Recently an unusual morning treat took the form of a wander round RHS Wisley Garden; this amazing turquoisy-jade leguminous liana was flowering in the glasshouse – such an unlikely colour for an inflorescence, I found it hard to believe it was real. For the record it’s a Strongylodon Macrobotrys, a native of the Philippines. Another day, from the front seat on the top of the number 3 bus (a favourite ride) I was enjoying the infinite patterns and colours of the London Plane trees when I noticed that several of them flanking the Kennington Road had little metal labels attached to their trunks – up at my first-floor eye-level. I couldn’t make out the lettering, but further research tells me that, thanks to the Imperial War Museum opposite, they each bear the name of one of the men who’ve walked on the moon. That’s the ‘what’ – I’m not much the wiser about the ‘why’! In any case, apart from the pun on plane, it’s a rum spot to pin information intended to be read by earthbound mortals.
Olive Harrison – Mrs – remains in my mind as the kindest of teachers. She sat on some sort of low chair and I have a strong memory of the moment, standing with my open book resting balanced on her softly-skirted knees, when I suddenly understood what reading was – I got it in a whoosh that those little black marks amounted to words and I could find out what they were. I was four at the time. She died recently aged well over 100, and I regret that I never managed to tell her of that wonderful revelation – I could have, via a recent reconnection – though it doesn’t lessen either that moment or her special-ness.
Earlier in the spring I had noted two exhibitions I wanted to see, one being about Elizabeth Friedlander, designer and typographer, at Ditchling. A tweet mentioned an imminent evening talk to be given at the Museum by a Pauline Paucker. That name sounded familiar – surely it must be, could it be, the Mrs P who taught me art when I was 12 or so? I booked a ticket, and straight away had an email back asking was I that schoolgirl Sarah? It really was that Mrs Paucker – after almost sixty years! Seems she’d been aware of me even though my maiden name had changed. The talk and exhibition were well worth the rainy scamper in the evening traffic, though in the event Pauline had felt unwell and had sent her words to be delivered by another. (I realised that should that happen to me I’d never be able to delegate my lectures – they hardly exist on paper!) Among many other things, Friedlander was the first woman to design a commercial typeface, for the Bauer Typefoundry. As she was in Germany at the time it was named Elizabeth – her surname would have condemned her. In England (in 1936, after she’d fled the Nazis) she made witty, familiar contributions to the visual language of publishing, including many delightful miniature patterns for Penguin Music.
Mrs P lives round the corner from the Jewish Museum, the venue for the second exhibition I’d earmarked – Designs on Britain – and I proposed a visit to both addresses the following weekend. At the museum, on the last day of the exhibition, it fell out that the curator was also there – Naomi, the daughter of renowned graphic artist Abram Games; the exhibition she’d gathered showed us the significant design influence her father and many others made from the 1930s on. Some, like Friedlander, were refugees, bringing their expertise with them; altogether there was a wealth of familiar design imagery – from famous posters, Penguin book covers, product packaging, London Transport bus stops to Tom Karen’s Chopper and Marble Run game. We recently met again to discuss the fates of our respective archives, and the need for them to be housed, accessible and useful…Seeing my former teacher Mrs Paucker once more was an extraordinary moment. With her kind and amused smile, and still as elegant as I remembered, she lives in a ’60s house filled with wonderful books, a lifetime’s collection made with with her late husband Arno of the Leo Baeck Institute. She showed me the absolutely beautiful book New Borders which she made about Friedlander’s work. I don’t have much recall of the 18 months I spent at the boarding school where we met – which I think of as a sort of strange ‘get-sarah-out-of-the-way’ interlude while my parents decided on the course of their lives and marriage – and I was intrigued as she described it a little. But I had retained a very strong image of her – and she’s hardly changed! It must have been her beautiful handwriting and most particular signature, with what I thought of as ink streamers flowing back from the two capital Ps, that introduced me to the idea of calligraphy. I remember the special Osmiroid fountain pen set that came my way one birthday, with all its assorted nibs and opportunities for inky fingers.New exhibitions, books and product reflecting the current interest in all sorts of mid 20th century graphic designers, pattern makers and illustrators are being opened, published and sold as I write. Here are, clockwise, Edward Bawden Enid Marx and Corita Kent .
I’ve only begun teaching fairly recently: I’m learning a lot.
I often have students on my courses who are embroiderers and want to make cloth which will serve as a basis for embellishments and stitchery. One such came on my fabric-painting course at West Dean earlier this year. A couple of weekends ago she, and two embroiderer friends from the earlier course, turned up at Morley College to continue their studies with me – it was lovely to see them again. In the meantime Rachel had worked into her original piece, embroidering the animals she’d previously stencilled and painted – wonderful! The Morley course was filled with people keen to try new techniques on calico and linen – washes, water-painting, simple printing, stencil cutting. We can always sit and eat our lunch in the company of Bawden’s Canterbury Tales wallpaintings in the Morley College refectory.
I’ll be running my silk-painting course at the college on the weekend of 16/17the June – still some places available – come and join me if you can. I think there are a couple of places on the courses at the beautiful Bradness Gallery too, a bit later in the summer…. and as well as my usual halfterm Super Sketchbooking workshops for young’uns next week at the Fashion and Textile Museum, I’m doing a Making Decorative Collage day course there for all-comers on July 11. I’ve just acquired some tempting fashion collage material from Alice Pattullo – so get out your scissors and glue….
And on August 9th my V&A Create! workshop for teens will be taking inspiration from the imminent Frida Khalo exhibition Making Herself Up. In honour of that I’ll be re-printing our Frida Stripe long scarf – available online in our shop very soon. On last weekend’s course at the Handprinted studio in Bognor Regis we had fun countering the wind and laying out our long paper rolls filled with mark-making and pattern investigations in the car park at the end of the first day. Day 2 was equally prolific – here’s a student’s almost finished table cloth – ambitious! Having a fish-dinner by the seashore was an added bonus. I’m invited to return next year; a little saunter to visit the house in Felpham where William and Catherine Blake lived for a while, will also be on my agenda. As my social media profiles say: I paint patterns – and love talking about them! Teaching has give me the chance to share some of the textiles, patterns and clothes that both I and Susan collected over the years, and that I’ve kept around me. I love the stories, the fun, and the feelings they bring, as well as their useful revelations about pattern, colour and design. Here a little piece of a Picasso furnishing fabric commercially produced in the ’50s, is watching over the proceedings at a recent class, along with a scrap of ’60s Liberty varuna wool and a handpainted stripe on calico.
One of my particular loves and interests is in traditional and folk costume. When I heard my brother and sister-in-law were off to St Petersburg for a few days I suggested they might like to visit the folk museum and see if they could pick up a catalogue for a recent exhibit I’d heard about there. They returned giving me a wonderful, and heavy, book of folk costumes for festive occasions, with the unusual title ‘You’re lovely, dearie, in any attire’! Looking over at my sofa this morning I feel a certain kinship with my Russian forebears.
This blog is appearing after rather a long gap.
Time has passed since the appalling terrifying school shootings in Parkland, Florida, but I have thought a lot about that extraordinary young woman Emma Gonzales. Her courageous command of silence is impressive – simple, powerful and absolutely to the point; I salute her.
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