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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Guildford Calling

I’ve spent too much time standing in queues and having a nervous breakdown in toyshops recently to have kept a much of an eye on eBay.  Mostly that doesn’t matter, as it’s been winding down for Christmas.  But I did miss out on mentioning one interesting set of posters.

Farnham farmers Pork and Bacon week poster from eBay

As you can see, I’m using the word interesting in an academic rather than visual sense here, but these posters are worth a mention nonetheless.

What was on offer was a set of four 1950s advertising posters, all for local businesses in the Guildford area.

Norvic Shoes vintage 1950s poster Co-op guildford

Once again, eBay has turned up a very different slice through graphic design history than the one which usually turns up in the books or the auction houses.  This is the ordinary, everyday world of the poster, a world where a Tom Eckersley, Henrion or Abram Games design would stand out as a gem in amongst, well, posters like these.

Co-op discount vouchers vintage poster

I’m not saying they’re great, I’m not saying they should be collected.  But we should, always, notice them when they turn up in order to remember that they existed (probably in great numbers too).

In case you’re interested, they all went for between £10 and £20, with the camping poster below the most expensive.

Pascalls Camping vintage poster guildford 1950s

And for once it wasn’t us who bought any of them.


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Christmas Joy

Another set of festive posters from the BMPA today.  These three have nothing in common other than that they are all wonderful.  Oh, and I’d love to own a copy of each and every one of them.

This first one is a wartime design by Hans Schleger from 1943.

Hans Schleger Vintage GPO wartime ww2 post early Christmas poster stocking

While I can tell you next to nothing about this one at all: only that the artist is Davies and it dates from 1946,  Any more information (and of course copies of the poster) gratefully received.

Davies vintage post early GPO poster 1946 robin skating

Finally a much later Hans Unger from 1964.

Hans Unger Vintage shop post early GPO poster 1964 Father Christmas stamp

But all of them both good design and very cheerful.  Happy Christmas Posting everyone.

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