Women Designing

The ‘British Art in Industry’ Exhibition, 1935

An exhibition board showcasing the British Art in Industry exhibitionThis exhibition was jointly organised by the Royal Academy and the Royal Society of Arts. It followed exhibitions of similar intentions, notably the Dorland Hall exhibitions of 1933 and 1934. Unlike earlier exhibitions, exhibitors did not have to pay for space. In all 2,223 items were displayed.

For the Modern Movement inspired critics, like Herbert Read and Paul Nash, the exhibits were rather lavish and showed too much novelty. For many designers it was an opportunity to show work that not only accepted and developed new ideas but also built on skills associated with the traditional arts and crafts. For this reason the exhibition offered women an opportunity to have their design work viewed by a wider public, even if they did not have a lot of say in choosing them. For instance, out of 200 exhibits in the ceramics section 66 were by women designers. On the selecting panels there were 7 women to 146 men.

The exhibition organiser, John de la Valette, edited the book ‘The Conquest of Ugliness’ to accompany the exhibition. Out of 16 contributors 5 were women and included Betty Joel (furniture design), Dorothy Braddell (kitchen design), Alison Settle (fashion journalism), Joan Evans (jewellery historian) and Katharine Pearce (display artist).

Betty Joel wrote: “It is very difficult to define ‘good design’, but I should say that a thing is well designed if it is so unassuming that when you live with it you do not get tired of it.”

The selectors for the jewellery exhibits were not so restrained. They took a great delight in causign a stir by displaying a tiara, by Catherine Cockerell, of ‘Of Nailsea glass with coral and turquoise beads set in silver gilt’ valued at £4 next to a Cartier piece valued at £10,000. Anna Zinkeisen fashioned the heads for the displayes in collaboration with the theatrical designer, Miss Montgomery of Motley.

Image captions clockwise from the top
1. Advertisement from the Souvenir Catalogue for the furniture designer, Betty Joel.
2. Souvenir Catalogue cover for the Royal Academy Exhibition.
3. Cabinet designed and made by Judith E. Hughes. She trained at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London and ran her own cabinet making workshop from 1934 until she retired, aged 80, in 1992 (2 images).
4. Dinner service designed and manufactured by Susie Cooper. This set was shown at the Royal Academy exhibition.
5. Illustration ‘Harmony in colour’, with pose arranged by Anna Zinkeisen, which was included in the Souvenir Catalogue.
6. Jewellery designed by Anna Zinkeisen and made by Catherine Cockerell for the Royal Academy Exhibition (2 images).

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Sirpa Kutilainen • November 12, 2015

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