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Lucienne Day and Barbara Brown at Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery.

May 29, 2017

If you fancy a taste of some wonderful textiles, then head over to Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery. On show is a small exhibition on the beautiful work of Lucienne Day, until 16th July and a larger selection, from Manchester born designer, Barbara Brown, showing until December this year.

Someone has been very busy scattering seeds and planting at the back of the Gallery as the gardens are looking wonderful just now. The array of plant life, shapes and types, work really well in their new setting.

How amazing they looked in the sunshine today, this one below looking like a floral firework caught in freeze-frame!

Born in 1932, Barbara Brown left Manchester in the mid 1930’s with her brother and sister, to live in a care home in Kent, before being evacuated to Dorset during WW2. She studied at Canterbury College of Art and then from 1953-56 at the RCA under the guidance of Humphrey Spender.

At her degree show Barbara’s work was talent spotted by Tom Worthington, the artistic director or Heal’s Fabrics (a leading British textile firm), resulting in her first commercially printed fabric ‘Sweet Corn’ in 1958 (below top left) and subsequently designed for them for the next two decades. Like Lucienne Day, she was working for Heal’s ‘without contract on an exclusive basis’.

Her ‘Complex’  pattern (below top right) won the CoID Award in 1968,

and ‘Spiral’ and ‘Automation’, two printed furnishing fabrics for Heal’s (below), won two CoID awards in 1970.

Throughout the 20th century, considerable energy had been directed toward the possible artistic conflict of industrial production and individual, hand-made objects. Here the artist considers the issue visually, creating an aesthetic statement inspired by a gear unit, a common symbol of the industrial revolution. The fabric was hand-printed using individual screens for each of the colours needed to complete the design.

Barbara also acted as a consultant for other companies in Europe and USA, and in 1964, she created ‘Focus’, a pattern for a range of ceramic tableware designed by David Queensberry and made by W R Midwinter Ltd.

For seventeen years Barbara worked solely for Heals and was regarded as their ‘golden girl’. Avoiding all sense of prettiness, her designs moved from abstract plant forms and geometric shapes to brutalist machine-age patterns. Some were restricted to black and white and others were printed in three to seven different colour-ways. Here’s some of Barbara’s striking, large scale designs.

Barbara’s career epitomised many of the difficulties of a female artist in the mid 20th century. Wishing to be a sculptor, she was pushed by her tutors towards a career in textile design. The results are some of the most powerful and usual patterns produced at this time.


Barbara Brown is now a paper and book artist. Her pieces are often collaborations with poets: for her, there is a certain alchemy that occurs when three dimensional imagery is combined with text. Barbara has been an artist member of WSG Gallery in Michigan since 2004 and curates Beyond Words: A Celebration of Book Arts each year.

So to the second of today’s textile artists Lucienne Day.

Lucienne Day (1917-2010) was the foremost British textile designer of the immediate post-war period. Her work repeatedly drew on the inspiration of flowers, foliage and other plant forms, but she radically reworked the traditional repertoire of the pattern designer, by bringing to it her knowledge of modern abstract art. Day’s textiles speak the visual language of Kandinsky, Joan Miro and Paul Klee combined with a wonderful sense of colour, the designer’s fashion awareness and a quirky sense of humour.

For Lucienne, gardening was a lifelong passion. She was a knowledgeable plantswoman who, at her London home, was largely confined to pot gardening. However in 1964, she finally go some real soil to work with when she and her husband Robin, the furniture designer, leased a cottage in West Sussex as a weekend bolt hole.

‘Calyx’ (below) is Lucienne Day’s most famous pattern from 1951. It was originally designed to hang in the Homes and Garden pavillion at the Festival of Britain. Although Heal’s were initially sceptical about the likely commercial success of the design, it sold in large quantities over many years and was widely emulated by other designers in both the UK and abroad. Highly original and startlingly modern, it proved the springboard for Lucienne’s career as a textile designer. Part of it’s success was the implied message of regrowth and optimism for a nation only just recovering from war.

Lucienne’s daughter Paula Day says ” I think (Calyx represents) the moment at which my mother found the courage to embrace her power as a creative artist. The pattern springs up, carefully contrived to work well in repeat yet apparently utterly spontaneous. ‘Calyx’ is at once dynamic and balanced, muscular and delicate, disciplined and free. I’ve come to see that as the signature of the best of my mother’s designs.

Some more of Lucienne’s designs, not all featured in this exhibition.

The Whitworth began to collect textiles designed by Lucienne Day around 1960, largely gifted by the manufacturers she worked with. The gallery was also the recipient of many textiles from the designer herself, after organising the first retrospective exhibition of her work in 1993. This show is part of the nationwide Lucienne Day centenary celebrations coordinated by the Robin and Lucienne Day foundation. More news here.

Thank you again to the Whitworth for some of the information for this post and for continuing to host such inspirational exhibitions.











4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 29, 2017 7:38 pm

    putting this exhibition on my list of places to go and visit soon; what a great post

  2. Wallace permalink
    May 30, 2017 2:01 pm

    Might need to visit just to see the glory of the wild flower display

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