English Eccentrics - or a response to modernism?
Design historian, Penny Sparke notes that in 1920 the architect, Le Corbusier spoke disparagingly of 'windows hung with lace curtains' and 'walls papered with damask' - the products of a 'bric-a-brac mind' 41. With modernity the family dwelling became 'the rational household - the modern factory, rather than the domestic haven', led by a profession made up almost exclusively of men 42.
But when modernism had to confront the 'real' rather than idealised world, it was forced to make compromises that 'brought feminine culture back into the frame' 43. While modernism brought a distinct disregard for decoration, pattern was fundamental to Barron and Larcher's work. Muriel Rose promoted their block-printed textiles at her successful Little Gallery but, significantly, contemporary craft was exhibited alongside eighteenth century furniture, Wedgwood china, Orrefors glass from Sweden, and folk crafts - that included rugs from India and Mexico, and Romanian embroideries - together with new quilts made by the miners' wives of the Durham coalfields 44. French and English cotton prints collected by Barron and Larcher were exhibited at the Little Gallery. The invitation noted, 'The majority of the pieces are not for sale'.
Unlike the purist interiors of European modernist architecture, Harrod describes modernism in England during the 1930s as 'essentially eclectic' (45) English craftsmen and women sought simplicity 'through a deep understanding of textures and organic materials' 46, something Robin Tanner referred to as 'a peculiar Englishness' 47.
Makers furnished their own homes in a similar spirit. Michael Cardew 48 spoke of Bernard Leach's nineteenth century granite house in St. Ives as notably 'vast, cold and empty' but its interior included a collection of Oriental pots, a bright red, hand-woven blanket, shells and other objets trouves. Leach's collection of goods brought back from Japan - lacquered spoons, fabrics, handmade papers - were regularly shown by Rose at the Little Gallery 49. Harrod describes these minimally furnished interiors that mixed crafts with small sculptures, abstract paintings and non-European objects as 'domestic rather than public modernism'; arising from a 'shared desire to personalise modernism, to give it a human touch' 50.
Images of the Little Gallery and the home of Barron and Larcher paint a picture of comfortable domesticity. Barron and Larcher were a significant influence on the work of Susan Bosence and became role models for a way of life. Their textiles 'possessed an affinity with the house we were to live in, with its barn foundations, whitewashed stone walls and wooden floors' 51. Recalling her first visit to their home, Bosence writes,
They were welcoming; they showed me their wonderful materials, antique blocks and textiles from their travels and hunts in secondhand shops and sales. I marvelled at their beautiful furniture, shelves of chosen pots, glass, jugs and delicate sprays of flowers from their garden. The kitchen was inviting - a pretty table laid for a meal, the wall hung with well-made cooking utensils from Madame Cadec's shop in Greek Street 52.
While these quiet interiors present a passive existence on the surface, the success of these women in an essentially male-dominated world suggests a resolute determination to hold onto and express a personal aesthetic. Although they display an English domestic taste of the period, essentially, they are an expression of individual, feminine creativity in a context of twentieth century design when men played the principal roles.
41 Penny Sparke 'Letting in the Air: Women and Modernism' in As Long as it's Pink: The Sexual Politics of Taste (Pandora, London, 1995) p.104
42 Ibid. p.100
43 Ibid. p.119
44 Tanya Harrod The Crafts in Britain in the Twentieth Century (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1999) p.164
45 Ibid. p.114
46 Ibid. p.145
47 Tanner in Susan Bosence Hand Block Printing and Resist Dyeing (David and Charles, Newton Abbot, 1985) p.45
48 Tanya Harrod The Crafts in Britain in the Twentieth Century (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1999) p.114
49 Ibid. p.133
50 Ibid. pp.115-116
51 Susan Bosence Hand Block Printing and Resist Dyeing (David and Charles, Newton Abbot, 1985) p.9
52 Ibid. p.10
Left (top): Textile sample, Dorothy Larcher 'L Pattern', block printed linen, c.1920s-40s, Barron and Larcher sample book, Volume One, compiled by Robin Tanner.
2001.1.83 copyright Crafts Study Centre
Left (centre): Textile sample, 'Large chevron', block printed linen, c.1920s-40s, Barron and Larcher sample book, Volume Two, compiled by Robin Tanner.
2001.1.137 copyright Crafts Study Centre
Left (below): Flyer for an exhibition of textiles by Barron and Larcher at The Little Gallery, 1930s, Tanner Archive.
2003.52.23.1 copyright Crafts Study Centre
Right (above): Photograph of table setting with curtains printed with 'Log' by Barron and Larcher, 1920s, Tanner archive.
2003.52.13 copyright Crafts Study Centre
Right (centre): Textile sample, Dorothy Larcher, block printed and stenciled velvet, c.1920s-40s, Barron and Larcher sample book, Volume One, compiled by Robin Tanner.
2001.1.99 copyright Crafts Study Centre
Right (below): Photograph of table setting with block printed cloth and lengths by Barron and Larcher, The Little Gallery, November 1938, Muriel Rose Archive.
MRA 1198 copyright Crafts Study Centre.