Marion Dorn: Illustrations for William Beckford’s Vathek, 1929

 

Back in the 1980s I was working on my PhD on the American textile designer Marion Dorn and was in New York where I interviewed Yvonne McHarg, a food stylist, who had known Dorn back in the 1930s through her sister Madge Garland. Garland was a fashion journalist and the founder of the first fashion course at the Royal College of Art, she and Dorn were good friends. On that trip Yvonne gave me her copy of Vathek. The book was a re-print of William Beckford’s 1782 gothic novel – which tells the story of Vathek, a caliph, who builds five palaces, each devoted to the enjoyment of one of the five senses. The book was published by the Nonesuch Press in 1929 with illustrations by Marion Dorn. In this article I would like to draw attention to the relationship between Dorn’s  textile design and these illustrations.

Dorn’s eight full-page illustrations and two vignettes were printed by the Curwen Press. There was a limited print run for the volume with 1050 copies produced in the UK and 500 in the US. The printing process used was lithography and each illustration has a pastel-like quality. At the time she produced these designs she was starting to become a very successful textile designer and was gaining a reputation for her batiks which she had been designing since she settled in London in 1923 with her partner and fellow American, graphic designer, Edward McKnight Kauffer.

When Dorn arrived in London she continued to develop the batik work which she had begun when she lived in New City, New York with her then husband the ceramic artist Henry Varnum Poor. The fabrics she produced in the England in the 1920s ranged from  large-scale bespoke pieces, to smaller items such as scarves and handkerchiefs and occasionally dresses.

Dorn’s pattern-making skills are evident in both the illustrations to Vathek, in her batik patterns and the increasing number of carpet designs she was starting to produce by the late 1920s. In her  first illustration for the book (see image shown next to book’s binding, above) one can clearly see the geometric composition of the floor of the palace that derives from her batik work and was developing in her rug designs, especially the important commission she received for the 1932 extension and redecoration of Claridges Hotel, London by Oswald P Milne.

The second full-page image in the book illustrates the area described in the text where ‘a hundred groves of sweetly scented shrubs’ were situated and where Vathek went to breath fresh air and drink the pure water. Dorn’s treatment of the trees intended to represent the range of different species found there, she intersects them with a flowing stream. The way she handles the depiction of the various leaf forms relates to her skilled rendering of leaf and plant forms in both her rug and fabric designs.

Vathek builds an observation tower with 1,500 steps on the top of which a fire is built in and a sacrifice made. In a further episode in the story tigers attach a group of travellers. In both these illustrations Dorn’s drawing is accomplished and her composition and pattern-making skills obvious.

In some of the illustrations we see motifs that recur again and again in Dorn’s textile work, particularly leaves and birds.

Dorn’s abstracted treatment of birds was developed in several textile designs in the 1930s. The surreal treatment of the disembodied hand and heart was adapted for a design she did for a screen print ‘Hand & Poppy for Warner & Sons in 1935.

 

Vathek is the only book that Dorn illustrated, probably because her career as a textile designer really took off in the 1930s. Her name appeared regularly in the art and design press and in 1934 she set up her own limited company – unusual for a designer at the time.

She did occasionally produce works on paper, these included cards, wallpapers and embroidery transfers – but her real talent was working with fabric and fibre, whether that be for printed textiles or more textural weaves and rugs. Writing in 1939,  the writer and interior designer H.G.Hayes Marshall described Dorn ‘ as one of the most prominent and successful designers of our time’. (1)

(1) Marshal, H.G. Hayes (1939) British Textile Designers Today, F Lewis.

FurtherReading

Boydell, C (1996) The Architect of Floors: modernism, art and Marion Dorn designs, Schoeser

Boydell, C (1996) ‘Batik in America and Britain 1920-1930: The Early Career of Marion Dorn’, Text, 24: 4-8

Boydell, C (1996) ‘The Decorative Imperative: Marion Dorn’s Textiles and Modernism’, Journal of the Decorative Arts Society, 19: 31-40

 

 

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Antique Textile Fair, Manchester Sunday 30th April, 2017

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I am getting ready for the 25th Textile Society’s Antique Textile Fair. I think I must have been to most of them and sold for the first time last year. It’s a fantastic event. I have some gorgeous vintage clothing and fabrics for sale. So here’s a preview of what you will see. Come and say hello, my stand is #48 on the first row on the right near the entrance.

I specialise in mid-century fabrics and clothing – but I have a few older pieces this year. The 1920s brocade coat is a real gem and I have a couple of beautiful embroidered silk shawls and a fine woven wool example.

I love these two little linen aprons. The one on the left is by Liberty’s.

In terms of vintage clothing, there will be a few Horrockses’ pieces (of course!) as well as some dead stock 1950s hats.

And a huge range of high quality mid-century furnishing fabrics, from manufacturers such as David Whitehead, Edinburgh Weavers, Bernard Wardle and Heals.

I will also have a good selection of magazines from the 1950s through to the 1970s.

In addition to original vintage pieces there will also be a selection of coasters and key rings made from vintage fabric available.

Hope to see you there!

 

 

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Robert Stewart designs for Liberty

One of my favourite fabric designers of the 1950s is the Scot, Robert Stewart (1924-1995). Born in Glasgow, Stewart studied at Glasgow School of Art and taught there from 1949, becoming the Head of Printed Textiles. Stewart had a distinguished career as a designer of ceramics, tapestries, fabrics and graphics. [1] And I have one of his textiles ‘Fruit Cup’ (1951) for sale at the moment in my Etsy shop.

Robert Stewart’s designs often incorporate stylised human forms and abstracted fruit and vegetables. His designs were manufactured by some of the best known textiles companies of the period: Donald Brothers, Edinburgh Weavers, the Edinburgh Tapestry Company and possibly David Whitehead. His relationship with Liberty of London was particularly fruitful.

He visited Liberty in 1950 taking a portfolio of designs which were felt to be too abstract for the retailer who at the time were best known for more traditional products. But later when Liberty had realised the possibilities of embracing more modern approaches to design they approached him to design souvenir products for the Festival of Britain, 1951.

During the ’50s he produced many designs for Liberty and his work was displayed prominently in its mail order catalogues. He played an important role in Liberty’s strategy of modernising its output. Stewart was in good company for Liberty also bought fabric designs from Lucienne Day, Jacqueline Groag and Hilda Durkin. Modern designs were first introduced through the ‘Young Liberty’ department (founded in July 1949) – before being sold through the  main fabric ranges.

Stewart supplied Liberty with at least fifteen designs between 1950 and 1954 , these included fabrics, cushions, boxes and waste paper baskets. [2]

In 1992 Liberty reprinted his 1951 design ‘Fruit Delight’. The enduring popularity of Stewart’s work is evidenced in the continued availability of his designs, a number of  which have been digitally reproduced by Classic Textiles.

Classic Textiles

References

[1] Arthur, Liz (2003) Robert Stewart Design 1946-95, A&C Black, London

[2] Arthur, ibid

Further Reading

Arthur, Liz (2003) Robert Stewart Design 1946-95, A&C Black, London

Buruma, A (2009) Liberty and Co. in the Fifties and Sixties, ACC Editions, Woodbridge, Suffolk

Classic Textiles https://www.classictextiles.com/robert-stewart/

V&A Pattern (2012) Liberty & Co. V&A Publishing, London

Victoria & Albert Museum http://collections.vam.ac.uk/search/?limit=15&q=Robert+Stewart&commit=Search&after-adbc=AD&before-adbc=AD&collection%5B%5D=THES48601&narrow=1&offset=0&slug=0

 

 

 

 

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New items for sale

I have been adding items to my Etsy shop over the last week – so please take a look. Most of the fabrics I am selling are items from M’s collection (you can read about this here). They came from Horrockses Fashions headquarters in Mayfair, London in the 1950s. You can read her story here: https://festivalofpattern.wordpress.com/2016/06/18/kid-in-a-sweet-shop-part-one/

I will be listing more vintage fabric over the next few days so please have a look in my shop.

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Alastair Morton : designing for Horrockses Fashions

Over the years that I have been researching Horrockses Fashions I have collected examples of the company’s output and probably top of my list of favourites are dresses made from the glorious designs of Alastair Morton who was a key figure in the company’s early success. I thought I should record them here, as soon most of them will be winging their way to the Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston.

'Cotton Concerto' (scrapbook)

Horrockses Fashions’ first collection (pre Morton) [The Drapers’ Record, April 1946]

Like all fashionable clothing concerns, Horrockses Fashions realised early on that acquiring good fabric designs was crucial. It is clear from its business records and interviews with its employees that the acquisition of good designs was considered a priority. When asked to comment on what he felt were the main elements in a successful fashion business, the firm’s design director, James Cleveland Belle replied ‘that there was no doubt that the following factors in the order stated were vitally important. 1. Colour and design. 2. The cut of the dress. 3. The quality’, he went on to comment ‘that if we could get the right colours (i.e. bright colours) we could get away with “murder” in regard to the making of the dresses’.[1] And colour is at the heart of Alastair Morton’s designs.

New ImageThis was my first Alastair Morton purchase – it’s a day dress from 1948 – and is an excellent example of one of his early floral designs. Like many of the designs included here you can see sketches and samples of his Horrockses’ work in the collections of Abbott Hall Art Gallery in Kendal. This wonderful collection shows the different colourways he had for each design, many are just in sketch form (so presumably these didn’t make it onto fabric). There are also a number of drawings which show Morton’s observational skills and his talent for translating these into repeating patterns.

Those who know me are aware I am a fan of the housecoat (I have many and will be writing about them here soon). This one is in a beautiful lilac Morton print. The curving bands of delicate flowers are arranged on a background of stars.

Horrockses purchased designs from a variety of sources including Parisian design studios and freelancers as well as from its own designers. But the engagement of Alastair Morton in April 1947, on a monthly retainer, was an inspired move. Morton had many years’ experience of textile design, being closely involved in his family’s furnishing fabric firm, Morton Sundour, and specifically a branch of the firm, Edinburgh Weavers, described by Nikolaus Pevsner in 1937 as ‘the most adventurous firm in the country’. [2] After the Second World War, Morton worked for Edinburgh Weavers on a half-time basis, allowing him to pursue other activities such as handloom weaving and designing fashion fabrics for Horrockses.

In return for his monthly retainer of  £62.10s, he was expected to provide at least 40 designs each year, which he supplied in repeat and in several colourways. [3] At first he dealt directly with Olive O’Neill who had been brought in by Horrockses as fashion adviser. These early designs were characterized by their bright colours and loosely drawn flowers, often arranged in horizontal coloured stripes, which were to be widely imitated by Horrockses’ rivals. These early designs were reviewed favourably by The Ambassador in April 1948 who commented on their ‘rich clear colours’. [4]

This yellow dress with designs of roses shows how occasionally Morton’s designs were adapted in the company’s design studio. In this case a grid pattern has been added to the ground.

This design below is an interesting example, it shows how the fabric was cut to create a horizontal arrangement of the pattern. This ‘bayadere’ stripe became the signature of Horrockses Fashions and was widely imitated.

The management of Horrockses Fashions agreed that Morton had played a crucial role in the company’s initial success and ‘undoubtedly set a fashion in Great Britain’.[5]

The firm continued to use him into the 1950s, although in 1949 some concern was expressed that its customers had ‘seen too much of the Alastair Morton designs’ and that it was striving to find a new designer with a ‘definite handwriting’.[6] In spite of this comment, the contract with Morton continued until 1955 when, due to increasing commitments at Edinburgh Weavers, he decided to end the arrangement.

 

Where to see Alastair Morton designs for Horrockses:

Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston (the Museum has many Morton examples in storage that can be viewed by appointment)

Abbott Hall Art Gallery, Kendal (collection can be accessed by appointment)

References

[1] Horrockses Fashions Limited. Extract from Verbatim Report of the Management Meeting. 29 March 1950 (LRO: DDVC Acc 7340 Box 12/3)

[2] Pevsner, N. An Enquiry into Industrial Art in England, Cambridge University Press, 1937, p.48.

[3] Agreement re. payments to Alastair Morton (LRO: DDVC Acc. Box 12/4)

[4] The Ambassador, April 1948

[5] Horrockses Fashions Limited. Extract from Verbatim Report of the Management Meeting. 27 July 1949 (LRO: DDVC Acc 7340 Box 12/3)

[6] Letter from Alastair Morton to Mr Leadbetter, 29 May 1955 (LRP: DDVC Acc. Box 12/4)

Further Reading

Boydell, C. Horrockses Fashions: Off the Peg Style in the ’40s and ’50s, V&A Publishing, 2010

Jackson, L. Alastair Morton and Edinburgh Weavers: visionary textiles and modern art, V&A Publishing, 20

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Back to the Drawing Board


captureFor the past few months I have been acting as a consultant for this exhibition currently on show at Keele University, Staffordshire, which showcases the work of textile designer Pat Albeck and her late husband, theatre designer Peter Rice. Their son Matthew and his wife and business partner Emma Bridgewater (both designers) came to Keele University with the idea for the show (the Emma Bridgewater Factory is located a few miles away in Stoke on Trent). The team at Keele have gathered an eclectic array of Pat and Peter’s work as a fitting tribute to this creative couple.

My role in the show relates specifically to the work of Pat Albeck – who I first got to know when I was researching Horrockses Fashions. It was here that Pat worked at the beginning of her long and illustrious career. She started at Horrockses while still a student at the Royal College of Art in 1952 where she was talent-spotted by two of Horrockses’ directors. She worked for them alternate months while at the RCA and became full-time after graduation, and this early experience was so important for her future career. There are a number of examples of early work in the exhibition, including these skirts and a sun dress.

The Venice Market design (middle right and bottom) is a particular favourite of hers and was discovered quite recently on Ebay, the original design is in the V&A, as is the design of lobsters completed for one of the Horrockses’ stylists John Tullis. She worked closely with firm’s fashion designers throughout the six years she was with the company. The sundress is also a design by Tullis with Pat’s distinctive drawing style.

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Pat was born in Hull in 1930 and attended the local art school before travelling south to study at the Royal College of Art. The elements of the exhibition devoted to Pat’s work reflect both the diversity and longevity of her career. When she left Horrockses she began a successful career as a freelance designer – there are too many companies to list here – but some of the best known include Sam Sherman, Sekers, M&S,  John Lewis and Sandersons. Her work for John Lewis was particularly significant. In the sixties she was asked to produce a design based on the patterns of William Morris – her response was ‘Daisy Chain’ – printed in several colourways it was their best seller for 15 years. Pat feels that it was her work for Cavendish Textiles (the production arm of John Lewis) that included some of her best work. Working directly for a retailer, meant it was easier for her to understand who the end-user of her designs was going to be, the most important person to her is always the consumer.

Pat met her future husband, Peter Rice, at the Royal College of Art where he was studying theatre design. I have been lucky enough to some spend time with both Pat and Peter over the last few years and their complementary partnership was wonderful to witness.

Peter had been closely involved in the planning of this exhibition, but sadly he passed away on 24 Dec 2015 – I think he would have been very pleased with the show. His work is represented by numerous drawings and models for his extensive catalogue of theatre and opera productions. His first opera production was Il Seraglio in 1952 for Sadler’s Wells and he was designing for Holland Park Opera well into his eighties. His theatre work included designs for a revival of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal and in 1988 he did the sets for Maureen Lipman’s Re:Joyce. In the Keele exhibition a reproduction of the mural that Peter painted for the Bridgwater factory takes a prominent place. Painted in 2013 ‘A Bright Past for Stoke-on-Trent’ and features its architectural heritage and is one of the last major pieces that Peter produced.

mural

Although Pat Albeck is best known for her textile designs, she produced designs for ceramics, tins and wallpapers – also represented here.

There is a wonderful display of tea towels hanging in rows from the ceiling. How many of you have an Albeck tea towel lurking in a kitchen drawer? She designed ranges of products for them, including tea towels, from 1967 and still designs a tea towel for them every year.

20161108_190334Always passionate about flowers (but rejecting the phrase ‘floral’) – this subject has dominated much of her output. A close examination of a couple of designs demonstrates her mastery of the pencil – her drawing is always exquisite.

In recent years Pat has turned her creative attention to the production of cut paper designs – again flowers dominate. The fact that at her last show every one sold is testament to her continued creativity.

The design dynasty is continued by Matthew Rice and his wife Emma Bridgewater, and one of their four children who works as an illustrator.

The exhibition continues at Keele University Staffordshire until 26 January 2017

For more information:

  • Pat Albeck’s website – http://pat-albeck.co.uk/
  • Exhibition video – ‘Back to the Drawing Board’
  • Boydell, C (2010) Horrockses Fashions: Off-the-Peg Style in the ’40s and ’50s, V&A Publications
  • Boydell, C ((1999) ‘Pat Albeck: textile designs for Horrockses Fashions 1953-58’, Text, 29: 5-10

 

 

 

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New coaster designs added.

I have added some new designs – these coasters make great Christmas gifts for lovers of vintage. To find out more information visit the Selling page.

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