‘Enid Marx and her Contemporaries: Women Designers and the Popularisation of ‘Folk Arts’ in Britain 1920- 1960
This symposium event was organised by Des, Rosie and Jane from the Art History programme in collaboration with Compton Verney in Warwickshire, which houses ‘the most significant collection of folk art in Britain’. This includes the ‘Marx/Lambert collection’ of folk art, encompassing such things as teapots, tinsel paintings, pottery pigs, puppets, wooden chairs, signs, scrimshaw, staffordshire figures, paper theatres, saltglaze…and many more objects falling into the the ‘easy to recognise, hard to define’ category of ‘folk art’.
Like Barbara Jones, whose book ‘The Unsophisticated Arts’ and exhibition ‘Black Eyes and Lemonade’ (both 1951) have been hugely influential in bringing ‘folk arts’ to popular attention, Enid Marx was also a mid 20th century designer who also collected and wrote books about ‘folk’ or ‘popular art’ . We thought it would be interesting to investigate the ways in which other women designers of this period engaged in collecting, curating, writing and teaching as well as making – what Ellen Lupton calls the ‘intangible contribution of women to design history’. The idea was to foreground women’s contribution to design and extend the definition of what we mean by a ‘designer’. We also wanted to ask why a lot of these designers are relatively unknown despite their impact and legacy. We put out the call for papers not really knowing how much research was being done in this field, and unsure of what kind of response we would get.
Jill Seddon and Suzette Worden’s book ‘Women Designing: Redefining Design in Britain between the Wars’ was published in 1993, and one of the things that came up in discussion at the event was – what happened to this seam of research in the twenty years since its publication?
We had a great response to the call for papers and finally settled on a programme of 18 speakers, the details of the running order can be found here
We also had two student volunteers, Abi and Bethany, who not only filmed the event for posterity, but designed a full programme including all the abstracts and speaker biographies, which can be found online here
Penny Sexton, the curator of exhibitions at Compton Verney had recently redesigned the Marx Lambert collection, spoke about the thinking behind this, especially interesting was her use of Enid Marx’s wallpaper designs to inject warmth into the way the collection is displayed.
The event was marketed using social media- facebook and twitter
and we also set up a JISC mail list to enable a ‘Folk Arts Research Network’ to grow.
Tickets were available from the MMU online shop, and the event sold out ten days beforehand. In the end around 80 people attended the event and there was an enthusiastic response to all the speakers.
There were so many interesting papers representing a diversity of approaches to design history and the problematic term ‘folk art’. The abstracts for each paper are available here
We were privileged to have Lou Taylor, Pearl Binder’s daughter and Anwyl Cooper-Willis, Susan Clough- Ellis’ daughter speaking about their mother’s lives and careers, also Carolyn Trant, a devoted pupil of Peggy Angus gave a talk about her life and beliefs.
Rosie, Jane, Alice Kettle, Liz Mitchell and Amanda Ravetz chaired discussion sessions after each panel, and we are still in the process of sifting the ideas that emerged from the day!
It was a really positive experience, and we hope very much to work together on similar projects nearer to home next year, and hope very much to collaborate with Compton Verney again in the future.