Thinking in numbers

For anyone who thought the infographic is a modern phenomenon, the London Transport Museum is here to set you right.

They’ve just created a new display of graphics about numbers, which I am mainly drawing your attention to because this Schleger is both fantastic and not often seen.

Hans Schleger vintage London Transport poster 1938.

Interestingly, it’s from 1938.  These kind of explanatory posters with factual graphics are sometimes ascribed to the war, with its accompanying need to explain to the people, but clearly the trend had begun before the conflict started. This design by Theyre Lee Elliot is even earlier, from 1936.

Theyre Lee Elliott 1936

(I’m guessing from the press release that this is in the exhibition from the description, apologies if you go there and it isn’t…)

In fact a fair chunk of the exhibition seems to be dedicated to proving that the infographic goes back quite a long way further than we might think.

Irene Fawkes 1924 vintage London Transport infographic poster

The design above, by Irene Fawkes, dates from 1924 and there are plenty more of that ilk in the exhibition, although they are mostly in a pre-war style that I can’t get too excited about.

Charles Shephard 1923 Vintage London Transport poster

But what this makes me think, perhaps even more than how far these kind of explanation goes back, is that what seems to be missing are their modern equivalents.  I know there are exceptions to this – a few years ago London Transport produced a set of posters explaining why escalators needed to be replaced, which were placed on the hoardings around the work which weren’t graphically exceptional but were interesting and informative.  In the main, though, it doesn’t feel as though public bodies feel the need to explain to us what they are doing any more. Or am I missing something?

Heinz Zinram vintage London Transport poster 1960s

The above is by Heinz Zinram (at least he took the photographs) and dates from 1965.  Just as true today though.

And thanks to Macca, who pointed me at this exhibition in the first place, for which I am very grateful.

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Architecture subsidiary art to confectionary, obviously

I’ve been reading quite a lot about the Festival of Britain recently (mainly because there is, still, precious little else written about design in the 1950s).  But it has reminded me that I really do need to get around to inventing some form of time travel.

This is Barbara Jones sorting out exhibits for Black Eyes and Lemonade, the exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery which was her contribution to 1951.

One of the questions we used in choosing the old exhibits for Whitechapel was memory – when you think of the posters you can remember seeing as a child, what comes up first? …but then people would say Thorleys, I’ve never forgotten that.  So I telephoned Thorleys who said ‘yes of course, but you’ll have to come and look for it – all our old advertising stuff is in a shed.  Anything left over has been shoved in there for years – do come in old clothes!’

Thorleys feed advertising sign as at Black Eyes and Lemonade

We needed boiler suits, rubber gloves and Wellington boots, but it was all there, crammed into a warehouse on the Regents Canal.  The latest discards were near the door, clean and new, but beyond them far to the back were rolls and bundles thickly black with London grime.  We peeled off the top layers to find more than a century’s advertising: posters, tin plates, glass plates, leaflets that unfolded to show chicks bursting from the egg, and portraits in oils of prize animals fed on Thorleys.  The collection filled a whole room of the gallery.

In the course of my searches, I also came across these.

Black Eyes and Lemonade pub mirrors

They are a pair of pub mirrors which were also part of the exhibition, and which came up for sale last year.

Black Eyes and Lemonade Pub mirror detail

Here they are on display in 1951, in a whole room of pub exuberance.

Black Eyes and Lemonade Whitechapel Art Gallery Barbara Jones pub display

The more i see of Black Eyes and Lemonade, the more I want to recreate it; at the very least on the internet, but preferably in real life.

The only good selection of images of the exhibits in situ I’ve ever come across is in A Snapper Up of Unconsidered Trifles (as mentioned in my last post), so a whole documentary set must exist somewhere but, frustratingly, there are no picture credits in the book so I don’t know where they are and I do have a few other things to do before I set off on that particular diversion.

Black Eyes and Lemonade Whitechapel Art Gallery Idris Talking Lemon Barbara Jones

The two pictures which get most reproduced when people are talking about it (which doesn’t happen often enough) are the Idris talking lemon above – apparently it said that lemonade is good for man, woman and child – and the 1930s fireplace in the shape of an Airedale dog.

Black Eyes and Lemonade Airedale Fireplace

I think that’s probably because they were the two exhibits which most challenged people’s ideas of what ought, and ought not to be in an art gallery.  Popular art wasn’t a new idea in 1951, but that was as long as it kept itself to nice safe territory like fairground rides, barge boat painting and morris-dancers hobby horses.  The products of commercialism and the near past were much more dangerous and definitely not art, as Barbara Jones’ own memories make clear.

…we had borrowed two waxworks from Madame Tussauds – Queen Anne for general appeal and the beloved late Chief Rabbi for Whitechapel.  The first local visitors were delighted to see him, but later the Synagogue felt he was too near the talking lemon for dignity.  So we swapped the waxworks round, though the visual balance was destroyed, and Queen Anne stood nearer the lemon.

There was plenty more too.  I can’t scan the iced model of St Paul’s Cathedral made by Aircraftsman Brown of the RAF School of Cookery, although I really wish I could because it is a delight in royal icing.  And its caption was the title of this piece, which makes me think that the whole thing must have been a very witty entertainment indeed.  Perhaps I’ll use my time travelling to go back to the exhibition too, as well as doing a raid on some choice poster archives.

British popular art 1951 exhibition poster Barbara Jones

For now, while time travel isn’t possible, perhaps someone should think very hard about putting together some of this exhibition again.  Because this collection, this way of looking at the world was a revolutionary piece of thinking back in 1951.  This is a time when people want minimalism made from new materials, colours and styles, not old things, when even the government is putting its weight behind good design as a way of educating and improving society.  Black Eyes and Lemonade is challenging all of this, and taking a view on taste, design and the visual arts which was post-modern before modernism had even properly got going in Britain.

Ruth Artmonsky’s book takes Barbara Jones at her own estimation as a ‘jobbing artist’.  She was in fact much more than that, in many parts of her work she was a pioneer – Black Eyes and Lemonade could probably sit quite happily next to the Jeremy Deller retrospective when that opens later this year even though it’s sixty years old.  But because it’s ephemeral, it’s forgotten.  And she deserves better than that.


Incidentally, I had hoped that the catalogue would help me to find some more bits and pieces from the exhibition to illustrate, and the good folks at St. Judes have kindly put some of their copy online.  But the text is, well, a bit dry, so sadly it doesn’t really help.

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Why Miss Jones

Another rave from the grave for the last of the holiday season.  This is revived mainly because it is not possible to have too much Barbara Jones on this blog, but also because I have been reading about her work for the Festival of Britain and will be posting about it in due course (due course being when I get my act together after the holidays, something which doesn’t seem to have happened yet).  

This was the first post I ever wrote about Barbara Jones; since then I have posted several more posts about her, but this is worth having for the bull alone.

I promised you Barbara Jones, and Barbara Jones you shall have.  I’ve always liked her work, which began when we picked up this book in a second-hand shop quite a few years ago now.

Barbara Jones cover of English Fairs and Markets

Not only is it a very fetching cow, but it also reminds me of County Shows, which are some of my favourite things in the world.  I’m off to the Bath and West later this week, and will be looking out for bemused-looking animals with rosettes in her honour.  Here is the sheep from the back cover.

Barbara Jones English Fairs and Markets reverse

And one of the more delicate line drawings from the inside – this is Leadenhall Market decorated for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Leadenhall decorated for coronation Barbara Jones illustration

But the more that I find out about her, the more I am discovering that the (very many) book covers and illustrations are just one part of what she did.  Every biography I have found of her (on Wikipedia, or this rather good illustrated catalogue by Ash Rare Books) makes the point that the vast majority of her work was ephemeral and has disappeared.  She studied mural design at the Royal College of Art, and her work appeared on liners – here is a sketch for a very ‘popular arts’ trompe l’oeil mural for the Tavern Bar of the S.S. Orsova.

Barbara Jones sketch for mural for tavern bar of SS Orsova

as well as working for the 1947 Britain Can Make It exhibition.

Barbara Jones muriel for Britain Can Make it Children's Section

A striking tableaux in the toys section illustrating the famous Birthday Nursery Rhyme, from monday’s child ‘fair of face’ sitting before a dressing-table, through the days of the week to Sunday’s child ‘blithe and bonny and good and gay’ rightly put in a glass case out of reach of an every-day little boy who resents such perfection. Murals by Barbara Jones, figures by Hugh Skillen.

She also designed murals for the Festival of Britain.  None survive, but here are her illustrations of the Festival being built in 1950.

Flair magazine barbara jones festival of britain 1950

And, apparently, she also designed sets for The Woodentops.  How much more influential can you be?

But even despite that, I think perhaps her most important legacy was in ways of seeing.  The Festival of Britain poster which I posted a couple of weeks ago, was for an exhibition that she curated as well as designed.

Festival of Britain Black Eyes and Lemonade poster Barbara Jones 1951

And after I’d posted it, Mr Crownfolio came and plonked this on my desk (which had apparently been on the shelves all this time, unbeknownst to me).

Barbara Jones cover for Design for Death

She collected, wrote and illustrated the book in a rather wonderfully understated Gothic fashion.

Barbara Jones Illustration from design for death

While the book itself wanders over everything from Aboriginal mourning rituals to modern graves for pets, passing through poetry, floral tribute, anthropology and etiquette on the way.  The result is a very modern kind of book, where the pictures are working alongside the words rather than just illustrating them – I can’t recommend it too highly.

Barbara Jones illustration from design for death

But in terms of what she achieved with her work, the fly-leaf gives as good a description as any.

Before it was generally fashionable to enjoy the decorative and amusing objects produced by popular art, Barbara Jones was already studying them and collecting them, and she did much for them when she put on the exhibition called ‘Black Eyes and Lemonade’ during the Festival of Britain.  Miss Jones’ house in Hampstead, full of curious and delightful things, is a vivid illustration of her impatience with the chastity of conventional ‘good taste’ and her feeling for invention, fantasy and vitality wherever it may be found.

I wonder what became of her house?  They should have preserved it for the nation.

Barbara Jones picture

Do you think that’s it behind her?

Should you feel the need to campaign for something to be preserved though, the last remaining one of her murals has just been put forward for a listing order.  It’s a mural of Adam and Eve done for a (Basil Spence -designed) secondary school in Sheffield.  The school is being demolished, but the Twentieth Century Society are campaigning for the mural to be reused in the new school.  I hope they succeed – more details here.

And if you want to know even more, there’s a book – A Snapper Up of Unconsidered Trifles: A Tribute to Barbara Jones which I haven’t read., but if it has more than three pictures in it will definitely be worth the price of admission.

Barbara Jones BBC Schools leaflet

 I have since bought the book and it is fabulous.  Her archive is apparently in Brighton, I might have to go and visit it one of these days.

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Return of the Volkswagen

Christmas is the season for repeats, and not only on the television.  Here on Quad Royal, this means revisiting a few posts which are worth a second glance.  In this case – the Empire Marketing Board posters from Manchester City Art Gallery – the subject is also newly topical.  The gallery will be staging an exhibition of some of their collection which opens in late February (more details here).  Which means I may have to return to my old stomping grounds and report back to you.  In the meantime, some thoughts on the poster collection as a whole.

For some time I’ve been meaning to post a link to the Empire Marketing Board Archive at Manchester Art Gallery.

It’s an exemplary online resource for a really interesting collection.  The Empire Marketing Board was what Stephen Tallents did before he came to the GPO, and in many ways is one of the first attempts at the kind of ‘soft’ advertising and propaganda that we now take for granted.

Empire Marketing Board poster Christmas produce bear
Austin Cooper, 1927

In his time at the Empire Marketing Board between 1926 and 1933, Tallents (working with Frank Pick and William Crawford of Crawfords advertising agency) commissioned some of the very best designers and artists working in Britain at the time.  These included those such as Austin Cooper, Frank Newbould and Fred Taylor who were best known for their work for the railway companies,

Good Shopper Empire Marketing Board Poster Frank Newbould
Frank Newbould

as well as fine artists like Paul Nash.

Paul Nash Empire Marketing Board poster

But I’ve been holding off writing about it for months.  Why?  Because these posters constitute an ideological problem of the first order, and it’s not one I have an easy answer to.

The issue at stake is, of course, Empire.  The Manchester Art Gallery website describes the collection as ‘challenging and fascinating’.

Created during the 1920s and ’30s to promote trade and understanding between empire countries, the posters present a view of the British Empire that, from today’s perspective, is often uncomfortable.  Although visually stunning, the posters contain images that would today be considered offensive. As a product of their time, they raise difficult questions about the legacy of empire.

I’m not proposing to get into a discussion about the legacy of Empire and the historic wrongs involved.  What I’m interested in is how much ideology can adhere to images, in particular to these posters.

There is no denying that there are some posters in the collection which can only be interpreted as racism of the highest degree.  This vision of the white man bringing civilisation is by Adrian Allinson.

Allinson Empire Marketing Board poster African Transport

It gets worse, too – the implicit comparison is with the companion poster.

Allinson Empire Marketing Board African transport

But these posters are by no means in the majority in the archive.  To start with, a good portion of the posters are images of either produce,

Bacon Factory Empire Marketing Board poster

or pictures of Britain that wouldn’t look out of place on a railway poster.

Home Agricultural Show Empire Marketing Board poser
Gregory Brown

Or quite possibly both.

Frank Newbould Empire Marketing Board poster
Frank Newbould

So my questi0n is, can a poster like this Fred Taylor of Market Day be interpreted as loaded, racist even?

Fred Taylor Market Day Empire Marketing Board Poster

I’ve had quite an interesting email conversation about this with Melanie Horton, the researcher who’s been working on the archive.  She would argue that it is, that all the posters have to be seen as whole and cannot be separated from the politics of how they came to be produced.

I’m not going to tackle her arguments now as she has a booklet about the collection coming out soon (Empire Marketing Board Posters: Manchester Art Gallery ) and it only seems fair to read them in detail first.  But I do have a few broader thoughts to raise before then.

Because what we are debating here isn’t in any way a new question.  T.S. Eliot was undoubtedly a small-minded anti-semite, but does that devalue The Four Quartets, in which there is nothing of the sort?  Or if you want a more modern version of the same problem, try yesterday’s Guardian, where Brett Easton Ellis is freely admitting to misogyny, sexism and generally being a rather unappealing bit of work.  But what does that do to our opinion of his novels?  As it happens, I love The Four Quartets but loathe American Psycho, so my answer is different in each case.

But this problem also came up when I studied Design History, in perhaps its most taxing presentation.  Here it was known as the Volkswagen problem.  And it is quite a problem.

The Volkswagen Beetle is a great piece of design which produced one of the most popular small cars of the twentieth century, and was also technologically very innovative.  However it was also, and there is no too ways about this, a product of Nazi ideology.  As if the name Volkswagen itself wasn’t enough of a clue, the Beetle was originally known as the KdFwagen – the Strength Through Joy car. Adolf Hitler commissioned it, approved it and set it into production.   And yet we are not only prepared to forgive the Beetle, but clasp it to our hearts as one of the best-loved cars there has ever been.

Channel Island Pea Harvest poster Empire Marketing Board
Keith Henderson

So where does that leave images like these?

Oat Harvest Empire Marketing Board Poster
George Houston

Can we separate them out from how and when they were produced, and only see the oats and the peas and the pears?

Empire Marketing Board Poster

Or is it only the Volkswagen that can ever achieve that kind of forgiveness?

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Happy Christmas

From Daphne Padden and the coach companies.  And all here at Quad Royal of course.

Happy Christmas poster Daphne Padden 1971 Coach companies

As befits my BBC past, there will be some repeats over Christmas and New Year; a normal service will return in January.  Have a good time until then.



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Extended Christmas Greetings

More Christmas joy from the BPMA, which today comes to you in the form of lovely long van posters.

vintage GPO post early poster Eric Fraser 1942

This first offering, from Eric Fraser in 1942, may well not be a Christmas poster at all, but I liked the elephants so much that it can stay anyway.

Beaumont post earlier 1943 vintage gpo poster

This Beaumont also has that wartime urgency a year later, and he’s still exhorting people to post early in 1947 too.

Beaumont 1947 vintage GPO christmas poster

While finally, these Alick Knight robins must be the flying cousins of the skating robin I posted the other day, even though they’re from 1951 rather than 1946.

Robins vintage poster gpo 1951 post early

For more info about van posters, there was a discussion about them here earlier in the year, although one which wasn’t entirely conclusive.  So if you do know anything about these great posters and the vans they travelled on, please do say.

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