In a July 2012 blog post Kiera brought our attention to Vera Neumann and her seemingly unstoppable design brand. Since then I have wanted to read the book Vera: The Art and Life of an Icon, and I am so glad I did. This book is a feast for the eyes and a true inspiration for all designers.
Vera Neumann is now an icon and household name, but what you may not know is that she was a true revolutionary in the field of textile design. She is perhaps the first designer to brand her textiles and herself. When someone purchased one of her scarves or tablecloths they were also buying a life style.
Vera hand painted all of her work, covering the gamut in motifs; from loose floral to geometric to conversational. As a child she found her inspiration in nature, a theme she returned to throughout her career. As an adult Vera loved to travel, and folk art was a never ending source of inspiration. Never afraid to buck the system she chose bold colors for her modern patterns, at a time when the market was glutted with dusty florals. She did what she liked when she liked it, and customers loved her for it.
I really loved this book from cover to cover. Susan Seid and Jen Renzi really delve into the life and work of Vera and I think you should too.
Textiles: The Art of Mankind, Mary Shoeser
1,058 color illustrations
Thames & Hudson Publishers 2012
Author Mary Schoeser is a world-renowned textile expert and author of several books. Her scholarly experience and love for textiles shine as she takes the reader on a journey that explores human invention and ingenuity, from the earliest fiber arts to printed fabrics, from handmade to machine-made. The book is like a tapestry itself, in terms of its presentation, elegance, and richness of story and color.
Contemporary and historic data correspond cleverly to the way the book has been arranged in six chapters: “Impact”, “Ingredients”, “Structure”, “Surface”, “Added Dimensions”, and “Imagery”, each chapter accompanied by a wealth of gorgeous color plates. It is important to note that the book is not presented in a chronological manner. Contemporary textiles and historic textiles appear together to highlight similar skills and themes, whether made by hand or by machine. This is a wonderful approach that brings a whole world view of textile arts that illustrates the complete human experience, and shows how different cultures and needs have influenced each other. The approach makes surface pattern designers like us appreciate our roots in the spectrum of textile arts.
The section called “Painting and Printing”(found in the chapter called “Surface”) addresses the evolution of surface design. Schoeser discusses the earliest known uses of dyes and inks and their development over time, as well as the beginning uses of marking with pigment—with a finger, brush, stamp, or stick. Innovations in printing technologies throughout history are discussed, including how freelance printed-textile designers were being used by the 1930’s. Examples of surface pattern design appear throughout the book.
Overall, “Textiles: The Art of Mankind” is an informational and visual treat, a must have for anyone interested in the development of textile arts throughout human history. This book is a joyful, inspiring read and candy for the eyes.
-Jennifer Holbrook and Ben Corrales
If you're in London right now, rejoice! January 31 sees the open of The Fashion and Textile Museum's Artist Textiles exhibit. Promising to feature textile designs from key "European and American art movements: Fauvism, Cubism, Constructivism, Abstraction, Surrealism and Pop Art" with many rare pieces not publicly displayed before, and featuring a regular Who's Who of artists from Braque to Warhol, this exhibit promises to be well worth a visit. The Fashion and Textile Museum was founded by iconic British designer Zondra Rhodes, and is located at 83 Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 3XF. The exhibit runs from January 31 through May 17, 2014.
MFA Boston July 16 – November 11, 2013
Ottavio Missoni, star athelete, 1940s. Image from thefrontrowview.com.
The man who made the chevron a status symbol has died. Ottavio Missoni, known as Tai to friends and family, founded the fashion house of Missoni in the 1950’s. He built an empire that helped put Italy on the map of haute couture where it has remained ever since.
Missoni was a most unlikely fashion icon. Hardly from humble beginnings, he was born in Dubrovnik, now Croatia, the son of an Italian sea captain and an Austrian countess. Missoni first rose to fame as a track and field champion, the youngest ever to win an Italian national title at just 16. His path was interrupted, however, by four years as a British prisoner of war during World War II. Released in 1946, he went on to join the Italians in the 1948 Olympics, where he placed sixth in hurdles. But his other contribution to the team was the that he designed their uniforms.
Misooni's fate as a designer was sealed when he met Rosita Jelmini at those London games. Five years later, they married and went into business together. The bride’s family was in the textile business, producing shawls and embroidery. They combined that knowledge with his burgeoning design skills to produce athletic knitwear together. The couple eventually adapted the Raschel knitting machine to make sensational sweaters and dresses instead of shawls, and thus was born their signature chevrons and streaky, space-dyed looks.
Missoni had a passion for combining clashing colors to spectacular effect. He once wrote that he created a chromatic harmony by adding a third color to two clashing hues. Earth tones went up against primary colors. He plotted his designs on graph paper, finding inspiration in the ancient textiles of Central America, as well as Abstract, Impressionist and Art Deco paintings. He introduced his kaleidoscopic patterns just at the time when the bohemian style was starting to catch fire. His designs soon caught the eye of every major fashion magazine from Vogue to Women’s Wear Daily. In 1967 the Missoni line achieved international recognition at a Paris showcase and was instantly embraced by fashion’s elite.
There was no stopping the Missoni dynasty from then on. The company is still going strong sixty years after its founding. You may recall when Target introduced its own line of Missoni fashions in 2011, the onslaught of fans caused the website to crash. Today, Missoni also sells accessories, fragrances, and goods for the home in markets internationally. His work has been on display in art museums around the world, where has been hailed as a “genius of color”.
Missoni’s legacy is carried on by his family. Sadly, his CEO and eldest child, Vittorio, disappeared while in flight over Venezuela just last January. But his wife, and two younger generations continue to uphold the Missoni brand to its relentless success.
Find out more here.
Talavera tiles. Image from lafuente.com.
Cinco de Mayo is a day celebrating Mexican culture and heritage and is commonly honored across parts of North America. Contrary to popular belief, it is not Mexico's Independence Day, which is on Septemer 16th. Cinco de Mayo was established during the early part of the American Civil War (1860s) by Mexican-Americans in the Western United States. It was intended as a day to reflect on the values of freedom and democracy, in spite of ongoing conflicts across the continent at the time. The holiday was also created to commemorate the remarkable victory on May 5, 1862 of Mexico's smaller, lesser-armed military over French invaders in the state of Puebla, where the day is called El Día de la Batalla de Puebla (Battle of Puebla Day).
In honor of Cinco de Mayo, and the state of Puebla, Mexico, I thought it would be fun to discuss the wonderfully decorated Talavera Pottery which hails from that region. Talavera is a white-glazed earthenware that evolved from Islamic-influenced majolica ceramic designs that originated in 12th century Spain. Typical patterns on Talavera work include the abstract symmetrical patterns found in Islamic art, as well as motifs from nature such as flowers, fruit, and birds.
Talavera plate. Image from mexicanconnexion.com.
It is believed that Spanish monks introduced majollica pottery to Mexico around the 1500s when they brought over artisans from Spain to create tile and decorative items for adorning monasteries. As Spanish colonialism and Catholicism spread, the demand for workers to make ceramics increased. Spanish potters began to arrive in Mexico to fill the need and to train the indigenous people (who also had a long, rich tradition of pottery) in the majollica technique.
Many of the Spanish artisans came from the city of Talavera de la Reina, a city renowned for its tradition of pottery. Thus, it became the namesake of what was then a new style of ceramics in Mexico. More specifically, the name Talavera Poblana was created to indicate the pottery's newer Mexican origins.
Because it was located near an abundance of quality clay and well positioned on a trade route, the state of Puebla soon took over as a hub for the creation of Talavera pottery within the Spanish colonies. Guilds were created, rules were enacted, and annual tests were administered to craftspeople to ensure the highest standards for work that was created in the region.
Talavera fruit bowl. Image from lacatrinacollections.com.
The colors used on Talavera pottery were strictly limited to mauve, orange, yellow, green, blue, and black, and they were only to be derived from natural pigments. Blue was the most expensive of the colors and therefore the most coveted by wealthy buyers. Craftspeople were also required to use a glaze that crazed, (a process in which very thin cracks cover the surface of a piece) and which resulted in a whitish tint. The bottom of all Talavera pottery was to be unglazed and imprinted with the mark of the artist, manufacturer, and location of production within Puebla.
Casa de los Azulejos (House of Tiles). Image from dwell.com.
Talavera ceramics rose rapidly in popularity and came to be used throughout everyday life in Mexico and across the territories of New Spain. A Golden Age of Talavera emerged during 1650 to 1750 when its dishware, pitchers, pots, tiles, and religious objects became pervasive. Puebla was particularly distinguished for its use of Talavera tile, especially in kitchens and outdoors on patios and buildings. Its most famous use of tile can still be seen today on the House of Tiles (Casa de los Azulejos), a palace from the 1700s with three sides of its exterior covered in incredibly expensive (at the time) blue and white tiles.
Talavera sink. Image from lafuente.com.
Unfortunately, despite its massive success, the Puebla pottery industry came to a halt when the Mexican War of Independence hit during the early 1800s. The chaos of the war thwarted trade and undermined previously upheld production standards. Poorly made imitations of the pottery emerged and cheaper English ceramics gained popularity as skilled craftspeople left the industry. Overall production fell significantly, leaving only a few of the dozens of original workshops open.
Over the past 200 years there have been attempts to bring back the craft to its old standards in Mexico. Currently there are over a dozen studios making this special pottery, faithfully following the traditional methods. Mexico has even created a regulatory board to ensure that ceramics bearing the Talavera name live up to the original techniques and quality. For more information about Talavera pottery and its fascinating past, visit some of the references in my list of sources below.
Pottery at the Uriarte Talavera workshop in Puebla. Image from wikipedia.com.
Morris & Co. Wallpaper. Printed between 1915 & 1917.
Have you ever wondered how wallpaper gets printed? There are tons of traditional methods:
"Have nothing in your houses which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful"
Trellis was Morris' first attempt to design wallpaper
William Morris was a prolific designer of tiles, tapestries, carpets, wall paper, stained glass and furniture. The work of this 19th century designer are lately enjoying renewed popularity for its themes of nature and florals, expressed in intricate and complex designs.
Born in Walthamstow, England to an affluent middle class family in 1834, Morris was the son of wealthy stockbroker. He originally studied theology, intending to enter the Church. However, he developed a deep love for mediaeval arts and architecture while studying at Oxford. When he later joined the gothic revival architectural practice, George Edmund Street, he formed the Arts & Crafts movement along with Edward Burne-Jones and Philip Webb.
Married in 1859, he moved into the now famous Red House in Bexleyheath, designed by Philip Webb. Together, they completely decorated it in the mediaeval style including stained glass windows, murals and tapestries. It was this experience that led Morris to become a designer of home furnishings. Thus was founded Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. to produce high quality decorative work for commercial sale.
Pink & Rose Wallpaper
In 1875, "the Firm" disbanded and Morris set off on his own as Morris & Company. He flourished with full control of the company, and was most prolific and creative during this period. He perfected his indigo discharge print technique that would be his signature style, combined with madder reds. Interestingly, Morris was unable to draw birds, so crucial to many of his designs. Philip Webb is credited with filling those in.
Morris died at 62 years of age, seemingly of exhaustion. His company continued to operate until its final demise through the Great Depression. And yet to this day, his original designs survive and are still printed, a testament to the lasting beauty and timeless appeal of his work.
In addition to his profuse design work, Morris was also an accomplished poet, author, publisher and Socialist, the latter pursuit of which led to some controversy among his peers.
Today, amongst high tech and computer-generated designs, we find refuge in this designer's handcrafted, detailed ode to nature and natural beauty.