A couple of years ago I found myself in a small but perfectly formed bookshop. Perfect because every book seemed to be about an artist or designer I love, everything I picked up was intriguing, it felt like it had been curated just for me. This was in fact the gift shop at Pallant House, an art gallery in Sussex said to house 'the best collection of modern British art in the UK'. But I didn't learn that until later, the visit was entirely by chance while visiting my wonderful great aunt nearby.
Having soaked up a wonderful exhibition of John Piper, including everything from paintings to patterns, needlework and handmade rugs, I was already brimming with arty endorphins. (I know, I know... but design really is what makes me tick and I have to assume I'm in a safe place to confess this here!) To then discover my whole 'to read' list silently waiting for me at the end just meant my aesthetic journey through modernism didn't need end there. Quickly I snapped up tomes on Barbara Hepworth, Enid Marx and of course John Piper, then off I skipped into the Sussex sunshine. Well guess what happened next?...
These three new books joined several trillion other volumes that gather dust on my bookshelves whilst I busy myself with, well work. Contrary to the illusion my art-school self might have held that being a designer meant 'soaking up inspo' all day long, most of the time being 'freelance' actually means working rather hard all day at the graphic coalface, and when you throw in moonlighting as an independent stationer to the mix, there's zero hours for 'inspo'. And so it came to be that it took me TWO years to pick up that slim volume on Enid Marx again.
That was a few weeks ago now and what a fascinating read it was. I choose the book because it ticked my boxes - retro, female, pattern designer becomes fairly successful. I didn't know what a colourful insight into a patch of design history it would be. With cameo appearances from both the Erics (AKA Eric Gill and Eric Ravillious, game-changers of British modernism) Marx certainly rubbed shoulders with some interesting creative types. There were also insights into the inner workings of arguably one of the earliest 'brands' Transport for London and the charming world of mid century book publishing too.
Most remarkably of all is the sheer volume and breadth of work created by Enid in her lifetime. With etchings in books, illustrations on postage stamps and her patterns adorning everything from endpapers to the upholstery of the London Underground. The sad thing is that there has yet to be any major retrospective of her work (while of course we hear no end of her male contemporaries like Edward Bawden and other pupils of Paul Nash under whom she also studied). With such a portfolio of inventive and intricate work, I hope the curators of Britain will soon hear me on this one and put on a show! Enid's work is now not only a display of rare talent but a time capsule to a time when, in the absence of technology, the beauty of human craftsmanship reigned.
Authors Ruth Artmonsky and Brian Webb have done a wonderful job and I was pretty chuffed with myself for reading this cover-to-cover instead of a novel for a change. It began a new pattern for me too.