Friday 24 April 2009

1950s Design

It is not uncommon for great designers to derive inspiration from the natural world or the countryside. Here are two parts of a dinner service - a vegetable dish and a salad plate - from a design called Nature Study. It was produced by Midwinter and designed in 1955 by Terence Conran.

Midwinter Pottery was founded by William Robinson Midwinter in Stoke in 1910, started making dinner ware in the 1930s, and twenty years later was employing over 600 people. Its reputation was in traditional lines until the founder's son, Roy Midwinter, influenced by modern styling he had seen in America, launched the new Stylecraft range of tableware in 1953. The contemporary design and lively patterns - many by the firm's renowned designer Jessie Tait - were a great success in a market slowly emerging from post-war restrictions on consumer goods.

The new shapes, including the television screen-shaped plates quickly became 50s style icons.

A new version, the Fashion range, was added to Stylecraft in 1955 and amongst the first of its designs was Conran's Nature Study.

Then aged 24, this was one of Conran's early appearances on the design scene in his own right. After leaving St Martins College of Art and Design to do some work for the 1951 Festival of Britain, it was some fabric designs and an interest in Italian black and white styling that brought him to the attention of Roy Midwinter.

Conran produced other designs for Midwinter, including Saladware (below) and re-designed the firm's showroom in 1956. His own design practice was then under way, concentrating initially on furniture, and he opened his first Habitat shop in Chelsea in 1964.

Midwinter Potteries continued through to the 1980s. Their styles of the 50s and 60s have become modern classics and are now highly collectable.

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Thatched cottage biscuit barrel, 1930s

Here’s something that I picked up recently at Alfie’s Antique Market in Marylebone, where you can immerse yourself in decades of twentieth century design. It’s a piece of Carlton Ware, (pattern no.806) part of a set known as cottage ware which included a honey pot, cheese dish, milk jug etc along with the biscuit barrel.

Carlton Ware was originally a trade name of the pottery firm Wiltshaw and Robinson which was founded in Stoke on Trent in 1890 and subsequently changed its name to Carlton Ware Ltd in 1958. Between the two World Wars, supplementing their high end output, the firm found a good deal of success with novelty and other ranges of bright and cheerful tableware aimed at the popular end of the market. The registered design number on the biscuit barrel (778973) puts it to 1932.

There can be few more iconic symbols of the English countryside than the thatched cottage and its associations with the rural picturesque that go back beyond the nineteenth century. In truth, it was a humble, poor man’s dwelling but yet an object of desire when viewed from an urban perspective. The reality of the countryside in the early 1930s, deep in agricultural depression, was that many thatched cottages were falling into ruin but yet the cosy symbolism remained.

Thatched roofing today scores highly on status value, the more so as interest in sustainable materials has increased. It is also high maintenance and not without controversy as owners, conservationists, planners and thatchers argue about the ethics of using cheaper and more convenient imported materials, instead of the home grown and ‘traditional’.

Friday 3 April 2009

The School Prints II, 1947

Our other School Print, this one from the second series of 1947, is Harvesting by John Nash (1893-1977). It is a bright golden scene that typifies Nash’s finely observed but lighthearted sense of landscape and rural life. He was a natural, down to earth artist with no formal training behind him (unlike his brother Paul) and one who expressed himself through a charming romanticism and good humour in spite of serving as War Artist in both world wars.

Here, a field of corn is being cut and tied into sheaves by a horse drawn reaper binder. As the machine goes round in ever tighter circles, the rabbits trapped in what remains of the standing crop are obliged to make a run for it. Distracted from their task of collecting the sheaves into stooks, the other figures are trying to bag a rabbit or two for the pot, without too much success it seems.

There are so many neat touches in the picture: the glorious variety of trees that skirt the field; the ramshackle farm workers’ bikes propped in the hedge; the yappy dogs; and the curious geometric pattern of the remaining corn that can indeed result when starting at the outer edge and working inwards. In a very few years this kind of scene would be rare as the combine harvester replaced the binder, and shorter-strawed varieties of corn began to dominate.

The twenty-four School Prints were produced by a process known as auto-lithography in which the artists themselves applied their designs directly to the stone block. It was this that enabled the company, somewhat controversially, to term them as ‘original’ lithographs. They sold in large numbers to both schools and the general public and captured a mood in those early post-War years.