I once shared a house with the weaver Jill Maguire, and as the house was small I had to share my bedroom with her loom; but although I watched her at work I never developed an interest in her art. So the Anni Albers exhibition at Tate Modern was an eye-opener to me.
Albers (1899-1994) took up weaving rather reluctantly at the Bauhaus, where the weaving department was called the women’s workshop, but she discovered its artistic potential and even while still a student produced original and technically adept textiles that worked as abstract art. She seems to have become absorbed in the complex possibilities of weaving, which requires planning thread by thread, spatial reasoning and a grasp of permutation and combination.
She moved to the the USA in 1933 as the Nazis descended on the Bauhaus, and found work at Black Mountain College, where her practice was enlarged by the study and collection of the traditional weaving of South America. The equipment of these weavers was simple but their fabrics showed advanced mathematical thinking. Albers worked with twisted warps, double fabrics and floating wefts, pushing the boundaries of the craft. She was commissioned by forward looking industrialists who saw the commercial possibilities of her advanced methods. She demonstrated weaving to be a place where art, mathematics and manufacturing meet.
On Tuesday I was stewarding at “Hand of the Maker“, the Society of Designer Craftsmen’s exhibition at Chelsea School of Arts. The SDC is the leading body of designer makers in the UK and their major shows always have interesting and outstanding work. I have chosen some that I like.
Colin and Louise Hawkins
Table by Neal Crampton. This large piece of elm was a rare find, extraordinarily beautiful and somehow enhanced by the split and the oak ties.
Painted silk by Tori McLean.
Batool Showghi’s touching, personal paper constructions recall her family’s life in Iran and refer to forced migration in the Middle East. Her close relatives were Sufis and musicians and suffered persecution in their home country. She told me that there were many Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Iran.
Helen Banzhaf’s apparently abstract tapestries turn out to be pictures of vessels.
I’m taking the opportunity to post a message from the SDC’s website about the refurbishment of our gallery and workspace in Rivington Street, a project that I’ve been involved with as a Trustee of the Society. I’ll continue to post news about the plan as it advances.
Fundraising for a Sustainable Future
“In our 130th year, the Society of Designer Craftsmen is excited to be working with Elliot Payne Architects to ensure the Society continues to be the success it is today. To help secure our future, we are currently fundraising to refurbish our headquarters in London’s vibrant Shoreditch to provide a members gallery for public exhibitions and creative spaces where members can meet clients and take part in workshops. If you wish to support us in this venture please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.”
I contrasted the plain walls and restrained patterning in Mackintosh’s houses with the busy Arts and Crafts style, by which I really meant the style of Morris & Co., which many middle class homes had adopted by 1900. But Mackintosh, of course, shared many design ideas with the Arts and Crafts movement, including attitudes to ornamentation. When I looked at the Society of Designer Craftsmen’s website, I found that Mackintosh was a member (when it was the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society).
Alan Crawford’s biography relates an account of the Society deriding Mackintosh’s exhibits in 1896, but says that it’s hard to find evidence, and notes that he exhibited again in 1899 and 1916.
Calyx, the textile designed by Lucienne Day that became an icon of the 1950s
Because surface design is an important part of my work I take my inspiration from arts other than studio pottery, which is a bit sniffy about decoration. Lucienne Day’s textiles are an important source. Her iconic “Calyx” design, made for the Festival of Britain in 1951, makes clever use of five colours, selecting eight contrasts out of a possible twenty. I like this disciplined treatment of colour and it’s essential to my patterns as I use only six colours on all my ceramics. If you ring the changes like this, you can get unity in variety and make your work recognizable from its colourways without being monotonous.
The rational optimism of Lucienne and Robin Day, which comes across in this extract, is uplifting. Robin says he thought that it was possible to improve people’s lives through good design, an essentially modernist idea out of fashion today, but a valid one.