You might have just read Reading Patterns my review of a lovely little book on Enid Marx, the woman who first designed upholstery patterns for the London Tube in the 1930s. Following that foray into biography I next embarked on the autobiography of Tirzah Garwood. But in no particular order these two book reviews relate because they both began with my general love of modernist British art, and end up somewhere new and unexpected.
Tirzah Garwood might at first draw interest because she was the wife of the better-known artist Eric Ravillious. But as is typical whenever delving back into the history of women in the arts, she was an incredible talent in her own right, certainly his equal and seemingly unfairly overshadowed by him. Indeed Tirzah almost ceased to take commissions while busy raising their children. During these years she took instead to a more anonymous art form, marbeling papers. Though these are just as unique and exquisite as her paintings and engravings, which she picked up again with new gusto in later life.
I admit I picked up this weighty diary with bad intentions - I was planning to skip to the part with Eric Ravillious. But I'm delighted to say I was hooked from page one by Tirzah's lively writing. This book is packed full of vivid anecdotes and never a dull moment. Tirzah talks openly about the characters she and Eric meet, from fellow artists like the eccentric Edward Bawden to the rich and famous patrons of the day. It is a memoir rich with humour and sadness and plenty affairs of the heart (of which their are many - you know these arty types...) I enjoyed all 600+ pages as a jaunty glimpse at the life of British illustrators between the wars. Plus the parts about Eric, well they sort of put me off him...
Putting Tirzah's writing talent aside for a moment I must wax lyrical about her beautiful artwork. Just like Enid, I want to know why we still don't hear enough about these extremely skilled female artisans. You can see in her work the giddy mix of humour and observation that are the essence of Garwood's character. This shines through both her prose and engravings. I will leave you to marvel these intricate midcentury masterpieces.
'Long Live Great Bardfield' by Tirzah Garwood, Edited by Anne Ullmann, is published by Persephone Books.