Sunday, 10 December 2017

Designs on Britain

Mister Handmade in Israel and I made a flying visit to London recently for our niece's Bat Mitzvah. Most of the weekend was taken up with the celebrations, but I did manage to find a few hours on the Sunday morning to visit the wonderful Designs on Britain exhibition at London's Jewish Museum.
20th century design in the UK was greatly influenced by the arrival in the 1930s and 40s of pioneering Jewish émigré designers from continental Europe. These designers brought with them a knowledge of European modernism, which they had learnt at celebrated design schools on the continent. There they learnt new techniques such as photomontage which had not yet reached Britain. Others studied at the Reimann School, founded in 1902 in Berlin but the school was forced to relocate to London in 1937 after Nazi persecution of its Jewish owners. It was the first commercial art school to open in Britain.
Designs on Britain features the work of these immigrant designers and covers graphic design, product design and corporate identities. It focuses on 20 different designers who created work for major British companies or British events, and who helped import European styles into British life. Many of these designers went on to dominate British graphic design in the 1940s, creating many of Britain's most iconic symbols.
Among the designs featured in the exhibition are Tom Karen's 70s Raleigh Chopper bike and a Marble Run toy, early iterations of Penguin books by Romek Marber, and even the popular circle-and-bar London bus stop sign by Hans Schleger. On display are iconic posters for the London Underground, British Rail, the General Post Office and the War Office created by designers FHK Henrion, Hans Ungar and Dorrit Dekk.
Originally destined for a career in set design in Austria, Dorrit Dekk arrived at work one day to be handed a note stating, 'Jews not allowed'. Escaping to London, she worked for the government’s Central Office of Information producing iconic posters such as ‘Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases’ before setting up on her own as a graphic designer.
Another famous poster, 'Dig for Victory', was designed by FHK Henrion, who also started his own business and was a pioneer in developing the idea of corporate identity. His clients included such stalwart British companies as the Post Office, the National Theatre and Tate and Lyle.
The exhibition also includes a powerful design by Henrion entitled Four Hands and dated 1944. It was a design for the US Office of War Information, for use in Europe after D-Day and shows four hands, each marked with the flag of one of the allies, pulling apart a swastika.
Designs on Britain is organised thematically across travel, war-time, publishing, toys, vehicles and the 1951 Festival of Britain. Many of the designers went from being interned in Britain to working for the War Office. Post-war, the 1951 Festival of Britain was very significant. A number of the designers were commissioned to produce work for the Festival. This was a nationwide party to celebrate the end of the war and a new beginning. It meant that they entered the world of design in a blaze of glory. They then went on to work for many companies including London Transport and British Rail, for the General Post Office, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) as well as in corporate identity for companies such as Penguin, John Lewis and Schweppes.
Though each of the designers was Jewish-born none of them were particularly religious in their outlook. George Him worked hard for Israel but even he had not had a particularly Jewish upbringing. He was close friends with Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, with whom he had studied in Russia. It is probable that many of the commissions he received from Israeli organisations came through Kollek. In 1960 he was appointed Chief Designer for El Al, creating numerous designs for the company.
FHK Henrion also worked closely with Israel as his parents had settled there before the war. He designed brochures for the Jewish Committee for Relief Abroad and for WIZO and he regularly taught at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem.
Possibly what all the designers had in common was that they all felt that they were outsiders. All were involved in various professional organisations and they mixed together. They were all very supportive of each other and helped each other to find clients and commissions.
The exhibition was guest curated by Naomi Games, the daughter of renowned British designer Abram Games. The Jewish Museum organised a very successful exhibition of Games' work to mark the centenary of his birth in 2014 and, after the exhibition, Naomi started to think about all the designers who were friends of her parents and who used to visit their home. She decided it was about time their work was shown too. Abram Games' work is not included in the exhibition as the curators chose to include only those designers who were born abroad, and Games was born in Whitechapel. He was, however, close friends with almost all the designers included.
Designs on Britain is on at London's Jewish Museum and continues until 15th April 2018. I highly recommend a visit!

* This post has been shared on Seasons, No Rules Weekend Blog Party, Sundays In My CityWelcome To The WeekendThe Good. The Random. The Fun.Monday Morning Blog Club and Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday).
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Kara said...

Looks like a fascinating exhibition

Anne said...

What an interesting exhibition, I'm sure I've seen some of those posters before but I had not known that they were made by Jewish artists.

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

Wonderful post and so informative. Nothing like art and history to get my interest.

Jackie McGuinness said...

That's my kind of exhibit, live the first photo.

Anonymous said...

Lisa you remind me so much on my Dutch friends with your love of art and going to museums (never a dull moment, haha)!
Wow, such historic info. about the graphic arts. It's a great thing in the Jewish culture that even families help each other to get jobs and giving recommendations (can't remember how I got that info the first time) - it is a better way that the W-Eur. stance of individualism! Many thanks for sharing your museum trip with All Seasons - Have a lovely week!

Tamar SB said...

What a great exhibit!!

Forest Dream Weaver said...

Great post....thank you!

NCSue said...

These are so interesting - full of color and contrast.
Thanks for joining us at As our respective holidays approach, I wish you much joy during the season.
God bless you!

Coombe Mill - Fiona said...

A great looking exhibition with so much to see #MMBC

betty-NZ said...

It sounds like a great place to spend some time. The exhibits look interesting.

Jibberjabberuk said...

I love the styling of this era of design. I have an interest in postal history and in particular post boxes so I think a visit may be in order!

VeggieMummy said...

Looks like a fascinating exhibition. I'm always looking for new things to see in London; this has gone down on my 'To Do' list! xx

handmade by amalia said...

My kind of exhibition. Would have loved to see it.