bath-time toy, the other a monument to vice. One has a sleek, smart design, the other cartoonish and animated. One is juvenile, the other adult… I could go on. The point is that they’re just not very similar at all. So how could they possibly be connected? Not only are they both objects but, technically, they are both books! The two may be the last thing you expect to find in a library, though both indeed have shelf marks and can be found in the University’s library catalogue.

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2. FLOAT: Atlas of the World, duck and map key.

The duck is an artist’s multiple; objects commissioned in limited editions but often with a subverted meaning. As well as the duck, the box includes a card containing diagrams showing how to arrange the duck (or several) within a bathtub to indicate different countries. Hence the title, FLOAT: Atlas of the World. Andrew Ward created these in 1997, at a time where Young British Artists such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst were selling their own customised everyday items as accessible works of art.

The cigarette packet was produced in 1994 by the artistic collective Liver and Lights, and contains a rolled-up scroll. This ‘book’ is a catalogue for upcoming magazines complete with prices, postage details and a cut-out subscription form. The magazines were No.16-18, the Triptych, and the ‘bookworks’ were published in a shoebox.

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3. This is to announce the publication of Liver & Lights nos. 16, 17 & 18 to be collectively known as Triptych, cigarette box and scroll.

The classification of ‘book’ encourages the viewer to read the object and consider what visual cues the artist intended. Should information be confined to pages? Does a book require a cover? How involved can a reader be? Design is a creative answer to everyday problems, and these objects question how we understand the everyday.

Neither object was designed explicitly for their current purposes – they were repurposed by the artist. The reader cannot help but imagine Andrew Ward bulk rubber duck shopping, and wonder whether chain smoking each box empty counts as artistic intervention?

S.Geissler1@uni.brighton.ac.uk

Mass Observation: Objects in Everyday Life

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How can historians investigate what people wore in everyday life and what it meant to them? Hannah Smith (MA History of Design and Material Culture) explores some of the many micro-histories contained in the Mass Observation archive…

For my MA dissertation I have researched practices of dress in everyday life as presented within the Mass Observation Project Spring 1992 and Spring 2006 ‘One Day Diary’ directive responses. Housed within the University of Sussex Special Collections at The Keep near the South Downs in Sussex, it is made up of handwritten letters, typed emails, photographs and drawings, produced at the hands of the hundreds that make up the panel of writers known as ‘Mass Observers’. This material is divided into the Mass Observation Archive (1937 – early 1950s) and the Mass Observation Project (1981 – present). It is the latter Mass Observation Project (MOP) that I have been using in my research.

The MOP defines itself as a ‘national life writing project’. Former director of the project, Dorothy Sheridan described it as, “…ordinary people observing and reflecting on everyday life…” (Sheridan, 2000:10). The intent of both the Mass Observation Archive and Project was to give voice to the ‘ordinary’ everyday person, giving them “the authority over knowledge” (Sheridan, 2000:10). Mass Observers are sent up to three sets of ‘directives’ a year with the invitation to write about a wide range of themes and events. Examples have included “Gardening”, “The Refugee Crisis” and “Your Home”.

Figure 1. Responses to the Spring 2005 ‘Charles and Camilla’ Directive. Image courtesy of Mass Observation.

Figure 1. Responses to the Spring 2005 ‘Charles and Camilla’ Directive. Image courtesy of Mass Observation.

My interest in the MOP came about during my first year on the MA History of Design and Material Culture at the University of Brighton. We were encouraged to use the MOP as a primary resource for a group project entitled ‘Interior Lifestyles’. Using the directives ‘Objects about the House’ and ‘Collecting Things’ we explored the relationships between the Mass Observers and the objects they decorated their homes with. Aside from the aforementioned project, the ‘New Years Eve’ and ‘One Day Diary’ directives that I had had the opportunity to look through particularly inspired me. As a researcher of dress and fashion in everyday life, here was access to narratives of real experiences of living, breathing people interacting with dress and fashion, rather than a constructed representation or media ideal. I therefore initially assessed these diary-format directives and developed my own methodology for using the MOP within a material culture study, ultimately leading to my dissertation research in practices of dress.

As well as being able to track the Mass Observer’s use of dress as they weave amongst different contexts throughout the narrative of their day, it has given me rare insight into the ‘wardrobe’ moment – the moment when which the bricolage of the visual self we see in more public spaces is created. Through using Mass Observation, I have been allowed the opportunity to explore not only how people use dress in more public spaces, but also in move private spaces – whether that be their dressing gowns, pyjamas or nothing!

Figure 2. Examples of additional personal papers (including diaries and letters) donated to the project. Image courtesy of Mass Observation.

Figure 2. Examples of additional personal papers (including diaries and letters) donated to the project. Image courtesy of Mass Observation.

Initially, I was overwhelmed due to the vast amount of material and its seemingly limitless capability for endless threads and tangents of research. By reading as much as possible about how other researchers had used the material, I was able to see that every Mass Observation researcher has shared the same struggles and frustrations. Through learning from their problem solving, I was able to tailor their theories to my research interest and develop my own methodology for using the material as well as providing a structure for sampling.

With its interdisciplinary appeal the material transcends boundaries, making it an exciting resource that can always be further explored. Whilst students, academics, media researchers and the public have taken advantage of the unique collection – it is ultimately a treasure trove for anyone with an interest in everyday life. For a researcher of design history and material culture, it provides a rare platform to witness the reality of objects interacting in everyday life. Since I’ve been working with the material, the Mass Observation staff, and the staff at The Keep, have been incredibly helpful and approachable. There is an openness towards anyone that is interested in engaging with the material.

As much as it may seem intimidating during an initial encounter, this should never prevent anyone that is interested from engaging with the material. Now more than ever Mass Observation provides an important platform for recording the reality of lived experience, giving voice to the micro-histories that grand-narratives have tendency to silence. It is inspiring to know as an individual in society, as well as a researcher, that there is a space for your voice to be heard and a space that seriously considers what you have to say. Working with a collection such as this is incredibly important if we are to understand the reality of how we negotiate lived experience and exist as a society and as individuals.