It's a new year, and things are changing at my retail shop as I will be focusing more on creative art projects in 2017. Lots of new things in progress but in February, I will be in the wilds of Scotland combining a holiday with artist Susie Hunt and hosting a workshop in her studio. Monthly painting playschool for creative grown ups are planned throughout 2017 at Aston On Clun - they are very informal sessions exploring a variety of techniques aimed at all levels. If you would like to try some painting in 2017, come along, make some new friends and have fun in a relaxed way. More info on my workshop page.
From 3rd - 10th June, I will be teaching at a beautiful 14th Century farmhouse in peaceful countryside in the heart of the French Loire Valley. "Retreat To The Farm" provides the perfect opportunity to explore, unwind and create in lovely surroundings. Find out more and book a place at:www.retreattothefarm.co.uk or contact me for more information.
I enjoyed reading a recent article on vintage tea towels and it has prompted me to get around to writing a long overdue blog about the work of Belinda Lyon, a talented illustrator who created tea towel designs for Oxfam during the 1970's. Belinda Lyon trained at a London art school and started her commercial career in advertising. Illustrators were in strong demand during the late 1950's and early 1960's and advertising was where many young graduates of the era started their careers. Iconic illustrated adverts and posters the early 1960's are now highly collected and many talented and now sadly anonymous illustrators started out in advertising before television and photography took over during the later "swinging 60's".
Early 1960's adverts relied on illustrators to create the "look" These typical examples are from 1962/63
Belinda started her commercial freelance career circa 1965 with illustrations for short stories and books. Almost from the start of her career, her commissions were for books aimed at children and teenagers, featuring advice for young people, crafts, sewing and fashion. Some of the books and cut out dolls she illustrated in the first few years of her career are fantastic retro time capsules 40 plus years on.
Short story, book and cut out doll story illustrations from 1966 - 1968
Belinda Lyon is more well known to 1970s retro fans for her lovely tea towel and fabric cut out designs which became part of the massive Oxfam retail success story. Belinda's first design for Oxfam was a colourful Christmas card illustration in 1966. In 1967 Oxfam introduced their first "own brand" products consisting of the first two tea towels. The elephant and giraffe were initially produced in three colours and were selected for the London Design Centre - at this time still known as the Council for Industrial Design, prior to the opening of the Design Centre shop in 1971 which had people flocking in to buy the latest trend setting products.
The first 2 Oxfam tea towels were produced in 3 different base colours.
The elephant and giraffe tea towels were an instant hit and new designs were added to the range each year with 20 different animals available in the series by 1979, most of which came in two different colours. Oxfam were the very first UK charity to introduce a retail commercial model to their shops and as the number of shops grew so did their gift range.
Fox, Dandy Lion and bull from 1969 - 1972
Belinda produced very popular designs for Oxfams successful retail gift range throughout the 1970's and her work very much reflected the colours, trends and themes popular with children at the time. Belinda produced over 60 designs for Christmas cards, tea towels, cut out dolls, pillow cases, cushions and toys which continued to be sold in Oxfams shops into the 1980's.
4 of the "Great lovers of the world" tea towel series from 1973 - 1976/77
Belinda Lyon's first 2 cut out doll designs for Oxfam issued in 1972/73
Other designs for Oxfam included cut out cushions, toys, and pillow cases
Belinda Lyon's designs also appeared on tea towels sold by a few other companies during the 1970's.
As a published children's book illustrator, it seems a natural progression that Belinda Lyon went on to become a successful comic illustrator. Most of her later career during the 80's and 90's was spent illustrating for Twinkle comic, and lots of grown up girls will remember with fondness one of her most well known Twinkle comic characters - Jenny Wren. Sadly, weekly comics started to decline during the 1990s and Twinkle stopped production in 1999.
One of Belinda's last commissions before she retired from commercial work was for a lovely children's book by Nicola Baxter, still in production as far as I am aware, which contains many of her highly detailed humorous illustrations. Belinda Lyon, like many other talented illustrators from her generation, has been mainly unknown for the last 20 years until the growing retro interest in the 1970's and the current sewing craft revival has brought her designs and illustrations "back on trend" and her designs are a reference source for several of today's retro inspired designers. You can find lots more examples of her work on my flickr photostream.
This 8 drawer mahogany plan chest has been with me for many years and I have often wondered about it's history. While recently moving it, I discovered a makers label hidden on the underside of one of the drawers.The slightly torn label contains a wealth of information that has led me on an interesting journey of discovery.
The label told me that my architects plan chest was made sometime prior to May 1936 and was supplied to "HMOW" as a "plan press" with "G.R" for George V stamped on the brass drawer label holders.
It turns out that "HMOW" has been through a lot of changes, but in 1936 it was H.M Office of Works with architect offices located in Edinburgh, London, Bristol and Manchester.
H.M Office of Works became the Ministry of Works in 1943; renamed the Ministry of Public Building and Works in 1962, and was absorbed into the Department of the Environment in 1970. Most Works functions were transferred to the Property Services Agency, set up in 1972 with the job of providing, equipping and maintaining a wide range of buildings and installations for Government Departments, and the Armed Services. The PSA has a bit of a chequered history and was subject to an enquiry that lead to the department being privatised in the 1990's.
I can't be sure which of the 4 offices my chest was originally supplied to but in 1936 the Manchester office, located at 76 Newton Street was headed up by William Shaw Cruickshank who became the District Surveyor in charge of the North West in 1933, and was in charge of eight assistants and draughtsmen. You can read more about him on the Dictionary of Scottish Architects
George V died in January 1936 and was succeeded by Edward VIII, who abdicated in December 1936, leaving George VI to take up the throne. However, in typical British "make do and mend" style, items stamped with G.R continued to be used until around the end of 1937 when new items produced were then stamped with George VI. Very few crown property items (such as GPO postboxes) were stamped with Edward VIII.
Public service draughtsmen and architects during the late 1930's were responsible for all manner of public buildings, so I can only imagine what designs might have been stored in my chest over it's many years of service. Just 3 years after the chest was delivered, the second world war broke out - several well known war artists started out as draughtsmen and many returned to government offices after the war to work on plans for the massive amount of re-building projects that were undertaken after 1945.
My label is torn where the company name is, but I have been able to identify that the maker is Simpoles of Manchester. I can't decipher the name of the cabinet maker on my label, but Simpoles of Manchester have a long history of making quality office furniture and chairs.
Using a wonderful collection of trade directories available online as part of the University of Leicester's special collection, I have found out that Charles Simpole, the son of a pork butcher, was born around 1817 and started to operate as a furniture dealer & cabinet maker from his home at 13 Bradford Street and a workshop at 5 Victoria Terrace, Victoria Street, in Manchester from around 1850. The terrace at the end of Victoria Street contained various traders including an ironmongers, artist, architect & tea dealer together with residential homes. By 1863, he is still listed at Victoria Terrace, with the furniture broker & auctioneer side of the business operating from Cathedral Yard (later to be called Cathedral Steps). The business remained at Cathedral Steps until the end of the 1800's. Charles Simpole died around 1888 and the company is listed in the directory issued covering this time as : Furniture dealer & Valuer, Simpole Charles ( Exor's of)
By 1903, the company had re-organised & expanded. It was listed in 1903 as Simpoles, office furnishers and cabinet makers (late of Cathedral steps), 38 Deansgate ; 11 Victoria Bridge, and 45 Chapel st.
Simpoles were in good company, as the furniture makers Gillows of Lancaster, (later to become Waring & Gillows) also had their showroom further along Deansgate, which in the 1900's was a busy retail metropolis with many well known brands and trams operating along this main road in Manchester.
Between 1936 & 1938 "Messrs Simpoles Ltd of Manchester, contractors to the British Government" were responsible for providing all of the wood and furnishings inside the Padiham Civic Centre (the town hall in Padiham, Burnley) which was designed by architects Bradshaw, Gass & Hope and opened with much fanfare by the London Council Chairman in March 1938. According to an article published in the local press about the opening ceremony, the council chamber featured Australian walnut panelling, with walnut and leather armchairs and tables, while three French windows opened on to balconies overlooking the street to provide facilities for public announcements. The assembly hall, complete with stage, offered seating for 450, and was panelled in bronze chequered Gaboon veneered plywoods and had a sprung maple floor for dancing.
Simpoles Limited continued to trade from Manchester, with a Liverpool branch added sometime after the 1940's. After over a hundred years of trading, the company eventually ran into difficulties and was dissolved at the end of the 1990s. It is hard to know how long my Simpoles plan chest remained in "His/her Majesty's Service", but at some point, it was sold or given away and ended up being used for storage in a builders merchants in Dorking, Surrey where it was purchased from when the builders merchants closed down around 1987.
Isn't it amazing where a simple label can take you?