Last night I spent an enjoyable evening at the British Library at an event called “Inspired by…patterns and textures”.
Part of the British Library’s five-day Spring Festival, the event was a chance for designers and makers to see some of the creative collections, talk to the curators and even handle(!) some of the items.
For me, the Japanese collections were a particular highlight, especially four small volumes from 1904, called Senshoku zuan (Design for dyeing), containing 100 textile designs. Sorry – no pictures of these, as they were too small to keep the pages open and photograph properly.
There were also collections of woodblock prints of clouds, waves and butterflies, the latter by Kamisaka Sekka, one of the most creative woodblock artists of the early 20th century.
There was also an amazing 19th-century Japanaese paper stencil, incredibly precise. It was extraordinary how such a delicate item was so little damaged.
Also on display were some of the decorated papers from the Olga Hirsch Collection, including some very striking block prints. Sadly, there were no paste papers on show – apparently, many of the original papers are very fragile. But they are being digitised, so hopefully it will be easier to see them online soon.
Highly entertaining were some bound volumes of The Journal of Design and Manufactures, edited by Henry Cole, first director of what became the Victoria & Albert Museum). The monthly journal included real samples of fabric and wallpaper, as well as numerous illustrations. Its aim was to educate the middle classes about “good taste”, and to this end the tone was often judgmental. This, for example, from a review of printed garment fabrics in 1850:
“The past month has brought us 166 examples of printed goods, and, in spite of all allowances, indulgences, or excuses, which as good-natured, rather than cross-grained critics, we have endeavoured to muster as palliative of our review, we cannot bring ourselves into anything like a good humour with the display for the season now commenced. ”
Three calicoes from Thomas Hoyle and Sons in Manchester are merely dismissed as being “vulgar in colouring and form” – they’re the lucky ones. The nine calicoes from Devas and Co in London were not so fortunate: “These may be classed under two heads as regards style; one being printed in two browns and black with a red, the wonderfully like crusty loaves in form, the ‘pattern drawer’s'(!) type in this instance being forsaken for one even worse; and in this respect we do get a novelty certainly.”
Can’t imagine Vogue or World of Interiors being quite so forthright these days!