It’s very easy to reconstruct the past through the sensibilities of today. We go back through the copies of Graphis and Modern Publicity, wade through the posters and the magazines that remain, only picking out the things that chime with us now. And so we put together a story about the fifties which is about how a friendly kind of modernism finally caught hold in Britain. But that’s not the whole story, just one thread out of the many different styles and designs that were going on at the time.
And why, you may ask, am I being told this once more? It’s because I’ve found this website, a lovely tour round the work of illustrator Norman Weaver, put together by his daughter.
The website would be worth a visit for Weaver’s biography alone, which includes training as a cabinet-maker for Heals, being General Eisenhower’s personal map-maker during the war, becomng an official photographer during the aftermath of the concentration camps and finally settling down to a career as a a still life artist. And he worked with Beverley Pick for a while too, creating giant murals for the Festival of Britain. It’s enough for five lives, and well worth a read.
But the other reason to take a look is that Weaver’s work is important. If you flip through any magazine of the period (and I can speak with some authority here, having been required to read both Woman and Woman and Home right through from 1949-1963 in my time) they are full of these kinds of slightly hyper-realistic illustrated advertising. And Weaver was one of the very best exponents of this style.
He was represented by Artist Partners, and like many illustrators of the period did a lot more than just advertising. There are some very recognisable book jackets too.
As well as some beautiful wildlife illustrations – these were for a Sunday Times article about wildlife returning to London.
But it’s still the commercial and advertising drawings that are the most compelling for me.
I think that’s because they tell another one of the really important stories of the time. While the architects and the designers were all busy embracing Scande-lite modernism, with its wide plains of wooden floors and less is more ethos, for an awful lot of people the opposite was true. More was very definitely more.
The rising tide of consumer goods in the years after the war must have seemed almost impossibly abundant after rationing, utility and bombs, a time at last of fridges, colour and as much food as you could want to eat.
Weaver’s drawings celebrate this bounty in all of its vibrant, glistening detail.
It’s impossible not to look at the past through the lens of the present, and I know that one of the reasons I like these illustrations is the fantastic colour and optimism – the latter in particular isn’t something you often find in modern design.
So all I’m really doing is telling another, slightly different story about what things looked like fifty or sixty years ago, it’s not any closer to the truth than any other. But it’s a start.