Henry Moore Textiles

It has been a very busy week! But one of its real highlights was visiting the newly refurbished Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh with my friend Melanie, and seeing their superb exhibition of Henry Moore’s textiles. Looking at his designs, and the 1940s upholstery and clothing fashioned from them, I got about as excited as I’ve ever been in an exhibition space. I’ve been thinking about, and experimenting with, fabric printing, and Moore’s notebooks and swatches made me consider process in a very different way. And his designs — structural, energetic, and surprisingly colourful — are also wonderful, democratic works of art.

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(Barbed wire. Ascher c.1946. © Henry Moore Foundation.)

Moore’s little-known textile designs really capture his socialist principles. For he felt that art should also be the everyday, might be appreciated by all, and could enrich everyone’s experience of both domestic and public space. Many of his designs feature abstractions of the small wonders of industrial design — the humble safety pin, for example — and celebrate modern daily life in a manner both exuberant and idiosyncratic.

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(Treble clef, Zigzag, and Oval Safety Pins. Ascher 1946-7. Ascher Collection. © Henry Moore Foundation)

Moore produced many of these textiles for Czech exile Zika Ascher when war-time travel restrictions separated him from work on his large sculptures. Though the scale and medium of the designs could not be further from that of Moore’s enormous bronzes, the particular techniques he used, as well as the repeating motifs on Ascher’s finished rayon fabric, show a highly sculptural approach to form.

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(Family Group. Bronze Maquette and headscarf. 1945. Photograph Matt Pia. © Henry Moore Foundation)

Moore used a combination of wax crayons, pen and ink, gouache, and different watercolour washes to draw out and highlight his designs. The finished effect, when transferred by Ascher into screen-printed motifs, is full of depth and texture. Both Melanie and I were transfixed by Moore’s Family Group design, which was displayed alongside his familiar bronze maquette. Seen separately, the various motifs each seemed to convey a slightly different visual approach to the bronze’s organic forms. But, as images on fabric — repeated motifs busy with light and movement — they also suggest a process of reduction and abstraction that the finished bronze does not convey. This design made me think differently about both screen printing and sculpture.

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(Irina Moore making curtains from Moore’s design, “Horses Head and Boomerang.” Photograph E.G Malidine. © Henry Moore Foundation.)

Seeing Moore’s designs being actually worn by women — in the form of neatly tailored dresses and ubiquitous 1940s headscarves — was just amazing. There were also some fantastic domestic interiors, featuring upholstery, bedspreads, and curtains, such as those being sewn by Irina Moore in the photograph above. These fabrics suggested something distinctively modern about both Moore and Britain in the years immediately following the Second World War. In his designs you can read the dogged optimism of the era of the welfare state and the Festival of Britain, as well as the laudable desire to combine high culture with industrial design — to put public art to use in the service of the everyday.

Anita Feldman and Sue Pritchard have produced this book to accompany their wonderfully curated exhibition. I highly recommend it.
See the Henry Moore Foundation website for further information about Moore and the exhibition.

9 responses

  1. I had no idea that Henry Moore designed textiles. They look wonderful and the exhibition sounds fantastic. Visiting the Henry Moore Foundation is also supposed to be fantastic.

  2. I am beyond jealous! It looks like a fantastic exhibition. Have been to the Foundation at Perry Green a couple of times which is a wonderful place to while away some time. I grew up on a housing estate which had a Henry Moore statue on one of the grassed areas. It was part of the London borough of Stepney’s attempts to bring culture to the masses. We, of course, had no idea it was a Henry Moore but knew it as ‘the fat lady’ and spent many an hour sitting on it whispering our secrets. The statue is now at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (another fantastic spot). The Henry Moore Foundation publish a really good book ‘Hands On! Creative Projects’. Must admit though that our plaster reliefs turned out looking more Paolozzi than Moore!

  3. Wonderful post – and a fantastic sounding exhibition! Wish I could see it. I am embarrassed to admit that I also had no idea Henry Moore had produced textile designs (all those History of Art lecturers at Uni omitted to mention that when talking – at length – about Henry Moore)! I think the exhibition catalogue/book will have to be acquired…

  4. Interesting post, I love it when I learn something while reading a blog. My favorite photo for now is the bird photo from the previous post. The other photos brough back memories and reminded me of some of the photos that from the old Victoria magazines, they were quite romantic.

  5. I kept thinking .. THE HENRY MOORE …?? I had no idea that he did fabric design either. Intriguing. I will check out the book you recommend. We have Eero Saarinen here and I have been loving looking at his original chairs!! It is very exciting when you’ve read about someone and then you get to be in the space around the objects they’ve created (Moore/Saarinen) … to soak up some of the energy, even if from years gone by.

  6. I discovered your website when I was looking for something entirely different, but this page came up as a top result, your web site must be incredibly popular! Continue the awesome job!

  7. How wonderful! I’d no idea Moore did textiles. I worked for many years, mainly in high school and college, at the Nelson-Atkins museum in Kansas City, Missouri, which has a wonderful collection of Moore sculptures in an outside sculpture garden. I love his stuff.

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