1930s Textiles in North England

During this period, the experimental weavers and screen printing manufacturers in Bolton, Edinburgh Weavers, produced screen printing lengths between 1920-1939 designed by Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Elizabeth Frink and Winifred Nicholson. This reciprocal relationship between art and design practice was very common across Europe and the USA. Le Corbusier designed tapestries, Raoul Dufy regularly designed textiles and Kandinsky was initially known for his decorative design.

Walter Gropius (1919) of the influential Bauhaus advocated that there were no class or distinctions between craftsperson and artist. The Bauhaus challenged the hierarchies between high and low arts, asking questions such as to whether art could be utilitarian and whether a curtain be as meaningful as sculpture. The word Bauhaus translates as ‘House for building’, with an emphasis on industrial construction, and the school had strong ties to industry. Similarly in Vienna, The Wiener Werkstatte, created a working collective of artists and designers, putting on fairs, where they designed every object, so that customers were overcome with products.

Textiles were viewed during this period as being on the same level as all other forms of art and design, partly due to the fact that industrialisation had changed the way textiles were seen, as their process embodied manufacture through their technique and mark making. Modern textiles were part of ‘the total artwork’ or Gesamtkunstwork; which was a complete artwork that combined many art and design forms; furniture, painting,  textiles, architecture, lighting etc to create a total synthesis of work to create a ‘total work of art’ or interior.  In every aspect, there was fluidity between art, design and architecture. At the Bauhaus, professors and students often collaborated to create a complete Gesamtkunstwerk (1921).

Textile production during the period before the Second World War was both artistic, utilitarian and accessible to the large population which art would not have been available to before. Despite the seeming lack of hierarchy between art and design disciplines, there was a gender bias that textile manufacture was women’s work, and that ideas were to be produced by males. Some artist/designers were forced to embrace textile design and production through necessity such as Sonia Delaunay and Anni Albers, although they did not view this as being any less valuable work than working in painting or drawing. I am interested to find out the gender of staff and designers in the manufacturing sites I visit.

The Tetley headquarters is a key example of a mid-war modernist, or ‘art deco’ architecture, with an emphasis on space, light, health and richly decorated interiors; a model factory headquarters which promoted ideas of the utopian healthy machine. The building has many decorative details, which during this period were inextricably linked to the notion that was an edifice of modernity. I would like to consider these decorative details in the context of how decoration is often currently viewed as excessive and sometimes meaningless. I will spend time exploring the fabrication of the building through drawing, photography, archival research to synthesise with my research into present and historical textile printing and manufacturing in the area, to create new work in The Tetley studio, and beyond the residency.


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