Monday, 8 December 2014

Postwar Education From The Dustjacket Labyrinth

Petersfield Bookshop:  a dolls'
house in the print room.
Every second hand bookshop is a temptation.  Old books, in piles and rows, are spreading along my shelves and everything else is balanced halfway over an edge.  I think I spend only as much time such places as is wise, to keep the process gentle.

Certain old series are always represented - Britain In Pictures, the King Penguins, the Discovering series - some needing more judicious inspection than others before you give in to their charms.  I've made some prize acquisitions in Penguin Modern Painters.  I'll take almost anything illustrated by Osbert Lancaster but I'm holding off from Fougasse.

This weekend I walked into the Petersfield Bookshop.  There's a lot of it:  an impressive rarities cabinet; a room full of prints, with plan chests, an index chest for postcards and a big dolls' house; frames lining the stairs; a glimpse of rolling stacks for storage.  I browsed Local History, Adventure Fiction and the vintage ends of Biography and Sports.  It was the London section that forced me into taking advantage of the shop's brief sale (29th November to 13th December!) for two books - although only one was in the right section.

London Explorer

Peter Jackson's cartoon strip in The London Evening News began in the late 40s as "London is Stranger than Fiction", full of extraordinary and characterful stories.  The second collected volume is the "London Explorer", strips dense with encyclopaedic information, to be pored over on public transport or cut out and given to a nephew or niece.

And Jackson was an encyclopaedia.  Years later, the Ephemera Society gave him their Samuel Pepys medal.  Read the society's history here if (like my friends Emma Butcher of Let It Be Printed and Adam Smith of The South Country) you have brimming boxes of printed matter.  Even in the early 50s, according to the Evening News editor's foreword, "Jackson's home contains one of the most comprehensive private collection of London lore including mellowed and yellowed books, magazines and newspapers, cuttings and scores of notebooks."

London Explorer:  "These houses are a sham"

In this book the strips are arranged into chapters ("The Charm of London's West End, "The Gates and Pumps and City Walls", etc.) with accompanying text by W Crawford Snowden and, of course, interspersed with adverts for department stores, watches, sherry, shaving foam and a new type of bathtub for infants.  There's a better explanation at Bear Alley Books (for the later collection of all the strips) and it's worth casting an eye over the obituaries for Peter Jackson, from 2003 (GuardianIndependent).

London Explorer:  "Horrid Murder"

World Wealth In Maps

World Wealth In Maps:
Map 11:  Central Russia.
"But the Ural region has one drawback.
It lack good coking coal..."
How could I resist such a monolithic title?  Here is another newspaper artist - the News Chronicle's Stanley Harrop.  His 31 entirely new full-colour maps show the principal raw materials of every part of the world and the lines of international transport.  From the dustjacket, "No modern school should deny its fascinating store of information to those who will one day grapple with the problems of the future."  The bright, colour-coded maps are glorious and it ends with a glossary of lesser-known products and commodities, from alfalfa, alpaca and ambergris to yam and yerba-mate.

The text about Central Russia mentions "The first factory in the world to produce "Polar sugar."  Russian scientists have discovered that from the lichen which covers vast tracts of this northern territory a crystalline glucose can be produced which differs only slightly from ordinary sugar."
What a great children's science story, which I guess came to nothing.  I found another mention in The Children's Newspaper, in 1944.  The increasing rubber production from kok-sagyz dandelions seems to have been a goer.

World Wealth In Maps:
Map 24.  Eastern United States.
"Pittsburgh stands for hardware ;
Massachusetts for woollen and cotton goods"
As for a date, research gives me 48, 53 and a school edition in 58.  The publisher, Percy Gawthorn / Raymond Fawcett (I'm not entirely sure of the relationship between the two forces), was responsible for The Empire Youth Annual from about 46 to 64.  I found 48 last year and other informative, outdated home textbooks, like Britain Past And Present or The Mastery Of Water, call to me from every crooked bookshop.

What is the appeal of these educational children's books from the end of Empire?  The noble aim, that of understanding the whole world and presenting it to the leaders of the future, seems quaint now:  was it really that simple in those days?  The patriotism is subtle (apart from the pink on the world map) but I think it is evident simply from the existence of the book - presenting proud Britain, proud London, essentially unchanged and undimmed by the Blitz, still the source of impartial knowledge gathered intrepidly, and the source of pride for every child.  But these books are not just boy's-own derring-do:  there's at once a very up-to-date scholarly rigour and a simplistic post-war optimism to the packaging of an exciting, burgeoning world for enquiring young minds.

Read about this time in The Open University's "Selling Empire: Epilogue – the slow death of heroism?"

Map key icons on the dustjacket
of World Wealth In Maps.

So, here are two attractive books that show exactly what I'm a sucker for:

  • Musty, foxed old books that look like they came from my parents' childhood,
  • Maps, labels and information laid out to understand,
  • Dense presentation to pore over cosily,
  • 1950s optimism, before the 60s and 70s made the future a bad thing,
  • London,
  • The book that was filed backwards on the shop shelf.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Southampton Songbook

Music Services at Southampton City Council have further confirmed their excellence by producing a book of songs, all written by locals in response to an open call, timed to celebrate fifty years of city status.  It has been distributed to libraries and schools, along with a CD of recordings.

The contents of Southampton's songbook.
I was approached to provide some illustrations, with my 2012 circular pieces as a touchstone.  I started by isolating sections from that, but made a few new images too.

The bottom-right one is a journey down the Itchen and Southampton Water from rowing at Riverside Park to container ships in the deep channel.

Four pages of images for Southampton songs.
The statues, if you are wondering, include John Le Fleming (looking down from the old town wall), Palmerston, Andrews and Watts (in the parks), King George III and Queen Anne (on and in the Bargate), "Adam and Eve" (in Cossack Green), the quarterjacks (on Holyrood Church), the Anthony Gormley diver (in the art gallery), Danny Lane's silhouette sculpture (outside BBC South) and the red lion (on the front of the Red Lion on the High Street).

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

I'm On A Teapot

I feel a bit like Eric Ravillious - my artwork has been put on crockery!

The design that I made for Southampton Solent University a couple of years ago was always intended for plates.  This year the project was pushed through at last and, beyond my expectations, expanded so dramatically as to include a mug and a teapot.

Prototype printings, on crockery!

As for the design:  the borders (there are two, for the outer rim and for the bit that dips down) show a lot of tall or long things in Southampton.  The centre is split into several sections representing Southampton's history and symbols, the university's history, the art school, the maritime academy at Warsash and the figures that the university's main buildings are named after.  Here goes:

Buildings at East Park Terrace

  • Sir Christopher Cockerell, who invented the hovercraft at Thorneycroft in Southampton
  • Lord Mountbatten, Baron Romsey and celebrated elsewhere in Southampton
  • John Everett Millais, pre-Raphaelite painter, born in Southampton
  • R J Mitchell, who designed the Spitfire at Southampton's Supermarine Aviation Works
  • Michael Andrews, mayor of Southampton, who sadly died in a seaplane accident in 1998
  • Herbert Collins, suburban and garden city architect, prolific around Southampton
Buildings off the campus and student halls
  • Sir James Matthews, educationalist, councillor, and post-war town planner in Southampton
  • Lucia Foster Welch, Southampton's first female mayor
  • Emily Davies, women's activist from Southampton

It is very satisfying to see the artwork printed out and to see that it printed well.

Thursday, 31 July 2014


A maritime, shipping and cargo themed RSVP pattern.  Count the ways I say it.

... please do!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Reinstatement and Reissue

Cowering unloved behind a red curtain for the last 20 years because it went ‘out of fashion’, the mural has been quietly waiting to be brought back into school life.
There you have two familiar stories:  the neglect of decorative art in public buildings and the eventual exoneration of mid-century themes and styles.  [And there you have a fine dissertation title.]

Something sharp behind the arras:
Gordon Cullen's Greenside Mural.
This Saturday, 10th May, at at Greenside Primary School, London, Gordon Cullen's restored 1952 mural for the school will be celebrated.  The attendant festivities include a film about the mural; maypole dancing; the 20th Century Graphic Art Fair; vintage this-and-that and a new old Eric Ravilious print.  The quote above comes from the press release.  All Things Considered (St. Jude's) has a good write-up.

I didn't know about this story until recently.  The Greenside Mural Facebook page documents the gradual fundraising and restoration over the past few years.  Other murals, like Edward Bawden's at Morley College, were lost to unkind decades before the artists' reappraisal came around.  Ravilious has been gathering adoring book-buyers in the new millennium.

Nairn's London.
The other overdue celebration this weekend is that of the topographical writer Ian Nairn at the Festival Of Ideas in Bristol.  On Sunday, at The Watershed, a few of his TV films will be shown, with discussion between Owen Hatherley (of A Guide To The New Ruins Of Great Britain), John Grindrod (of Concretopia) and others.

The forgotten 1966 hit "Nairn's London" is to be reissued, following another slow-growing campaign of small voices in the wilderness.

I will be at the art fair with some of my own work (I'm still putting a bundle together), hoping to get the commemorative letterpress poster and maybe copy of Gordon Cullen's Townscape.  Here is a good guide to buying mid-century prints at Mid Century Magazine.  My partner Adam will be at the Nairn event, having campaigned for that reissue - but we'll each wish we could be at the other one too.

Finally, the winning entries for this year's Serco Prize For Illustration show a love of old transport posters and architectural guides - particularly the pieces by Eliza Southwood and Gill Bradley.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

St George's Cakes

"The cakes of England" are many and varied.  The named ones are not quite so evenly distributed.

I left out lots of savoury things (Dorset Knob, Bedfordshire Clanger) and sweets (Pontefract Cakes and Kendal Mint Cake.  Saint George (credit to Uccello's Saint George And The Dragon) is interested only in sweet cakes, buns and biscuits.

If there's one thing that makes me get a piece of work done it's St George's Day.  Last year's is here.  I made plans and demonstrations for this one some weeks ago, and wanted to get it all printed this week.  Yesterday morning I found that the date had crept up on me.  Over breakfast time, and feverishly, I cut most of the cake shapes.  Over lunchtime (the lunch break from jury service) I inked them up and got some prints.  The text came together in time for supper.

As I write this, I've just been asked if I know any St George's Day songs - specifically ones that are suitable to teach to a class of six-year-olds.  Do you know any?

More importantly, have you ever seen a Kentish huffkin?

Happy Saint George's Day!

Friday, 18 April 2014

The Treasures Of Jordan

My sister is flying to Jordan right now, to visit a friend in the capital, Amman, and see the many historical sites.  I knew nothing about Jordan, so I'm looking forward to hearing about it.  In preparation, here is the sum of what I've looked up this morning, based on my sister's plans and other itineraries that are available - ancient sites on the Kings' Highway; crusader castles; snorkling...

The start of a learning journey about Jordan.

A search throws up some great mosaics in Madaba, and the fact that King Abdullah had a small part in Star Trek Voyager.  My apologies to the Jordanian interior and for any names that are wrong.  Oh, and once again I've skirted with potential offence by trying to draw Arabic text.