Artists’ Textiles 1940-1976, An Antique Collectors’ Club Publication

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Rayner, G., Chamberlain, R., Stapleton, A., Artists' Textiles 1940-1976, Antique Collectors' Club, London 2012

Rayner, G., Chamberlain, R., Stapleton, A., Artists’ Textiles 1940-1976, Antique Collectors’ Club, London 2012

The Antique Collectors’ Club Ltd., published Artists’ Textiles 1940-1976 in 2012. Through more than 200 images, leading post-war culture and design historians Geoffrey Rayner, Richard Chamberlain, and Annamarie Stapleton look at textile design as fine art.

The book explores twentieth-century textiles through collaborative projects between textile manufacturers and the twentieth-century artists they commissioned.

Exploring Artists’ Textiles

Co-author Richard Chamberlain spoke to Decoded Arts in an exclusive interview about the process of creating the book, explaining that the books, “grow out of aspects of our collections which have initiated various projects which originate in our researching a particular area of interest. We will then use that research as a starting point for a book, which in turn necessitates our focusing more intensely on researching that area in-depth.”

According to Artists’ Textiles 1940-1976, consumers hungry for designer clothing and accessories at reasonable prices welcomed ‘Art by the Yard’ by leading twentieth-century artists. In recalling some of those iconic designs, the publication shows how textile manufacturers engaged mass consumers in modern art in a way never seen before.

Echarpe No. 1, head square by Henri Matisse

Echarpe No. 1 – Head square by Henri Matisse, 1947.

As you thumb through the pages of this book you might recognise a beautiful head scarf by Henri Matisse, or a favourite tie by Pablo Picasso.

Pop Culture Historians: About the Authors

Geoffrey Rayner, Richard Chamberlain, and Annamarie Stapleton are leading pop culture historians and authors of several publications on pop culture, including Pop: Design, Culture, Fashion 1956 – 1976; Austerity to Affluence: British Art and Design, 1945-62 and Jacqueline Groag: Textile and Pattern Design: Wiener Werkstatte to American Modern.

Messrs Rayner and Chamberlain have also curated exhibitions such as Pop: Design, Culture, Fashion 1956-1976 at the Fashion and Textile Museum, London, as well as several exhibitions at the Target Gallery which they founded in 1994.

Textile Design as Fine Art

Chamberlain told Decoded Arts that the criteria for inclusion in the book means that the textiles “have to be historically important and relevant to the ‘story’ the book tells. They also need to have, as well as academic interest, a visual impact suitable for an illustrated book on design.”

Artists’ Textiles 1940-1976 opens with the words of American painter and Art Deco textile designer Ruth Reeves (1892-1966). Writing in Craft Horizons in May 1946 and quoted in Artists’ Textiles 19401976, Reeves said:

″It is my personal opinion that fabric design rightfully belongs in the category of the Fine Arts, … as an art, it is just as important as good architecture, and certainly is more closely associated with our everyday living than are paintings.″

Artists’ Textiles 1940-1976 – Layout of the Publication

The book’s four chapters look at textile design as an art form in its own right, examining several crucial collaborative projects involving leading twentieth-century artists and textile manufacturers. Many artists took part in these partnerships, including Raoul Dufy, the first artist to successfully engage with mass production, the artists of the Omega Workshops, and the Edinburgh Weavers.

Internationally-acclaimed artists such as Georges Braque, Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dali, Barbara Hepworth, Patrick Heron, Henri Matisse, Jean Miró, Pablo Picasso, Ruth Reeves, Graham Sutherland, Andy Warhol and many, many more, designed fabrics for everything from ties and head squares to shirts, dresses and soft furnishings.

A popular design by Pablo Picasso

‘Fish Dress’ designed by Claire McCardell for Townleys, using Picasso’s ‘Fish’ print, 1955. Manufactured by Fuller Fabrics.
Image by Frances Spiegel with Permission from Fashion and Textile Museum

Textile manufacturers including Wesley Simpson and Fuller Fabrics Inc., in America, and Horrockses Fashions Ltd., and Ascher Ltd., in the UK, were commissioning fabric designs from world-class artists. Women anxious to wear a designer frock, and excited to get it at a reasonable price, snapped up garments such as fashion designer Claire McCardell’s dress made up in Picasso’s ‘Fish’ print.

If they didn’t buy the dress ready-made, they bought up the fabric: it was literally ‘Art by the Yard.’ And it wasn’t just fabric for frocks – manufacturers were also producing fabrics for soft furnishings, cushions, curtains and upholstery.

However, when it came to soft furnishings, Picasso had the final word. For him, upholstery was just a step too far! Writing in Look magazine in December 1963, he declared that his designs were suitable for “every form of interior decoration, except upholstery. By the maestro’s wishes, Picasso’s may be leaned against, not sat on.″

Richard Chamberlain

Although each author has extensive knowledge of art textiles, their discoveries while researching the book surprised even them. In some cases, Chamberlain says that he and the others spent considerable time, “ploughing through volumes and volumes of period publications and related material for long periods of time before finding a vital link (if ever) can be very frustrating, but when you do, eureka!! For it’s that which pushes you to continue.”

One such discovery occurred when Chamberlain, Raynor and Stapleton researched a “textile by Heals, which had we long assumed from the details on the selvedge and the subject matter, to be by the British Pop Artist Peter Phillips, circa 1966.” In fact, the authors later learned that the textile, “was by another, somewhat obscure, Peter Phillips, who had not graduated as a textile designer until 1973. …[A] little disappointing to say the least and something which necessitated a change of direction in our thinking!”

More Than Just an Art History Book

Not just a book about modern art and artists, and certainly not just a book about the history of textiles, this publication brings together vital strands in the story of textile design as fine art. Scholarly, yet highly enjoyable texts, together with more than two hundred illustrations, and five fold out sheets, offer an informed guide to, and a close-up examination of, the iconic designs of the twentieth century.

As an art history book, this volume is an excellent resource for students of textile design, or for those simply interested in fashion and interior design history.

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