Women Designing: Redefining Design in Britain Between the Wars
The exhibition Women Designing: Redefining Design in Britain Between the Wars, curated by Suzette Worden and Jill Seddon for the University of Brighton gallery, ran from 7th to 31st March 1994: it subsequently toured to Luton Museum and Art Gallery (July-August); Howard Gardens Gallery, Cardiff (October-November) and City Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent (March-April 1995). A review of the exhibition at the University of Brighton Gallery was written by Penny Sparke in Design (May 1994, p58).
Research for the exhibition began with a preliminary listing of as many names of female designers practicing during the interwar period as could be discovered in searches through archives, contemporary periodicals and a more informal network, where names were suggested by other researchers, surviving relatives and, in a few cases designers themselves. The list reached 393, with further information on some women and their work relatively easy to find, whilst others, despite sustained efforts, remained solely names. All were included in a Roll of Honour at the entrance to the exhibition, in an attempt to ensure that they did not become written out of history a second time and might provide the starting point for future researchers. Through this emphasis on individuals and their biographies, Seddon and Worden sought to construct a wider picture of how women designers could, and did, work during this period.
The exhibition, which brought together over 80 objects and documents from a wide range of museum collections, as well as private lenders, was arranged around three themes:
Art and design education for women and setting up in professional practice. This section drew upon material from the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London; the Royal College of Art; Brighton College of Art; Maidstone College of Art and the Architectural Association School. It also examined the experience of independent working through examples such as graphic and textiles designer Margaret Calkin James’s Rainbow Workshop and Joyce Clissold’s Footprints printed textiles workshop.
Work in the Public Sphere
Much of the work included here would have been thought of as ‘commercial art’ at the time, including posters by Dora Batty, Sybil Andrews, Rosemary Ellis, Anna Zinkeisen and Vera Willoughby and upholstery by Enid Marx and Marion Dorn, commissioned by London Underground. Other branches of the graphic arts were represented by book designs for the Curwen Press, illustrations by Pearl Binder and Beatrice Warde’s work for the Monotype Corporation. Commercial production of ceramics and textiles featured strongly, with pottery designed by Susie Cooper, Clarice Cliff, Dame Laura Knight and Dora Lunn and textiles by Marianne Straub and Theo Moorman, among others.
Work for ‘private’ consumption in the home
This section examined the planning of the home, from external architecture through to planning and interior decoration. It examined the architectural practice of Jane Drew, Sadie Speight, Nora Aiton and Betty Scott and kitchen planning and appliance design by Dorothy Braddell and women associated with the Electrical Association for Women. The decoration of the home was represented by the studio pottery of Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie and furniture by Judith Hughes and Ray Hille. This final part of the exhibition posed questions about the definition of the ‘designer’ by examining women’s roles as ‘tastemakers’ and advisors on design, including material from the Alison Settle archive at the University of Brighton, relating to her work for Vogue and as consultant to the Wedgwood Company.
In addition to the exhibition the research was disseminated by a book of essays, with the same title, edited by Seddon and Worden and a study day, Learning from the Past, Looking to the Future: Women and Design, with speakers including professional designers as well as academics.